This Better Call Saul review contains spoilers.
Better Call Saul Season 3 Episode 1
Midway through the excellent third season premiere of AMC’s Better Call Saul, “Slippin’” Jimmy McGill lives up to his namesake and suffers a Freudian Slip. “Always think you’re better than me, always on your high horse,” he erupts before stifling his subconscious back down. Jimmy’s inferiority complex in relation to his brother Chuck helped create this huckster, a liar who cons his way onto Air Force bases to shoot commercials.
It’s this feeling of inferiority, twisted into adaptive hubris that is the connective tissue between Better Call Saul and parent series Breaking Bad. Both series feature spurned protagonists who transform the chips on their shoulders into monuments to their egos, determined to outwit and out-maneuver any authority that stands in their way, regardless of who is caught in the crosshairs. No matter how many Breaking Bad characters or Easter eggs appear, this will always be the most meaningful link between the two shows.
Even in the cold open, set in a post-Breaking Bad, black and white, Nebraskan hellscape of Jimmy’s own creation, the past “Saul” and present “Gene” struggles with a menial, submissive existence. When the camera takes the point of view of the inside of an opening box, the downtrodden look on Gene’s face isn’t because he’s gazed upon some dangerous treasure like in Pulp Fiction or a disembodied head like in Seven; nope, the unspeakable horror inside is just a Plain Jane lunch for an Average Joe. It’s all made worse when Jimmy is asked to narc on a young shoplifter. He immediately regrets selling out a kindred spirit and yells, “Say nothing! Get a lawyer,” but upon returning to his post at Cinnabon, his anti-authoritarian outburst is enough of a shift to cause Jimmy to pass out.
The rest of the episode takes place exactly where we left off in season two. Jimmy believes he’s just confidentially confessed to the Mesa Verde tampering in an effort to rebuild Chuck’s confidence, but Chuck secretly recorded the whole conversation. Jimmy sticks around to help Chuck remove the space blankets from his walls and the two begin bickering over proper duct tape removal before bonding over a cherished book from their childhood.
This scene, like the rest of the interactions between Jimmy and Chuck, nails the complicated relationship between brothers (even when there isn’t a career-ruining betrayal lurking beneath the surface). The combination of shared formative experiences and history with a lifetime of resentments creates quite the complex love/hate dynamic, which Better Call Saul expertly highlights time and time again. Just as Jimmy seems to be melting Chuck’s defenses with nostalgia, Chuck bursts his bubble and reminds him that nothing is going to change what has transpired. The moment follows Jimmy throughout the rest of the episode. Sure, Chuck’s moral and professional superiority haunts Jimmy on a daily basis, but he’s equally plagued by that ten minute window where it seemed like maybe Chuck didn’t hate him.
Chuck’s big plans for the tape remain a mystery. Hamlin makes it clear that the tape won’t hold up in court as proper evidence and that the Mesa Verde ship has sailed even if they could prove that they were sabotaged. Conventional wisdom would tell Chuck to cut his loses, but Chuck’s pride and ego are just as out of control as Jimmy’s. Later in the episode, he snaps on Ernesto, his caretaker and lifeline to the outside world, for accidently hearing a portion of the tape. His drive to ruin Jimmy is already infecting his other relationships. He swears Ernesto to secrecy, but remember, Ernesto has already lied and covered for Jimmy once before. With Chuck taking Ernie for granted and treating him poorly, I wouldn’t expect Ernie to remain loyal.
Kim is also being affected by the brotherly spat. Not only does she refuse to speak about the issue between Jimmy and Chuck, she seems actively guilty about the whole thing. Kim cringes during a meeting with Paige from Mesa Verde when Paige insults Chuck and HHM. Kim’s conscious causes her to work harder on Mesa Verde’s account, staying late and poring over details. It always seemed like Kim might put her work before her and Jimmy’s relationship due to her own professional goals, but now it seems like obsessing over her work is a way to ignore Jimmy’s crime and feel better about her own culpability.
Lastly, we check back in with Mike, who makes the unsettling discovery that he’s being surveilled. Now, due to marketing, the internet, and common sense we already know that Breaking Bad villain Gus Fring is on the other end of the tracking device that Mike discovers in his gas cap. With some crafty detective work and tireless effort, Mike’s able to pull a switch and begin surveilling his surveillers. Even though the reveal won’t be as sweet, the almost wordless, hardboiled Mike sequences are still somehow effective at building tension. My only issue is that Mike’s story still feels so far removed from the rest of Better Call Saul, like a Breaking Bad prequel of a different name. Hopefully with Gus’ introduction, these worlds will start converging.
On a technical level, Better Call Saul is still an absolute marvel, with a style so crisp and clean, you’ll wonder why every prestige drama doesn’t look this good. This episode is filled with the time lapses, montages, and big sky longshots that have become signature to the Breaking Bad Universe. You’ll also be happy to learn that Better Call Saul still seems absolutely amused by the banalities of elderly existence and the duality of suburban conmen like the veterinarian Caldera.
With the battle between the Brothers McGill just gearing up and the appearance of Gus Fring on the horizon, Better Call Saul Season 3 is looking more and more like a Saul Goodman origin story.