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Man, I had forgotten how good Better Call Saul can be. “Mabel” was an excellent season premiere – easing us back into the world of Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut, teasing the potential conflicts and professional pitfalls to come, but still keeping things shrouded in just enough mystery to make for a taut and suspenseful hour.
Perhaps the thing I love most about Better Call Saul is that the series is telling two distinct stories, Mike’s and Jimmy’s. We know how each one ends – with two lives destroyed thanks to Walter White. But each episode explores two separate worlds, with separate characters, and separate arcs. It allows the show to continue building the Albuquerque drug scene, letting us know where are favorite criminals are and what they were up to prior to the start of Breaking Bad, while telling Jimmy’s story, which is largely divorced from that particular segment of the population at this stage in his life.
When we last left Jimmy, he had confessed to a federal crime, thinking that only Chuck would be privy to that confession. It turns out that Chuck’s reputation as an excellent attorney and litigator was well-earned, as he played his brother by taping the entire thing. Now, when I saw this last season, I put on my lawyer hat (as I like to say, it’s always good when the law degree can help in my TV critic existence), and I was unsure exactly how Chuck expected to get that secret recording into court. Well, glad to see the writers also shared my skepticism as to its admissibility. Having Chuck plotting to use the tape for a reason outside of simply getting Jimmy disbarred and sent to prison (the latter of which would make very little sense with what we know of Jimmy’s future) is smart on a number of levels. For one, it creates a longer arc for Chuck, rather than simply having him hand it over to HHM to use in some sort of attorney discipline hearing or to get the attorney general to press charges. It also means that the damage the tape will inflict will be deeper than attacking Jimmy’s career. We know Jimmy will break bad and become Saul. It certainly seems that this incident is the impetus for Jimmy losing his legal ethics and starting down the path to flashy suits and crazy commercials. I suspect it might also be what puts Kim in a tough spot.
Jimmy really only has two things left at this point: his pride in being a real lawyer (as his blow up at the Captain showed, he still hates being thought of as less of a lawyer than others) and Kim. He absolutely loves Kim, as evidenced by that nice moment where he simply went back to painting rather than rush her out of the office. Kim knows more than she should about Jimmy’s machinations with Mesa Verde, and despite telling him they can never talk about it, her conversation with her friend at the company pretty much took away any plausible deniability she might have had regarding what exactly Jimmy did to make Mesa Verde jump ship. She’s in way deeper than even Jimmy knows. And if Jimmy gets word of that tape (from his buddy Ernesto), Jimmy will almost certainly try to steal back the tape – to protect Kim from what he did. Chuck knows this. Setting Jimmy up to steal? Well, that charge would hold up in court. And if Chuck somehow makes the contents of that tape known widely, even if it can’t be evidence in court, the contents could still torpedo Kim and Jimmy’s career. It’s a devious plan, and exactly what I would suspect from Chuck.
As for Mike, he spent most of the episode in silence, which is par for the course for the character. Jonathan Banks is so great simply sitting and solving mysteries that I would be content if the show opted out of giving him dialogue on a regular basis. In fact, when Mike speaks, it always surprises me. His half of the episode revolved around setting a trap for whomever put a tracking device on his car. Now, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know who the number one suspect is. And I’m happy the show didn’t drop him into the story right off the bat. A treat like this is one best savored. But if that amazing shot of a thunderstorm rolling in across the desert while Mike was checking his car was any indication, a storm is coming for Mr. Ehrmantraut. And he owns a Los Pollos Hermanos franchise.
— Kudos to showrunner Vince Gilligan for a beautifully directed episode. From that shot of Mike with the storm, to the great two-shot of Kim and Jimmy in Kim’s office (with Kim bathed in light and Jimmy in shadow), excellent use of images as metaphors for where these characters are.
— This entire cast is just so good. Gilligan is not only a great writer and director, he’s also great at casting his shows.
— While we’ve had a number of examples of Jimmy rushing and being careless (his confession to Chuck the latest example), Mike serves as a great foil to this aspect of Jimmy’s character. Mike is so incredibly meticulous, breaking down the entire car, sitting on stakeouts without cutting corners, taking steps to ensure that his gets the drop on whomever is tailing him, that it makes Jimmy’s haphazard way of trying to break the rules even more glaring and foolish.
— Chuck is an awful brother. But he’s absolutely right about Jimmy messing up in a major way. Chuck isn’t as meticulous as Mike (and neither is as meticulous as Gus), but he can outwit Jimmy by playing a long game.
— I love the brief moments with Gene in Omaha. It’s just enough to remind us of the end result of Jimmy’s hubris and refusal to play by the rules, coupled with a chance to continue the Breaking Bad story in a small way. It appears Gene has some moral center, but still has enough of Saul and Jimmy left to remind the thief to get a lawyer (which is sound advice). Although, I’m worried about Gene’s health.