This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Warning: major spoilers (obviously!) for Better Call Saul season 3.
For three seasons now, Better Call Saul has quietly been carving out a niche for itself as one of the best shows on TV. It’s not surprising exactly, given the pedigree, but in its early episodes reaching these heights was far from a sure thing. Moving from the high stakes thrills of Breaking Bad to a story more concerned with the minutiae of legal documents was an adjustment, and, I’d argue, not one that the show made easily.
But quickly Better Call Saul found its groove and the legal details that initially seemed like they might damn the series have become every bit as thrilling as the Breaking Bad evoking crime stories that make up Mike’s half of the show. In fact, especially in the third season, the legal wrangling and the brotherly conflict that underpinned it arguably became the most compelling part.
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So, with the many plot threads building up to a stunning cliffhanger and an agonising wait for season four, where did we last leave the characters?
Season three started in a fraught place for both Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut. Jimmy had been caught on tape confessing to tampering with the Mesa Verde documents in order to throw his brother under the bus while Mike’s attempt to take out local kingpin Hector Salamanca was interrupted by a stark warning not to act.
Quietly unpredictable as always, it turned out that Chuck’s plan was not to give the tape to the police, but to manipulate events to make Jimmy aware he had it, prompting his brother to commit a felony that could have him disbarred by breaking into the house in the presence of a private detective who would stand as a witness.
Meanwhile, while any one of us would have just assumed the note left in Mike’s car was evidence of Gus Fring’s supernatural abilities, Mike was not so easily satisfied and meticulously set to work figuring out how he was being tracked. It’s in moments like this that Better Call Saul is its most thrilling; swerving right when we expect it to go left and following the logical course of events to an unexpected conclusion. Mike used Gus’ method of tracking against him, following the crime lord’s courier to the familiar sight of Los Pollos Hermanos.
The conflict between Jimmy and Chuck finally came to a head with the court case that would decide Jimmy’s fate, in which Jimmy, seemingly unwisely, decided to act as his own lawyer. In fact, Jimmy had planned the whole thing as a way to expose Chuck’s mental illness to both the room and himself, tearing away his brother’s credibility and prompting him to explode at the courtroom, delivering a searing monologue that made the depths of his spite and jealousy terribly clear.
One of the best things about Better Call Saul is how very well we could always understand Chuck. We might not like him, but it’s not difficult to see why Jimmy makes him so angry. His bitterness is rooted in something all too human and relatable. Jealousy makes it so easy to cling to the things we think we have over someone, and when that someone seems on their way to getting what we have we can fight tooth and nail to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Conversely, Jimmy is the more sympathetic character and so what makes the conflict in this show so rich and painful is the fact that we understand both sides with often agonising clarity. But every conflict has to end somewhere and when neither party will back down or admit fault, there must be a casualty. By the midpoint of season three Chuck McGill was as defeated as it was possible for him to get. Or so we thought.
After some back and forth subterfuge on both parts, Gus and Mike finally came face to face and, despite initial distrust, were quickly on the way to liking and respecting each. Gus firmly stood in the way of Mike killing Hector but offered steady employment as a consolation prize, a prize sweetened by the fact that said employment largely involved crippling Hector. Figuratively speaking.
Literally speaking, Nacho spent the season working towards that very goal, as Hector demanded that the young criminal use his thoroughly decent father’s business as a means of trafficking drugs. With his father’s flat refusal to be a part of it and Hector’s unwillingness to take no for an answer, Nacho was forced to act, leading to several fraught scenes of him attempting to replace Hector’s heart pills with fakes that would, in theory, lead to the kingpin’s death.
The toll of Jimmy’s attack on his brother’s position became clear as the season went on, with HHM coming to see Chuck as a liability, especially when it seemed he was going to cost them money he was no longer worth. Chuck’s attempt to sue the company in response to them pushing him out was swiftly countered when Howard, sick of his former partner’s shit, paid out of his own pocket to ensure a clean break, in the process leaving Chuck with nowhere to turn and nothing to hold on to.
At a meeting with Gus, stress got the better of Hector and triggered a heart attack; Nacho’s plan succeeding in every part but Hector’s actual death. And, based on a very cold look from Gus at the end, Nacho’s efforts may not have gone entirely unnoticed as the landscape of the Albuquerque underworld underwent a seismic shift.
Kim, through all of this, had gradually been pushing herself further and further to a breaking point, taking on more clients while dealing with the massive Mesa Verde account, trying to help Jimmy and mainly sleeping in stolen minutes. As Kim struggled, Jimmy found himself sliding inexorably back towards his old ways as, suspended from being a lawyer, his legal moneymaking options dwindled fast. Jimmy resorted to carrying out cons and, ultimately, hit the new low of manipulating an old lady’s friends away from her in order to pressure her into signing off on a legal settlement that would net Jimmy a cool one million.
After a severely fatigued Kim crashed her car, Jimmy walked back his scheme with the old ladies, stopping just short of falling into fully fledged Saul Goodman territory. But, in a cruel twist of fate and the darkest turn yet on a very dark show, Chuck deliberately tipped over a lantern in his house, setting the place ablaze and committing suicide.
It’s hard to see the ending as anything other than the catalyst for Jimmy’s ultimate transformation, but trying to predict the turns this show will take has long since proven to be a fool’s errand – pretty impressive given the fact that the ultimate ending is spoiled in the title. Season three ended in a precarious place for almost every character, leaving a succession of lingering questions for which the answers are just around the corner.
If your excitement is in check then you’re a stronger person than I.
Better Call Saul season four starts on AMC in the US on Monday the 6th of August and on Netflix in the UK one day later.