Better Call Saul took its time getting back into things even more than it usually does. The story in this series moves at a very slow pace, but that’s OK. We already know where these pieces end up, so the tension comes from watching them fall into place. This might actually be the one show that’s more fun to watch when it moves slower.
Season three kicked off with an extended look at the life of Gene, the man Jimmy/Saul becomes after Breaking Bad. We see him working in the Omaha, Nebraska Cinnabon of which he’s the manager. On his lunch break, he spots a kid stealing some DVDs and hiding from the police in a photo booth. He points the kid out to the cops, but for a moment, he remembers who he used to be. He advises the kid to stay silent and get a lawyer. The cops call him an asshole, and he returns to work, spreading white goo over processed cinnamon rolls. Then, he collapses on the floor. These black and white season openers are becoming as interesting as the rest of the show.
The main story picks up right where season two left off. Jimmy leaves his brother to call HHM and tell them that Chuck will return to work after all. While he’s out, Chuck hides his tape recorder in his desk for later. Jimmy walks back in and helps his brother take down all the aluminum foil from the walls while Chuck lectures him about finesse. For a moment, it seems like everything is back to normal. They’re brothers again. It doesn’t last long. Jimmy brings up some old memories, and Chuck shoots him down. Chuck promises that Jimmy will pay.
Michael McKean and Bob Odenkirk (Photo by Michele K. Short/AM
When Jimmy returns to his own office, where Kim has been forced to take on some of his clients, he tells Kim that for ten minutes, Chuck didn’t hate him. “I forgot what that was like,” he says. That might be the saddest line of the whole series. Vince Gilligan knows the art of the gut punch. At this point, it’s unclear just how Chuck intends to make Jimmy pay. He plays the tape for Howard, who immediately points out that a secret recording wouldn’t be admitted in court. Even if it was, Jimmy would find a way out. Chuck, of course, knows all this but doesn’t seem bothered. He appears to have a long con in mind. Later, when Ernesto is delivering groceries, Chuck has him replace the batteries in his tape recorder. When he accidentally hears part of the recording, Chuck makes Ernesto promise not to tell anyone. What is he planning?
That sense of dread is really what makes the episode’s slow pace work. The entire hour is spent building anticipation. We know something is coming, but it’s not here yet. Kim, feeling guilty over how she ended up with Mesa Verde as a client, dreads making a similar mistake. She spends her entire evening agonizing over a semicolon. Jimmy, on the other hand, meets the Air Force soldier he tricked into letting him use the bomber for his TV commercial. While there are no immediate consequences, the man warns Jimmy that he’ll get his comeuppance eventually. That will definitely come up again later this season.
Jonathan Banks (Photo by Michele K. Short/AMC)
Finally, Mike had his most tense episode in a while. After receiving the mysterious note warning him against killing Hector Salamanca, he takes the car to a junkyard and rips it apart. Not finding anything, he asks the manager to call him a cab before realizing he hadn’t checked inside the gas cap. Sure enough, there’s a tracker in there. When he gets home, he checks his car and finds another tracker in that gas cap. He orders an identical model from his electronics dealer, swaps it out with the one in his gas cap and breaks the one that isn’t his. He stays up all night watching his car until finally, someone comes to take away his gas cap. Now that he’s able to track the people who have been messing with his cars, he follows them.
A very slow first episode expertly set things up for the season to come, and it did it while moving the plot forward, and giving us a tense, entertaining hour of TV. The first two seasons made Jimmy someone we care about, so I’m anxious about what Chuck has planned. We also know that Mike is going to meet Gus Fring this season, but they’re making us wait. As unbearable as that can be, it certainly builds tension nicely. Once again, this methodical character study has me hooked for another season.