Everyone’s favorite ethically challenged lawyer is back. “Slippin’” Jimmy McGill, better known as Saul Goodman, returns for the third season of Better Call Saul, the spinoff of Breaking Bad that focuses on how one James McGill morphed into his larger than life alter ego. Once again, Better Call Saul proves that it’s one of the best shows on television with its fantastic direction, intricate plotting rooted heavily in character, and the wonderful lead performance of Bob Odenkirk.
Last season’s finale “Klick” left us on the edge of our seats with a number of cliffhangers for all of us to speculate over. Jimmy’s brother Chuck (Michael McKean) recorded his brother confession to document tampering, a felony; the episode ending on the click of his tape recorder. The ethically dubious operations of Jimmy McGill threatens the burgeoning practice that he’s established with his partner and sometimes romantic interest Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). Meanwhile, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) was camped out in the desert with the intention of assassinating cartel kingpin Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis). Before Mike could pull the trigger, though, his car horn blares constantly and the former Philadelphia cop sees a note on his windshield, simply reading “Don’t.” If there’s one thing that Better Call Saul creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould know, it’s how to pick up a cliffhanger and hit the ground running.
The season premiere, “Mabel,” opens in the same way each season of Better Call Saul starts – looking at the character’s life after Breaking Bad working at a Cinnabon in a mall in Omaha, Nebraska. The country-pop stylings of Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town” plays over the black and white footage of the once prominent lawyer working at the pastry chain under the pseudonym Gene. Eating a sandwich on his lunch break, Gene encounters a shoplifter. When the police come near the criminal lawyer, he points out the location of the hiding thief. As the young man is cuffed, his past life comes rushing back to his mind and yells to the arrested man not to say word without a lawyer. Of course, his unsolicited legal advice isn’t exactly welcomed by the man who has just been fingered by the Cinnabon manager on his lunch break.
Picking up right after the finale of “Klick,” the episode follows up with Jimmy and Chuck with the younger brother unaware that his confession has been recorded. The two reminisce about the past as Jimmy helps his older brother take down the insulating foil that lines the walls of Chuck’s home to shield him from the electricity that wreaks havoc on his health. The laughs are short when Chuck is quick to remind Jimmy that he won’t be forgetting what just transpired.
In the desert, Mike has just had his assassination mission interrupted and the mysterious note left on his windshield sparks a sense of paranoia in the hard-boiled Ehrmantraut. The tough guy takes his car to a local tow yard and proceeds to dismantle it in the hopes of finding a tracking device. Eventually, Mike is able to find the source of his secret follower with a device hidden within his gas cap. This sets Mike on a path of reverse engineering a way to track his tracker.
On the professional end, Kim is constantly busy with the lone client of her practice while Jimmy’s business is thriving thanks to his television ads that attract an array of elderly clients into their offices. Across town, everything that Jimmy has built with Kim is threatened by the taped confession and Chuck has just shared the incriminating evidence with his partner, also Jimmy and Kim’s former boss, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian).
Written by series creators Gilligan and Gould and directed by Gilligan, “Mabel” is another excellent episode of Better Call Saul and its expanding of the world from Breaking Bad. The episode picks up on the loose threads of last season but never fully resolving any of them, giving us more suspense as to wondering where all of this is going. We know that Chuck that has incriminating evidence on his brother and yet the legal uses of the tape are called into question in the episode. The elder McGill has an ace in the hole and we just don’t know exactly what how he plans to use it. At the same time, there are questions left about who exactly is following Mike, though it would seem that some of the marketing materials have already given this away. Knowing how Gilligan and Gould handle their storytelling, nothing will be as simple as suspected.
Breaking Bad captivated audiences with its cutthroat tension in a character-driven drama deep within a seedy underworld of meth dealing. Better Call Saul doesn’t have that same level of tension, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an inferior show in the slightest. As “Mabel” illustrates, Better Call Saul lessens the pulp sensibilities of its predecessor with a careful character study of both Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut in the years before they ever encountered Walter White. In his transformation from Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman we’re witness to a similar path as that of Walter White into Heisenberg – a man of unique talents driven by a sense of entitlement and ego which drives them to self-destructive decisions that have unexpected repercussions for themselves and their loved ones. We know where Jimmy McGill ends up and Better Call Saul constantly reminds us of his Cinnabon fate in Omaha. But it’s the path to that mall food court that is so damn captivating, and we’re only just beginning this latest chapter in the life of Saul Goodman.
Better Call Saul returns on Monday, April 10th at 10pm only on AMC.
Better Call Saul
One of the best shows on television, Better Call Saul returns for its third season with an excellent season premiere “Mabel,” which picks up the loose ends from the second season and lays the foundation for another season of morally dubious legal practices.