Damn. Two episodes in and this season of Better Call Saul is already charging head first into the bleaker world of Breaking Bad. This was inevitable. We all know where this story ultimately leads. But if the final moments of this episode were not a resounding proclamation that the lighter tone of Saul has been left in the Albuquerque dust, I’m not sure what is.
For the most part, season three displayed Gus’ empathetic side. The hardworking, fair businessman bullied by the savage Hector and his crew. And for a bit, we forgot about the barbarous man that lies underneath. The one Gus lets lose only when absolutely necessary. Like when Walt needed a little persuading from a box cutter to Victor’s neck in Breaking Bad. This season, so far, has been adamant in reminding us of Gus’ dark, vengeful side that will inevitably lead to his own demise. “I decide what he deserves. No one else.” Hector himself created this vindictive attitude when he violently murdered Gus’ business partner so many years ago. Gus is now making Hector his own play-thing to torment for as long as possible. Intentionally keeping him alive, only to make his life a living hell. As the objective audience, our gift of foresight is its own kind of torment.
And when Gus teaches Nacho a lesson by slowly killing Arturo, it’s absolutely chilling. For a moment, we thought Nacho had won the scene. He put up a strong front and it paid off. Until that shot from the sky shows us a shadow creeping up. And like a shark in the water, Gus is about to strike. And boy, does he put Nacho in his place.
Nacho has transitioned into a considerable protagonist since the first season. He has essentially become the Jesse Pinkman of this show. A young man trapped in a chaotic business he no longer wants a part in. Michael Mando provides the perfect duality between sympathetic and intimidating. And one of his best displays of that binary is in this episode, between he and his father. A heartbreaking scene. Nacho’s father lays out his dirty money on the counter the exact same way Hector did for him last season. A strong visual statement. But Nacho must keep a professional front to show his father he is still in control. Mando’s subtle emotional slipping is on perfect display here.
This performance carries us to the hospital scene, which starts out as a playfully amusing bit where Hector’s silent and frightening nephews force Nacho and Arturo to talk to their comatose uncle. But we soon see the fear in Nacho’s eyes when he says to Tio, “You’re gonna get past this and be stronger than ever.” Nacho is forcing a put-on at a time when he knows Hector can soon wake up and be stronger than ever. Which would turn into an even worse scenario for Nacho and his father.
Speaking of putting-on. Jimmy keeps himself on the job hunt fast track, but only to keep his mind occupied from confronting his guilt over Chuck’s death. Kim was ready to settle down with Jimmy after her car crash. But Jimmy’s own personal catastrophe leads to the opposite reaction for him. He is doubling down on keeping his mind from rest.
Jimmy is in full form in the interview scene. The most entertaining aspect of Saul Goodman is that he is a performer. And we love to watch him talk his way through any situation. We get to see Jimmy use this skill and we can be on board with it, because he is trying to keep himself on a straight path here. He’s a great salesman and we can root for him to talk his way into the job. But Jimmy kills his chances by turning down the opportunity. How can these people hire such a terrible person like himself? Jimmy’s guilt over Chuck’s death is buried deep, but still driving his choice here, manifesting in self-sabotage. Now the ugly side of Saul Goodman rears its head, the “fuck the system, out for himself” side, when he chooses to steal the hummel figurine. It will be interesting to see Mike’s reaction to this heist. I can’t imagine he’ll be on board.
Rhea Seehorn brought her A-game this week in that scene between Kim and Howard. Kim has harbored some hefty guilt over her and Jimmy’s character assassination of Chuck before his death. And now Chuck’s untimely passing has affected her relationship with Jimmy. Rhea Seehorn excellently conveys intense anger and conflicted emotion in this scene. We feel almost as shocked as Howard by the bite in her words. But I can’t help but agree with her accusations against Howard. The question is, did Howard simply not consider how selfish his actions were, or was he, on some level, trying to hurt Jimmy with his revelation from last episode? It’s this kind of complex character mystique that has solidified both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul as some of the best stories ever told on television.