Pity the fool I am; we near the end of Better Call Saul and the old girl still has magic left in her. Or, more accurately, she’s been holding it back because she knows that she can dance whenever she wants to.
Where to begin. Well, this is an episode that has key moments. And key moments in the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe means memorable and altogether outstanding. You see the artistry that’s behind every scene, those close-ups and the script make you think it could trudge along quite happy in modest acclaim in the shadow of the mother show.
But my scepticism from earlier reviews is embarrassing. The acting and plot congealed in such a beautiful synthesis in this episode as to reward sticking with the show but also to lay the groundwork for the next season.
In short, this is brutal stuff, the enemy revealed. I’d mentioned last week that I thought Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) was a bastard, but he was always so smug about it. Here, when Hamlin loses his temper in his office with Kim it is with such seething vitriol that you just wanted to see more. No doubt we will.
This, of course, leads into why Hamlin rejected Jimmy from becoming a partner at HHM. McGill’s confrontation with his brother is the most compelling moment of the series and is sincerely harsh. “You’re not a real lawyer!” he screams, continuing, “Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun…If you abuse that power people get hurt”. McKean’s acting and his unleashing of built up scorn upon his brother squares the circle of how the character was so nonchalant in the flashbacks but so hokey in the present. McKean is absolutely brilliant.
Odenkirk’s rebuttal is impassioned, sincere and altogether gut wrenching as he says, “I thought you were proud of me”. It gives the most conclusive explanation for where Saul is eventually going to come from. It’s genuinely heartbreaking, both his brother’s betrayal and the revelation of what Chuck truly thinks about his kid brother. The failure to go legit leaves him little recourse but to combine his nefarious past with his legal aptitude. It’s impossible not to have any doubts replaced with a rich optimism that this show might actually exceed Breaking Bad if the script can harness the raw acting ability of its cast demonstrated in this episode.
Indeed, on script, it is Mike’s sequence that stands out as being the most reminiscent of Breaking Bad in both its ethical contemplation and plot development. Firstly, Mike dispatching the cocky gung-ho hired goon was a master class in how to be Mike (for GTA fans, the guy whose ass he kicked was the voice behind Trevor, Steven Ogg). Jonathan Banks was, is and will continue to be magnificent and the closer he gets to working with Saul the better.
Working with the geeky amateur was clearly a tip of the hat to Walter White’s green nature in the criminal world. It also explains why Mike had quite a high tolerance for Walt’s nonsense: he was used to it. Yes, Nacho appearing was interesting and a hint of things to come next season, but it was also a reminder that Gus Fring exists, somewhere out there, and is closer than might be expected. I’m happy to bet money that Giancarlo Esposito as Fring will appear eventually, indeed possibly in season two or three.
Of course, the icing on the cake, the line which could well be the tagline for the whole Breaking Bad universe, is Mike explaining to our spectacled friend that he’s a criminal, of course, he’s a criminal, but it’s his choice if he’s a good one or a bad one. That, friends, is free will in a nutshell.
Ultimately there are so many points of cool in this episode to excite and delight as a consolidation and as a springboard for what comes next.