Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Season 4? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episode here.
We need to talk about Better Call Saul’s editing. The Breaking Bad prequel has won lots of acclaim for its writing and its lead performance by Bob Odenkirk, but what has consistently impressed ever since Season 1, as Kim lined up a wave of job opportunities, is the way that this slow-paced story has been stitched together. That’s often thanks to Skip Macdonald, who has lived up to his name as one of the show’s lead editors, and the show’s opening montage sees him at the peak of the show’s ability to cut down happiness, one snip at a time.
The montage is a quietly bold move by the show, which has so often treaded very patiently through the day-by-day moral decline of Jimmy McGill (Odenkirk). We see Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy gradually going through the motions of their daily routine, from brushing teeth to going to bed, and that diarised mundanity whisks us through almost a year of their lives – that’s almost as much time as the whole show has covered up until this point. The split-screen is masterfully shot and assembled, making sure that their mirrored actions are slightly off-balance, one camera angle more askew than the other, so they never quite sync up anymore. Something’ Stupid plays in the background, but it becomes less a cute admission of affection and more an ominous warning of one of them opening their mouths to spoil the mood.
And so that gap, so easy for them not to notice (or, more likely, to ignore), is thrown into sharp relief when they join together for an evening at Schweikart & Cokley – a party that sees Jimmy become less a token piece of arm candy (a role he can play with charm very naturally) and more a drunken embarrassment, as he mocks the company’s plans for a retreat in a childish game of one-upmanship.
It brings into focus the sheer difference between their lives now: Kim is working the pro bono circuit as much as she can, while her S&C banking division continues to fuel Mesa Vede’s expansion (Seehorn’s unimpressed face at the unboxing of yet another company statue during the montage is a joy); Saul, on the other hand, is still re-selling his prepaid phones on the street, even using an early version of his “Better Call Saul!” slogan to do it.
But the episode opens on Jimmy searching for an office for his eventual return to law – and Huell’s confused reaction to his pitch for buying the place isn’t just a comic beat, but a reminder of how far McGill is now straying from his intended path, whether he realises it or not. Kim can’t ignore it anymore, as she clashes with the Assistant District Attorney over a case against Jimmy, only for her opening to label Jimmy a “disbarred scumbag lawyer who peddles drop phones to criminals”.
Equally straying from their planned route are Mike’s team of German engineers, who continue to build Gus Fring’s super-lab underground. Except that, well, they’re not, because after eight months, they’re all feeling the strain – no matter how many pool tables and beers you can drink in a concrete chamber, it’s still a concrete chamber. Before things can turn complete survival horror, tensions instead break out in a fight between head man Werner and the insubordinate ordinate Kai (him again). Werner cheerfully, respectfully, voices their frustrations and Mike listens, while trying to speak German (badly – Jonathan Banks’ gravelly deadpan has rarely been so well used), but you can already sense death in the air – who Mike will eventually bump off, though, is both anybody’s guess and entirely irrelevant. It’s the fact that we know something bad will happen here that matters.
Gus, fortunately for him, is in full control of his other plan: to torment Hector for as long as possible. With Dr. Bruckner making huge strides in helping his rival recover, Gus notes that Salamanca’s able to knock over a glass of water so he can ogle his bent-over nurse’s bottom – enough of a sign that he’s back to normal in his mind. And so he fires Dr. Bruckner, to avoid his body catching up with his brain: Hector, now, is trapped, like Mike’s workers, like Jimmy’s half-McGill/half-Goodman hybrid, both in limbos of their own creation.
Jimmy’s trap expands to include Huell, when Jimmy is interrogated by a cop in the street, as he sells his handsets. Refusing to cooperate with the officer, things get heated, and Huell (wearing his headphones) misreads the situation and clocks the cop over the head. A charge ensues for assaulting a police officer, and so Kim steps up to defend him – a neat way for her pro bono work to feed into the plot, and into her own character’s disenchantment. Because after nights of sneaking out, Jimmy’s dodgy behaviour is now firmly in the light of day – and he doesn’t hesitate to suggest they behave unethically to swing the case their way.
Seehorn’s Kim is without a doubt the MVP of this season, and she steadfastly refuses to follow the Goodman approach, instead taking a legal route to get the charges dropped. Huell approached from behind. The bag only contained sandwiches. The officer wasn’t harmed. Her first attempt, though, (only lands her in that heated argument with the ADA. “You don’t know the full story,” she insists, angrily, before exiting the courtroom. And she heads to the stationary store to buy a lot of coloured pens – how that will stop Jimmy from suggesting Huell runs from the cops is anyone’s guess, but as the men around her create their own cages for the future, it’s a thrill to see her trying to build something more positive.
Better Call Saul Season 1 to 4 are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive on Tuesdays, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.