Premiers Monday, April 10 at 10/9c on AMC
Two Episodes watched for Review.
“Perfection is the enemy of perfectly adequate.”
Now entering its third season, Better Call Saul continues to defy expectations, branching off from Breaking Bad and forging its own exciting path. When BCS was first announced, it seemed like a slightly suspect property — a spin-off of a popular show near the end of its run, it practically flashed “CASH GRAB” in big neon letters. But Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould had something altogether different up their sleeves: a show that occupies the same universe as Breaking Bad, but is far removed from being a cheap knock-off or pale imitation. In fact, it’s time to just come right out and say it: as Better Call Saul starts Season 3, it has surpassed Breaking Bad, becoming one of the best shows on TV in the process.
After a brief flash-forward to Jimmy aka Saul aka “Gene” now living in exile — managing a Cinnabon and drifting through a dull black and white existence — Better Call Saul Season 3 picks up exactly where the previous season ended: conman turned lawyer Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) admits to his electromagnetic hypersensitive brother Chuck (Michael McKean) that he altered some of Chuck’s legal documents to better secure a client for himself and his legal partner/girlfriend Kim (Rhea Seehorn). Chuck had suspected as much, but he had also feared that perhaps his “medical condition” had finally gotten the best of him, and caused his mind to fail. At least, that’s what he lead Jimmy to believe. But after Jimmy’s confession, it was revealed that Chuck had been playing a long con, and had tape recorded everything Jimmy said. Chuck is a great lawyer, so he knows this secretly taped confession won’t hold-up in court — but he has another plan cooking.
Fans of Breaking Bad may be craving more BB connections on Saul, and Season 3 delivers by bringing Giancarlo Esposito’s meth kingpin Gus Fring into the mix. But it’s important to remember Better Call Saul is its own animal, and we as an audience shouldn’t be so eager to see it turn into Breaking Bad 2.0. Still, it’s undeniably exciting to see Esposito make a return playing such an interesting character — a cold-as-ice drug lord who hides his criminal lifestyle behind a sunshiney fast food veneer. Season 3 is planting the seeds of the relationship that develops between Gus and cop-turned-independent contractor Mike (Jonathan Banks), as Mike gets closer and closer to discovering who Gus really is. Banks continues to be extraordinary in the role, bringing a wounded ferocity to the character. It’s a treat to watch Banks as Mike working, and Better Call Saul has an affection for long montages showing characters (especially Mike) getting down to the nuts-and-bolts of things. This should, in theory, be uncinematic, but BCS finds ways to make it into compelling, engrossing television.
Jimmy is not front-and-center for the two episodes provided to reviewers, but Odenkirk shines through nonetheless. In his original inception on Breaking Bad, “Saul” seemed destined to be a character on the sidelines: someone who could never actually be the main focus of his own show. But the scripts, and Odenkirk’s performance, show how wrong that assumption was. We all know Odenkirk can be funny, with his background in comedy titles like Mr. Show. But the actor is equally fantastic in his dramatic moments. When Jimmy learns that Chuck secretly recorded his confession, the way Odenkirk plays it — looking not angry but utterly heartbroken, before slowly building up into a rage — is stunning.
As strong as Odenkirk and Banks both are on this show, last season’s true break-out was Rhea Seehorn’s complex Kim Wexler. Seehorn is Better Call Saul’s secret-weapon: the show’s heart and soul; a character struggling to stay above water as things start to flood. Kim is in a constant state of flux: she’s a great lawyer who wants to stay on the straight-and-narrow, but she can’t deny her attraction to the ever-crooked Jimmy. She wants to stay out of his less-than-desirable business, yet when trouble presents itself, she’s quick to spring into action to get Jimmy out of a jam. Seehorn doesn’t have much to do in these first two episodes, but after her brilliant work last season, Gilligan and Gould would be foolish to stick her on the sidelines this year.
Consequence hangs over Better Call Saul just as it did over Breaking Bad. The criminal activities Walter White committed came back to haunt him, and the ones he loved, in terrible ways. Jimmy’s crimes may not be as atrocious as Walt’s, but that doesn’t mean sooner or later chickens won’t come home to roost. It’s to the show’s credit, and to the credit of Bob Odenkirk, that we find ourselves rooting for Jimmy despite the wrongs he’s done. It helps that McKean’s Chuck is so unlikable. This is an interesting dynamic shift when compared to Breaking Bad — audiences rooted for Walt even though the things he was doing were terrible. And worse, the people trying to stop him, or talk sense into him, were usually in the right. Here, with the Jimmy vs. Chuck dynamic, Chuck may be justified in his objections to Jimmy, but it’s very easy to take Jimmy’s side. But Jimmy can’t escape fate forever. After all, we know where his journey ends up: hiding out in Omaha, managing a Cinnabon, his old life reduced to ashes. For now, though, we remain trapped in Jimmy’s past, with no hurry to escape. Better Call Saul should feel free to take its time, because I want it to stick around as long as possible.