This Better Call Saul review contains spoilers.
Better Call Saul Season 4 Episode 2
Dramatic irony is a powerful tool for storytellers. William Shakespeare essentially made his name employing the trick, getting generation after generation involved in his plays by blessing them with essential knowledge that his characters themselves didn’t know. Hell, the horror genre wouldn’t be half as fun without it. Shouting “No, don’t go in there!” as a feeling of helplessness washes over you is a staple of the horror moviegoing experience.
Prequels make good use of dramatic irony too. On Better Call Saul, for instance, fans use their knowledge of Breaking Bad’s events to spell out certain doom for characters that did not appear on that show (Arturo, Kim, Nacho) or revel in moments like Jimmy deciding to buy some flashy suits (“He wears lots of flashy suits later on!”) and those moments can either be entertaining or groan-inducing, depending on your mileage.
However, Better Call Saul mostly uses dramatic irony for good. For example, in tonight’s excellent “Breathe,” Gus goes out of his way to provide the best medical care to his adversary and business affiliate Hector Salamanca. “I decide what happens to him,” Gus growls to his underling Tyrus. Gus wants to make sure Hector is cared for not only because his death could cause ripples in the cartel that could lead to his exposure, but mostly because if Hector is going to die, Gus wants to decide when and how.
Fans could look at this one small moment as Gus’ whole undoing, his thirst for a rightful revenge ultimately leading to his death by way of a bomb strapped to a frail-but-alive Hector’s wheelchair. Gus’ grudge against Hector is the Achilles heel of an otherwise dominant, unflappable drug pushing kingpin. It’s a rare example of hubris from a man whose dedication to his cover has him happy to sweep up trash in the parking lot of his own restaurant. His decision to make sure Hector gets the best possible treatment is foolish only because we know what it leads to, and it serves to humanize the cold, methodical supervillain who has Arturo killed and now has Nacho firmly in his clutches.
The other material this week that rewards Breaking Bad devotees is Mike’s conference room meeting with Lydia. In Breaking Bad, Walt considers an early demise for Lydia and Mike embraces the thought so quickly and enthusiastically, you would think that he was voting to rid the world of Satan himself. That’s why watching the beginning of their difficult working relationship is so tantalizing, because we know that something drastic must happen for Mike to consider Lydia such an irredeemable snake down the road. Learning more about Madrigal and the lowlights of Lydia and Mike’s uneasy partnership is one of the few unturned rocks from the Breaking Bad era that I’m interested in exploring further.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and Kim spend their screen time this week misdirecting their feelings. After last week’s heartless reaction to Hamlin’s guilt over Chuck’s apparent suicide, Jimmy takes his unaffected, spritely routine to the job hunt, deciding not to mourn and instead pound the pavement. His first interview for a sales position at copier equipment supplier Neff goes swimmingly; Jimmy impresses with his knowledge about copiers from his time in the HHM mailroom and uses his regular talent for schmoozing to win the room over. Instead of leaving on a good note, Jimmy decides to push things and re-enters the office with a show-stopping monologue about opportunity costs and why he’s the right man for the job.
When the Neff brass decides to hire Jimmy on the spot, he immediately bristles and self-sabotages. “Suckers,” he calls the men, “I feel sorry for you.” In his twisted logic, Jimmy thinks that if these men are willing to hire a man that they don’t know, right off the street, then he shouldn’t possibly want to work for them. In reality, Jimmy is taking out his self-loathing on these men, taking his brother’s viewpoint of himself and wondering aloud who would ever be so low to hire him? He leaves Neff without a job, but with a mark; Jimmy appears to be planning a heist of Neff’s Hummel figurines, a distorted extension of the guilt Jimmy feels about tricking Irene last season.
Elsewhere, Kim heads to HHM headquarters for a meeting about Chuck’s estate with Hamlin and Rebecca. Jimmy was supposed to attend the meeting, but he couldn’t care less what becomes of Chuck’s remaining possessions. Hamlin informs Kim that Jimmy’s been left a paltry $5,000 by the estate, along with a board position on a scholarship set up in Chuck’s name and a final letter written to Jimmy by Chuck. Kim loses it on Hamlin, accusing him of bringing up the possibility of suicide to unload his own guilt and taking offense at the way these final “gifts” only seem to be Chuck’s last middle finger to Jimmy from beyond the grave.
After remaining quiet and supportive, Kim’s eruption is more an extension of her feelings toward Chuck and her frustration over Jimmy’s inability to express the complicated feelings he harbors over his brother’s death. Kim’s finger-pointing at Hamlin isn’t entirely unwarranted, but he’s not who she’s really mad at, she just needed to blow off some steam. She’s not going to let Chuck control Jimmy’s emotions, and consequently her own, for a minute longer.
“Breathe” keeps the slow-burn place of last week’s premiere but adds more menace; we can practically hear the blood of all of our principle player’s boiling right underneath their skin. It may not make for the most climactic television, but we have a feeling it will be rewarding in the long run. Showrunner Peter Gould and co. know something that the audience doesn’t, and they’re going to enjoy taking their time before they reveal their hand.
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