We didn’t see Jimmy this episode until around the halfway point, and it wasn’t until we saw Kim first. It was neither “Better Call Saul” or “Better Gimme Jimmy”, but rather, “Better Shout Mike Ehrmantraut”.
Let’s examine the teaser, because it launched headlong into Breaking Bad territory. At this point, for anyone who hasn’t seen Breaking Bad: SPOILERS AHEAD.
I recognised that opening shot from beneath the pool’s surface, the same shot from when Gus murdered Don Eladio. And what happens next? Don Eladio dives into the pool, triumphantly post-mortem/pre-mortem. He’s the same as we remember him: smiling with that undertone of unpredictability. When he asks if the bobblehead resembles him it almost sounds as if he’s a moment away from punishing the driver. Then he pecks at Hector Salamanca for bringing such a small amount of cash in comparison to Gustavo Fring. “Gus’ is bigger,” he says before calling Hector “so serious”, that Hector should laugh a little.
This is what Gustavo wanted. It’s evident by the smile on Gus’ face later on after scoring a free-throw with a burrito wrapper into a trashcan. We’ve never seen Gus smile like this before. We’ve seen him lie to the D.E.A. but we’ve never seen him give such a thorough and compelling lie as he does with his employees in this episode. It’s more convincing than Jimmy or Saul or Walter White, and it’s clear that Gus is the sharpest, most methodical, crafty son of a bitch in this show’s universe.
Then Gus suggests the future probability of Mike working for him. Mike says “maybe”. Again, this episode reinforces what this season has strongly underlined: every character faces dozens of choices, plenty opportunities to avoid that inevitable Breaking Bad future. The writers are all about choices, as they were with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, only the choices in Better Call Saul still show a clean way out. Breaking Bad forced characters into corners. Better Call Saul provides a bit more wiggle room for the characters to decide who they want to be, and that’s the only way a prequel show could have worked.
Jimmy could have risked his law license and avoided battling Chuck. Kim didn’t have to help him–Jimmy insisted that he fight this alone. Mike could still walk away from Gus. But the characters I’d like to see more dimensions of, in terms of choices, are Chuck and Howard. We have six episodes left, and next week’s preview shows them in court with Chuck testifying, so maybe we’ll get a glimpse of them facing a similar fork in the road.
What this episode best accomplished was demonstrating how well it can balance two separate story arcs and still have them brushing up against each other. Jimmy spied on Gus for Mike. Mike snapped some photos of Chuck’s house. It’s a nice trade-off, and it doesn’t feel forced by the writers. That’s really what’s so impressive about the show overall, and this season in particular. The writers have managed to move their chess pieces around the board without having to change the gameboard. Certain characters wear plot-armor but we’re still invested in watching them progress.
– Mike showing up on Chuck’s doorstep had me cheering. I love seeing two characters share a scene for the first time, especially this late in the show. My excitement was on the same level of seeing Jesse Pinkman at the dinner table between Skyler and Walt. I laughed hard at Mike with the power drill, Chuck just around the corner and retreating upstairs.
– That shot of Jimmy and Kim, Howard and Chuck. Such good placement for the characters and the camera. And when Jimmy was forced to apologize to Chuck–that shot of Jimmy sitting far in the background reminded me of Episode Three where Jimmy pleaded Kim not to help him. He’s shoved into the background, helpless, begging.
– Jimmy and Kim have a plan. Maybe they’ll argue that Jimmy was provoked since it’s on record there was a destroyed tape, a duplicate, that they can argue Jimmy was manipulated by his brother. I don’t know. Maybe Jimmy will lose and this will create a time paradox, and Mike will have to travel back in time to save Jimmy’s future. The Adventures of Mike and Jimmy (Rick and Morty? Doc and Marty?)
– This was a short review, and this last little section is almost as long as the review. Maybe these write-ups will turn into single paragraph summaries and a slew of observations. Maybe I’ll start giving them grades or dealing out a point system. What should I rate this episode? 9/10? A-? I’m not very good at that sort of thing. I’ll just stick with mashing words together until they mean something.
– Oh, that scene in Los Pollos Hermanos! That made me so nervous. I kept thinking, “Okay, how is this not going to result in Gus being exposed?” Or, “Someone is going to be killed.” But no one died this episode. See, it’s more effective when we’re teetering on the edge versus characters getting knocked off here and there. I hope Better Call Saul keeps its body count low. There are worse things than death.