Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Season 3, Episode 4
Ivan Radford | On 04, May 2017
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Better Call Saul Season 3? Catch up with our spoiler-free review of Episode 1 here.
“It’s nice to fix something for once,” reflects Mike (Jonathan Banks) in Episode 4 of Better Call Saul’s third season. Of course, the stony-faced fixer hasn’t really fixed anything: it’s so tragically apt that the repair job he’s so satisfied at doing is on the door to Chuck’s house, after he impersonates a handyman to gain entry to the property and secretly do some investigating for Jimmy. He’s fixed something, sure, but he’s only helping the brothers’ relationship to break further.
There’s a growing sense of needing to take what small pleasures are available before things get really bad, with this episode the most ominously brooding yet. We begin with a shot from inside Don Eladio’s pool – a shot that warns us to take a breath while we still can. It could have come straight from the opening of a Breaking Bad episode, to the point where this more than ever feels like part of the same Vince Gilliverse. That swimming pool shot, aside from recalling the early days of Walter White’s story, is a sign that we’re Jimmy and co. won’t be the main focus of this chapter. In fact, the whole runtime consists almost entirely of Gus Fring and Hector Salamanca.
It’s immediately clear that any amicable acquaintances are swiftly starting to sour, as Gus impresses Juan Bolsa (the brilliantly-named contact for Gus and Hector) by delivering some gigantic bricks of neatly presented cash, even outshining Hector’s own offer of duffel-bagged dosh and a bobblehead ice cream store mascot, named after it. When you’re better than a bobblehead, you know you’re serious business.
Giancarlo Esposito is as chilling, composed and intimidating as we’ve now come to expect. Indeed, it’s such a joy just to watch him work that it’s easy to forget just how brilliantly nuanced his performance is, from the way he stands, as he addresses a roomful of policemen, to the way his face can flicker ever so slightly between a cool grimace and a smile with almost no notable difference whatsoever.
That steely resolve is put to the test this episode, and we’re soon reminded that, like Jimmy, Kim and everyone else, Gus also has something to lose in his future – his life. (After last episode’s brief glimpse of a wheelchair, we again see Hector sitting down as he talks to Gus, another teasing reminder of how their dynamic will unfold in Breaking Bad, after Gus goes from star player in Eladio’s clan to the absolutely enemy of the cartel.)
His business is the first thing to get the Hector treatment, though, as Salamanca’s gang turn up at Los Pollos Hermanos (Juan Bulsa even gets a branded t-shirt in the intro) – and Hector refuses to leave until Gus meets him. It’s a fantastic sequence, one that capitalises on Better Call Saul’s knack for mining tension out of the slow passing of time; every little gesture by Mark Margolis is full of menace, from lighting and smoking a cigar in the middle of Los Pollos’ kitchen to sitting in Gus’ office and scraping gum off his shoe (we love the shoes) with a pen.
The staff, meamwhile, stand around on edge, led by the nervous Lyle (an endearingly naive Harrison Thomas), not allowed to go home until Fring arrives. Gus is the polar opposite of Hector, Giancarlo weighting every exchange with a civil courtesy that counterintuitively makes him more intimidating. It also makes him far more likeable, as we see the way he treats his workers: fairly, generously and respectfully, giving them all a day’s extra pay for the threats they had to to endure. The staff aren’t just nervous about their own well-being, but scared about the well-being of their boss – a sign of good management. “Should I call someone?” asks Lyle, as he leaves.
Of course, it’s all part of Fring’s front, and he launches into a rousing speech about the importance of standing up to bullies, ending with a rallying cry of “This is America! Here the righteous have no reason to fear!” – a rallying cry that, quite understandably, prompts all of his employees to burst into applause. But once the restaurant is empty, Gus’ control resurfaces straight away, as he goes about cleaning up the tables himself – and, in a move of total confidence and clinical precision, chucks a ball of greasy paper into the bin across the diner. This, we can tell, is a man not to be messed with.
The way that Gus smiles (almost imperceptibly) at his swish three-pointer is exactly the same way that Mike reflects, satisfied, upon his own tiny achievement. Mike, though, also has something to lose: his family. And we get a reminder of what happiness that brings him, as he sits down on a sofa with his granddaughter and watches bad TV with her – and, across the living room, can also be shown displaying the briefest of grins. (Mike? Smiling? That in itself feels like a major event.)
Mike really does enjoy himself, though, as he runs about Chuck’s house with an electric drill, firing up the whirring machine with relish every time Chuck comes near him – giving himself just enough space to be able to take photos of the study and kitchen. What’s he up to? That’s still not entirely clear, but we get a sense of what’s afoot once we catch up with Jimmy and Kim, who meet with Judge Hay for the start of their legal dispute with Chuck and Howard. While the HHM guys suck up to her big time, Jimmy and Kim look like they’re on the back foot, from his forced apology to Chuck (“No one should treat their own brother like that…”) to Howard’s taunting banter in the corridor after the meeting.
There’s a boasting smugness in their admission that there is a duplicate of the smoking cassette tape stored safely under lock and a guy, but Kim’s expression when they confirm the back-up’s existence is all we need to know: after Chuck outsmarted Jimmy last episode with how well he knew his brother’s predictable behaviour, here we see Jimmy getting his own back with the same intimate knowledge.
The result is another fleeting hint of triumph, but each situation is delicately laced with the foreboding knowledge that things will go wrong in the future. While Gus is planning ahead, Lyle reminds us that there are innocent people also at risk from his actions. While Chuck thinks he’s in control, Howard is only half-aware of how far these brothers will go to get one over on each other. While Mike is as focused as ever, his family are certainly clueless about what danger there in. Kim, on the other hand, is the only sidekick to push things towards Breaking Bad territory knowingly – and, as she and Jimmy leave the courthouse through double doors like superheroes in a happy-ever-after freeze-frame, it’s nice to end things on a happy note for once. After all, that complicity can only seal her fate as more doomed than most.
New episodes of Better Call Saul Season 3 arrive exclusively on Netflix UK every Tuesday. Season 1 and 2 are already available.