Better Call Saul’s premiere for season three is now history. The cold open featured Jimmy [Bob Odenkirk] as Gene at the Omaha Cinnabon taking a lunch break. When cops try to chase down a shoplifter, he points to the youth, but after police make the arrest, Gene yells out, “Get a lawyer!” Gene returns to work after lunch and passes out, falling to the floor.
The show then picks up immediately after last season’s finale. Jimmy helps Chuck [Michael McKean] take down his home’s mylar wrapping as they reminisce, but Chuck informs Jimmy he won’t forget what Jimmy did to him and the Mesa Verde documents. Chuck, staying on at his law firm, HHM, reveals the confession tape to Howard and “accidentally” to Ernesto when Ernesto brings him fresh batteries for his tape recorder. Chuck gives him a B’rer Rabbit warning.
Jimmy and Kim [Rhea Seehorn] continue their separate law practices, but Kim has to pick up some of Jimmy’s elder law clients (who know about flowers, including perhaps, lily-of-the-valley?) on top of her Mesa Verde work. Paige tips Kim off as to what happened with HHM. Kim starts second-guessing her drafting in a typing/retyping montage. The Air Force captain calls out Jimmy for his Fudge Talbot commercial last season.
Meanwhile, in a long montage, Mike looks for and finds a tracker in the gas cap of his car after he received a note, “DON’T” on his windshield. He gets a replica of the tracker, and programs it to call home. He drains the battery on the original so it emits a low power warning to his spies and places it nearby. He replaces the original with his own, waiting for the trackers to come take it while he lies in wait, eating nuts. This, ultimately, will lead him to the Gustavo Fring [Giancarlo Esposito] drug ring. While the screenwriter maxim of “show, don’t tell” was illustrated here, it was also an example of why a little exposition is really okay–the montage was a bit of a challenge to follow.
Screen shot of Mike Ehrmantraut from Season 3 premier “Mabel.”
The show’s been criticized for its glacial pacing, and this season so far hasn’t surprised. Whether another show could get away with this snail’s pace is uncertain. Here, though, viewers have grown to trust Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould as storytellers. Also, it’s a prequel and viewers essentially know what happens, making the journey, not the destination, more interesting.
Better Call Saul, a prequel to Breaking Bad, is arguably a better show. Why? The premise is more tethered to reality. And, more importantly, the characters are more believable and sympathetic. Jimmy is a charming and witty conman cum matchbook cover lawyer who looks for the easy way out. His OCD brother, Chuck, studied diligently for his law degree earning his reputation the hard way, and resents his younger brother. (Birth order matters here.) Kim is meticulous and only flirts with thinking outside the box, which is part of her attraction to Jimmy. Crooked ex-cop Mike has the patience and wit to outsmart the best. Howard works at keeping the practice successful, despite personnel problems with neurotic Chuck.
Compare these characters to those on Breaking Bad. Walter White was a long-term high school chemistry teacher who inexplicably had no health insurance, but a pleasant middle class home and SUVs. His pregnant stay-at-home wife Skyler only sold things on Ebay, despite the family’s financial distress. They had a disabled teenage son. Skyler’s childless sister, Marie, stole shoes and had a fetish for the color purple. Her husband
Screen shot of Mike and Gus from Season 3, Epsiode 3 “Sunk Costs.”
Hank was an arrogant DEA agent who eventually saw the light regarding Walt, who, after a terminal cancer diagnosis, decided to “break bad” and start cooking and selling crystal methamphetamine to build a nest egg for his family when he’s gone. He met up with a former student and lost soul, Jesse Pinkman, who had drug connections. They used the skills of Mike, an ex-cop. Eventually, they connected with Fring’s drug ring, with colorful characters, but not very relatable ones.
Breaking Bad was excellent, but even at the onset, it was difficult to like, or be sympathetic to Walt or most of the other characters. The only ones I ever cared about were Jesse, Mike, and Hank, though these characters weren’t as well developed as they might’ve been. You know it’s not going to go well for these people, but you stay tuned to watch the train wreck.
Contrast Better Call Saul. Admittedly, there are many fans who hate Chuck, and in prior seasons, Howard was the subject of viewers’ wrath, but overall, the characters’ faults and transgressions are more credible, even Chuck’s anxiety of electromagnetic spectrum. They have some pleasing qualities, even Chuck, who is devoted to the legal profession, and Howard, who has shown himself to be charitable at times. Mike reappears, and we learn a bit of his backstory, which includes the unfortunate death of his cop son, who may or may not have been corrupt.
Personally, I’m in no rush for Jimmy to become Saul or for the Breaking Bad world to re-materialize. I’ve been down that road already. In fact, I’d rather see the transition from Saul to Gene, but we’ll likely only get our next glimpse in the premiere to the next season, where the Gene scenes are generally placed.
Screen shot of Chuck and Jimmy from Season 3, Epsiode 3 “Sunk Costs.”
We know Chuck can’t forget Jimmy’s document tampering. He uses the brotherly psychopathy the McGills are known for to set up Jimmy, knowing Jimmy will break into his house, trash his desk, and threaten to get his taped admission back. In a momentary act of feigned or sincere concern (it’s hard to tell which), Chuck explains he’s called the cops on him for Jimmy’s own good (unlike what Gene did with the kid.) To Chuck, it’s an intervention. To Jimmy, it’s a betrayal, though his sabotage of Chuck last season was nothing less than reprehensible and unforgivable.
Chuck also sets up Jimmy’s friend, Ernesto, proving the rule that nice guys finish last. He aims to negotiate the terms of Jimmy’s prosecution with the ADA which results in a plea offer that can’t go well and could result, minimally, in ultimately getting Jimmy disbarred. This could leave Jimmy either practicing law as Saul Goodman without a license to practice altogether, or having him retake the bar exam under a false name.
Screen shot of Kim and Jimmy from Season 3, Epsiode 3 “Sunk Costs.”
What happens to Kim, who Jimmy truly cares for, remains to be seen, but we don’t see her in the Breaking Bad universe nor have we seen her in the Omaha-Gene milieu (although she originally hails from neighboring Kansas.) Thus far, she’s remained loyal to him, though Jimmy won’t accept her offer for legal help (unlike what Gene recommended to the kid.)
We know what happens to Mike, but there is a good deal about his past that could be interestingly explored in this prequel. The law firm HHM is dependent on Chuck’s not cashing out, so there’s ample room for conflict there in future episodes.
BCS continues its signature style, interestingly now using 3-D printers and drones in the production of the show. The story unravels slowly but surely, with a flair for both drama and comedy. There are too many show-don’t-tell montages for my taste, but the show’s tightly and intricately written. It’s also exceptionally well cast. Odenkirk and McKean are particularly award-worthy.
I’ll be aboard this train for the long haul.