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Better Call Saul Moves Decisively Ahead

Better Call Saul’s third season has been a remarkable one. After the thrilling end to last week’s episode, Jimmy readies to enter a transition period from the McGill brothers legal battle which dominated the first half of the season to the aftermath of the Bar hearing. He’s not alone; Mike, Gus, and Nacho must also move forward in the aftermath of Hector’s new arrangement with Gus. Nacho especially received a welcome focus missing so far this season.

As usual, Better Call Saul began this transition with the combination of strong storytelling and entertainment value making it one of the best shows on television.

Spoilers for 3×06 “Off Brand” below

Recap

Nacho begins a strong episode for his character collecting money from Hector’s dealers. Krazy 8 makes his return to Better Call Saul short on money. Nacho is willing to forgive him until Hector speaks up, so instead drags Krazy 8 back inside to deliver a beating. Later we see him working a sewing machine at his father’s garage. He loses focus and the needle goes through his hand.

Next, Better Call Saul returns to Jimmy’s Bar hearing. Kim gives their closing argument while Rebecca tries to check on Chuck at his house. Chuck refuses to answer the door. Good news for Jimmy, he only receives a 12-month suspension. He and Kim celebrate with champagne (in coffee cups). Rebecca arrives and asks him to help with Chuck, but Jimmy refuses. Rebecca rebukes him before leaving.

Mike makes his return after a week off by attending a church meeting (I think?) with his daughter-in-law. Stacey talks about still dealing with the impact of her husband’s death on their daughter. Afterwards she ropes Mike into helping build a playground for the church. Meanwhile, Howard comes to Chuck’s house to celebrate, but not before having to badger Chuck into actually answering. He pleads with Chuck to move forward now that the hearing is over.

I’m a bit surprised Howard still plants himself so firmly on Chuck’s side. After their celebration, Chuck takes the tape recorder from his desk, removes the batteries, and grips one of them hard.

Over at Jimmy’s office, he makes calls to each of his clients to tell them about his 12-month suspension from practicing law, though without specifically saying he was suspended. After making the last call, he realizes his commercial is still set to run and makes a hasty call to cancel it. Kim finds him smoking outside later where he tells her he has a contract to air his commercials and will have to eat the cost for them now, since he can’t air the commercials advertising his law services.

Kim talks about firing Francesca and breaking the lease on their building since Jimmy can’t practice anymore but he insists he’ll make his payments. The next day he unsuccessfully pitches his services to a local company to shoot a commercial for them. He has a plan to fill the ad spots he must void with commercials for businesses in the area. The film students return and one of them suggests he film another commercial himself.

They hurry to a new location where Jimmy readies to film a commercial, but doesn’t want to use his name. He decides to disguise himself. It’s happening, it’s happening!

Back with the drug business, a Los Pollos Hermanos truck smuggles drugs into America. Nacho and a friend take their half for Hector, but take more than agreed upon. Guns are pulled, calls made, and Gus okays Hector receiving more than agreed. Turns out Gus was at the future location of his laundromat/meth super lab. He gets in a car with…Lydia! Oh, you high-strung Stevia lover, how I missed you.

I don’t know, there’s something about her.

Meanwhile, Chuck makes a foray out into the world wrapped in tinfoil, seemingly convinced his disease is mental and determined to overcome it. He walks to a payphone and makes a call to his former psychiatrist.

Nacho reports to Hector about the meeting with Gus’s people. Hector talks to Nacho about using Nacho’s father’s business to start smuggling their drugs, something Nacho shows extreme reluctance towards. They’re interrupted by one of Hector’s goons telling them Tuco stabbed someone in prison. Hector reacts angrily and has some sort of episode, which ends after he takes some pills. He drops one of the pills and Nacho notices.

And finally we end with Jimmy getting calls about commercial services and showing Kim the commercial he made. After all the speculation, turns out Saul Goodman is born as an alias for his commercial services, with Jimmy’s identity hidden pretty badly behind a huge hat, fake goatee, and sunglasses.

As Kim says to end the episode: “Huh.”

Review

I’ve talked before about Better Call Saul’s issues with fitting Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut in the same show. Switching gears between elder law and drug wars often proves a challenge creating two entirely different shows that sometime fail to coexist. It’s the biggest flaw of an otherwise near-flawless piece of television.

On the surface, this episode should have taken this contrast to the extreme and suffered for it. The aftermath of Jimmy’s Bar hearing has split things even further. Better Call Saul split time between Jimmy’s new advertising career, Kim’s legal career, Mike, Nacho and Hector, Gus and Lydia, almost all of them focusing on something entirely separate from each other.

Somehow, “Off Brand” made this diverse mix blend into something tasty. Yeah, Jimmy filming commercials and Gus buying Walt’s future super lab don’t have much to do with each other plot-wise or thematically, but somehow Better Call Saul makes you not care. For one week, at least, it really didn’t matter how many different shows Better Call Saul felt like.

A big reason why has to do with the strength of these characters and the product. Nacho’s sidelining in season 3 left me not caring how his story fit with anyone else’s. Instead, I became glad just to see him. Mike’s one scene may have had nothing to do with anyone else, but it was one which served his character well and told a fair amount of story within its short timeframe. While many of these stories may not connect in this episode, they have before or will in the future. This leaves audiences to theorize about connections to come.

More than anything, Better Call Saul’s continued outstanding quality makes it easy to forgive just about anything.

The aftermath of McGill vs. McGill could have left season 3 floundering in search of new direction. Many shows face this issue, where they have an outstanding plot which can only last so long into a season and then leaves the remainder of the season lacking. Others may try to leave the climax for the end of a season and struggle to fill the empty spaces between.

Better Call Saul (like Breaking Bad before it) has never been the latter kind of show. Gilligan and Gould push the plot at the speed it deserves, be it slow or fast. Sometimes this is good and sometimes it negatively affects things. The first half of Breaking Bad’s season 5 struggled a bit in the aftermath of Walt killing Mike, when it had to shift gears to move forward with Walt as Albuquerque’s meth kingpin. The aftermath of “Ozymandias” left the second half of season 5 a bit lacking after that episode’s all-time great resolution to 5 seasons of secrets and White family drama.

Where other shows may have dragged the season out so last week’s perfect climax ended things, Better Call Saul resolved Jimmy’s immediate legal future halfway through. This could have left the remaining episodes floundering in search of direction. Perhaps future episodes will struggle in search of direction.

A big reason why “Off Brand” worked so damn well despite its numerous pieces was a very decisive sense of direction I did not expect.

There was no period of indecisiveness for Jimmy McGill, who instead blazed fully ahead to the rebirth of the Saul Goodman moniker. Chuck has accepted his mental illness and will work to get better. Nacho’s first real focus will likely give him and Mike a clear focus for the remainder of the season. Gus’s continued maneuvers will likely involve them as well. Kim is ready to move ahead with or without Jimmy and their office building.

For a notoriously slow show, Better Call Saul was quick to move on from the first half of season 3 and into the future. I’m sure things will slow back down as everyone begins scheming towards their next actions, but at least they will do so with a clear plan in mind, just like Better Call Saul has a clear plan in mind.

Where will this plan take us? I’ve learned at this point to stop guessing. Who could have ever predicted, as smart as it was, that the Saul Goodman name would reemerge as cover for Jimmy’s commercial scheme?

One thing Gilligan and Gould know how to do brilliantly is keep the audience on their toes and take things in natural new directions you don’t expect. In the process they have created a fantastic third season for Better Call Saul.  One where even the show’s remaining flaws fall well short of the consistent genius aired week to week.

Other Thoughts:

  • Nacho did not want to talk about his father at all to Krazy 8. He will absolutely not accept Hector’s insistence on using his father’s business to smuggle drugs.
  • Speaking of, we keep waiting to see what Nacho did that Jimmy thinks Walt and Jesse were going to kill him for. Maybe he does something causing whatever put Hector in the wheelchair?
  • Poor Rebecca. Jimmy did use her and she was right to be angry. Still, Jimmy has good reason not to help, no matter what Rebecca says.
  • Stacey thinks Mike is lonely and depressed, and that’s why she volunteered him to build the playground. People predictably think she’s manipulating Mike in some harmful fashion but the intent is clear, I think.
  • Is there something to the shadow on Hamlin’s face while he waits for Chuck that looks like a nasty scar? He did drive off drunk.
  • Jimmy did as told with his fish! Yay for listening to the veterinarian!
  • I have lots of experience speaking with the elderly, and know Jimmy’s pain.
  • Kim “up to her eyeballs” with Mesa Verde. I have to think this will eventually have negative consequences. Also, what happened to hiring paralegals?
  • No one does drug smuggling montages better than Vince Gilligan.
  • I also continue to be amazed by the work that goes into Chuck’s trips outside. Better Call Saul does an incredible job making you feel his discomfort of the world around him. Then again, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have always been visually splendid and probably the best looking shows on television.

Images Courtesy of AMC

Bo
Written By

Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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