My dad, an avid watcher of cable dramas, likes to let me know that he prefers Better Call Saul to Breaking Bad. He does this firstly to irritate me because he knows I love Breaking Bad (it’s revenge for my constantly criticizing Justified and The Walking Dead) and secondly because he finds Better Call Saul to be a lighter, happier show with the same high quality of writing and acting. But here we are creeping to the midway point of the third season and things are suddenly looking less and less light. In fact, as we get into the twisted headspace of one Gustavo Fring, things are getting very dark indeed.
This episode appears, for the first twenty minutes, to be another that will ignore the Jimmy storyline altogether. It opens with a flashback to another poolside moment of frivolity with Dons Hector and Eladio (the latter making his first post BB appearance). This moment serves to remind the viewers just how ingrained Hector’s hate for Gus is, as we discover that Gustavo’s business acumen (presumably after the death of his partner) made Hector look bad.
In the present, having compromised supply lines, Hector tries to brow beat Gustavo into transporting his supply. He does so by literally occupying a Los Pollos Hermanos location and putting the wait staff in the position of implied hostages. He also scrapes dog poop from his boot onto Gus’s desk which is, for my money, the most villainous moment of the entire episode. Gus, for his part, handles the situation with his usual tact, making a speech to his frightened employees about the power of freedom in America that seemingly diffuses their confusion and fear.
Mike, the catalyst for this long brewing confrontation, has his own talk with Gus after refusing to be paid for last episode’s clever shipment disruption. It’s mark of the show’s brilliance that even though we know Mike must eventually go to work for Gus, his decision to do so still feels like a surprise as he seemed adamantly opposed to criminal activity not that long ago. But Mike is getting old and no matter what he does, his daughter-in-law and granddaughter still need him.
And they’re not the only ones. A certain Jimmy McGill also procures Mike’s talents, here to pose as a door repairmen at Chuck’s house and take some covert pictures. The minor, unexpected meeting between Chuck and Mike is a delight as Chuck is immediately at a huge disadvantage he can’t quite grasp (the viewer guesses that Mike has even less time for Chuck’s rules and neuroses than Jimmy does). Surprising to me at least, is that Kim Wexler helps arrange this rather shady plan without so much as a minor hesitance. Perhaps Jimmy is starting to rub off on her a bit.
One can’t help but be reminded in these last few episodes that the writers haven’t forgotten where we’re headed. Characters like Francesca, Victor, Gus, Don Eladio, and Hector all serve to make this season a who’s who of the Breaking Bad extended cast. However, as Jimmy and Kim set a trap for Chuck and a nervous Nacho watches Hector’s cruelty, it’s also apparent that the stakes are still firmly rooted in Better Call Saul territory. We’ve come to know a variety of new characters all of whom have been fleshed out well enough that we’re not close to ready to say goodbye. Here’s hoping we have a few more excellent seasons before we have to.