Author’s note: This article CONTAINS SPOILERS for the episode of discussion and all episodes of the series that have preceded it.
Like any great show does when viewers may be having concerns and reservations about the direction it’s going, Better Call Saul answers the call with a haymaker of an episode, thrusting it upon us halfway through the season and leaving us to bask in its glory. This is one of the very best episodes of the entire series and rather convincingly, my favorite hour of television so far this year. The episode creates exquisitely constructed and written scenes for its three best characters: Mike, Jimmy, and Kim. Not enough can be said about the raw emotion put into their characters played by Jonathan Banks, Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn, respectively. With every moment the camera sits on their faces and follows their expressions and demeanor, we the audience feel the weight of the scene. With episodes that feature countless scenes that speak to the senses in just this way, we the audience know that without a doubt, this show is indeed great.
The episode opens with a scene from the Breaking Bad timeline, something this series has never done before. We see Saul following the events of “Ozymandias,” one of the series’ very best episodes. Saul is getting ready to flee the scene of Albuquerque, seen collecting all of his stashed money and having Francesca shred all of their paperwork. It is a poignant scene, as it acts as a quick reminder as to what we’re heading towards with Jimmy, and how things set him off for the future events we see in the black and white flash forwards in Nebraska.
Returning to the show’s central timeline, we follow Mike heading a project for Gus Fring. Mike is taking engineers from the Denver airport down to New Mexico. He blindfolds them and covers all their tracks in typical meticulous fashion. Getting them inside the facility that will later house their giant meth lab, he is looking for their opinion on if they can get the job done. When he finds a guy he likes, he brings in Gus to meet him and make the arrangements. It is the beginning of their superb working relationship. They need each other, and they make each other better. It is easy to tell that Mike likes doing work for Gus, because he is meticulous and unforgiving, just the same as Mike.
Kim, meanwhile, is seen out representing clients who have made mistakes with minor crimes, crushing their cases in the courtroom, and then setting her clients on a better path. This seems to bring her a lot of enjoyment. Although she may not be challenged in the courtroom, making an impact on her younger clients to positively influence their lives is something she finds rewarding. However, when Mesa Verde calls and needs her urgent attention, she can’t break away to tend to its needs. She gets chewed out for this and says that it “will never happen again,” but she doesn’t appear to be too concerned at all. It still remains unclear where we might be heading with her character, which is why her story holds so much intrigue. With that being said, her story could not differ more from that of James McGill.
Even with the two magical performances of Banks and Seehorn, this is an Odenkirk episode, through and through. The job he does here with the character is functionally exceptional. What we are seeing is two different things:
1) Jimmy is doubling down on his “street life,” which we see played out in a gorgeous scene set to the song titled as such. (I saw this at least partially as being an homage to Tarantino, calling on the song choice which was also so brilliantly used in Jackie Brown and during the scene featuring many cuts to Jimmy opening his trunk with the camera inside pointed out, a shot made famous by the director.) This montage scene rivals any of the best from both Breaking Bad and this show alike.
2) We finally start to see Jimmy crack emotionally, following the trauma of losing his brother. In multiple scenes throughout the episode, we see Jimmy having a deep and serious internal struggle. Whether it be with Kim or Howard or the man at the law office, we could see Jimmy fight to hold in his grief and guilt.
It was heart-wrenching to watch, and I cannot say enough about Odenkirk’s performance in this episode specifically. He is laying it all on the line with the character here, and what we’ve lost in losing Chuck’s presence on the show, we can replace by putting the focus back on what the show’s really about: the fall of James McGill and the rise of Saul Goodman. Going into the series four years ago, it was unclear if Odenkirk was up to the task of carrying the weight of this series. If it hadn’t been made clear to you already, it sure was made crystal tonight. Hand Odenkirk that Best Actor Emmy right now.
Better Call Saul is currently airing Monday nights on AMC at 9/8c and the previous seasons are available for streaming on Netflix