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Better Call Saul “Coushatta” (S4E08)

“You’re gonna die.”

Danger looms in the eighth episode as the future of Werner, Nacho, and Kim are brought into question after straying from the strict paths designated to them. If I was a betting man, I’d say one of these three will be gone by the end of this season, and because the show is too intelligent to kill Kim (an outcome that would be Better Call Saul’s dumbest, laziest mistake if EVER committed), let alone Nacho (at this point), my bet is unfortunately on Werner. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot going on in the final two episodes, but I feel it would be premature for a surprise Nacho death, especially with Lalo (played by Tony Dalton) just now being introduced. That said, death doesn’t necessarily mean death, but exposure. Death is closed doors of opportunity, such as going to jail, living life in fear on the run, or getting disbarred as a lawyer. We’re all going to die, but these are outcomes for the characters that are just as real, if not scarier.

It’s been quite a ride for Kim this season. It’s one thing in the last episode’s cliffhanger for Kim to compromise her career to help Jimmy after so much emphasis was put on the divide of their relationship, and then it’s another to have an ending in this following episode where she’s thrilled to do it again. If there’s ever a reason to stay with your partner who’s grown further apart from you, it’s for the hope that you can rekindle the chemistry that once was. Jimmy and Kim’s relationship wasn’t in jeopardy solely due to their opposite values, but because of the secret, inner-conflicts that they’ve withheld from each other for so long. It’s the lack of full disclosure of their daily activities and what’s going on with them that’s been driving them apart, not precisely the actual content of those activities. Now that Kim knows where Jimmy’s head is and what he’s been up to, she feels a sense of closeness again (or traction), something the two have been starved for, for nearly a year.

If the proceedings for Mesa Verde weren’t such a drag for Kim, she probably would never make this worrisome choice. I think back to the younger, eager version of herself in the cold open of “Pinata” where she’s Jimmy’s #1 buddy but her admiration for Chuck and aspiration for becoming the rockstar lawyer is her real draw. You have to consider what happened to her along the way where Howard locked her in doc review and Chuck proved to be more of a disappointing role model. Even though she never achieved Mesa Verde properly (because of Jimmy), she still owned it through her hard work, but even that pales in comparison to what Jimmy has always consistently offered her in which Howard, Chuck, and even Kevin Wachtell have failed to. And that’s the rockstar, home run moment. Between her scamming ‘Ken Wins’ out of buying the most expensive tequila, fighting in Jimmy’s corner in the case against Chuck, or pulling off a Hail Mary in getting Huell no jail time, Jimmy has always been the guy that granted her the rewarding satisfaction of winning.

There’s always been a corruptible blot on Kim’s x-ray and she’s overcome that with the firm belief that working within the lines of legitimacy was her ticket for gratification. She wore this like a badge of honor to the point where she even warned Jimmy in season 2 that fabricating evidence in his cobbler scheme was not worth sacrificing the more lucrative, straight and narrow road he’s built for himself. However, Jimmy has proved time and time again that through the same willpower in which Kim possesses, he can run each side of the law like a ski slalom in his favor. It’s that exhilarating feeling of coming out on top that triumphs over the lawful standards Chuck reveled in, where currently for her it’s all tunnel and no light. That said, I don’t think Kim is stupid. By telling Jimmy “Let’s do it again”, it’s not that she’s willing to unnecessarily bend the law when there’s no present hurdle giving them a reason to, but a message to Jimmy that she’s willing to fight dirty in his corner when the next situation calls for it. It’s too much of a stretch that she would join Jimmy as a criminal partner (she still has higher morals), but she certainly seems eager to be a disciplined asset to him.

The reveal and execution of Jimmy and Kim’s plan (one Kim was hoping to avoid by doubling down on hiring expensive associates) was nothing short of brilliant. I couldn’t stop laughing at the website for Huell and Jimmy’s improvisation as a Louisiana pastor which felt like a tip of the hat to Odenkirk’s comedic stylings in Mr. Show (Peter Gould even requested that Bob bring a little bit of Senator Tankerbell into his performance). Also, I’ve been wondering for a while if we would ever see the UNM film students again and lo and behold, they make their season 4 debut in the best way possible. The character of ADA Suzanne Ericsen also played a great foil and I love the hurricane that develops in her office over this. Superb comedy and drama all at once.

After a three episode hiatus, we finally return to Nacho, shown for the first time after the time jump. His physical wounds have healed and he seems more hardened in his new role as the Salamanca territory’s supreme enforcer, even if it’s still a role and overall way of life that he’s determined to escape. Switching Hector’s pills last season proved to be a major bust and now both him and his father’s lives are at higher risk the longer he plays as a double agent puppet for Gus. His plan to flee to Canada with his father under new identities is hopeful, especially with the flashy camouflage he’s created for himself with a hot rod and house full of junkie girls. This will help feed the narrative that he’s a comfortable, content drug dealer with no plans of jumping ship.

It’s the money Nacho’s stashing away in his safe that has me worried though, considering the surprise visit from the mysterious Lalo Salamanca, who supposedly is there to surveil the cash flow. It’s still not clear if Nacho has made any mistakes (out of desperation to speed up the process) with the income he’s been storing for himself, but something along those lines certainly seems to be implied. Lalo hiijacking the restaurant under such an infectiously charming guise is probably one of the most unsettling, non-violent moments this show has ever displayed. The temperature of the room provided by the look on Domingo’s (Krazy-8’s) face, does not match the gracious soul Lalo is presenting himself as. The invaded sense of space that he asserts is the total opposite of the silent involvement he’s promising. It’s a power play and Lalo is likely fully aware of this contradiction.

As much as Lalo may be over-estimating Nacho’s ability to pick up on the threat of this situation, it’s still crystal clear that Lalo is smart and a much more sharper adversary than Tuco, the cousins, or Hector have ever been. The last thing Nacho needs is another powerful, intelligent figure breathing down his neck and what’s worse is this will be the beginning of what will tie Jimmy closer to this world. If the breaking point of Walter White’s story brought about the downfall of Saul Goodman, then it makes you wonder how much of a role does Ignacio Varga’s story play in the downfall of Jimmy McGill? With Kim getting pulled in closer to Jimmy, how intertwined will the independent stories of Better Call Saul become and what are the consequences of that?

Then there’s Werner and the rest of the German engineers. I feel as if Kai might very well be serving as a red herring to a dreadful chain of events that are going to take place due to the hairline cracks in Werner that are beginning to give. Werner is someone whose bond with Mike has developed so pleasingly over these last handful of episodes. Not only can his life now be at risk after leaking the construction plans to the strangers in the bar, but the whole team could result as collateral damage from any future slip-up. The most ambiguously eerie aspect to all of this is I 95% believe Werner successfully received Mike’s warning and understands the seriousness of what he needs to keep a lid on, while the other 5% (symbolized by him fumbling over his safety jacket) leaves me doubtful. Meanwhile Mike sticking his neck out to Gus, proclaiming the conflict as all good and squared away, makes me 95% sure that Gus will take his word on it. On the other hand, the other 5% makes me wonder if “good” is good enough and whether a paranoid Gus is surveying the excavation site of the superlab in this moment as a potential kill room.

At the end of the day, I’m worried about Werner, but I’m concerned for Mike. What would it mean, to Mike’s surprise, if Gus has the Germans killed, regardless if Werner messes up again? Or what does it mean if Werner, who Mike vouched for, messes up again, and then must be dealt with? If either direction comes into play, how does this story benefit the cold blooded alliance between Mike and Gus which will come to be? What causes Mike to pledge allegiance to Gus if such dark circumstances occur with the death of the Germans? These are the thoughts I have going forward into these last two episodes, as I’m really curious how the writers will land this side of the story.

Better Call Saul “Something Stupid” (S4E07)

Time jump!

Ever since the wait for season 4, I’ve wondered how the show is going to respond appropriately to the events of last season while keeping Jimmy’s extensive PPD period engaging and essential to the overall story. The aftermath of Chuck’s death is enough drama fuel to go on, of course, but at the same time, 10 months is a long while for Jimmy not to be a lawyer and at the show’s pace, we don’t need to actually experience that time in order to feel the blow of Jimmy’s punishment. The driven wedge between Kim and Jimmy has been so substantial and intricately told across (what will be so far) most of the season, that it still came to a surprise when we got that wonderfully constructed, artful montage pushing us from 2003 into the summer of 2004, a month short before Jimmy is reinstated. It’s at this point that I predict the last three episodes will run out the remainder of his month with focused story that will help launch Saul, the lawyer, for season 5.

The split-screen montage, played to Lola Marsh’s extended cover of Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Something Stupid” (created exclusively for this episode) is a cathartic, rewarding payoff as to why this show should never gloss over the smaller details. We know why they’re drifting apart and have felt it, so if time is to accelerate, this scene successfully capitalizes on that feeling. Other shows, guilty of using montage as a lazy story device purely to avoid telling a story, should be taking notes from Better Call Saul, not just for when it’s creatively necessary to implement into a script, but also how to make it entertaining and meaningful. I love how this show is always taking on fresh and inventive directing/editing techniques in delivering these pieces, instead of relying on the former show’s signature use of time-lapse (which even Breaking Bad didn’t necessarily rely on).

The state of Kim and Jimmy’s relationship following this sequence is irrefutably worn out, yet they’ve forced each other to function as the world’s most frustratingly unresolved couple, Remember how I’ve been anticipating some ugly explosion between the two this season? Well, it’s been nearly a year since the last episode and no such confrontation ever reared its head. It’s unnerving and ironic, because they seem to be some of the two greatest problem solvers on the show. Whether it’s a scam from Jimmy or a case Kim’s working on, they fight tooth and nail to ensure resolution. Legitimate, illegitimate, destruction, construction… Together, they’re like a paradox, but just like the superlab continues to bear parallel metaphor, they’re “not quite impossible”, if not a little overdue in becoming fixed or fully realized.

“…Well that was something.” – Kim

The distance illustrated between them in “Something Stupid” is nothing short of jarring, especially since they have become more public with their relationship. Back in my review of season 2’s “Rebecca”, I mentioned how dinner parties (or in this case a cocktail party) tends to be the perfect time to put up a front and have a passive aggressive dance take place around a deep-seeded issue. In the cold open of “Rebecca”, Jimmy used his charm and humor to take undermining shots at Chuck’s profession and ego, ultimately leaving Chuck insecure with his marriage. The cocktail party of S&C is no different as Jimmy takes this opportunity to peg Rich Schweikart into a corner by getting his employees jazzed up for an expensive retreat. What Jimmy really is doing here though is rubbing Kim’s nose in her own success and intentionally embarrassing her. It’s a message of their differences and how they don’t belong together if they can’t be on the same page. It’s something they fail to outright address no matter how much time goes by.

After Huell sidelines a cop with a bag of sandwiches, Jimmy has no choice but to reveal to Kim that he’s been selling drop phones on the street. This only further exemplifies how much they have grown apart as she responds with more validation of their crumbling relationship than the old Kim (even from last episode) would have reprimanded him over. It’s not until she hears Jimmy spoken of as a scumbag witness by the opposing counsel, before her concern for Jimmy truly registers. Her line “You don’t know the whole story” is telling to the tragedy of Jimmy’s life that she’s been drawn to ever since she discovered Chuck’s refusal to hire him at HHM.

I noticed there were two misleads with Huell in this episode. The first is where Jimmy is giving a tour of an office space, where you would presume he’s pitching the place as some desperate, last ditch effort to Kim, (or more likely to Francesca, another supposed do-gooder), but instead the reveal of Huell completely undercuts those expectations. The second instance is towards the end of the episode, where after Kim hears Jimmy has been peddling phones to criminals, she’s shown making an urgent call, requesting to meet the person on the other line. Even with Jimmy and his Esteem out of focus in this shot, you would think that the person Kim most urgently needs to see is him. Again though, it’s Huell, and the only news she has for Jimmy is that Huell will have to serve time. Both misleads here show how determined they are to keep to their separate paths, but the most surprising outcome is how Kim’s concern for Jimmy, instilled anew by speaking to the cop’s lawyer, is what causes her to make a decision completely antithetical to what the entire hour has been driving at.

There’s many layers to this twist, beyond just the mystery of what she plans to do with these pens and markers. For one, the last time we saw Kim driving her car in silence, she was met with a violent car crash, arguably brought on indirectly by her subconscious guilt to what she and Jimmy did to Chuck in court, and due to her anxiety of Jimmy’s misbehavior in general. It’s why she was operating on little sleep as she buckled down into her work for Mesa Verde. There’s also the idea of Kim and Jimmy’s separate paths. By having her take a sharp, risky U-turn, it helps visually convey the compromising decision she’s making in favor for Jimmy’s illegitimate practices. Finally, in the episode’s opening sequence, Kim took up half the screen, divided from Jimmy, whereas in the final shot, Kim gets so close to the screen that she envelops it entirely to the point where the single frame can’t even capture her properly. From a visual standpoint, all of this helps elevate the gravity of the moment, especially as she’s cut off from the frame while making the call to Jimmy, conveying a sense of wrongness (even stupidity) in this decision.

Then there’s Gus and the superlab plot. Look, personally I enjoy how the show has handled these stories. I definitely think the lens of Nacho is a predicament that fires at the highest cylinder and not seeing him for the last few episodes certainly leaves something to be desired, especially when the Gus/Hector plot is more about filling in the blanks. That said, I like the little we’re being fed with and how quickly it’s progressing (especially with the time jump). I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel absolutely enthralled by Giancarlo’s performance when that helpless smile comes over Gus’ face upon realizing he can now keep an entombed Hector under his thumb. I’m also curious to know how many shots it must have taken for him to give that subtle spike into the camera without destroying the fourth wall. It reminded me of Breaking Bad’s “Hermanos” when Walt spikes the camera in the same fashion when Hank tells him that something deep down says Gus is his guy.

As for the superlab, other than standing as a string of metaphors for Jimmy’s story, I strongly believe it’s building to something beyond just ‘filling in the blanks’, especially as the German engineers become more restless and agitated with the project. As Mike continues to bond with Werner, I’m worried what happens to him and his team after the superlab is finished. I feel the longer things get delayed, the more likely something is going to go wrong, and a loose cannon like Kai or any of the others are on the verge of being the spark to that. All of that aside, for me, the superlab is a grander spectacle than just simple Breaking Bad fan-service. There’s a monolithic, transfixing quality to it’s creation that I find fascinating. Peter Gould even mentions in the insider podcast, how the superlab’s excavation, to him, mirrors 2001: A Space Odyssey’s moon excavation scene, and I couldn’t agree more. I just eat that stuff up. Plus, Mike scolding “Boys! Cool it!” in what I would assume is clunky German was great, and if it doesn’t become a meme of some sort, then the internet has failed.

Extra stuff to note:

Burl Ives’ “Big Rock Candy Mountain” was a fitting choice of song for the Germans arriving at the laundry, especially how the lyrics keep tediously repeating, emitting the feeling of how exhausted they are. And yeah, big rock candy mountain is obvious for what the superlab will be used for, but I also like how it’s a humorous nod to what Walt’s blue meth is actually made of from a production standpoint.

– When Kim was receiving her Mesa Verde trophies for each state completed, I freeze-framed to see if Nebraska was one of them, and sure enough it’s front and center. I’m still dying to learn more context for her past there.

– Here’s a little fun fact I’ve been anticipating. The next episode “Coushatta” will mark the 100th episode of the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe (62+38=100).


Better Call Saul “Pinata” (S4E06)

If “Quite a Ride” gave us a flash-forward to the collapse of the Saul era, book-ended with the major turning point that will propel him towards said era, then “Pinata’s” cold open shows us in flashback, the hopeful origins of lawyer, Jimmy McGill, followed by the rest of the hour book-ending the demise of this chapter of his life. We’re at a crossroads. We learn that Jimmy’s motivation to become a lawyer is just as intertwined to win Kim’s respect as it was for Chuck’s, reminding us that Kim is just as much a crucial anchor for his saving grace.

Unfortunately in present time, the wedge continues to be driven between the two. As Jimmy discloses his decision not to seek therapy, Kim uses this as an excuse to follow the career choice that makes the most sense for her (joining Schweikart & Cokely). They continue to omit their conflict by upholding a false pretense with one another. It’s a dance around facing the truth which will lead to the future of Wexler-McGill becoming no more than a pipe dream. I love how thick the tension is, derived from something so quietly subtextual and character-driven. Bravo for Gilligan and Gould for taking advantage of Jimmy and Kim’s prolonged divide, allowing us to toss and turn over the drama that’s found here. For a show that’s tasked with heading towards a certain, highly anticipated future, it’s fully aware of when it needs to stay put.

Odenkirk plays the moment with such unspoken devastation when Jimmy excuses himself from the table after Kim casually crushes the sole hope of them working together. Having Jimmy stand in the intersection between the restaurant’s kitchen and bathroom was a great staging choice as well to help convey anxiety and misplacement. The ‘path’ he heavily relies on to move forward with, so as to avoid navel-gazing, has hit a definitive fork in the road, which I feel the yellow sign on the wall next to Jimmy was appropriately tipping its hat towards. I also couldn’t help myself from having this Seinfeld line in the back of my mind.

Lets put this in perspective. Back in season 2’s “Inflatable”, Kim actively chose to join Jimmy under the same roof as two solo practitioners over the prospect of joining S&C, which was argued even with partner-track, to be a lateral move from HHM. She’s the one who proposed the idea of separate law practices due to Jimmy needing to play the law colorfully in contrast to her being straight and legitimate. Back then, you could tell Jimmy felt a bit conflicted with the proposal, considering it was not just a rejection of an ideal venture, but most importantly it’s a rejection of his values (if not a kinder rejection than Chuck’s).

That said, she did make a professional choice that brought her closer to him than anyone else. She accepted him to a degree and even surprisingly fights in his corner when Chuck brings the hammer down in the midst of the Mesa Verde files tampering. After Chuck’s death and the guilt she’s been reeling with ever since, Kim has changed her tune. Kim’s decision to join the ranks of S&C is very telling that she’s creating an exit strategy from Jimmy alone (not just Wexler-McGill), especially as he shows no effort to better himself and continues to keep her at an arms-length. I don’t know how much longer the show could restrain itself from an explosive confrontation, yet it’s successfully nail-biting the further it continues not to.

Not only is Wexler-McGill presumably over with, but the episode manages to wrap around from the early days of the show. Mrs. Strauss, the first client who served as a foot in the door for Jimmy practicing elder law, is revealed to have passed away in her sleep. Jimmy, for the first time this season, exhibits genuine grief upon hearing the news (as if he’s due for an emotional release) and even digs up the Davis & Main commercial she acted in during season 2. This sadness he feels is the first opportunity he can allow himself to feel bad. She represents a time, primarily in season 1, when he gave a genuine effort to stay on the straight and narrow, regardless of not being able to help himself from taking shortcuts along the way. Those days, properly illustrated in “Pinata’s” final scene are undoubtedly over.

After last episode, I was half-hoping that the show wouldn’t go in the direction of Jimmy taking revenge on the boys who mugged him, considering such popcorn satisfaction doesn’t really exist in real muggings, but in this case I’m wrong. Those kids have nowhere else to be. They’re going to be on the streets again and Jimmy isn’t some innocent passerby victim. He’s going to be back at it too and Slippin’ Jimmy needs to set things right if he’s to continue selling phones. Overall, I like how this was handled by using Jimmy’s business proposal to them as a mislead to his more sinister back-up plan.

It’s also appropriate that the line Jimmy crosses here is balanced between over-stepping into a situation that feels out of place for Slippin’ Jimmy but also not fall under a hyper-extreme Heisenberg moment. I don’t think even Saul Goodman would commit an act of physical violence against another if he could avoid it. Jimmy’s performance of intimidation towards these punks was great but I did wonder how much of it was borrowed from his extensive movie knowledge. I’d be interested to know whether any of the films up for an Oscar in 1993 contained a scene that mirrored his actions here.

I know this is a shallow observation, considering I have no proper knowledge of the actual contents of the film but it’s interesting how Howard’s End is a title referenced in the same cold open where Jimmy peruses HHM’s library, seeing as it marks the start of the war between the McGill brothers, in which Howard will be forced to wear a straight-jacket with an umbrella. Flash-forward to the present day of this episode and it doesn’t look like HHM is looking too hot in the aftermath. Not only that, but Jimmy ripping into Howard to stop wallowing over “one little set-back” and calling him a shitty lawyer, is finally answered with a long over-due “Fuck you, Jimmy.” It’s a line that felt so deserved, AMC (for whatever reason) didn’t even censor it.

Bottom-line, Howard and the firm are in shambles and with Chuck deceased, as well as there being no further reason to protect Jimmy anymore (which is all he ever really did as recent as taking the blame for Chuck’s death), Howard has every right to drop his sensibilities. It’s a long way from the pilot when Howard would entertain Jimmy storming into his conference room, demanding money. The thing is though, Jimmy is trying to help Howard here, even if he gets to enjoy knocking him in the process. It’s as if Slippin’ Jimmy, the scam artist, can honestly size up Howard’s strengths and weaknesses for what they truly are, and instead of using that to run a game on Howard, he’s outright sharing this intuition as a gift of tough love.

It’s one thing for Jimmy to be afraid of examining himself inwardly to face his darkness in order to move on from Chuck, but then there’s a character like Gus who revels and remains consumed by the inner-demons he harbors. It’s funny how in Better Call Saul, we learn more about Jimmy and Mike’s family than we ever did on Breaking Bad, but with the second show taking Gus on as a regular character as well, his supposed family life which was hinted at in Breaking Bad remains a mystery.

Whether that’s because he was telling a lie of their existence or not, and his implied relationship with Max was the last person he was ever close to, this scene still paints a pretty clear picture as to where his priorities lie. Gus is the guy who will ignore his own brothers just to take a long, unnecessarily drawn out act of revenge on an animal, which by nature is only feeding off the lacuma tree to survive. Fruit will grow back, but imagine when a human being such as Hector Salamanca maliciously snuffs out the most important person in Gus’ life. This is why we never see Gus’ family or home life detached from anything business. Revenge is his home and the story he eerily tells here of keeping the coati as a tortured pet shows us this is who he’s always been.

Mike making suggestions to Gus on how to make the German excavation crew feel at home, beyond basic shelter and necessities, is fitting here too. While Gus agrees and supports Mike’s idea, he’s much more invested with the revenge on Hector to appreciate the proper accommodation that he’ll be providing these men. It trumps him from even taking pleasure in his own business, let alone family life. As for Mike, it’s good to see he’s making such an impact on Fring’s operation, but I’m waiting for the conflict to arise which will spark the beginning of his transformation towards a cold-blooded murder-for-hire. I wonder what issues the spoiled newcomer Kai is going to present and if the development of this housing situation is going to lean towards Mike being forced to get his hands dirty.

Oh and of course, it was wonderful to see Michael McKean as Chuck again, who’s still shown brimming with subtle resentment towards Jimmy even when he was in the mail room.

Better Call Saul “Quite a Ride” (S4E05)

We’re halfway through the season and we’re met with an episode possessing a key turning point in Jimmy’s prospective path to Saul. Just like Gus’ prospects being interviewed for the structural engineering position of the future superlab, Jimmy too traverses the hour with a figurative bag over his head. He doesn’t know the plan or where he’s going and he’s also challenged to prove what he’s capable of, which is something that can only become successful if you have a clear grasp on who you are. Jimmy doesn’t know who he is. His Slippin’ Jimmy origins are hopeful in his street hustling, but the mugging he endures forecasts a slower learning curve he’ll need to take on before reprising the fine-tuned master he once was. The shell of Saul Goodman that will eventually encapsulate him is also not fully formed. There are little abstract cues throughout the episode that hint towards Saul like the shot of the backwards “SOL” painted on CC Mobile’s glass door or “S THE MAN” as Jimmy later scrubs the paint off. He even reassures Kim “It’s all good” before becoming a creature of the night. The name, just like his future, is fragmented and not yet fully realized.

Other than the vague cold open flash-forwarding the smooth commute of a Los Pollos Hermanos truck in last seasons “Sunk Costs”, the surprise opening shot here presents us with the first distinct scene set during Breaking Bad (“Ozymandias” era) and is shot with the former show’s rare home use of 35mm film. That fact, disclosed by Gilligan and Gould in various interviews, is something that blows my mind because regardless of how seamless it fits into Better Call Saul’s digital presentation, you can still tell the difference, truly immersing you in this stage of time.

From a story perspective, this scene is jarring. For starters, it’s the first, long-awaited glimpse of the show’s title character (as we remember him), ironically in a moment when the era of Saul is coming to an end. Second, Jimmy’s working with Francesca and she’s completely changed her tune towards him? For future viewers who will watch Better Call Saul first, this is going to be a strange reveal considering we haven’t seen her character since the season 3 finale and as far as one might presume, her purpose was served up until then. The mystery still remains as to why she joined Saul and stayed with him, especially (supposedly) without Kim in the picture.

I wouldn’t call “Quite a Ride” an origin story in the same vein that “Five-O” is Mike’s, but it’s certainly an important chapter in the overall origin of Saul which bookends Jimmy’s idea for the future with his actual one. In the last scene at Jimmy’s pre-prosecution diversion meeting, he essentially mirrors the first guy who Mike interviews for structural engineer. Jimmy’s over-confident and regardless of whether he’s telling a plan the PPD supervisor would want to hear or Jimmy just plain isn’t facing the truth of his own reality, he’s still making a promise to something that’s not going to come to pass.

Howard on the other hand, takes on the role of Werner Ziegler, the German engineer that Gus and Mike end up going with. Howard is the guy who is willing to get his hands dirty in the long road ahead, sweat, and be completely honest with himself while grieving over Chuck’s death. Jimmy refuses to face those demons, especially after seeing the draining effect it can have on a good, morally-sound man like Howard. It’s absolutely appropriate that the first shot of this episode is paper being shredded in Saul’s office, because Jimmy shredding the therapist’s number and flushing any chance of healing himself down the toilet, is exactly what’s going to propel him towards the future of his own destruction.

It really was shocking to see Howard like this and I’m worried about him, but I believe he’ll come out the other side in a better state while Jimmy will continue to descend. What’s conflicting though is a theory I have that the lawyer Saul advises Francesca to meet with in the cold open is not Kim, but Howard. Francesca knows who Kim is, so Jimmy wouldn’t use a phrase like “Tell em’ Jimmy sent you”. If the law of the bookend is at all a thing (which arguably there’s not), I feel as if a role reversal is hinted to take place where instead of Jimmy being the unlikely character who tries to help Howard in this final scene, Howard could be the unlikely one to do Jimmy a favor in the cold open. It makes no sense why Howard would, especially since he’s a good man on the road to recovery, but perhaps something odd happens along the way for Howard that could keep him tethered to Jimmy’s orbit. Otherwise, I’d say the lawyer could be Bill Oakley (not The Simpsons writer/showrunner), but Kim pretty much has proven that he’s not the guy you want in your corner when you’re cornered. “I invented chicken” is not going to hold up in court.

Speaking of Kim, it seems like she’s fully committed to fighting minor offenses, while leaving Mesa Verde on the back-burner. In last episode’s review, I touched on how she’s working through an existential crisis and may be trying to use these small cases as a catharsis for helping Jimmy, but the more it unfolds I feel it’s as simple as what I’ve noted long ago. It’s not so much that she feels bored with Mesa Verde but tainted with its growing success after Chuck’s suicide. One of the first shots of the season are the embers of Chuck’s house floating into the night sky being superimposed over the Mesa Verde files. It’s why she decided not to take on Gatwood Oil in the season 3 finale as well, because she received that client through Mesa Verde and she already felt guilty enough after putting a mentally ill Chuck through the ringer in “Chicanery”. By burying herself in the underbelly of the courthouse, she may be trying to start over from square one, detaching herself further from what she feels she does not deserve. This again, shows the widening gap between herself and Jimmy and it’s only a matter of time before it’s all brought to light.

No Nacho this week, but Mike is indeed aboard the Gustavo Fring train, traveling across the state to interview foreign structural engineers. I know the creation of the superlab is mostly necessary in the context to how far along Gus’ empire is, but I also find the execution of its creation fascinating. I love Werner as a newly introduced character for how openly human he is with a lack of concern for composure. The research that went into his dialogue is excellent. I’d be entertained just by listening to him speak of his trade for hours, weighing every hurdle that will present itself in this “not quite impossible” task ahead. The birth of the superlab might be just as much of an enigma as any other character on this show.

Other stuff:

– “Headlines” by Freddy Glidersleeve and Stephen Easterling (a track unfortunately not commercially available to the public) is the song that plays while Jimmy awaits his first customer at CC Mobile. It’s the same song that played when Walt and Jesse meet at Denny’s to regroup after Gus kills Victor. Coincidentally, it’s being played when Walt asks Jesse how he’s doing (in regards to Gale’s murder) where Jesse, similar to the defense Jimmy uses in regards to Chuck, acts as if everything is fine. Both characters are going through self-loathing and both choose to drown themselves within Albuquerque’s criminal element (Jimmy even occupying the Dog House, a prime spot for Jesse to be). Jimmy gets robbed and Jesse almost gets robbed from the people they surround themselves with (Jesse taking on a new role when Mike takes him under his wing). There’s a foreboding parallel here but it’s not exactly identical. It makes you wonder how closely it will be followed. Jimmy certainly won’t have an outburst in “therapy” like Jesse had in “Problem Dog” so that frustration and anger might be redirected elsewhere (Kim) or remain unhealthily internalized.

– I adore the street montage of Jimmy selling phones to a diverse group of sordid customers. The tension that builds when the biker gang arrives, causing everyone to scatter felt very Breaking Bad to me in it’s direction and scoring. Jimmy having the gall to approach them felt reminiscent of an early Walter White and I like how the success in selling the phones to the gang was used as a distraction from the real danger. The whole time I expected the kids lurking in the background during the montage was there to help illustrate how wrong they were about Jimmy being a narc, so it’s even more of a surprise when it turns out it’s because they were planning to rip Jimmy off.

Better Call Saul “Talk” (S4E04)

I’d like to commend the season so far for how they’re handling Jimmy’s story. It’s one thing to create the most gaping divide between the audience and his head space than there’s ever been, but the peripheral focus and slow push forward across a four episode duration makes his transformation all the more excruciating to witness. It’s like being forced to watch a car wreck in slow-mo except Jimmy’s still fumbling to get his keys in the ignition. Jimmy spending the majority of the episode bouncing a ball against the window (in an overlooked nutshell) somehow fills me with just as much anxiety as Nacho dreading imminent bloodshed as the cousins go on a shooting spree. That’s quite a feat. Add to the fact that he’s hiding his criminal behavior from Kim and it’s all the more insultingly painful and frustrating. It’s like the writers are giving what many of the more impatient fans want in the most conflicting way. Jimmy is indeed on the brink of the change we’re anticipating, but Saul Goodman needs to rise from the primordial ooze rather than spun around and revealed in the snap of a finger.

Jimmy’s story is pushing forward though. He’s making criminal connections, building a relationship with Ira, and by the end he takes Ira’s advice into considering multiple cell phone burners by going to the absolute, dismissive extreme of using his vacant CC Mobile location to advertise for a sketchier demographic. The large, blatant paint job (applying the same color scheme as the Better Call Saul logo) of “Is the Man Listening? Privacy Sold Here” alone helps feed into how unhinged Jimmy is. The fact that he took this job (in which moments ago, he turned down) just to avoid Kim’s suggestion to seek therapy also solidifies his unwillingness to get better or mend the divide between him and her. I don’t know how long Jimmy will be able to entertain CC Mobile’s resources for this seedy detour, but with a little more hustle on the streets, I believe he could begin to build a new client base for the future. Regardless of the plot that’s moving into place, I feel confident that Jimmy’s character-driven sense of misguidedness, remaining adrift from Kim and the audience in an opportune, crucial moment of grief, will prove just as essential to a grander payoff.

This season is just about the mystery of where Kim’s head is as it is with Jimmy’s. As Jimmy’s world secretly spirals, she’s left to paddle a rowboat one-handed while also being kept at a distance from the audience in terms of what her next move is. We find her at the courthouse, not for research, but for observation. She certainly seems to be going through an existential crisis, feeling unfulfilled with the Mesa Verde proceedings, and perhaps looking for inspiration. When Judge Munsinger hits the nail on the head towards said likeliness of that and explains how she’s not the first person to use his court room for soul-searching, you would think that Kim’s decision to keep observing would suggest that her reasons aren’t as transparent.

But it is soul-searching. Transparency doesn’t trivialize her desperation to repair an inner-conflict (no matter how many people have felt it before), being one that extends beyond the mundane trials of Mesa Verde, but her longing to build stability for Jimmy’s grief and a bridge for the gap in their relationship that’s currently being buried with Thai food and movie marathons. By observing opening statements, sitting closer to the side of the guilty party, she could be trying to find the best approach in getting through to Jimmy. As viewers, we’re left out in the open with this one, which again is owed to tension built upon uncertainty as we anticipate a confrontation between Kim and Jimmy that I feel is overdue (as part of the story), especially in an episode titled “Talk”.

While Jimmy is avoiding therapy, we open the episode with a flashback montage (played to The Ventures’ “Grazin’ in the Grass”) of a young Matty watching Mike pour and mix cement, followed by a flash-forward of Mike in group counseling having just finished disclosing something very heavy. It’s telling that this memory of Matty is certainly the driving force behind whatever bomb was dropped in the room. Is it a moment of self-destruction? Did he implicate himself in any way towards Matty’s death or worse, the murder of the killers? The speculation throws you for a loop as it’s crazy he would even say anything about that, but after the gravity of the cold open, you have to wonder what else could Mike reveal about Matty that Stacey hasn’t.

I love how this hangs over the episode and how, in the show’s classic fashion, the reveal of what truly is going on in the scene and the subtext to what expertly brought it on (indeed Matty-related) is much more fitting and meaningful than him sharing anything outright about his son. I admire how, across both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, this is the first flash-forward, self-contained within the hour, that doesn’t even come close to bookending the episode. It helps sell the point that this moment closes a door and something that’s going to be put well behind in the rear-view mirror as Mike digs his front foot deeper into Gus’ world (Mike literally and dramatically stepping forward towards Gus before the credits roll).

This not only turns out to be a dismissal of the group and the end of him supporting Stacey by attending, but he’s sadly disbanding from Anita (a character I’ve really enjoyed). The story initially and innocently set itself up (not unlike one of Mike’s heists), where him and Anita don’t just have a fun bet, but a shared goal in determining whether Henry is a pathological liar. However, unlike most of the goals Mike follows through with, this one gets personal and goes completely awry, resulting in an unexpected, ugly outcome. The look on Mike’s face when Anita steps in to calm him down expressed such genuine sorrow over the unfortunate rejection he needs to express, one that will likely end their platonic relationship in the process.

In Mike’s defense, his outburst holds ground considering not only is Henry outed as the obvious fraud Mike sees him as, but the group is outed as glaringly blind and oblivious for entertaining his lies for as long as they did. From Mike’s perspective, it proves how unproductive the atmosphere is for him. It’s not to say that group counseling doesn’t help, but that all the pieces were in the right spot for him to realize he needed to get out of there and Stacey admitting that she went hours without thinking about Matty, was the spark. What’s ironic is that Stacey was the one in last seasons’ “Expenses” who had to remind Mike of how he used to teach Matty as a kid how to mix cement, so it’s appropriate that’s what we’re shown in a moment where he’s fuming over the idea of Stacey becoming increasingly forgetful. It might not just be about Mike being upset with her, but with Mike being upset with himself, feeling more guilt for the part he played in his son’s death as Matty continues to become a distant memory.

Then there’s Nacho and the relentlessly grim situation he continues to have no control over. Every episode of this season seems to outdo itself in terms of making matters for him worse. We don’t know Nacho’s full history with murder, but the goon he’s forced to kill is the first time on the show that we’ve ever seen Nacho kill anyone directly by his own hand (save for the attempt on Hector which got him into this mess). I appreciate the creative choice to show the cousins’ shooting spree primarily from Nacho’s perspective as the chaos is more auditory from beyond the wall before Nacho realizes he’s going to have to join them. It’s clever how the set location of this shootout was properly mapped out for the audience in the beginning of the episode with the tracking shot that followed Gus’ henchman through the area. By leaving the violence mostly to the viewer’s imagination, our previous knowledge of the geometry and scale of the place helps serve as a disturbing base.

I think returning Nacho to his father’s home is the appropriate cry for help that this story needs. It’s been made clear to Manuel that Nacho is in over his head, but now that he sees the physical, bloody havoc that’s been wrought upon his son, there’s no way he could turn a blind eye. He loves him and understands the police cannot be notified, which means in some way or another he’s going to get mixed up in all of this. It’s worrying and if Nacho’s situation is to follow the pattern of getting worse by the episode, I would hate to imagine what that could mean for Manuel as he’s pulled closer into the drama.

Better Call Saul “Something Beautiful” (S4E03)

Better Call Saul has always been two shows for the price of one where I find myself switching between both sides of my brain as I watch. I admire the world-building of this excellent Breaking Bad prequel, looking forward to the future character connections or plot points. At the same time, as a fan of the actual standalone series, I adore the slow-burn and nuanced, original storytelling that Jimmy, Kim, Chuck (R.I.P.), Howard, and Nacho bring. The drug world side of it is this looming sense of dread in which you know Jimmy is going to get absorbed into at some point. It’s a unique dichotomy that is essential to the story that’s being told. That said, I’m noticing more and more that Better Call Saul leaves a large, uncomfortable knot in my stomach the further it goes, which is something I never felt to such an extent with Breaking Bad, even though you knew Walter White’s transformation and surrounding circumstances were going to become worse and worse.

Breaking Bad is a thrill ride, regardless of whether you’re rooting for Walt, but what helps in that regard is the major turning point towards Walt’s bad behavior occurred in the very first episode with his lung cancer diagnosis. After that, it’s bang bang, full steam ahead, placing you squarely on board for its plunge into the dark, whereas with Better Call Saul we know things are going to get bad, but we’re given the opportunity to become attached to Jimmy McGill and understand the smaller details for three entire seasons before the major turning point for Jimmy, being Chuck’s death. We learn that despite Jimmy’s slippery past, he has a good heart with the genuine intention to be good and do right by others. Even while he’s cutting corners or committing flat-out criminal acts, there’s this hope for redemption with his character, despite us already knowing he’s going to become Saul. Chuck played a very important role in squashing any possibility of positive change and that makes Jimmy’s downfall seemingly more tragic.

Walt’s fallout with Gretchen and Gray Matter served as brief, contextual information towards his decision to cook meth and kill people, similar to the little explanatory background most villains are given in stories. That’s not to say morality and the concept of good vs. evil was portrayed as black and white in Walt’s journey, but that Better Call Saul is a slower turn of the knife, allowing the audience to truly experience Jimmy’s fall from grace. Walt’s transformation is more extreme but Jimmy’s hurts more. In my opinion, it’s playing out to be one of television’s greatest stories of tragedy surrounding a lead character (The Wire being a show of greek tragedy not driven by a lead, but the city of Baltimore itself). Kim’s tearful response to Jimmy reading Chuck’s letter is a perfect, long over-due underlining of this.

Jimmy McGill is irreversibly broken here. Not only is he completely vacant of any protest for the measly $5,000 he receives for not contesting Chuck’s will, but he reads his brother’s letter as if a teacher called on a student to read a passage from a textbook. There’s no reveling in the words. Just intermittent slurping of cereal the same way he did when reading the classifieds in the premiere. Jimmy is not okay and even Mike, who’s best known for rolling his eyes and not giving Jimmy a second thought, can clearly see there’s something off in how he’s taking his brother’s death. While a take of $4,000 is pocket change to Mike compared to what he’s making now and not worth the risk (stealing hummel figurines in general being small ball compared to his current line of work), he still could tell that it’s just as ill-fitting a heist for Jimmy as well. It’s an aimless, senseless crime that Jimmy is more championing for the sake of acting out than he is for the money.

Jimmy’s spinning and Kim doesn’t need to witness his recent crime in order to realize this. Her boyfriend is broken to the point where there’s no telling what’s important to him anymore. During the hummel heist, Neff listens to an audio guide on time management which delves into the theme of ‘importance vs. urgency’. This is a hint to what’s going on in the final scene as Jimmy treats Chuck’s letter not as something of importance or value, but as an urgent task to get done with and out of the way.

Impending tragedy isn’t just exclusive to Jimmy but Nacho, who is currently the frontrunner of emotional investment within the drug world narrative, seems to be getting dealt a worse hand with each passing week. I remember back in season 3’s “Off Brand” review, when Victor held Nacho at gunpoint, I made this following observation:

I believe Nacho is a guy who has no problem being a criminal and being part of a criminal organization, but despite being a ‘tough’ when he has to be, he doesn’t prefer it. He’s not Jesse Pinkman, but he does have humanity in him. I imagine when he was in the presence of Tyrus and Victor, he saw himself in them. He was among true peers in that moment, those of whom are smart and no-nonsense working for a much more well-collected, level-headed, business man. And yet, they’re unfortunately enemies. I don’t doubt that if the opportunity ever presented itself possible, Nacho would want to work for a guy like Gus where things run smoothly.

In an alternate timeline, this would have made a lot of sense, but apply that wishful thinking to his current circumstances and it’s a living nightmare. Gone are the days when Nacho could intimidatingly tell off a nerdy Daniel Wormald (Pryce) that their business is done after giving back the stolen baseball cards. Now, as his life hangs in the balance, he’s being told off by the vet, Dr. Caldera (essentially a glasses-wearing polar opposite to Wormald in terms of intimidation), to never show his face to him again. Nacho has been shot (for appearances) unsympathetically by the group he’s now working for and has been saved (Marco pumping his own blood into him) by the very group he’s betrayed. He’s eternally trapped and has lost complete ownership over his life.

An astounding performance of Tom Lehrer’s song “The Elements” aside, Gale’s surprising return at first glance could be seen as a fan-service cameo, primarily being used to help set up Gus’ relationship with him (despite Breaking Bad already establishing that Gus put him through school), but I believe it serves more than that. It needed to be acknowledged that Gale is being groomed but wouldn’t be the outside supplier Gus uses under short notice as they halt distribution across the border. Is this where the mysterious Lalo comes in? It’s obviously in Gus’ favor for an outside supplier to be used under the situation he’s orchestrated, so whoever will fill that role must be a benefit to him in some fashion.

Other things to note:

-I don’t think we know why Kim needed to be at the courthouse. Unless I’m missing something? I don’t think she tampered with Chuck’s letter either. It’s unlike her and Chuck does care for Jimmy, regardless of the last words he said to him. Plus the letter seems to have been written before the Mesa Verde drama. I did notice the mysterious score that played when Kim was pacing around Kevin Wachtell’s bank models, which didn’t cue in until Kevin mentioned their future Nebraska location (Kim’s small hometown residing near the Nebraska/Kansas border). Ever since season 2’s “Inflatable”, Kim was oddly vague in her interview with Schweikart about where she came from. It poses a question of her past life. Something of which may be connected to where she might be in the future as Gene hangs low in Omaha. I’m really interested to know what’s going on in her head in that moment other than feeling overwhelmed by what seems like an endless, unrewarding venture for Mesa Verde. She definitely seems to have no gripes with letting her new assistant take lead on most of the work.

-I texted my friend on a commercial break, speculating that we might see Todd at some point in regards to the B&E hire considering Saul is the one who introduced Vamanos Pest to Walt and Jesse, citing that he’s been “pulling their chestnuts out of the fire, legally speaking, for five years.” I was half-right as Jimmy’s recruit was Ira, Vamanos Pests’ owner, which means Todd might be right around the corner. Ira, as far as I can tell, was never involved with Uncle Jack and the neo-nazis. I like his character and I look forward to him getting more screen time in the future. The character has a charming Brian Posehn quality and I loved Dave Porter’s choice to accompany his heist with a light-hearted, bumbling score.

-In the cold open, I still can’t tell if the hubcap bouncing off the road and hitting the camera lens was an effect story-boarded and digitally added in or was it just a wonderful accident. Gordon Smith wrote and Daniel Sackheim (The X-Files) directed this one, being the same duo who worked on last season’s climactic “Chicanery”. An opening scene like this truly shows the range of their work.

-Oh and I love the adorable opening shot of the horned lizard spiking the camera (looking straight into the lens). It was as if the creature was welcoming us into the episode.

Better Call Saul “Breathe” (S4E02)

Two episodes in and Better Call Saul has already kept me up later than usual upon the night of its airing as well as given me actual dreams of hummel figurines as I wracked my brain the following morning trying to figure out what’s going on in Jimmy’s head. That’s not to give less credit to the entire episode as a whole though. “Breathe” fires on all cylinders as it features characters finding themselves clawing for control against the near impossible odds or forces that the universe deals them.

So why did Jimmy seem to legitimately want the copier sales position, showing the utmost gumption to earn the employers’ admiration, only to tear into them once they agreed to hire him? Was this planned from the beginning or did Jimmy experience a change of heart after sincerely hoping it would be a good fit? We already know afterwards that he’s looking into how much the Bavarian boy figurine is worth ($8,740.45), but he couldn’t have been going on a string of job interviews just to scout potential items to steal, right? If Jimmy needs money, he could steal from anywhere, which is why I believe there’s a personal motivation at play (like his disdain for suckers) that was conceived in the spur of the moment.

I think there are a few factors going on in Jimmy’s head right now. Some of it may pertain to self-loathing of his own abilities. He’s basically arguing against the very shortcut the employers are taking by not considering their other options, the same way Chuck would in the name of operating thoroughly by-the-book. It’s shortcuts and illegitimate practices by Jimmy that fueled Chuck’s fire so this could be interpreted as somewhat of a tribute to his brother. I think Chuck, regardless of their feud, is the only McGill that Jimmy has ever genuinely respected. Both Jimmy and Chuck from both sides of the legal coin managed to not become a sucker like Jimmy perceives his father to be. It might have made Jimmy proud, even relieved, to know that Chuck was prepared to go to war over the insurance debacle before meeting his end.

Another aspect to consider is Jimmy’s denial to having any part in Chuck’s death and his flashy tap dance performance put on for the employers might have subconsciously reminded him of how successful his schemes work, much like the insurance leak worked too well against Chuck. Jimmy may be trying to find a place that could truly put him in line as a form of penance. On the other and more likely hand, it could be the exact opposite and Jimmy is embracing his slippery ways. Jimmy has faced rejection from legitimate business, clients, and of course, his brother, all his life. Chuck’s last words to Jimmy was the ultimate rejection. Perhaps Jimmy winning over a legitimate company with his hustling talent and then telling them off is his way of taking back control. The universe never wanted or accepted Jimmy, but if he could win the universe’s admiration, then he could be the one who does the rejecting.

Overall, it’s a grieving process which may or not be conscious, but it does seem to be taking the form of Chuck’s last advice for Jimmy to embrace who he is, free of doubt or remorse. Like a Gila monster, Jimmy could be ready to latch on after taking a bite, which is why he’ll hold no regrets in ripping off a straight and narrow company like Neff Copiers. Stealing the hummel figurine would also be symbolic in contrast to how he’s always done right by his elder clients. If it wasn’t for his back-pedaling guilt in throwing Irene Landry under the bus for his personal gain, that bridge would not be burned. An innocent elderly woman would be left in ruin, but Jimmy would be on easy street. I think besides money, stealing the figurine could be his way of rejecting the community that will no longer have him, reapplying a sense of disregard he feels he should have stuck to (according to Chuck).

This is something I’m sure is going to create tension for his relationship with Kim, because it seems like he’s heading beyond the colorful lawyer and scam artist who she knows and accepts. Here, it looks like his true criminal self is emerging, which for the moment he’s hiding from her. Meanwhile, Kim is withholding information from Jimmy with the good intentions to protect his emotional and mental state. Rhea Seehorn gives an Emmy-worthy performance as Kim angrily unloads on Howard for his misplaced considerations towards Jimmy. Of course, I feel bad for Howard here because due to his own grief of his best friend and colleague (which he’s entitled to feel), his head was not in the right position to be thoroughly sensitive and mindful. He didn’t set out to hurt Jimmy, but Kim makes excellent points of Howard purely interested in his own self-preservation. I completely understand Kim’s vitriol and this is a win for her in some ways as she’s finally telling Howard off on the subject of fairness. That said, I don’t think Kim approves of emotions getting the best of her, despite her points still being delivered soundly.

Going to the meeting on Jimmy’s behalf is something she’s refusing to disclose to Jimmy. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Kim is going to read Chuck’s letter intended for Jimmy and be the judge on whether she’ll hand it over to him. If it reads toxic or back-handed (which it most likely is), she’ll destroy it, but if it’s surprisingly apologetic or hopeful, she would have to tell him she read it first. I don’t think Jimmy would have a problem with that since her heart is in the right place, but for the moment, all secrets feed the gap that currently exists between them. Both characters are tip-toeing around each other at the moment and not being completely honest so I look forward to how this affects their relationship going forward. They also seem to be using food, movies, and sex as a mask to cover their off-beat disconnection with one other. Their sexual relationship is something that existed almost entirely off-screen up until now, so the creative decision to finally display that helps give the impression that they’re cordial and spiritual connection is spiraling.

On the drug world side of things, “master of the universe” himself, Gustavo Fring, is tasked with moving heaven and earth to ensure that Hector’s fate remains in his hands and no one else’s. As soon as I heard Gus utter the words “no one else” in the cold open, I knew he was speaking more specifically than just the laws of nature. Beyond putting however much money forward to get a doctor from Johns Hopkins to treat Hector, the Nacho problem from last episode needed to be answered to and boy, was that handled swiftly and shockingly. Back in the season 2 finale, when the truck driver was shot point blank in the face by the cousins as Mike watched from afar, I remember feeling a complete tonal shift for that moment. There’s much longer stretches from when people are murdered on this show compared to Breaking Bad, so it’s jarring when it’s creeps back up on full display. Better Call Saul has certainly set a dangerous tone the second Tuco was introduced, violently breaking the legs of two skater twins in the desert as Jimmy winces in horror, as well as when Mike’s backstory was filled out. It’s a presage of where the overall show is heading no matter how successfully the more graphic, gritty moments are kept at bay.

This is also the first scene we ever see of Gus (in this show) bringing the hammer down on someone, playing as a much different viewing experience for someone who’s never seen Breaking Bad. What I enjoy most about this part of the show right now is how Nacho’s fate is completely undetermined, giving me a reason to remain emotionally invested beyond appreciating how all the pieces are forming as a prequel story. The absolute disgust and disappointment expressed by Nacho’s father here is deserved and heartbreaking, and yet, he’s still concerned for his son’s well-being. Can these two survive long enough before Robert Forster reprises his role as Ed, the disappearer?

If there’s one brief shot that I feel sums up the entire episode, it’s when director Michelle MacLaren allows the camera to crawl along the pavement of a yellow painted line, veering it off-course to reveal Gus sweeping up trash on a parallel one. Street lines tend to be a common, symbolic image used in this show to illustrate the idea of the characters following a narrow, fixed path. From the last image of season 1, to the first meeting between Gus and Mike, it’s the equivalent of the pink teddy bear’s eye or the fly. The characters in Better Call Saul are trying to get off this path, redefine it, or work it into their favor. The title “Breathe” isn’t just in reference of Arturo’s death, but it applies to the tension felt between all these characters.