Better Call Saul “Sunk Costs” (S3E03)

Other than wondering the context to what we’re being shown in the cold open (which is later made clear), I felt inclined to just allow the scene to play and evoke whichever impression seemed to jump out the most to me. It’s beautifully shot and surely expressed a sense of inevitability and perhaps a touch of sadness of what that entails. Later when you have the fuller picture, it invites you to consider the in-transit LPH truck as a victory. An epic changing of the tides in what will lead to a world associated of the most high-octane course of events that will ultimately swallow these characters whole. What I really admired is that in such a short sequence, it accomplished me feeling all of these things in an otherwise quiet, indistinctive act of simply having those shoes drop. In my opinion, I find this to be one of the most peak, aesthetic moments that Better Call Saul has ever provided. I also like how you can’t tell how far into the future it takes place, mainly because it doesn’t matter.

As the the title suggests, this is an episode where characters continue to root their feet firmly into the ground and continue to invest in what they have always stood for. Mike will continue to chisel away at Hector Salamanca’s operation until a certain outcome eventually satisfies him. Jimmy will continue to fight against his unforgiving brother in the means to save the free-wheeling life he’s worked too hard to build with Kim. Kim will continue to support a crooked Jimmy, bringing the episode to a close in a delightfully sweet moment by bringing attention to the sunk cost fallacy, in reference to the time when Jimmy argued against it back in the season 2 premiere. In short, this is an episode that hits on the “why?” when it comes to how these characters choose to carry themselves when given little reason other than there’s something deeply rooted within that speaks to who they are. Chuck strongly stated back in season 1’s “Pimento” that “People don’t change”, yet in this scene, he’s applauding the concept now that he finally has his thumb over Jimmy’s future. Notice how Chuck being outside without “protection” (which we have only seen him do when Jimmy proved legitimate in landing the Sandpiper case) is not an issue for him in this moment.

What’s so soul-shattering about what Jimmy tells Chuck, is that it seems to emit the same level of lonely isolation you get from the cold open. Those shoes, future-tense, dropping in the middle of nowhere. If a person was there to actually witness such an insignificant occurrence, they would never know the incredibly masterful purpose it served being hung up on those wires to begin with. A brilliance that might as well have never happened even from those that might most appreciate it. Jimmy taps into such a feeling, knowing that Chuck is self-serving and holds pride in preserving the standards he lives by. At what cost though? After you’re long gone, how could you be admired for your accomplishments and what you believed in when those who matter most were driven away? Adding ‘alone’ at the end of it is one thing, but if Jimmy had just said “and you will die”, it would have came off petty or spiteful, but there’s something about the line delivery of “and you will…die there” that at its core is bluntly honest and matter-of-fact. Because of this, I feel like Chuck actually came the closest to a profound sense of self-reflection and possible change, when sympathetically questioning the ADA’s strategy, but nonetheless, he’s worked too hard to turn back now and will continue to deliver the punishment that he’s always wanted for Jimmy.

I’m really glad the episode kicked off with the Mike/Gus phone call considering it was an anticipated moment that got pulled out from under us in the episode prior. It definitely would have been a mistake to prolong that moment any further or worse, gloss over it and jump ahead to Gus’ arrival. I like how the camera creeps along the yellow street lines. It made me think of the last image of season 1 with Jimmy accelerating to the hum of “Smoke on the Water”. Fate is very present in such an image. Those wide shots where the sky (essentially a character in and of itself) commands the majority of the screen is portrayed almost like a grand host to the party. I love that when the two vehicles begin to approach Mike, the music begins to growl and the heat waves shimmer as if there could be a potential rip in the fabric of space-time as these characters clash. Not only are two important, powerful figures coming face to face, but even Victor and Tyrus (who never crossed paths on Breaking Bad) add an extra layer as they stand patiently in the background. It’s nice to see a Gus who is slick and intimidating, but articulate and reasonable towards Mike. After Walter White, it’s refreshing to have a Gus who can breathe and solve a conflict peacefully.

The shoe idea was certainly clever and executed well enough. One thing is for sure, I was so ready to groan if Mike threw those shoes up on the wire on the first try haha. It’s better to remind the audience that this guy is human and vulnerable at that. If anything, he’ll have his shining moment with Kaylee’s balloons down the road. But yeah, It’s cool to think how in the season 2 finale, the sniper rifle was never fired, yet the reason for that is more entertaining than if he had, while here, he finally does shoot, but still not in the way you would expect. Also it was great to see the return of Dr. Barry Goodman (just looked his name up), Gus’ doctor, who hooked Mike up with the drugs. I hope we see more of this guy. There’s so many characters from BB that I feel can be fleshed out and explored more now that there’s a chance to. Of course, only when the story dictates.

I wasn’t planning on throwing this video up but how could I not? It’s Kim Wexler kicking the morning’s ass.

This quirky, adrenaline rush of a sequence came out of left field but it establishes a very focused and a very success-driven Kim. Good for her that there’s a gym right across the street from the office and that she’s willing to sleep at work in order to have easy access. And waking up at 5:30 am to work out before starting your venture as a solo practitioner would be the way to do it if you really were gun-ho in being the best superhero you can be to achieve that. To follow it up with Ernie dropping the bad news of Jimmy’s current predicament makes for a compelling contrast. How does Jimmy fit into Kim’s world after a montage like that? Is there really more of a sunk cost invested in Jimmy compared to her own goals? It’s a great display of selflessness for her to support Jimmy, whereas with Chuck it’s more of the opposite. I like to think the offer of pre-prosecution diversion in trade for a confession that will potentially lead to Jimmy’s disbarment as Chuck’s version of using the sniper rifle in a more unexpected, nuanced way. ‘Shooting for the kill’ would have been the attempt to hammer in jail time.

Three episodes in and there’s so much happening. All the characters are pushed into a corner and I can’t wait to see how everything unfolds from here. Very promising so far.


– Jimmy getting booked was so exciting to watch, appropriately set to Little Richard’s “Hurry Sundown”. Saul Goodman was bubbling in that scene. I also laughed at Bill Oakley smiling in the window of the door as this is all going down (and yes, there’s no way I won’t be referring to him by his full name from here on out). I love his character. Is there a more pathetic/sad image than this guy eating from two open mini-bags of chips as if it’s a daily cherished ritual haha? It was smooth on Jimmy’s part to lure him with a cheeseburger in the hopes to get him involved in his case. When he says that another lawyer will be taking the opposition, followed by Jimmy’s (paraphrasing) “then who?”, I could have sworn Dan Wachsberger (Mike’s lawyer from BB) had turned the corner in the hallway behind Jimmy. Even when it’s revealed to be Kyra Hay that will be taking Chuck’s case, I still had to freeze-frame the shot to make sure it wasn’t him, which it wasn’t. I’m glad it wasn’t him too because its better for this show to expand its world. However, I still wonder what will make Saul have such a committed disapproval of Dan in the final season of Breaking Bad.

Better Call Saul “Witness” (S3E02)

If I had to put this episode in a word, I’d go with apprehension. It was a brilliant hour that sets the stage for the biggest push forward into Breaking Bad territory that we have seen so far. I’m excited. It’s a development that has unwrapped itself to the audience quite elegantly, but at the same time I don’t exactly know what to make of it as of yet. The notion of introducing Los Pollos Hermanos, Gus, Victor, and the complex web of operation that comes with that is going to ask a lot from this show. A show that has done a very good job at defining itself as an independent companion piece. I believe Gilligan and Gould will make this work and offer a story that isn’t just Breaking Bad origins. While that is absolutely an important element for the series and a necessity worth exploring, I still want to come away from Better Call Saul having been taken on a specific, exclusive journey in the fashion that only this show could have been able to provide. For instance, finding out how Hector ended up in the wheelchair should ideally play as a backseat ‘aha!’ moment in the midst of a grander tale. This is something that is going to be conceptually nerve-wracking as we go forward but fortunately will help add to the tension. In the introduction to all of this, Gus’ henchman, doing a crossword puzzle, circles the word ‘trajectory’, which I like to take as the show giving a self-aware wink to events preset in motion and hopefully of what can be accomplished in getting us there.

The episode opens in a rather eerie manner. Chuck is whistling in the dark, sipping tea, leering outside, and all the while there’s someone in the house. First you notice a glimpse of someone’s shadow, and then an unrecognized figure in the mirror, and finally you’re revealed this complete stranger who’s playing solitaire so nonchalantly, he might as well be a ghost. I like that the show didn’t feel the need to explain who this person was, You can figure it out, but there’s an air of mystery, and out of context, his presence feels just plain strange. Perhaps with the blueish tone of light that’s usually used to signify the flashback/past, and also due to my initial presumption that it was her in the mirror, I actually feel the absence of Rebecca in this scene, which is interesting since she’s brought up at the very end, by Jimmy. The first mention of her since she was introduced. You can just really feel that Chuck leads a completely different life now compared to what he used to have.

“Witness” seems to follow the theme of characters trying to peek into or insert themselves into places they may or may not belong. For starters, Mike is very cautious when observing the mysterious web of Gus. He is motivated to discover exactly what type of animal he has brushed shoulders with, to assure his own safety. On some level though, it plays like a new kid in town lurking in the shadows and peeking over the fence while kids of his own stripe play in next yard. Knowing that this is the environment he’s eventually destined for, the slow reveal of the Los Pollos Hermanos sign worked wonders. Here I am, too fixated on the ‘speed hump ahead’ and ‘dead end’ sign that caused me to remain a slight beat behind of what was happening in the bigger picture.

The return of Gus sweeping in an unfocused background while Jimmy studies the man with the knapsack was also a touch of class and a joy no matter when the realization hits you. Jimmy is also a character who’s trying his best to test the waters of another world or in the very least use his venture with Mike as an escape. Perhaps he has more respect for Mike than he did his own father, or maybe it’s a pathetic attempt to channel some faux older brother/younger brother dynamic that is free of the usual judgments but hes definitely making his best attempt to scratch his way in. He wants to make Mike proud of his talents, whereas Chuck would be ashamed.

It’s great how the show figured a way to have Jimmy and Gus clash without retconning Saul’s “I’ve never met the guy”.

I like how in the upwards POV shot, Gilligan uses the ceiling fan to create a sense of anxiety/danger while Jimmy continues to be transparent and underestimate Fring’s intelligence. Slippin’ Jimmy can be slick when playing a con, but if Mike is subject to missteps when getting a lead on the master, Jimmy never stood a chance. What I find the most engaging about this scene though is not so much that Jimmy/Saul is finally in the presence of Gus, but more that Gus is in the presence of Jimmy. Bob Odenkirk’s character is so rich and full of such magnificent depth at this point, and the highs that Bob Odenkirk continues to hit with the character just continues to astonish me. Even though Gus was several steps ahead of Jimmy in that scene, there’s still a quick, little expression that he gives after Jimmy leaves, that is almost as if he still wasn’t prepared for how odd of a fellow Jimmy would be. Despite seeing right through him, Jimmy is still shameless, commits, and is charming to boot and even though Gus’ nice guy facade had to entertain it, I believe part of him briefly was caught up in the spell of Jimmy McGill.

One character that doesn’t need to scratch their way into any new avenue of opportunity is Francesca and it’s mostly because Jimmy is doing the scratching for her by accelerating the interview process. I’m sure the last thing she expected before walking through the door, was to be speaking on the phone in a folksy voice singing the praises of a good cracker barrel. It’s sad to see an optimistic, hopeful version of this character knowing how unenthused she will become. If she undergoes such an unfortunate change, I can only imagine how defeated a character in closer proximity like Kim would look like in a Breaking Bad or post-Breaking Bad world. Nonetheless, Tina Parker has some serious comedic chops and I look forward to seeing more of her.

As suspected, Ernie eventually dropped by Jimmy and Kim’s place of work to warn of Chuck’s plan. Again, I feel on some level Ernie just wants to be more involved in the world of Jimmy and Kim. Not Chuck’s. Possessing crucial information that entails Jimmy in such a big way makes him feel relevant and not some old forgotten friend/peer from the days in the mail room. His attempt to present himself as an ally is rather clumsy though, as Kim just wants him to cut to the chase.

Then there’s Howard half-running through people’s backyards and hopping fences. This…is excellent. It reminds me of those brilliant, bizarre moments you would get on Mad Men like Pete falling down the stairs or Ken Cosgrove tap-dancing. While searching for the legit video, I’ve already come across something like this:

It feels appropriate too because this is what comes from entertaining Chuck and the war between the McGill brothers. These are fences that Howard does not want to be hopping over. The world of Chuck is not a world he’s interested in, but of course Chuck is an important man at the firm so he’s forced to play a little daytime manhunt. It’s not to say that Howard doesn’t like Chuck, but he could definitely do without the never-ending nonsense. I’m so glad the show recognizes the comedy of the situation regarding Howard’s character. Patrick Fabian needs more scenes like this.

Finally, to expand on what I already briefly touched on, this episode had me floored in Bob Odenkirk’s performance. Not just for the incredible fit of fury he goes into in the very end, but also just how rocked he was at the news that Chuck recorded him. You can feel the temperature in Jimmy’s character. The eccentricity, charm, and psychic glue that makes him who he is, nearly evacuates completely by the time he closes the door on his last client. That downward shot on him when he closes the door translated so much hurt. It’s one thing that he seems to have oddly retreated to Chuck’s ‘thumb over thumb’ method of removing the tape, but what I really love is how self-aware he becomes. Usually it’s us, the audience, that can draw symbolism in relation to a character. Last week, I mentioned his fondness for the girl who plays in the dirt, or the knockoff night light that might burn the down the house. Here though, he’s completely aware how his ‘Morning over the Sandia mountains’ artwork might read as a stock market crash, and throughout the episode that’s all you’re given to take it as other than it being inspired by the Wexler and McGill logo. For him to outright bring attention to that expresses a deep sense of existentialism. He’s sick of constantly being treated and dissected like a traveler in some foreboding tale when his intentions, for the most part, are meant to be sweet.

I’m not sure how I feel about Chuck’s undying persistence to destroy his brother, but Jimmy does deserve comeuppance over what he did with the Mesa Verde files. The fact that Jimmy thought he could dance his way out of that was incredibly shortsighted and even adds insult after injury to assume Chuck should shrug it off. At the same time, I don’t think Chuck understands how hurt Jimmy is by this. The only way Chuck was able to get the upperhand here was by manipulating the love Jimmy has for him and you have to admit, it’s cold. To conclude though, in an episode that features various characters trying their best to navigate themselves into places they may or may not belong, it’s capped with Jimmy physically forcing his way into Chuck’s domain. And in a world of Chuck, there’s a special place waiting for Jimmy.
Things to note:

– The discussion of DMV vs. MVD in Francesca’s interview was included as a way to make up for a little writing snafu in Breaking Bad. In certain bits of dialogue, Saul and Hank use the term DMV, but New Mexico refers to it, quite traditionally, as Motor Vehicle Department. Jimmy stating (paraphrasing) “It will always be DMV for me” is in the same camp of the roof pizza getting an explanation for not being cut (“…they pass the savings on to you” – Badger). Innocent patchwork like this is fun and it reminds me of The Sopranos, having a character tell Tony in a later season, “A don never wears shorts” which was a common nitpick in reference to the pilot.

– I love that shot of the knapsack guy atop the culvert (bridge with three open drains). It felt like something out of Hitchcock or even Tim Burton by the way it looked like a toy model with a shrunken person walking on it.

Better Call Saul “Mabel” (S3E01)

It’s that time of the year again. It’s been a while since I wrote a reflection/review/analysis on anything but here we go!


We start off with our third post-Breaking Bad flash-forward of Gene and I felt it was very telling to one of the mission statements of this season, being that this show is about to take a major and scary acceleration forward. “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra is the least apologetic tracks to open a season yet. It’s optimistic. Promising. It oozes change. Almost immediately, the Cinnabon is under the spell of a rapid time-lapse. After, Gene is shown reading The Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven which according to just a quick wikipedia synopsis is described as “a funny yet tragic tale, detailing everything from the loss of Niven’s father to his natural knowledge of how to lead a good life.” And I think this is a crisis similar to Gene’s, in that he has suffered a spectacular loss. Those he loves, his freedom, and most importantly his own identity. And judging by his sudden outburst after ratting out the kid in the photobooth, he’s fed up with who he’s become. He’s fed up with feeling sorry.

If I had a million dollars or ten
I’d give it to ya, world, and then
You’d go away and let me spend

This line pretty much sums it up for me. The world has put Jimmy/Saul/Gene in a place due to the consequences of the choices he’s made in his life, and Gene adheres to it because for the longest time he feels it’s deserved. He’s miserable and the world, just like the cop in this opening sequence, keeps telling him “nice job”. Nice job to staying in your place and doing what’s right. Right, right, right. Nice job for no longer flipping switches off when clearly instructed not to. Gene in this cold open has finally realized, and I believe spontaneously, that enough is enough. He’s Saul Goodman and there’s no way around it. And if there’s any indication that we are going to follow up on Gene sooner than usual, it’s that we end on a cliffhanger which has never happened in any of these flash-forwards. So whether we return to his collapse in the fashion of Breaking Bad’s second season or just once later in the season, we will undoubtedly get that follow-up before the season 4 premiere. Last season the opening title sequences introduced a singular drop into black and white but now it goes in and out three times.

“The Adventures of Mabel” (according to Vince Gilligan on Talking Saul, a tribute to what his mom read to him) offers us such a specially rich moment that’s free of any agenda from either side in the Chuck/Jimmy war, and that moment is so firmly rooted in nostalgia shared between siblings. Something of which, from my own experience with my sister, is something that’s almost inevitable not to get lost in, no matter how aware you are that it’s an escape from any pressing, underlying conflict. It’s warm, it’s bubbly, and even Chuck couldn’t resist it. My god, Michael Mckean’s face when he says “I read it to you”. The scales of resentment just fell in that brief moment and you witness a gleaming reminder that he’s a sucker in his love for Jimmy. However, as Tony Soprano would say, “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation” and I believe Chuck is in the similar mindset of that. It’s an unearned distraction. As soon as Jimmy begins to go to town (or Sugartown) on the nostalgia train, Chuck quickly brings it to a stop. The shift between a rare, sweet moment and his cold, deadpan “You will pay” is devastating and weirdly admirable all at once.

Many times throughout this episode I was surprised by how many tertiary characters played and contributed a larger role to the overall story. When I expected to see Mike meet up with Nacho in the dead of night, we instead are treated to the return of the veterinarian. When I expect to see Hamlin or possibly a police officer in Jimmy’s waiting room, we’re revealed Captain Bauer from last season’s “Fifi” (a confrontation that, thinking now, makes less sense if it didn’t happen). Paige from Mesa Verde unintentionally plants insecurity in Kim when describing the fallout of the botched hearing. Ernesto becomes more than just an errand boy but an important cog to Chuck’s plan. For an episode that stresses “the world”, I like that we’re getting such a fine spread of characters at play. Every piece matters. Nobody is beyond the realm of being affected by the main characters’ actions.

Speaking of the veterinarian, I like that moment where he’s concerned about the dog. You have to remember that Mike is a guy who last season hijacked a truck, got a good samaritan killed, and waited prone on a hill with a sniper rifle set to pick off the cartel. And for what? Now he’s caught up in a cat and mouse over a mysterious third party that’s tracking him. Concern for the dog serves on some level as a reminder for Mike to keep tabs on the good things. Not just the dog, but Stacey and Kaylee, rather than get swallowed by whatever this other stuff is. The way the episode ends with him driving off down a drizzling street, with the light turning green conveniently, and him just getting absorbed into this blurred destination. Perfect illustration of where his character is heading.

Meanwhile, the other vet has stopped by Jimmy’s place of work and man, whether it’s owed to the writing or from the performance, there’s something so endearing about Bauer, the Air Force Captain. This entire back and forth was thrilling.

Bauer is passionate. He’s not smug in his self-righteousness. There’s nothing strong-arming about him but he’s put in this unwanted position. There’s just honest, genuine good in him and even when he’s here to face off with this blatant fraud, scumbag of a lawyer who has made a mockery of the Captain’s hospitality, he does so with a sense of just needing to know, person to person, why Jimmy did this to him. He’s strong and he’s willing to do whatever he can to rectify the situation, but this is something you can tell truly hurts this guy. It’s so human and you can tell he’s just waiting for Jimmy to show some form of sincerity before he can move on. Anyway, fantastic actor. I’m glad his one-time appearance from last season provided the opportunity to deliver a scene like this. It really was unexpected. If anyone is deserving of giving an uptick in recruiting numbers, it surely would be a character like Captain Bauer! Odenkirk was awesome here too. As wrong as Jimmy is, I have to admire how unfazed he is when being called out. The way he suddenly blurts out “Always on your high horse…” was pretty much the reverse of him playing it straight in the cold open before blurting out “Say nothing, you understand! Get a lawyer!” The former is his true self on the offense, revealing a shred of conscience, while the latter is his false self, self-preserved, but then revealing what he truly believes in.

Kim obsessing over the punctuation is very appropriate in a case she doesn’t feel is earned. It reeks of Jimmy’s tampering. Whatever Chuck has planned, (and I love how much of a fog we’re in with that), it’s going to fall hard on Kim too. The look on Howard’s face while he listened to the tape, becoming lost in his own thought… you can tell Kim is more on his mind than Jimmy is. The tension between Howard and Kim last season was undeniably shaky. I can’t wait to see what transpires in regards to that. Even if it just means shedding more light on Howard’s character because personally, I find him very interesting.

As for Mike, I love how spooked he is. We’ve never seen him this spooked because he’s never dealt with someone so on top of their game, where they might as well be a ghost. In the season finale review, I mentioned how the universe is very present when the crickets stop and Mike’s car horn goes off within a vast, empty desert. The universe was very present in the season 2 finale of Breaking Bad as well. And Gus was just getting introduced, almost like a test to Walter from the heavens that if he follows up in the pursuit of this dark, criminal underworld, it’s going to be a point of no return. I love that gorgeous wide shot when Mike stops his car in the desert to check for the bug (those storm clouds with the pocket of light that’s pouring down, followed by another frame with a strike of lightning), as well as the time-lapse shot later on of Mike’s house, as if it’s teetering upon the Earth itself haha. Beautiful shot. Then of course, those long, silent scenes Mike gets throughout the episode. David Porter’s scoring…that snare drum when the car is getting taken apart…the mad dash out of the desert…I could go on forever.

Some notes:

– I like how Jimmy goes on an excited tangent about some neighbor girl who used to play in the dirt haha. It’s fitting too that he liked her and a proper spot for Chuck to interrupt. It also seemed fitting that Jimmy would have a red, knock-off, Daffy Duck-like night light that Chuck and family were worried would burn down the house.

– As you can tell, I’m of the opinion that Chuck intended for Ernesto to hear the tape knowing of Ernesto’s alliance with Jimmy. The triumphant flip of the tongs was the subtle tell. I still don’t know how that can help Chuck though, but I’m excited to find out. Regardless, it was tough to watch Ernesto initially getting screamed at. Poor guy.

– I’m guessing we’re going to be seeing Gus soon, but I like how the show is taking its time, allowing Mike to really earn the discovery. I hope the next episode follows suit because finding Gus should take some finesse. Don’t ruin the varnish in getting there.