Better Call Saul: Season 3 – Episode 3 REVIEW
Another episode which continues to prove that Better Call Saul is the most immaculately presented show on television.
“Sunk Costs” featured two standout music sequences, both memorable for different reasons, the first beginning as soon as Jimmy stamps out his cigarette outside Chuck’s house. The music personifies Jimmy’s attitude in a way that only Bob Odenkirk’s delivery could help pull off. Jimmy ignores anything Chuck says then replies by describing what will happen next time Chuck experiences another panic episode: “And you will die there…alone.” That’s all he has left to express to his brother at this point, and the song playing after this exchange allows us to enjoy the tragedy of his bitterness. It’s oddly triumphant, like a punk liberal kid flipping off his conservative folks and daring, “Go on. Hurt me. I’ll only hurt you worse.”
The second memorable music sequence involves some fun editing work for which we can thank either Kelley Dixon or Skip Macdonald; I’m not yet entirely certain. We see Kim Wexler starting her day before heading into the office, and I’m reminded of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz with the tight zooms and quick cuts between making a pot of coffee and brushing her teeth, only this sequence isn’t comical. Rhea Seehorn is just badass, and the music mixed with the editing helps illustrate that. She’s far more in control than Jimmy is, and it’s helpful for us to perceive her that way in this sequence since it precedes her attempting to represent Jimmy in court.
One of the best shots in this episode takes place within Kim’s office where Jimmy explains to her why he refused her help and must represent himself. Kim is clearly in the power position of the shot, tucked up close into the frame, while Jimmy stands at the far end of the room. His distance allows us to perceive him as having less power, appearing smaller than her head and shoulders. In both seasons one and two the camera might favor Jimmy and cut to place him in the power position as he would ramble on to convince anyone of anything, but this shot demonstrates how Jimmy fails to even convince the audience. We know he’s not getting out of this predicament that easy. We know he will need Kim to represent him eventually, either by her convincing him or Chuck forcing him into a corner—the latter is the result, as Chuck is threatening Jimmy’s license to practice law. We know that can’t happen in order for future events to occur, but Jimmy doesn’t know that. All he knows is that he won’t allow it to happen—another instance of dramatic irony, where we see him more for who he is than he does.
Jimmy’s stubbornness to play straight and by the books is what will dig him deeper into trouble, and Chuck warns him of this before Jimmy is arrested. Chuck says, “This is opportunity. That’s why I’m doing this. Not to punish you. To show you, truly show you, that you have to make a change. Before it’s too late. Before you destroy yourself or someone else.” It’s hard to disagree with Chuck here when we know that in the long run he’s right—Jimmy’s actions will inevitably destroy his own self and others—others like his new secretary, for instance, who in Breaking Bad behaved much less cheery—or most likely Kim. Maybe she will be the one to take the fall in the end and lose her license before leaving Albuquerque for good.
But let’s rewind. We’ve jumped ahead to the ending without mentioning Mike and Gus, mostly because we’re still experiencing somewhat of a prologue to a larger story developing here, a story that appears to be blossoming more in next week’s episode. Perhaps, by this season’s end, we’ll get to witness exactly how Hector Salamanca winds up disabled and in a wheelchair? I’m guessing Mike is somehow involved.
Watching Mike toy with Hector’s drug cartel minions was fun. As soon as Mike took out that brand new pair of shoes beside an un-marred stop sign, I remembered the episode’s flash-forward teaser. The teaser effectively served as that ever-present reminder that Better Call Saul is all about inevitabilities: Los Pollos Hermanos will supersede the drug cartel’s routes, Gus’ empire will expand, and Jimmy McGill will transform into Saul Goodman.
But inevitabilities are never about one single event or a point in time; they’re about a slow progression involving a series of choices. Mike could have laid his feelings with Hector to rest and allowed Gus to walk away. Jimmy could have taken Chuck’s deal and pled to a felony and risked disbarment. But the choices are inevitable. Kim is going to help Jimmy, she says, calling it a “sunk cost”, defined in economics as “a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.” The past is a slave to its future. Or, judging by the black and white flash-forward teasers, maybe Gene still has a shot at something resembling a satisfying life—maybe Gene is Jimmy’s “prospective cost”, defined in economics as “a future cost that may be incurred or changed if an action is taken”.
– I’m seeing more and more articles pop up recently regarding “which characters will die?” as if Better Call Saul is now The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. It’s a question that I tend to think stems from boredom or a lack of imagination, as if there aren’t more compelling consequences for a show other than death. It’s one of the main elements of The Walking Dead that makes my eyes roll—oh, another death, great, guess that conflict is over now. It’s an unimaginative problem solver for writers. That being said, whenever a character was killed off in Breaking Bad it was impactful and served the story well, and I’m certain that, in the case of any deaths in Better Call Saul, I’ll feel similarly.
– Hey, it’s that doctor who saved Gus’ life in Breaking Bad, played by JB Blanc! He’s in more television shows and video games than I can count, somewhere in the two-hundreds. Cool to see him again, if even only for a scene. The writers have done an excellent job at taking their time in rebuilding this world from the ground-up.
– I regret not mentioning episode titles in my reviews of episode one and two. The writers of this show are very sharp when it comes to naming their episodes, usually in such a way that they’re sort of telling everything we need to know to understand the show’s methodology.
– I also regret not talking about the direction and editing more, as I was more concerned with writing a coherent review. I tend to get a bit obsessed with how movies are framed, and Better Call Saul consistently raises the bar on how television is filmed. If you’re at all curious about my movie obsessions, I recommend the John Plays the Piano podcast—it features much more interesting people chatting about these sorts of things—I’m also there, but you should really be listening for them.