This Better Call Saul review contains spoilers.
Better Call Saul Season 3 Episode 2
My biggest fear when Better Call Saul was announced was that it would fall into the typical trappings of a lazy prequel; foregone conclusions would ruin tension, backstories would be over-explained, and associations with the source material would take priority over breaking new ground, bluntly delivered and begging for appreciation. A prime example in tonight’s new Breaking Bad-indebted episode is when the camera zooms out to reveal the sign for Los Pollos Hermanos, melodramatic music reaching a crescendo to punctuate this capital-I Important callback.
However, that moment aside, Better Call Saul avoids being trite and remains revelatory in my eyes, even while skewing closer to its source material and those prequel problems. It doesn’t hurt that Breaking Bad is one of my favorite series of all time, making me more accepting and immune to fan service, and that Vince Gilligan’s beautiful mind is still steering the ship, keeping the visual aesthetic, tone, and quality of his masterwork rolling. Winking callbacks have never looked so good.
Take for instance tonight’s anticipated first appearance of Breaking Bad villain Gus Fring. After Mike spends all night tracking his would-be tracker, out performing pickups all over Albuquerque, he follows him back to a familiar chicken shop. Unable to scout out the restaurant and find who the anonymous goon is meeting with himself, Mike sends Jimmy to get intel. Now, why he would ask Jimmy of all people is beyond me (maybe because he knows Jimmy’s already been exposed to the underworld via Tuco?), but Jimmy dutifully heads to Los Pollos to get the info that Mike needs, solving the issue of Jimmy and Mike’s stories being so disconnected.
Knowing that Breaking Bad fans are entirely aware of who is hiding in plain sight in that restaurant, a lesser show could coast on the tension that that knowledge creates, but Gus’ slow reveal is undercut with the humor of Jimmy behaving super conspicuously. Even if you have no knowledge of Breaking Bad, the scene offers something to enjoy, it’s not depending on Gus’ Breaking Bad ties to do all of the lifting. When Jimmy leaves the restaurant after an interaction with Gus, he immediately meets with Mike nearby to deliver his disappointing findings. Mike might be smarter than henchmen, but not the man himself, and Gus is able to notice Jimmy’s car and make Mike, setting him up with a phone call in the middle of nowhere.
Gus isn’t the only Breaking Bad character to surface on this episode, as we get to learn how the future Saul Goodman found his faithful secretary Francesca. To some, that might qualify as unnecessary backstory, but those people would be wrong. The scene isn’t just fodder for fans; it smartly unpacks why Francesca might have stuck with Jimmy through all of his shenanigans. When she first enters the Wexler-McGill office, Jimmy asks Francesca about the alignment of the logo that he’s painting on the wall and she notes that the “M” is a little crooked. It’s as if Francesca is able to notice Jimmy’s true nature instantly and chooses to proceed anyway.
The job interview also serves to further highlight the extremely different business practices between Kim and Jimmy. Not only are the demands of their clients different, but so are their methods of vetting employees. Jimmy wants to hire the first prospective hire that walked into the door because she had him at “elderly,” whereas Kim would like to weigh her options and perhaps consider someone with a legal background. While Kim is sweating over the details of her work, Jimmy is busy worrying about the appearance of the office. It’s a difference of opinion that suggests an opening rift, especially when Kim keeps spending precious time not working on Mesa Verde stuff, but trying to help Jimmy out of his legal situation.
Yes, Kim is brought further into Jimmy’s problems after Ernesto contacts her. Just as expected and, as many of you mentioned in the comments last week, according to Chuck’s plan, Ernie tips off Jimmy to the existence of the tape, using Kim as an intermediary after falling for Chuck’s legal mumbo jumbo. Kim instantly tries to look for legal precedent to help uncover Chuck’s motivations, but Jimmy stays unconcerned before boiling over and speeding off to confront Chuck.
Always assuming the worst of his brother and slipping further into paranoia, Chuck has hired private investigators to stay with him, expecting Jimmy to break back in and steal the tape. Chuck’s perception of Jimmy is so cold; he doesn’t account for the emotional reaction Jimmy would have knowing that the brother that he loves manipulated him in an effort to jail him. While Breaking Bad explored the damage secrets have on a family, Better Call Saul treads new ground tackling sibling rivalry and resentment. For my money, the battle between brothers is far more engaging than any Breaking Bad connections that this season has served.
Jimmy arrives at Chuck’s, unaware that the investigator and Hamlin, who hilariously navigated backyards to visit Chuck unnoticed, are waiting in the wings to witness his outburst. Jimmy forces his way into his brother’s home and destroys the tape, all for an audience, just as Chuck had hoped. Jimmy fell into his brother’s trap and now Chuck has a real case against him.
With Jimmy and Mike now fully exposed, things are about to get intense and interesting. Offering plenty of Breaking Bad Easter Eggs without overindulging, more marvelous camerawork (like that longshot of the bridge with the city out of focus in the background and those four drain tunnels underneath), and fresh drama that stands tall on its own, Better Call Saul shines yet again. If you’re planning on writing a prequel, take notes.