Author’s note: This article CONTAINS SPOILERS for the episode of discussion and all episodes of the series that have preceded it.
After a slightly slow start to the season, Better Call Saul is back fiercer than ever. This show, perhaps more than any other, feels like a snowball tumbling down a mountain into the pits of despair, picking up more and more baggage along the way. With Saul, every episode you can really feel that ball growing in size, swelling with the plights of its characters. Pieces are starting to fall into place, and people are edging towards what we know their reality to be at the beginning of Breaking Bad. Maybe that doesn’t sound compelling and, well, maybe it isn’t. BUT… when you have all these brilliant people involved working on the cast and crew, it is easy to see why this prequel was always destined to be an undeniable home run.
Calling in Andrew Stanton of Disney/Pixar fame to take the plate, the episode picks up right where the last left off in terms of escalating its foray into criminal activity and crushingly emotional moments. We were thrown a flashback to kick off the episode, contrary to a flash-forward to start last week’s. In it, we see Jimmy and Kim very early on in their relationship. They are both working at HHM, but Kim is still in law school and Jimmy is still pushing papers. We get to see a much younger looking Chuck McGill! He of course appears very friendly with Hamlin, and cold towards Jimmy. In this scene, however, we are meant to see the makings of the relationship between Jim and Kim. Jimmy is boasting about his plans for success and how he is going to make it, while Kim plainly suggests she is going through law school and excelling at the different stepping stones being laid out before her.
This idea comes to a head in the very next scene, with the two of them in present day having a morning conversation in the kitchen. Jimmy suggests to Kim that he is not going to see a therapist because he believes himself to be fine. We can see in Kim’s face that she is not at all surprised. She knows who Jimmy is, and when he starts to get into preaching about his work and his plans for when he gets his law license back, she looks remarkably unphased. She immediately reveals to him that she is taking over a branch at a bank and in essence becoming a partner, leaving Jimmy to fend for himself and crushing his dreams of their partnership in law. This scene says it all for the two of them. It is played so subtly, but it couldn’t be more powerful. Despite his best efforts to hold all signs of emotion back, we can see the pain and devastation seeping into his face. He literally has to excuse himself from the room to gather himself. In this moment, Jimmy is met with a new truth, and it is one that we have seen building to for some time now: he’s losing Kim, they are not going to be partners in law, and thus, likely not partners for life. It doesn’t need to be spoken aloud, but it is understood. He walks back into the room and congratulates her on the job and swiftly heads out to work.
“Heading out to work” will only mean one thing for Jimmy now: the hustle. Slippin’ Jimmy has now been untethered from the need to uphold a reputation with Chuck and Kim; he is free to dive head first into the world of swindling he has always been so enamored with. He sets up shop behind the hair salon again in a cheerful montage, followed by him returning to the streets at night to peddle his phones. This time, Slippin’ Jimmy had a trick up his sleeve for his would-be muggers. He scares them straight by kidnapping them and terrorizing them with the help of a couple friends (looked like one was Huell!) This is a key scene for Jimmy, because we see the adrenaline he is getting out of winning this small battle with these street kids. It really feels like James McGill has been lost for good, and Saul Goodman is being unchained.
The episode does not feature Nacho for the second week in a row, and perhaps coincidentally, these have been my two favorite episodes of the season. I think the show tightening its focus on Jimmy, Kim, and Mike is to its benefit. Jimmy and Kim are the two most fascinating characters, and they feature two lead performances this season that not only is their best work to date, but should be awarded with Emmys for the both of them. The way the characters are played, pulling every single emotional beat set forth so brilliantly in the writing, is exceptional and on par with the performances in Breaking Bad.
The final third of the show follows Mike, Gus, and the proceedings of their work on the lab factory. While this facet of the show is not as compelling as the other, it still works. We see Gus move toward being the legendary drug lord we see in Breaking Bad and see Mike find new meaning in his life following the death of his son by committing himself to work for Fring. It is easy to tell that when Gus and Mike are together, they have a mutual understanding that they need each other and both benefit from their working relationship. They each got one scene of their own for character development too, with Mike going to Stacey’s house to apologize for his outburst in therapy last week, and Gus sitting by Hector’s bedside in the hospital to tell him a tale of how he will do whatever it takes to keep him alive so he can make Hector suffer. That scene with Gus is a bone chilling one, as it is filmed with him covered by shadow in a dark room, speaking in soliloquy over his wounded enemy.
Saul is back to doing what it does best, churning towards an inevitable conclusion with the most beautiful and heartbreaking subtleties one could imagine. With only four episodes remaining, it is easy to see how things could be drastically different at season’s end. The show is now moving at a more rapid pace towards Breaking Bad than it ever has before, and I have to say, that is pretty damn exciting.
Better Call Saul is currently airing Monday nights on AMC at 9/8c and the previous seasons are available for streaming on Netflix