Better Call Saul season 3 episode 1 review: Mabel
Better Call Saul is back, and this time, it is approaching the darkness of Breaking Bad at an accelerating speed, albeit with a few slower bumps along the way. Below is our spoiler-heavy review.
Alright, here’s the thing. It is nearly impossible to watch Better Call Saul and not compare it to Breaking Bad in one way or another. No matter how many times the showrunner Vince Gilligan will say that he’s trying to create a distinct story in his new series, there will always be a part of us all that will reminisce his seminal series and its great success. In our hearts and minds, we will always glorify Breaking Bad and put in on a pedestal.
It may not be fair, but that’s just how it is. Therefore, watching the season premiere of Better Call Saul, I found myself looking at it through the methamphetamine-stained lenses of Breaking Bad yet again. And no matter how much the creators of the show will try to create a unique work, the remainders of its predecessor will always prod at me with its cinematography (time-lapse, anyone?), music and characters.
And as the series moves forward, we are likely to find more and more similarities between the two shows, and Gilligan has said that season 3 will bring us further into the darkness and closer to the feeling of Breaking Bad. Upon watching the first episode of the new season, I can already see the roots of that starting to take place.
As expected, the season premiere opens once again with a black-and-white flashforward into the grim future where Jimmy is a manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha, stuck in a terrifying routine. It is cinematically clever to make the flashforwards black and white, and it deconstructs the typical usage of the technique in flashbacks, emphasizing that the colourless world in this case symbolises a boring post-Saul, post-Walter White existence. Here, the show cleverly puts Jimmy in a situation where his past skills as a criminal lawyer are tested, as he rats a shoplifter out to the security, but makes sure to yell “Get a lawyer!” at him before he gets taken away.
It feels as if Jimmy’s overarching story directly mirrors that of Walter White – where Walter starts off as a routine-paralysed family man that breaks out of his daily life by immersing in criminal activities, where his true potential shines through, Jimmy’s full potential comes first, before he becomes a routine-paralysed man. The flashforward scene even shows us Jimmy collapsing on the floor at work, which is exactly what happens to Walter in the first episode of Breaking Bad. Interesting, isn’t it? The one similarity that both characters share, however, is that they both end up being alone in the end. And here I am, involuntarily comparing the two shows again.
Back in the present, we see the ramifications of what came before, with Jimmy having to deal with Chuck ratting him out. In a profound scene, Chuck and Jimmy share childhood memories, and for just a moment we’re led to believe that the feud will be forgotten – but the story of Saul Goodman wouldn’t be the story of Saul Goodman if that happened, and Chuck promptly reminds Jimmy and us that hell is to come. It is clearly implied that Jimmy feels some sort of guilt over what has happened and quietly wishes things were okay with his brother, but knows that it cannot happen again. The remaining love for his brother is surely to be a defining factor in whatever darkness is to come.
In many of the scenes during the episode, Jimmy is cinematically juxtaposed with the other characters to be placed in darkness on the screen, and that seems very fitting, considering his descent into Saul Goodman is getting steeper at an almost geometric progression. We see cracks appearing in his relationships with the people closest to him, such as his partner and love interest Kim and his brother Chuck, and it’s only a matter of time before it breaks loose and Saul Goodman emerges from the ashes.
The highlight scenes of the episode are incidentally not ones of Jimmy, though, but of Mike, who was left a note advising against the assassination in the previous season’s finale, which, many assumed, were the workings of your good gold Gus Fring. While not confirmed yet, the suspicions remain after this episode, as we see Mike finding a tracking device in his car and rewiring it so that the hunted becomes the hunter. I am very hopeful that it won’t take long before the fruits of Mike’s endeavors come out into light.
As it has been seen many a time before, the episode moves rather slowly, which can be a strength or a weakness, depending on the circumstances. In this case, it is unfortunately more a weakness than a strength. For a season premiere, the scenes feel dragged out, and much more could have been told in those 50-odd minutes. While the drawn-out shots of the yellow landscapes of New Mexico and the orange-and-green tinted nights of Mike Ehrmantraut recall the memories of Breaking Bad (sorry), one feels underwhelmed by the lack of revelations and something more substantial happening in the episode. We can only hope the season accelerates a bit more as the cracks of emerging darkness begin to widen.
Overall, the Better Call Saul season premiere brings us closer to the murky style of Breaking Bad and the inevitable emergence of Saul Goodman, the criminal lawyer, making the connections between the two shows isn’t always enough to keep an episode entertaining (although it does help). Still, I retain my trust in Vince Gilligan, and have high expectations for the episodes to come.
Image credit: AMC