Better Call Saul is finally back and it feels like it never really left. Last season ended on rather dark notes with present day Jimmy collapsing at his Cinnabon job, Kim crashing her car, Chuck burning his house down, and Nacho successfully poisoning Hector Salamanca in order to protect his father. The show picks up immediately in the aftermath of those events and really allows the characters to breathe. While it’d be simple to just pick up and move on, the scope of those events took a toll that needs to be weighed upon.
For present day Jimmy, he’s got almost nothing. No friends, no family, not even his law practice and just fading memories of the man that he was. When you have nothing else, even your sad shadow of a life can be worth clinging onto when it’s in danger, and for Jimmy that paranoia of finally getting caught followed him even in a life where he’s just another guy. For Jimmy during the events of Better Call Saul, that was a lesson he had yet to learn as he’s still stewing after finding out about Chuck’s death. It doesn’t get said enough: but Bob Odenkirk is as expert at flexing his drama muscles as he is with comedy. The last three seasons have allowed him to build Jimmy/Saul beyond being a largely gag character into a more fully-formed and three dimensional person. In that respect, it’s easy to grasp why Jimmy can’t bring himself to really feel sad for Chuck’s death. Yes, he did love Chuck, but their entire relationship was abusive with Chuck manipulating him in both subtle and direct ways into believing that he wasn’t a good man. Eventually he did sink to Chuck’s level. Why? Because he’d finally internalized the one lesson that the one person whose attention and respect he craved had to offer: that he’s not a good man and never will be. Jimmy refusing to express sympathy or offer an ear to Howard (!) – who’s riddled with guilt and blaming himself for not standing by Chuck during the insurance fiasco – isn’t surprising. Jimmy, as always, wants an out and letting Howard take the blame in order to soothe his own conscience is the behavior Chuck, and eventually he, ascribed to. Faking it till you make it being the modus operandi of Better Call Saul writ large.
The same of course goes for Mike and Nacho who handle the other major stories of the week. Mike quits his booth job (complete with a sort-of-petty demand to hand over his windbreaker) to work a job at Madrigal as security in order to earn his illegal money back. Jonathan Banks, as always, is a treasure and injects levity into a largely dour episode, even if the entire thrust of it is that Michael’s self-seriousness, attention to detail, and refusal to cut corners is largely unappreciated in a corporate environment compared to (ironically) being a criminal. The same of course also applies to Nacho who was so boxed in by Hector Salmanca’s refusal to leave his father out of their criminal activities that he poisoned him. Of course he traded one mousetrap for a slightly different one with Gus Fring being aware of what he did. Peter Gould’s story aptly plays on the things gnawing at all three major characters: Jimmy’s inability to not try to worm out from feeling guilt, Mike’s inadvertently trapping himself into structures he dislikes for his granddaughter’s security, and Nacho’s repeatedly digging a deeper and deeper grave for himself among the cartel.
As far as where this episode stands? It’s largely a (year late) breather after an intense last episode. At this point it’s a bit late in the game to jump into Better Call Saul, but it’s a good overview of where the characters were and where they’re headed. We’re not quite into Breaking Bad territory with Jimmy or anyone else but the hardening has begun for everyone involved and it’s exciting to see just how much change will happen this season.
4 Lanterns out of 5