Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 2
James R | On 14, Aug 2018
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Season 4? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episode here.
“What were you thinking?” demands Kim (Rhea Seehorn) of Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) in Episode 2 of Better Call Saul Season 4. “I’m really supposed to do this to him?”
She’s talking of Howard’s decision last episode to turn up at Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) home and tell him that Chuck killed himself in his house fire, and ask for some kind of forgiveness for pushing Chuck over the edge with his forced retirement from HHM. Jimmy’s reaction was a telling milestone on his slow journey towards becoming Saul Goodman: he cheerfully refused to absolve Howard, instead happily offering to make coffee and leaving him to stew in his guilt.
When we see Howard this episode, he’s respectfully polite towards Rebecca and to Kim, who’s attending a meeting about executing Chuck’s will on behalf of Jimmy. But Howard’s not the man we once knew, a slick talker and charismatic negotiator; Fabian delivers a fantastic performance here as a man robotically going through the formalities but visibly crumpled on the inside.
On the other hand, Odenkirk, after a stoic opening episode, is already entering the showmanship mode of Saul Goodman, as he refuses to admit his sadness, instead occupying himself with hunting for a new job. And so he went for an interview with a supply company for photocopiers, where his insistence on knowing the day-to-day functionalities of the machines (he used to work in the post room, remember) is enough to impress them into considering him for a callback. But then he turns on the razzle-dazzle, wowing them with enough Saul sparkle to get them to hire him on the spot.
It’s proof that this conman can con anyone – and all he needs to lose absolute respect in the people he hoped might give him gainful employment (he mocks them and turns their offer of a job down immediately). It’s no coincidence that Jimmy hankered after Chuck’s approval for so many years: he was one of the few people who saw right through his act. Saul, eventually, will comfortably enjoy conning others and hold them all in contempt; for Jimmy, it’s a painful transition to the amoral world of not caring. It’s telling that what does trigger Jimmy’s more selfish streak is one of those Alpine Shepherd Boy figures that we saw way back in Season 1, which belonged to an elderly client; he’s inspired to steal a figurine and sell it on to earn a few grand rather than take an honest sales job, a trait that’s encouraged by his memories of a fondly regarded former client.
Who doesn’t pause in the face of other people’s pain, stupidity or grief? Enter Mike (Jonathan Banks), once again emerging as the best thing in Better Call Saul. Jimmy calls him up to offer a gig, which we presume is stealing that figuring, but he’s already occupied at Madrigal by planning to go on and hit its other seven warehouses to expose their security flaws. It’s a practice that paranoid Lydia can’t tolerate, and she attempts to warn him off doing it – and Banks’ stubborn enforcer stares straight back at her and tells her he’s going to do it anyway. For her, it’s a risk of giving a face to what should be an anonymous paper trial, but for him, that’s precisely why he wants to do it: it legitimises his cover story, in a way that’s not dissimilar to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), who spends his days answering panicked calls from Lydia (“I can’t have him stealing employees’ security cards.” “Then just give a card.”) and picking up rubbish in the car parks of Los Pollos Hermanos.
Gus is as wonderfully icy as ever, and his presence is only getting more and more unnerving. It helps that he’s surrounded by faces we already recognise to some degree from Better Call Saul, whether that’s Lydia, Victor or Hector Salamanca. Like Jimmy, we all know they’re going to meet a sticky end, but even more tense is the secret of what will happen to those who don’t make it to Breaking Bad. Will Kim survive? And what about Nacho?
One person we’re certain won’t is Arturo, who doesn’t even make it past this episode: he’s zip-bagged to death by Victor, at Gus’ request, as Fring’s men slowly wipe out the Salamanca crowd. (Hector himself, in a disturbing twist, is saved by Gus, who brings in a specialist to the hospital to help his stroke-suffering nemesis recover; we know from Breaking Bad the explosive end their relationship has, but it’s fascinating to see their dynamic unfold now, as Gus preserves his enemy presumably so he can make him suffer even more.) As Arturo suffocates into oblivion, Gus informs Nacho that he knows what he did to Hector – and demands, simply, brutally and sombrely, that Nacho now belongs to him.
The only person with a more effective monologue this episode is Kim, as she lays into Howard without holding back. She makes it clear that Howard, having given her and Jimmy £5,000 in pay-off money, should not be in touch with them ever again – and he’s flabbergasted at the rage she unleashes. It’s a treat to see Rhea Seehorn, whose presence throughout Better Call Saul has commendably grown from a moral barometer and emotional compass to a fully fledged, complex character. After a long time of their relationship helping to serve as a lens through which to view Jimmy, this episode does the reverse, and gives us our strongest glimpse yet of a partner who ferociously cares for her other half with the same concern.
Kim is left by Howard with one final, horrible blow from Chuck: a letter delivering a posthumous message from one brother to another that, whatever it contains, is likely to spell anguish for McGill Jr. “I’m really supposed to do this to him?” she exclaims, bruised and her arm strapped up. As we see Gus and Mike coolly going about their business like Breaking Bad has already started its first season in the background, her blaze of loyalty is the last dying ember of decency that dazzles – and makes the gathering gloom around it all the more striking.
Better Call Saul Season 1 to 4 are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive on Tuesdays, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.