This Better Call Saul review contains spoilers.
Better Call Saul Season 4 Episode 5
Is it possible to enjoy Better Call Saul without first having seen Breaking Bad? It’s been a question asked about BCS since it first aired, but I saw some particularly lively discussion about the topic on Twitter this past week. The short answer is absolutely. Jimmy, Kim, Nacho, and Mike are compelling characters regardless of whether you know what befalls half of the group later on. There are lots of people that are currently enjoying this new season of BCS completely oblivious to the fact that the Doghouse will later be a favorite hangout of young meth dealer Jesse Pinkman. The little nods and hat tips to Breaking Bad are fun, but largely inessential.
Honestly, it could be argued that familiarity with the events of Breaking Bad is a hindrance to enjoying Better Call Saul. For instance, Mike’s plotline in “Quite a Ride,” trying to find the right man capable of building Gus Fring’s super lab, is boring inside baseball for Breaking Bad fans. Spoilers for you blessed BCS-only readers, but the lab gets built. It works. Lots of meth is produced there, mostly without a hitch. So listening to our new German engineering friend talk about the risks involved with building such a lab is only dramatic if you didn’t already know that the lab gets completed. If you’re well aware that there’s going to be a nice, pristine lab underneath one of those industrial washing machines, then this is the sort of needless, over-explanatory backstory that often gets prequels panned.
However, “Quite a Ride” does offer a cold open that particularly appeals to Breaking Bad fans. For the first time, Better Call Saul gives us a moment with Jimmy that occurs during the BB timeline. With his cheesy, over-the-top office ripped apart, Saul scrambles to collect his essential belongings before fleeing. While Francesca shreds documents, Jimmy cuts a hole into his Bill of Rights wallpaper to retrieve a mysterious package that we can assume has been hidden in the event of this exact sort of moment.
The package is certainly intriguing, but the new precedent that this scene sets is more so. Knowing that we can now visit the BB timeline opens the door to a ton of possibilities, like the cameos of Walt and Jesse that fans of been clamoring for or the possibility to retcon Kim or Nacho into the background of major Breaking Bad events. I wouldn’t expect Vince Gilligan or Peter Gould to be too trigger happy with revising BB’s text, but just knowing that it’s a possibility is the most tantalizing thing about “Quite a Ride.” Sorry, BCS-only fans.
Enough about that other show though. “Quite a Ride” also gives us quality time with Jimmy and Kim that we’ve been missing since the premiere. Seeing Jimmy in his snake oil salesman mode is always enjoyable, but his increased recklessness takes him from slinging cellphones to white collar criminals in the safe confines of the CC Mobile store to pitching them to tweakers and bikers at 1:30 am in the Dog House parking lot. Jimmy is so on edge, looking for any piece of action to distract him from the guilt he feels about Chuck and from the far-off date in which he’ll be reinstated as a lawyer, that he puts himself in harm’s way, getting jumped by teenagers for the cash he made hocking phones.
Later, when Jimmy runs into Howard in the bathroom at the courthouse, he doesn’t realize just how similar he is to Howard in that moment. Or maybe he does. They’re both processing Chuck’s death in a similar way, left restless over their respective roles and neither handling it well, and both are probably in need of professional help. Hamlin admits that he’s seeing someone when Jimmy suggests the help of a therapist, and maybe because he doesn’t want to admit that he’s like Hamlin or that he should feel any guilt, he tears up the therapist’s number on the spot. It’s a powerful scene that echoes back to the premiere and suggests Jimmy hasn’t hit the bottom yet. We hear him tell his parole officer how he’s going to get back to being a damn good lawyer, trying to convince himself that his current Slippin’ Jimmy revival is only temporary and that it will all be put behind him just like Kim believes that it is. But we all know that isn’t true.
Meanwhile, Kim puts Jimmy’s collection of snazzy ties to use, offering one up to her newest client, a young kid in trouble for putting a cinderblock through a storefront window. Kim taking on these low-level cases and playing hardball in her defense could be seen as some sort of altruism, but it’s inherently selfish in the fact that she is only representing people like David to help her relocate her love of her job and put off her responsibilities to Mesa Verde. By convincing herself she’s busy with other cases, it allows Kim to push aside Paige’s needs and be short in her communication with the client that should be her main priority. When she’s called out for the unprofessional behavior, she promises that it won’t happen again, but it has the same level of faux sincerity that Jimmy uses when he tells Kim that he may want to go see that therapist. Kim is trapped and she knows it. Will she self-sabotage further to escape?
Before we wrap things up, I want to give a special shout out to this week’s director Michael Morris (Bloodline, House of Cards), directing his first episode of the series. Now, every episode of BCS is typically dripping in style and excellent little camera flourishes, but “Quite a Ride” has stood out so far this season. Between showing the perspective of Mike’s first guest from under his hood, the small cuts showing time elapse in the back of the van, the great shots of the back of Kim and Bill’s heads in the courtroom as they argue over their deal, the shadows cast from the window paint onto Jimmy as he works on his scam in the CC Mobile store at night, and the inclusion of the trunk’s perspective camera shot which has sort of become a BB/BCS signature shot, Morris absolutely crushes his first episode. Nicely done.
Despite all of the lab action, “Quite a Ride” was a spectacular, character-driven episode that really proves that Season 4 is now off and running. I will say though that I did miss Nacho, even if I didn’t miss the cartel action. Jimmy and Kim are on separate paths of self-sabotage and are hiding it very well from one another, but what will happen once the ruse is up? And will we visit the BB timeline again? I can already see the fan-theories and ideas lighting up forums and comment sections as I type this.
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.