It goes without saying that there are spoilers in this review, so don’t end up looking like one of Slippin’ Jimmy’s marks.
If last week’s episode pushed the story forward by a hefty amount, this week’s was one for people who gripe that there’s not enough Breaking Bad flavour in Saul. Because right from the start, we’re treated to a whole host of characters we’ve met before, under more violent circumstances. And director Thomas Schnauz (one of the regular BB/Saul writers who has directed before, but never from someone else’s script) does a great job from the first shot, framing the scene from beneath the water of Don Eladio’s (Steven Bauer) pool to put us right back in the mood where were originally introduced to him (Bad‘s episode Hermanos). It’s also a chance for more from Hector Salamanca, with Mark Margolis giving his typically glowering performance helped by the team’s writing and a script credited this week to Jonathan Glatzer. The simmering hatred between the various drug minions and the jockeying for position feels less of a piece with Saul‘s usual tone than it did on the original show, but it still works here. Especially since it sets up the great confrontation later.
Yes, after his own cover business, the ice cream shop was raided following Mike’s spiking of a truck, Hector is on a tear, and bullies his way beyond the staff at a Los Pollos Hermanos to demand that Gus start hauling drug product for him, especially as Mr. Fring’s business is going so well. The scene with Hector and his goons casually intimidating both staff and customers is a fantastic one, and Margolis offers the perfect threatening stance while barely having to do more than light up a cigar and pour himself a soda.
It’s bold for the show to focus so much on Gus and the drug business in the episode – the entire first half is basically the Hector and Gus Show, with Mike connecting the two halves when we check in with Jimmy and Kim around the 30-minute mark. Yet it works perfectly, giving Giancarlo Esposito another showcase for what he does best as Gus; quiet, cold logic with the knowledge that fury is boiling just beneath the surface. Check out his falsely positive speech as he tries to reassure his workers at the restaurant that Hector and his guys were nothing more than thugs after protection money.
And having Jonathan Banks’ Mike show up helped keep us grounded within the world of Saul while providing some vital connective tissue to Mike’s future employment with both Jimmy (well, Saul) and Gus. It was a typically great piece of acting from Banks to see him interacting with his daughter-in-law Stacey (Kerry Condon) and granddaughter, which made him realise why he needs to keep in good with Gus even if he’d rather not work for him.
As for the Jimmy side of things, there was some top-quality comedy as Kim – seemingly firmly still on Jimmy’s side – able to cancel Chuck’s arranged repairman so Mike could go in his place. It was a lot of fun to see the laconic Mike play off the blustery Chuck, and Banks got possibly the best line of the episode when he admitted to Jimmy later after he’d gathered evidence that it was “nice to fix something”. Ah, the life of a fixer who usually destroys property or hurts people’s lives/heads… We also enjoyed Jimmy’s approving description of Mike as “the Ansel Adams of covert photography”. It’s one of the better Mike/Jimmy scenes for a while, and just the look on Mike’s face when Jimmy asked him what he thought of him would’ve made it worth it.
There was also some drama in the shape of Jimmy’s pre-prosecution diversion meeting, which devolved into the two sides trying to out-manoeuvre each other. Clearly Kim and Jimmy have something up their sleeve – witness Kim’s “bingo!” as the two triumphantly stride from the courthouse at the end, but the exact endgame isn’t clear yet. Another highlight was Jimmy using his statement of remorse to effectively call out his brother for his own behaviour. That’s part of why Better Call Saul is so effective: it deploys subtlety in a way few other shows can manage.
While the plot lines mostly bubbled along this week, we got some big drama in the Hector/Gus stand-off and some movement for Jimmy in his ongoing squabble with Chuck. All wrapped, of course, in the show’s typically lovely cinematography and well-written dialogue. Even a small, short scene such as Gus coming to see Mike and effectively offer him a job drips with extra meaning, and the writers have conjured these characters so well that it’s a pleasure just to spend time in their company.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays on AMC in the US and is appearing weekly on Tuesdays via Netflix in the UK.