Better Call Saul – ‘Mabel’

Following the cliff-hanger finale of the second season, where Chuck tricks Jimmy into confessing that he’d tampered with the Mesa Verde documents, it almost feels cruel that the show opens with a flash forward to Jimmy/Saul/Gene in the ‘present’ managing a Cinnabon, or at least it would, if it wasn’t a running theme in the series to start every season with a glimpse of the present; in addition the best moments in the show are characterised by long periods without speech.

The opening scenes changes the meaning of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Sugartown’ from a relaxing, carefree song, to one that hammers home the empty drudgery ‘Gene’ goes through every day. Despite the purpose of the show being the origin story for our favourite rule-bending lawyer, I’ve always found origin stories difficult to stomach next to new stories with an unknown outcome; there’s always too much plot armour for anything really dramatic to happen to the main characters, so the more I see of Gene and the façade he puts on slipping, the less I want to see of Jimmy becoming Saul. This comes to a head when Gene turns in a shoplifter, fearing for his anonymity, only to yell at him to ‘say nothing! Get a lawyer’ as he’s led away. As much as watching Jimmy slowly disappear into Saul is fun (and something that comes up a couple of times this episode), Gene is slipping back into Saul, which is a story I desperately want to see resolved.

Back in the past, and with the point of the show, Jimmy and Kim continue to run their respective law firms, with Kim handling both Mesa Verde and several of Jimmy’s old clients. Despite performing beyond the expectations of Mesa Verde and handling the inane wishes of her elderly clients as well as can be expected, the pressure clearly shows and Kim can only burn her candle at both ends for so long. Jimmy is ever loyal, offering help while allowing her to continue with her self-destructive behaviour is exactly what he did with Chuck, and it didn’t play out well for him then, I can’t see it going any better now. Jimmy standing by Kim trying to help as she loses control is promising to be the stand out feature of this latest season once it pays off.

Of the other two arcs that the season premier develops, the one with Chuck ‘making Jimmy pay’ is the one least interesting to me; Chuck just seems to go around in circles of scorning and relying on Jimmy and it’s stopped being entertaining. Having said that, it’s a testament to the quality of the construction of the show that, in any other situation, Jimmy should be the bad guy. But Jimmy preservers through excellent writing and Bob Odenkirk’s performance, becoming too likeable to judge; likewise, the writing and Michael McKean’s performance make Chuck feel like such a tool that it’s impossible to sympathise. And so Chuck’s storyline goes on: berating his carer/all-hours assistant; telling the partner at his firm what to do; conducting himself with a smug air of superiority completely unearned for someone who unrolls duct tape in such a needlessly aggravating manner.

The third story in this episode focuses on Mike, once again showcasing the skill with which Better Call Saul does extended silences; for about a third of the episode Mike labours wordlessly to figure out whether his car was bugged and who was doing it. It’s far and away the most interesting section of the episode, the lack of exposition really forces a level of focus on the action. Mike’s concentration glues you to the screen as we figure out what exactly he was doing, and what the consequences will be. While the Jimmy/Kim storyline is the most promising to think about, Mike’s storyline and his vendetta against the Salamanca clan is currently the best to watch unfold.

Cozworth

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