- Follow @TheAndrewBlog
- Better Call Saul: The Careful and Deliberate Rule the Day in “Witness”
- Better Call Saul Recharges its Batteries in “Mabel”
- The Walking Dead Redeems its Season Premiere in “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”
- The 12 Best Nameless Characters on The Simpsons
- How Archer’s Reboots Have Kept the Show Fresh in Its Later Years
- Andrew Bloom on Batman v. Superman Is a Well-Intentioned, But Deeply-Flawed Mess of a Film
- Andrew Bloom on 7 Big Questions About Battlestar Galactica’s Finale
- Brian Ballast on Batman v. Superman Is a Well-Intentioned, But Deeply-Flawed Mess of a Film
- romeo summers on 7 Big Questions About Battlestar Galactica’s Finale
- B.Y. on 7 Big Questions About Battlestar Galactica’s Finale
Tag Archives: Chuck McGill
Better Call Saul is often a slower show, even by the standards of modern prestige dramas. To some degree, that is a necessary consequence of its status as a prequel. If it moves too quickly, suddenly it’s running into the series’s already known future. If it packs in too much incident, then it starts to seem all the more glaring that major events and shared histories are not mentioned or only grazed on Breaking Bad. Still, the show turns that slow burn into a feature, not a bug. It lets the events and conflicts of the series simmer while digging deep into the development of its characters and the details of their lives before things froth to a boil.
But even by Better Call Saul standards, “Witness” is a slow episode. That’s not a complaint, necessarily. Much of the proceedings center on Mike tracking down the people monitoring him, enlisting Saul in the endeavor, and there is a diligent, unhurried pace to that effort. The episode is content to play Mike’s mission out, evoking the sense of his dogged determination and the complexity and sophistication of what he’s up against.
Two devices, each meant to record, to track, so as to create leverage over another, are at the forefront of “Mabel.” Each, in their own roundabout way, needs its batteries replaced, and in both instances, that unintentionally exposes the person deploying it. Once again, two stories that seemingly have nothing to do with one another maintain such tight but unshowy thematic ties in a way that makes the two seems inextricably intertwined.
In other words, Better Call Saul is back! The opening salvo of the show’s third season offers a simple parallel that serves as a reminder of how great this series is at setting up the little things that will no doubt have much bigger echoes down the line. The two plots in this episode – one about the fallout from Jimmy revealing his malfeasance to Chuck, and the other hinging on Mike trying to figure out how a mysterious third party knew his intentions – both take things slow, letting the audience see the incremental progress of each story. But it’s immediately clear in each of them how these developments are building to a bigger reckoning.
Sometimes you have to cross a line. Sometimes you do everything right; you do everything exactly the way you think it ought to be done, and despite all that, you still lose. Your discipline, your good deeds, your extra effort to do the right thing even when it isn’t necessarily easy, only enabled the bad guys, only let them profit from their bad behavior. So you have to make compromises. You have to break some of those same rules. You have to sully yourself by playing their game. You have to be like the bad guys to beat the bad guys, for the greater good.
These are the thoughts that motivate Mike Ehrmantraut as he wraps his hands around the rifle he’d previously shied away from. But they’re the same thoughts going through Chuck McGill’s head as he tricks his brother into incriminating himself on tape.
I’ve heard gripes from some people who like Better Call Saul, but think that it can sometimes feel like two different shows hot-glued together. There’s something to the thought. Season 2 has featured one storyline focused on Jimmy’s trials and travails with Kim and Chuck as he struggles to fit into his new surroundings, and another centered on Mike getting mixed up with Salamancas. While the leads of those stories may bump into one another from time to time, there’s not a strong plot-based connection between the two arcs.
Despite that, in episodes like “Nailed,” there’s a strong thematic connection between them that helps to solidify Better Call Saul as one unified show. In the episode, both Jimmy and Mike have pulled a con of sorts, in the hopes of protecting someone they care about, in a way that also directly benefits them. Jimmy’s adventures at the copy center in “Fifi” leads to Kim winning Mesa Verde back as a client, but it also helps ensure that Jimmy doesn’t have to carry her half of their shared expenses. By the same token, Mike’s makeshift road hazard is intended to draw the cops’ attention to Hector Salamanca, thus keeping him too otherwise occupied to threaten Mike’s family again, but it also leads to Mike pocketing a nice quarter-mil for his troubles.
Jimmy doesn’t have a bad heart. He never really means to hurt anyone. It’s just how he is. It’s in his nature. He takes advantage of people. Time and again, he leaves the folks that he claims to care about holding the bag. It may come in dribs and drabs, and it may be infused with that old McGill charm, but it’s what he does.
That’s how Chuck sees his brother, and maybe it’s how Kim is starting to see him too.
It’s difficult to build tension and create real stakes in a prequel, and that problem is magnified the closer a film or television show gets to the familiar part of the timeline. If the audience already knows who lives and who dies, and who has to reach a certain point of the story unscathed for that matter, it can mute some of the excitement and intrigue of a particular plotline.
On the other hand, it can also heighten the tension in an episode by spotlighting the mystery between the known beginning and the known ending. As Better Call Saul shows Nacho planning a hit on Tuco, we know that Tuco lives; we know that Mike lives, and thanks to the opening scene in “Gloves Off”, we know that the crafty Mr. Ehrmantraut ends up bruised and battered, presumably in the attempt. All of this raises the question of how we get from Point A to Point B.
Does the hit go wrong? Does Mike beg off from Nacho and catch a beating for his troubles? In true Breaking Bad fashion does some unexpected intervening factor come into play and throw the whole situation out of whack? We don’t know, but we want to know, and that’s just part of the masterful job that BCS does in using its prequel status as a boon and not an obstacle when it comes to holding the audience’s attention.
Better Call Saul is great when it comes to contrasts, especially when it comes to its two most significant characters (who are, incidentally, its two legacy characters from Breaking Bad). “Amarillo” depicts Jimmy McGill as a man trying to do the wrong thing, or at least the underhanded thing, and being pushed to do the right one by those closest to him. It also shows Mike Ehrmantraut as a man trying to do the right thing, in the right way, and being pushed toward crime and the seedier side of the place he now calls home because of those closest to him.
Few shows of this caliber commit to being as funny as Better Call Saul does. The series feature scenes of a man devastated by the hurtful things his brother has said to him, but also shows that same man offering witty bon mots to friends and enemies alike. That’s in line with BCS’s predecessor, a series that could depict a hero-turned-villain demanding that a “colleague” say his name in the desert, but also show that same villain stumbling around in his underwear. And in “Cobbler,” Vince Gilligan & Co. focus on how a stray mutt is struggling to feel at ease in his new home with the big dogs, but then spend plenty of time with their protagonist artfully explaining to a pair of cops what “squat cobbler” is.