Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul: Season 4, Episode 3 (Something Beautiful)
James R | On 22, Aug 2018
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Season 4? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episode here.
The line between clever callback and cliched fan service is a difficult one to tread, but Better Call Saul’s fourth season continues to manage it with aplomb. AMC’s prequel is getting closer and closer to Breaking Bad territory, and while the tone of the series is getting darker, one of the easiest ways for the show to demonstrate it is by peppering the programme with familiar faces. First, we had Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), then Lydia (Laura Fraser), and now, it’s the turn of Gale.
Yes, Mr. Boetticher, everyone’s favourite singing cook, is back on our screens, as Gus begins to explore the quality and supply of his meth. Gale, in another neat nod to Breaking Bad, is working in a University as a researcher, which means that their encounter essentially takes place in a school chemistry lab – and, as Gale promises he can cook up a decent brew even with educational equipment, Gus insists he’s destined for big things. David Costabile, who has been one of the best things about Billions over on Showtime and Sky Atlantic, is clearly enjoying revisiting his character, and it’s that passion (which rivals excitement among the fandom for seeing him again) that helps to balance out Gale’s appearance on the right side of indulgence.
Gus, of course, is carrying out such checks because of the situation he’s created himself: to cover up his control over Nacho, he gets Victor and Tyrus to stage an attack on Nacho and Arturo. Bad news for Nacho: the attack requires him being injured to be convincing, and so he’s left to bleed out with a slug in his stomach in a car by the side of the road, a situation that Michael Mando milks for maximum painful wincing. It’s a bloody signifier of how much the stakes have increased since Season 1 – we’ve gone from laughable conversations about baseball cards to being shot.
Emphasising that contrast is one common thread: the veterinarian Caldera (Joe DeRosa), whom we also first met in the lighter Season 1, a figure who has always been on the Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) side of events. After patching up Nacho (very roughly) on the sly, Caldera is then approach by Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) for something that seems a lot more trivial: breaking and entering the copier firm’s office from last episode, to steal the Hummel figures Jimmy spotted in their cabinet.
The sequence is played partly for laughs, as we discover that Mr. Neff is still on the premises, even at night – not because he’s working, but because he’s been kicked out of his home by his wife. But where Season 1 would have left it at that, Season 4 dials up the tension to go with the giggles, placing more weight on the dark than the humour; Jimmy has to go and help Valdera by setting off Mr. Neff’s car alarm, an act that highlights not only how resourceful he remains, but also how he’s willing to leave Kim to consciously commit illegal acts without noble intentions. It’s a brief glimpse of Slipping’ Jimmy from seasons ago, but without the vaguely moral slant; tellingly, Mike asks Jimmy what the Neff firm has done to deserve it, and he doesn’t have an answer, but goes ahead with it anyway.
The world of Breaking Bad has always been fuelled by personal choices that lead to untold consequences, but Better Call Saul’s careful pacing and minute attention to character details has taken that to another level, drilling down into Jimmy’s gradual transformation into Saul every small decision at a time. There’s also the weight of Gus’ carefree decisions, Gus’ more calculated acts, and, most of all, the looming pay-off for Kim’s honest, affectionate sticking by Jimmy. After last episode’s angry rant at Howard, we see Rhea Seehorn’s superbly performed lawyer take on the full weight of Jimmy’s loss, as she tears up over Chuck’s letter from beyond the grave, which Jimmy reads aloud.
It takes a lot for a TV show to sell a posthumous epistle without descending into cheese, and Better Call Saul sells it brilliantly; rather than double down on Jimmy’s emotional journey, which is becoming more detached and sociopathic by the week, it uses Kim’s reaction to highlight his growing amorality, as Odenkirk nonchalantly rattles off the paragraphs from a note written back when Jimmy was an employee in the HHM mailroom. In Season 1 or 2, he might have paused to take a breath or for his voice to crack. Here, that moment never arrives.
In the note, Chuck claims he would always be in Jimmy’s side, but we know that this brotherly concern was entirely conditional on the fact that Jimmy remain harmless and out of the way of his older sibling. Kim, on the other hand, has offered Jimmy unconditional support and affection – and you suspect she’s now beginning to realise that this might have been a mistake. It’s a realisation that’s certainly echoed, or foreshadowed, in her professional situation: Mesa Verde has transformed from a small, independent business Kim was fighting for (and fought against Chuck to win back) into a burgeoning business giant, aiming to expand rapidly across the US. Kim, taken aback by CEO Kevin’s room full of tiny white architectural models, is finding herself in a world that she didn’t want to be in – and surrounded by people who aren’t on the same page as her. The tragedy is that we know that, no matter how crucial her role is in the transformation of Better Call’s Universe into the wider Breaking Bad franchise, she’ll never be in a position to make a fan-pleasing cameo in the future.
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.