Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Better Call Saul Season 3? Catch up with our spoiler-free review of Episode 1 here.
Say the words “Saul Goodman” and an image immediately forms in your head. Flashy suits. A showman’s grin. That hair. When we see Jimmy McGill at the start of Expenses, nothing about him makes you think of Saul Goodman. Season 3’s seventh episode strips him of almost everything recognisable, as he walks slowly along a brick wall and leans against it, coffee cup in hand and jeans below his waist. He’s ordinary, forgettable, a nobody. When he’s joined by others all looking the same, he might as well be standing in a police lineup of suspects for as yet unspecified crime.
He is, of course, there to do his community service, picking up garbage from the side of the motorway, while still trying to sell those ad slots on his mobile phone. The foreman only credits him with 30 minutes’ work out of the four-hour session – “We could make it zero…” the man with a van retorts, bluntly. That theme runs throughout the episode: an undercurrent of costs owed, debts paid and amounts to be collected.
If Better Call Saul is a portrait of a man gradually sinking into the moral underworld, Expenses confirms that we’ve passed the turning point. He’s already using the name Saul Goodman, but that no longer feels like the series’ crucial milestone – now, more than ever, we have the sense that the world is stacked against him, quantifiably so: he is literally struggling to meet the bill that life keeps landing on his desk every day. It’s that furnace of hard-knocks and unfair demands that hardens Jimmy’s edges into the cold, cynical corners of Breaking Bad’s angle-savvy lawyer. And it’s firmly warmed up.
Fresh from the living rubbish tip that is Albuquerque’s back streets, Jimmy’s kicked back down into the dirt by Duke of Duke City Recliners, who won’t pay for more than a single ad shot on the fly by Saul and his entertaining team of young students. Then, the ABQ in Tune shop owners try to back out of their advert altogether – no matter how much Jimmy tries to claim their Murder She Wrote daytime slot will help them target grandmas with money to spend on their kids learning to play recorder. (“We don’t sell recorders.”) As he sits in the street outside, defeated, one of his crew offers to give him her fee – the only kind gesture of giving he sees in a world full of people and things taking things away. At the end of the day, even all of that is only enough to cover half of the monthly fee for the office he wants to keep going with Kim.
Mike, on the other hand, is donating his resources more freely, after his daughter volunteered him to make the kids’ playground at her church. When others ask to help, he initially turns them down: he doesn’t like to collect debts, or owe anybody. Once again, he’s the polar opposite of Jimmy; as McGill breaks away from the people around him, Mike is tentatively reaching out, forming a connection with Anita, a woman at the group therapy sessions he attends with Stacey. It seems to be that which inspires him to reluctantly accept a job from Pryce, everyone’s favourite baseball card collector, who is approached by Nacho to provide him with some empty capsules.
There are no points for guessing that Pryce is going to use those to poison Hector. Mike certainly guesses it straight away, agreeing to represent Pryce at the trade-off, where he warns Nacho to be careful and switch the capsules back after the deed, to stop things being traced back to him.
Kim, meanwhile, still feels the guilt of that courtroom collision with Chuck leading back to her. At a meeting with Mesa Verde, she snaps at her friend, with the kind of rude intensity that is notably out of character – Rhee Seehorn just gets better and better at delivering these big milestones in Kim’s journey in the smallest of gestures. That subtlety is what makes her such a natural foil for Bob Odenkirk; both are masters of communicating a lot with a little, a skill that makes their drinking together after work a mesmerising spectacle, despite the fact that it occurs in an episode with little else to grip.
There’s a growing sense that this episode, like the last, is a mildly underwhelming piece of board-shuffling, as the stage is set for the looming finale. But it’s the fact that we already know where Jimmy’s headed that gives the episode a bubbling tension: not because of Breaking Bad in his future, but because of what we’ve seen of him in the past. It’s that difference between Season 3 and Season 1 of Better Call Saul that is testament to how good a TV show it’s become – we’ve come far enough along Jimmy’s transformation into Saul that we don’t need the spin-off knowledge anymore to keep us emotionally invested, or to make us aware of just how much slipping Jimmy has slipped.
It’s evident in Odenkirk’s voice and glowering glances, as his Victor and Kim’s Giselle Sinclair (best fake name ever) play their old game of spot-the-mark in a bar. “As far as I’m concerned, all we did was tear down a sick man,” she confesses, with a sadness in her eyes. Jimmy, when he speaks, does so with quiet, growling anger, as he spells out blow by blow every step he’ll take to screw over a rude customer. But we can tell he’s not really joking – and, moreover, she can too, because she’s seen exactly what Jimmy is capable of, and has helped him cross several of the lines that he now can’t cross back over. (We’re starting to see now how the couple might break up – and take Kim out of the picture in time for Breaking Bad.)
One other conversation cements Season 3’s fatal air, as Jimmy goes to his insurance company and tries to get a refund on his malpractice cover. After all, he’s no longer practicing, so he can’t commit malpractice, can he? (With Jimmy, never rule anything out.) His agent is apologetic, but firm: it’s just not possible. And so Jimmy breaks down into tears, crying about how unfair life is, as he unloads everything that’s been piling on top of him. Director Thomas Schnauz (also writer) is a veteran of the Better Call Saul world, and he shoots this scene with a quiet precision, allowing us to get close enough to see the sincerity of Jimmy’s sadness, just as he accidentally lets slip the fact that Chuck has a mental illness, prompting the insurance worker to make a note to investigate that.
Then, it’s a quick cut to outside of the office, as Jimmy walks out – and his tears stop, his face toughens up, and there’s the faintest hint of a smile. What a difference two seasons make: when we first met Jimmy, that concern for his brother would have been genuine, but now, he’s been concerned for so long he can fake it well enough even to fool us. It may not look like it, but Jimmy’s gone. The dishonourable Saul Goodman is now in session. And it’s time to start claiming back those expenses.
New episodes of Better Call Saul Season 3 arrive exclusively on Netflix UK every Tuesday. Season 1 and 2 are already available.