This review contains spoilers.
3.3 Sunk Costs
What is there to say about Gus Fring that has not already been said countless times? That he is one of television’s greatest ever villains, if not characters, is hardly under dispute at this point, and while Breaking Bad certainly didn’t slump without him, his absence was keenly felt in the episodes that came after his demise. Transfixing, terrifying, fascinating and somehow believable due to a pitch perfect performance from Giancarlo Esposito, it was always a little hard to see how he would fit into Better Call Saul, and after Sunk Costs it’s still not quite clear, but the show is very aware that we have arrived at a paradigm shift.
That much is immediately evident from the cold open. We see the kind of weathered vista so familiar to anyone who’s ever watched an episode of Breaking Bad; the bullet ridden signs, the cracked road, the unforgiving landscape, the faded shoes hanging from the power line. Then into view rumbles a Los Pollos Hermanos truck, shaking the ground as it continues on its way. Once it is gone, the frayed laces of the shoes snap and they fall. The familiar is changing, it seems to suggest, both in the meta context of the television show and the world of these characters.
Or at least, that’s what I thought was going on.
By this point it’s no secret that Better Call Saul delights in letting you think you know what is going on or in what direction something is heading before revealing its hand. In this case, I thought the opening was a striking metaphor for the show, until it was in fact revealed as the aftermath of Mike’s first job for Gus – or perhaps an aftermath to that aftermath, considering the bullet holes in the previously intact sign and the fact that Gus’ truck is now taking the route previously owned by Hector. Of course, the reveal of context doesn’t remove the thematic significance; if anything it deepens it. The falling shoes seemed to represent a change in the status quo until we realised Gus was partly responsible for them ending up there in the first place. So yes, Gus’ arrival does change things, but the difference isn’t due to his having not been present previously, rather it’s due his coming into the light of a landscape he helped arrange. Gus Fring has existed in the world of Better Call Saul this entire time, and as Mike is pulled further into his orbit we’re going to learn a lot more about the ways in which he had shaped the criminal backdrop of Albuquerque that Jimmy and Mike operate in. Next to Hector Salamanca he’s the biggest shark we’ve yet met, and while the final clash of those titans can’t yet happen, it’s going to be fascinating to see what Gus means for Mike’s storyline. It already is.
Better Call Saul delights in the minutiae of a well-constructed plan, whether it be Chuck’s Machiavellian schemes or Mike’s meticulous gambits. His latest strike against the Salamancas is particularly brilliant; every part of it keeping you guessing as to what he was doing until it all clicked into place and you realise how logical previously strange behaviour actually was. Allowing the border guards to find drugs on Salamanca’s truck is an enormous blow against the kingpin, far more so than the previous robbery, and yet so cleverly enacted it will be nearly impossible for Hector to learn who was responsible. Gus’ war has begun, but the shoes are still a long way from dropping.
Jimmy’s plot wasn’t quite as explosive this week, although we did get more of an idea of what Chuck wants; nothing as extensive as prison time, rather the smaller and yet somehow more spiteful objective of having Jimmy disbarred. After all, the crux of Chuck’s hatred has always been jealousy and the desire to be seen as better than Jimmy. His brother practicing as a lawyer brings them into the realm of being comparable and Chuck cannot have that.
What is interesting about Chuck is that, despite being one of the smartest characters on a show full of them, he has such enormous blind spots stemming from his spite. When he gives Jimmy his odious speech about hoping Jimmy learns and changes from this experience, what he does not realise is that Jimmy did have the capacity to change and genuinely wanted to. It’s thanks to Chuck that that is no longer the case. The irony in his speech is matched only by the tragedy; Chuck had a brother who was devoted to him, but he doesn’t anymore. Jimmy’s warning to Chuck about how he will die alone is as chilling as it is morbidly satisfying. He’s right, ultimately. Whatever Jimmy is, at least he is liked. At least he has the ability to make somebody like Kim, somebody who sleeps in the office and gets up at five to shower at the gym across the road before returning to the grind, want to fight in his corner.
Kim’s incredible work ethic makes me think they are in with a chance; that and, y’know, the existence of Breaking Bad. Ultimately, Jimmy will of course remain a lawyer and still be reasonably successful by the time the one who knocks comes knocking. But the title here is a warning, and while Kim’s line about the fallacy of sunk costs may have been intended as a joke, it’s very true. Kim is too invested in Jimmy now to realise that, whether he wants to be or not, he is a threat to her. Jimmy tried to keep her out, but ultimately he needs her too much to deny her and so once again, despite his best intentions, Jimmy is going to hurt someone. And I feel very strongly that losing Kim will be the moment he truly loses his capacity to change.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Better Call Saul has an incredible ability to make the unpredictable seem inevitable and as such I am well past the point of trying to work out where this series is heading. I’m just happy to be along for the ride.
Read Gabriel’s review of the previous episode, Witness, here.