From the Mexican hacienda cold open to that final shot of Jimmy and Kim victoriously leaving the courthouse, Better Call Saul S03E04 needs to put its foot on the gas.
I realize that the show’s slow pacing is part of its charm, indeed I’m the guy that just a few short weeks ago was the one waxing lyrical about the pacing but after four episodes, like Mike Ehrmantraut’s granddaughter, I’m beginning to doze as I watch…
Maybe this was just a below-par episode, but I felt that a lot of the hour was wasted. Yeah, it sure was nice to see the Mexican hacienda and that yellow filter whenever they “cross the border to visit Mexico” from Breaking Bad again but the near eight-minute opening scene told us everything but showed us nothing.
BETTER CALL SAUL S03E04: YOU’RE SHOWING ME NOTHING
Mark Margolis, who plays Hector Salamanca is a fine actor, so there’s no excuse for using such hackneyed, on-the-nose dialogue as “Seems someone is a little jealous.” While the line is spoken by another character and isn’t quite as bad as it would have been if he uttered the line “I’m jealous” or “I’m angry” himself, it still let down the show’s usual high-quality writing.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the writers’ felt the need to introduce a small toy “Sabrosito” which Don Eladio voices to further explain that Gus Fring is winning his affection by TELLING us then subtitling) how big each pile of money is.
You’ve SHOWN us exactly how big each pile of money is. You’ve SHOWN us how much more money Gus is making than Hector, so stop fucking telling us FOUR TIMES already! SHOW us a glint in Hector’s eye as he forms a plan. USE metaphor to hit home. Don’t have a character give a toy a voice to explain the plot.
By showing Hector having his nose pushed out by Gus Fring’s far more lucrative drugs cartel, Better Call Saul S03E04 “Sabrosita” was laying the seeds for when, however many years down the line, Hector gladly sacrifices his own life to blow one half of Gus Fring’s face all to hell.
So, for a show that always takes its time to carefully, meticulously lay ideas, it was strange to see Hector walk into Los Pollos Hermanos the very next morning.
We’ve got years to get to that moment, so why rush it in two scenes, one day apart. Surely, more tension could be achieved by a slow burn process? SHOW Hector getting more and more jealous over the course of months, or years. Then, when he finally does confront Fring, the stakes are already simmering. That’s the difference between a bloody mess and a well-done steak.
It was as if, after years of marital bliss, the writers’ room suddenly developed a hair-trigger problem. Re-introduce Gus Fring. Tick. Re-introduce Hector. Tick. Remember we gotta slowly lay the seeds of their hate… OKAY NOW STICK THEM IN A ROOM TOGETHER!
BUT YOU’RE TELLING ME EVERYTHING
By the time Jimmy, the star of the show after which it is named (kinda) finally appeared after a staggering twenty-seven minutes, we’d forgotten he existed. We’d been to Mexico. We’d been to Fring’s chicken shack. We’d been to Mike’s parking lot and seen Mike in a scene which showed (not told) us what he was fighting for – his daughter-in-law and granddaughter, but was it entirely necessary – did it reveal character and push the plot forward?
Kim’s good old fashioned detective work found and cancelled Chuck’s door repairman and in a well-staged, well-edited and well-sound mixed scene, Mike toyed with Chuck’s electricity aversion with a power drill. Again, it was nice to see two such great actors in the same room and this time didn’t seem rushed.
I say fine actors, I’m sure Jonathan Banks is Mike Ehrmantraut in real life, and I presume Michael McKean is nothing like Charles McGill, who I find such an odious, repulsive human being that he literally turns my stomach every time he’s on screen.
I must be allergic to him in the same way he’s allergic to electricity, I HATE CHUCK! Look at him! Look at him! Look at that face. Arghhh!
While in The House of The Non-Rising Sun, Mike takes photos with a disposable camera and writes something down from Chuck’s open address book. At the courthouse, after the pre-prosecution probation division hearing, Kim plays trickster and makes Chuck let slip that there was a copy of the damning cassette tape and it is under lock and key, presumably at the address Mike wrote down.
“Bingo,” exclaims Kim as she and Jimy exit the courthouse like the cat that got the cream. If it took me a while to get that Mike must have written down the address of Chuck has the cassette tape under lock and key, then it must have left many viewers scratching their heads.
SHOW, DON’T TELL
This is why Show and Tell is such a fine balancing act. Tell too much – dialogue becomes forced, and scripts very quickly become guilty of spoon-feeding information to the audience in an unnatural way. Don’t Tell Enough and the audience becomes lost.
Better Call Saul S03E04 got it all wrong last night, selecting the wrong scenes, not allowing fine actors shine by telling too much, then relegating Jimmy to a Story B in his own show and then neither showing, telling nor letting us in on Kim’s secret plan.
There’s showing, there’s telling but then there’s being too subtle!
Season Three was doing great until this episode. If it’s going to be as great as the previous seasons, the writers’ room needs to buck up its ideas and step on the gas with regard to action. I don’t mean car chases and explosions, but every scene needs a beat.
A major revelation that swings power from one group to another, a piece of information to make the audience sit up and say “No, way, Jose!”
Sadly, with Better Call Saul S03E04, Breaking Bad’s hermanito is forgetting how to tell a story. Must be something in the chicken salsa.