Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Better Call Saul Season 3? Catch up with our spoiler-free review of Episode 1 here.
If there’s one thing that Better Call Saul has mastered over the course of its three seasons, it’s the art of opening an episode. The Breaking Bad spin-off has made the prologue even more of its signature than Vince Gilligan’s original show, but relatively little attention is paid to its endings – and as Episode 9 reminds us, they can deliver an equally brutal impact.
Titled “Fall”, there’s an ominous mood in the air, as we await Jimmy’s inevitable moral plummet, but this season’s penultimate chapter does something far more heartbreaking: it transfers the fall after Jimmy’s slip last episode to Kim. How fitting that when McGill literally becomes Slippin’ Jimmy, the fall is taken by somebody else. As the season finale looms, it’s one final reminder that Jimmy may be this story’s underdog, but he’s far from its hero.
It’s a cruel blow to be dealt, but one that’s been a long time coming: ever since that turning point in the courtroom, Jimmy has undoubtedly crossed a line, no longer thinking of other people or trying to be a good guy. That’s clear from the moment he visits Irene in the Sandpiper care home at the start of the episode – a visit that could be thoughtful, except for the fact that he has one aim: find out what Sandpiper’s settlement offer on the class action is.
What follows is a brutally cruel deception throughout the episode, as he deduces that should Irene accept the offer, he’d net a cool $1 million. Bob Odenkirk is incredible throughout, still displaying those superficial signs of humanity, pausing just long enough to seem genuine and stumbling over his words just enough to seem sincere, but underneath his performance is now a steely determination, a scheming look at the con man’s latest mark – and in this Albuquerque of hard knocks and unfair treatment, everyone around him is now a mark. Every gesture is now calculated to extract everything he can out of them, right down the cat-shaped cookies he brings Irene, cookies that he buys from a shop before wrapping up in cling film to make them look homemade.
That continues all the way through his plot, as he gives her new shoes, before making the rest of her friends suspect that she’s well-off enough not to worry about the money – stirring up just enough resentment to make them turn against her, without it escalating into a full-on argument. Director Minkie Spiro makes it clear how remorseless he is, by showing us lengthy montages and tiny glimpses of the amount of time and effort Jimmy is going to, from the car boot full of shoes of different sizes (just to make sure they fit Irene) to injecting the required bingo balls with magnetic fluid, so that when he gives Irene the right bingo card, she ends up winning the game. Hosting that climactic tournament, he’s on grand form, still delivering the forced puns in that white suit, but the enthusiasm is waning – that is, until Irene comes up to claim her winnings and the entire room is awkwardly silent. Going to comfort her in the neighbouring room, you can see on Odenkirk’s face that trace of a smile returning. Mission accomplished.
But there’s less joy in that triumph that there might once have been – a clash with Howard of HHM reminds us that some people still see right through Jimmy’s purportedly good-natured intentions, as Howard refuses to accept the settlement offer on Irene’s behalf just so Jimmy can get his hands on his share. Perhaps it’s because Howard suspects what Jimmy has done with their malpractice insurance company – his tip-off about Chuck’s illness leads the insurance firm to propose Chuck be supervised at all times, costing HHM money in time and staff resources, or else their premiums will be raised. Chuck, stubborn as ever, insists they should fight the firm in court, but Howard draws a line there too – and, faced with the suggestion of retirement, Chuck once again rails and decides to sue HHM for the value of his partnership share.
It’s another sign that we’ve passed a turning point: Mike McKean’s dealt with Chuck’s breakdown and attempted reassembling of his life experly in recent episodes, but he’s now clearly less stable than ever, forcing himself to hold an electric kettle to prove to Howard he’s perfectly fine. Howard may be loyal, but he’s not an idiot – and it’s not hard to sympathise with his patience wearing thin.
While ties are breaking among our main characters, separating out Kim and Chuck from the looming world of Breaking Bad, Mike is getting tied up tighter and tighter with Gus Fring, signing up to be a “security consultant” at his firm, so that his money can be laundered. Jonathan Banks has delivered a mostly mute performance of attentive detail throughout the series, but that caution is now evident in his dialogue too, as he begins to be aware of just how far he’s sunk into that underworld – one that leaves his peaceful domestic life enclosed by people such as Lydia. Even now, with him so close to becoming his Breaking Bad self, we’d gladly watch a spin-off show just about his next steps. More similar now than ever is Nacho, whose similarly good heart has led him to dark doors, as he confesses to his father he’s working for Don Hector – begging his dad to agree with Hector’s demands, but unable to secure that promise to ensure his father’s safety. Kicked out of the family by his disappointed dad, Nacho’s paying the price in a way that Jimmy, quite simply, isn’t.
That’s the crux of Fall’s brilliance, as we find it notably harder to take any pleasure in seeing Jimmy succeed. Where once he was a put-upon victim, struggling with his brotherly affections in trying to get his own back at Chuck, now, he’s become an out-and-out villain. Last episode, his victory against the music shop owners felt inconsequential and underwhelming, because there were no real stakes involved – an unsatisfying note in a crucial transitional phase. Now, he’s gone from tricking annoying clients to manipulating frail old women who trust him implicitly. His true colours are fully on display.
And that’s why it’s so heartbreaking to see Kim take the fall. Rhea Seehorn has been studious, hard-working and honest to the last, taking on Gatwood Oil last episode just to try and give herself a stronger, legal footing away from Jimmy’s antics – but that impeccable work ethic and conscience only leads her to fatigue and exhaustion. And so, after a quietly heart-stopping sequence that saw her car almost fatally run away from her, she falls asleep at the wheel, crashing off the road and emerging with a bloody face – a horrifying, sudden accident presented with visual whiplash, cutting from the before to the after with a nasty jolt. The sound of the car horn. Kim’s shocked face. Cut to black. For those who have stayed close to Jimmy during his fall, the end is nigh.
New episodes of Better Call Saul Season 3 arrive exclusively on Netflix UK every Tuesday. Season 1 and 2 are already available.