Most people wish for the approval of their father or their mother. But Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, just really wants his big brother to love him. His big brother, Chuck, exquisitely portrayed by Michael McKean, has always hated Jimmy. He’s thinks he’s stupid, he’s blamed him for the downfall of the family’s good fortune, he’s detested Jimmy’s wheeling and dealing con artist ways. So, when Jimmy worked his way up and became a lawyer, putting himself through school, and climbing the ranks from the mailroom into the legal world, Jimmy would get his big brother’s approval, right?
Wrong. Jimmy can’t resist cutting corners, greasing the deal, taking shortcuts to get the same result. He gets high off it. And Chuck hates him for it. The last time we saw Jimmy and Chuck, Jimmy was confessing that he’d flipped the numbers on the address for a big bank case that Kim and Jimmy were bidding against Howard and Chuck’s firm. Chuck was secretly taping the conversation, an illegal act in many states—unless you’re in a place where only one party needs permission—or else it’s not admissible as evidence.
The new season picks up where the last left off, but the killer moment isn’t the reveal of the tape to HHM boss Howard Hamlin, but when Jimmy, sitting in his new office with Kim, confesses that “for ten minutes, Chuck didn’t hate me. I forgot what that felt like.” The look on Bob Odenkirk’s face is one of sorrow and longing and anguish—he knows what we know: he’ll never get what he wants, it doesn’t matter if he played it straight or not.
Better Call Saul, the unlikely prequel spinoff to Breaking Bad, is now in its third season. It’s a stranger show than Breaking Bad and doesn’t have the same clear direction and problem to solve (nerdy chemistry teacher with cancer sells drugs to survive), so it doesn’t rocket from the earth every episode. It’s contemplative, moody, introspective, and oftentimes, a little slow. But the visual beauty, the acting masterclass, and the quality writing that were the hallmarks of Breaking Bad are still there, slackened to savor.
The cinematography in particular still stands out. At night, with Mike Ehrmantraut (still gloriously alive here in Breaking Bad past), the screen is fill with dark, lean lines, lit with primary colors. A deep yellow hue flickers through the windowsill, as Mike cases who’s been casing him; a blue light cast across his face from the radio device he’s using to track the tracker. Albuquerque’s mundanity is turned into something mysterious and foreboding.
During the day, the oppressiveness of the desert sun, the unrelenting blue of the sky feels irritating rather than cheerful. Jimmy and Kim’s office is a terrible hue of mustard and browns and rainbow. It’s a complete world that doesn’t require flashy set design or special effects. The POV shots—a longtime Breaking Bad staple continue here: you see Mike from inside the gas pipe; in the cold open, Future Jimmy, back at the Cinnabon in a mall, is filmed from inside the oven, where life is still lived in black and white.
Scenes exist simply to build upon a character trait; we’ve already known how diabolical Chuck is—we’ve seen his machinations the previous seasons. Here, Ernesto, an assistant from the firm who deliveries sundries and groceries weekly to Chuck, whose paranoid delusion makes him allergic to electricity, helps change batteries on the very tape recorder containing the recording from Jimmy confession to switching the dates. Only a few seconds plays, but Ernesto knows that he’s heard something he shouldn’t and Chuck shouts for him not to listen anymore, and lectures him even further, etching the entire incident into Ernesto’s young, gullible mind. If there was any question whether not Chuck was being overly cautious or being manipulative, it was clarified the second Ernesto walked out the door, and Chuck flashed a diabolical smirk.
The plot doesn’t move forward in leaps and bounds, but inches. The writers spend a good five or ten minutes letting Mike tear his car apart to pieces in a junkyard to suss out the tracking device; it could have been done in a 30-second flash, but by showing the entire process, you get to laugh at both Mike’s hardheaded persistence and his total irritation, and, as a result, the payoff is so much sweeter. Like so many things in life, on Better Call Saul, good things come to those who wait.