BETTER CALL SAUL Review: “Mabel”

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returns to take its place as one of the best dramas on television, with Vince Gilligan directing the season premiere. What is Chuck going to do with the secretly tapped confession of Jimmy’s sabotage? Who intervened to stop Mike from killing Hector, and what do they want?

This season of Better Call Saul starts with another black and white sequence showing what’s become of Jimmy after he’s changed his identity in the aftermath of Breaking Bad. His life as Gene, the manager of an Omaha, Nebraska Cinnabon, is a life of drudgery that lacks the pizzazz and color of his former self. Some may even argue his new life as Gene is not much better than being dead or in jail. Odenkirk never even has the semblance of a smile in these sequences, and he’s jumpy and scared all of the time. He just drifts through his sugarcoated employment with a dour look on his face as Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugartown” plays on the soundtrack.

Something happens on one of his lunch breaks that may actually point to the future of where Jimmy may be heading as Gene. He witnesses a shoplifter in the mall, and they make eye contact before the young man hides in a photo booth across from Jimmy while a cop and a security guard look for him. Whenever we see Jimmy as Gene, he’s afraid of the authorities or of bringing attention to himself, and there’s nothing more awkward than when the police officer asks Jimmy if he’s seen the shoplifter come by. The struggle to even make words come out of his mouth in the cops presence tells how afraid Jimmy is of being found out, but he points out the kid wordlessly, leading to the kid’s arrest. There’s an inner struggle at work, and guilt as well for ratting on a fellow criminal. As he watches the kid being handcuffed, something fights to come out of Jimmy, and it isn’t until the cop tells him good , that words force their way out … “Say nothing, you understand? Get a lawyer.”

How amazing would it be if Better Call Saul pulled off the strange and unique feat of being not only a prequel to Breaking Bad, but if once the show finishes Jimmy’s back-story it leaps forward in time to see what happens to Gene in the future? It would be a prequel and a sequel all at the same time, bookending the original series it spun off of. Just the simple fact Better Call Saul has lived up to and become the equal of Breaking Bad is a feat to admire. There are not a lot of spin off series that have been able to do that, but under Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s guidance, they’ve made the world and the characters we knew in Breaking Bad richer and more intricate than I thought would be possible.

This season picks up right where we left off in the cliffhanger last year, right as Chuck has coerced Jimmy into confessing to a felony by tampering with legal documents from Mesa Verde to make Chuck look stupid and swing Mesa Verde’s business to his girlfriend and law partner Kim. What does Chuck have planned for the recording? He plays it for Howard, now aware Chuck’s assertions about Jimmy were legitimate and not just the ramblings of a man losing his grip, but Howard knows the tape would be either inadmissible in court or easily thrown out if Jimmy were ever to fight it. Even if they wanted the Mesa Verde business back, it’s far too late for that after the way Chuck treated them. These are all things Chuck is aware of, but he says he knows what he’s going to do with it, and his plan will probably unveil itself over the course of several episodes.

Jimmy’s relationships with everyone are strained this season. Chuck not only has the recording Jimmy is unaware of, but he’s going to hold the admission over Jimmy’s head. “Don’t think I’ll ever forget what happened here today. And you will pay.” This contentious sibling rivalry has been going on for years. Jimmy both craves Chuck’s recognition of his accomplishments, and yet knows Chuck has been screwing him over and will never recognize Jimmy’s positive attributes. It only pushes Jimmy further towards “Slipping Jimmy.” They have a toxic relationship, and it’s unclear how things are going to work out for them. When it comes to Kim, things are strained there as well. She’s wary of Jimmy’s unethical excursions to get what he wants, but she’s also attracted to his positive qualities. Kim feels guilty for having the Mesa Verde business when she finds out how Jimmy steered it to her, but holds on to it because it is the chance of a lifetime. How exactly does Jimmy become Saul Goodman? How does he lose Kim and Chuck, and dive head first into the grey areas of legality? At this point the path is unclear.

When we last saw Mike he was positioned with a sniper rifle about to take out Hector Salamanca, but someone made it clear to him they knew what he was doing, and intervened to stop him. Finding the note on his car, and the stick positioned to make his horn go off has spooked Mike in a way we’ve never seen before. He’s actually scared and worried something has been planted on his car. The first stop he makes is to a junk yard where, in a gorgeous time lapse sequence, Mike takes his own car apart piece by piece until he gives up empty handed. It’s while he sits confounded in the aftermath that an idea strikes him … he didn’t check inside the gas cap. When he does, he finds a tracking device. Who put it there? Mike is smart as hell, and buys the same model tracking device, swaps it out for the one planted on his car, and drains the battery of the original. Once the person tracking his movements comes to swap out the tracking device for one with a full battery, they unwittingly take Mike’s tracking device with them, and will lead Mike straight to the person responsible for stopping him from killing Hector.

Better Call Saul is not only one of the most well written shows on television, it’s ability to balance laugh out loud comedy and tear jerking drama is second to none, but it may be one of the best directed shows as well. The framing and shot selection alone leaves me in awe of the carefully thought out look the show aims for episode to episode, and “Mabel” is no exception. Vince Gilligan directed this episode, and it’s chock full of wonderful shots. When Mike first checks his car in the middle of the desert, there’s a flash of lighting as a storm brews in the background. It’s likely a happy accident, but it also reflects the inner turmoil Mike feels in that moment. Another breathtaking shot is in the reflection of a magnifying lens Mike uses to look closely at the tracking device he found. His eye is enlarged as we also see the reflection of the device being inspected, while his other hand writes on a notepad. If this season of Better Call Saul lives up to the premier we’re in for one hell of a ride.

TB-TV-Grade-A

Season 3, Episode 1 (S03E01)
Better Call Saul
airs Mondays at 10PM on AMC

Read all of our reviews of Better Call Saul here. 
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For six months out of the year Jeff is holed up in his home with nothing to do but shovel snow, watch television, write, and dream of warmer climates.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @OfSoundnVision
Keep up with all of Jeff’s reviews here.

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