Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Season 3, Episode 2
$3.19 for fried chicken10
Ivan Radford | On 19, Apr 2017
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Better Call Saul Season 3? Catch up with our spoiler-free review of Episode 1 here.
“Perfection is the enemy of perfectly adequate,” argues Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) in Episode 2 of Better Call Saul’s third season. It’s no surprise that he thinks that way, especially after two seasons of watching the lawyer blunder his way across the line from well-meaning to increasingly dodgy. As he redecorates the office wall of Wexler-McGill, replacing the rainbow he painted over last episode, he steps back and puzzles over the sticky tape pattern. Is that line a little crooked? The moral metaphor is clear, but so is the fact that he’s not about to go back and start from scratch. He’s impatient, impulsive, immature. He’s just not that guy.
Mike, on the other hand, is. If you enjoyed his near-silent montage of turning the tables on his trackers in Episode 1, this chapter will have you enthralled, as he painstakingly follows the people who were once following him. Playing out like a paranoid 70s thriller, the result is a deathly slow string of vignettes, taking him from a highway to tunnels underground to, finally, a daylight road stop. The bright red towering structure looming large off-frame? That, inevitably, is the sign for Los Pollos Hermanos.
The sight of the sign alone is enough to send thrills through Breaking Bad fans, as they recall all that it spells out for the future of this spin-off. But Mike, wary as ever, doesn’t rush in to see how the chicken is made. He’s not that guy. And so he brings in just that guy for a special mission: Jimmy McGill, small-time lawyer and loyal partner in crime. He gleefully accepts the chance to do some scouting, given the express order of following an ominous bag stuffed with cash, which Mike believes will be dropped off to whomever is in charge.
Bob Odenkirk’s performance has rarely been better. He’s a superb comic actor, the kind of performer who puts his old body into his character, but never lets you realise – and that physicality, that knack for balancing absurd slapstick with deadpan restraint, makes him perfect for the part of bumbling detective. And boy, does he bumble. Swaggering in like a character out of a Western, Vince Gilligan directs the sequence with slow close-ups of his darting eyes, forever looking around for his mark.
But McGill’s no chicken connoisseur: he flaps up cluelessly without class or cool, staring unsubtly at his target. He stares while he waits for his order ($3.19 for a Pollos Classic and drink? It’s almost like the restaurant has another source of income…); he stares while he puts sugar packet after sugar packet into his coffee; he stares as he accidentally leans against the soft drinks dispenser; he stares as he moves from his table across the restaurant to another seat with a much better view.
So intense is his staring that he doesn’t notice the slowly advancing figure behind him; Gilligan keeps the focus shallow, all on Jimmy’s peeping eyes, so we can only just see a shadowy man in the background, going between tables and cleaning up. But it’s all we need to get an electrifying jolt of recognition: Gus Fring is in the building.
Gus’ delivery man sits down, eats his meal and puts his bag under his chair. But minutes later, after Gus has passed by with a mop, he gets up and leaves and takes the bag with him. Jimmy, puzzled, doesn’t hang about: he gets up too and follows him out. It’s classic McGill: he doesn’t wait or play it safe, instead rushing and risking his cover so that he can cut a corner. He doesn’t even attempt to touch his food, which he throws into the bin, before checking through it for suspicious contents.
McGill, though, isn’t stupid: he’s been grifting long enough to be able to cover his tracks in an emergency, telling Gus, who appears from nowhere, that he’s lost his watch in the bin. Giancarlo Esposito goes toe to toe with Odenkirk, his equally precise politeness chilling to encounter once again, as he empties the bin himself, retrieves the watch and then rescues the plastic basket Jimmy carelessly threw in the bin too. All the way, he smiles a fixed grin, which only flickers momentarily, after he’s realised what McGill was up to.
“We’re not going to tail him?” asks Jimmy, hyper-enthusiastic at the joy of the chase. Jonathan Banks, as grave-faced as ever, shuts him down and sends him packing – and continues his one-man investigation.
It’s yet another reminder of how different the two men are, but also a reminder of how well Mike knows Jimmy: Jimmy might not get what Mike’s about, but he knows exactly when to deploy Jimmy to maximum effect, both attracting attention from Gus yet deflecting it away from himself.
Chuck, meanwhile, also has the measure of his brother. After last episode’s oh-so-staged accidental playing of the tape of Jimmy confessing his Mesa Verde fraud to Ernesto, Ernie heads almost straight to his pal to inform him the tape exists. Or, to be more exact, he heads to Kim – because, while he’s “fuzzy” about the legal details of what he can and can’t, he knows that Kim is a safer, more stable person to approach. Kim does the smart thing and takes a $20 bill from Jimmy, effectively becoming his lawyer so she can hear all about the tape, without ever being able to rat on Jimmy.
Jimmy is distraught, realising that Chuck has not only deceived him, but used his compassion for his brother to trick him – an even colder act of betrayal. Does Jimmy hang around, cool and collected, before responding? Does he heck. The episode is full of examples of how quick-off-the-mark he is, from the way that he can’t wait to hire Francesca, the very first person that he and Kim interview for a paralegal position – Rhea Seehorn’s facial expressions as Jimmy skips through interview questions (“Can you start today?”) is priceless. For her, it’s about finding the right candidate, not just someone who knows how to use Word and Excel. For him, it’s about getting someone on the phones in time for his TV ad. Which is on in 15 minutes. (Shout out to Tina Parker, whose Francesca also appears in Breaking Bad, and is hilarious on the phone. “Ehrmantraut? Trout, like the fish?”)
And so Jimmy heads to Chuck’s to get back the incriminating recording wrapped in tin foil in his brother’s desk. But Chuck is waiting: we discover that he’s been hiring 24-7 private investigators to wait in his house for when Jimmy arrives, so that he can be witnessed in action doing something incriminating, which will mean the tape can be used in court after all. It’s an evil, inspired plan – and again, the reason for that is because Chuck knows Jimmy so well. Howard visits the house covertly (Patrick Fabian’s performance is another superb bit of physical acting, as he carefully, mechanically climbs over backyard walls, straightening his tie and suit jacket as he goes), asking Chuck to stop and save the company money, but Chuck is certain he’s right – and Michael McKean’s conviction is wonderfully despicable. The one concession? They could only hire the investigators to wait at night, because that’s when Jimmy will strike.
But aye, there’s the rub for Better Call Saul’s characters: they all think they know each other better than they do. Just as Jimmy underestimates Chuck’s sheer lack of brotherly compassion, Chuck underestimates Jimmy’s hurt feelings – and so even he isn’t expecting Jimmy to act quite so quickly, bursting into the home that afternoon, kicking the door down in anger. After such controlled actions earlier, it’s genuinely moving to see Odenkirk’s limbs flailing in such rage.
“For this you destroyed our family?” he cries, Jimmy’s usually so rehearsed voice cracking. Then, another reminder of how good a measure they have of each other: “No wonder Rebecca left you,” he spits.
It’s a breathtaking climax, as the episode spends so much time gently building up to it. The first half of the hour is gripping, as we wait to see what will happen – and the second is shocking, because something actually does. Like Chuck, we’re completely caught off guard by the sudden shift in speed; a masterclass in pacing and tension.
And yet the episode still finds time to pack in those little details, including the way that Jimmy removes the sticky tape from his office wall using his thumbs, bit by bit, as Chuck taught him to do in Episode 1, so as not to damage the upholstery. When he catches himself doing it, he stops – and rips that line away as quickly as possible. It’s no coincidence that it looks even more crooked as a result, or that when Kim looks at it, she possibly sees a line mapping out a stock market crash (even when Better Call Saul does unsubtle symbols, it still adds more layers than most series).
And so, as Gus, Mike and Jimmy’s worlds begin to collide, the stage is set again for a slow descent into the immoral darkness of Better Call Saul’s predecessor. But while Mr. Ehrmantraut thinks he knows what’s in store, a last-minute surprise also catches him off guard, as he finds his Caprice gas cap and tracking bug left abandoned in the middle of the road, accompanied by a telephone. When Mike, Mr. Perfect himself, is underestimating his enemy, you know things are about to go bad.
New episodes of Better Call Saul Season 3 arrive exclusively on Netflix UK every Tuesday. Season 1 and 2 are already available.