Just as season three of Better Call Saul should be cranking up to a thrilling crescendo, its penultimate episode goes out of its way to dash your expectations on the rocks…
I’ve lambasted and admonished shows before for not succesfully building towards a satisfactory finalé, hell sometimes I’ve even praised rookie writers for course-correcting a season back on track but never have I seen a show take such a detour in its last-but-one episode… and it was a joy to behold.
Whereas Breaking Bad was also, at its core, about the characters, it had more eye candy – it was much more episodic, insomuch as there was usually an insurmountable obstacle that Walter and Jesse overcame through science (bitch) and had more all round thrills and spills.
A train robbery here, an exploding wheelchair there…
Better Call Saul doesn’t have that luxury. It’s a smaller, more down to earth and therefore a more genuine tale. This New Mexico high school science teacher’s microscope zooms right down to the single-celled interactions between Jimmy, his brother and the few amoebas in the petri dish they interact with.
There are no explosions, no Mexican stand-offs and no car wrecks.
As Mike was introduced to a wet-behind-the-ears Lydia at Madrigal and Nacho prepared to poison Don Hector, as Kim took on a huge new client and as Chuck sues HHM for $8 million… a sthe season should have been crossing the streams to have these dastardly backstabbers converge at the crossroads of inescapable inevitability… we spent the lion’s share of the episode in shopping mall and at an old folks’ home!
“Fall” reopens the Sandpiper by opening with Jimmy visiting class action representative, Irene at her sheltered accomodation. There, Jimmy realizes that Sandpiper has already offered a settlement deal which if D&M and HMM accept, would net Jimmy $1.16 million as his 20% of the settlement, so he tries to make Howard Hamlin honor the deal, but Howard sends him packing.
So Jimmy hatches a plan and Better Call Saul is never better than when Jimmuy is hatching a plan because there is nothing else to rely on but the writing, acting, direction and editing.
First, Jimmy plants seeds in Irene’s frineds, Myrtle, Helen and company’s minds that she isn’t accepting the settlement payout because she doesn’t need the money.
How do writer Gordon Smith and director by Minkie Sprio (Downton Abbey) achieve this through more brilliant use of show, not tell? Why, thru a glorious montage of mall-walking, chair yoga, pool-hustling and a tub of Planters’ peanuts as a graph, of course!
In the script, Jimmy turned them all against Irene solely through Jimmy’s manipulation; words, suggestion and implication. On screen, it was shown via the old girls’ microexpressions.
As Jimmy stirred their resent, Irene’s final alienation is shown as her former friends simply walk away from her in the mall. But this was only Stage One of Jimmy’s firesale…
Injecting bingo balls with emulsified metal paint, Jimmy rigged Irene’s win, further ostracizing her from the group, so much so that she broke down in tears. Enter omni-avunculur Jimmy who, while offering advice, is careful not to actually put words in Irene’s mouth, less he be quoted later!
These two manipulations were almost as low as switching the address in Chuck’s papers, but this is Jimmy McGill and the ends always, always justify the means.
Writing these scenes like these and manipulating us as an audience is one of the show’s genius plays. We’re prepared to let underdog Jimmy make a pensioner feel like shit in order for him to beat the system, namely Chuck and HHM.
And then came the crunch. We could see it coming a country mile off. An accident waiting to happen. Kim, on her way to VIP new client Gatwood Oil for an important disposition loses concentration and…
While you COULD see it coming, Better Call Saul STILL managed to shock in the manner in which Kim crashed. Edited to perfectly mirror what falling asleep at the wheel or a momentary lapse of concentration would and does feel like, Kim’s airbag deployed in her face and she was left cut, bloodied, bruised and confused.
From the caffeine-fuelled excitement of a second huge new client to lost, alone on a New Mexico sliproad, her court documents scattered in the wind. Is this the moment poor Kim Wexler realizes her life is life is in tatters?
How this plays into the bigger picture, I’m not sure but I sure hope Kim is okay for next week’s finalé when all these threads may, or may not be tied into neat little bows.
Better Call Saul’s season three finalé lands on Monday 19th June on AMC.