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‘Better Call Saul’ Review: Brotherly Love Goes Bad as Danger Mounts in the Season 3 Premiere

"Mabel," the Season 3 premiere, picks up right where we left off in Season 2, but, at least for one character, the plot accelerates.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Michele K.Short/AMC/Sony Picture

‘Better Call Saul’ Season 3 Review (Spoiler-Free): As One of TV’s Greatest Dramas Evolves, Characters Inch Closer to ‘Breaking Bad’

Case Summary

Because it’s the season premiere, we get a substantial taste of Jimmy’s black-and-white future before retreating into the past (more later). Specifically, the last moments of Season 2, when Jimmy confessed to Chuck that he was responsible for sabotaging him, and Chuck secretly recorded said confession.

Jimmy’s unaware of the recording when he comes back to Chuck, trying to reconnect with his brother, and for a moment the pair do seem to bond over childhood memories. Chuck, however, reminds Jimmy that his memories also include Jimmy’s recent betrayal, and — given the meeting Chuck has with Howard later — it’s clear Chuck is out for justice.

Things are still uneasy between Kim and Jimmy, following her anger over Jimmy’s decision to “help” her get the Mesa Verde account with last season’s sabotage. And that she’s required to assist him with his elder law practice, whenever he slacks off, doesn’t help either. When Jimmy tells her he’s got plans for their office’s new paint job, her instinctual reaction is one we’ve come to expect: “Should I be worried?”

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler; group†- Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

What’s Up With Mike?

If Jimmy’s storyline seems a bit light this week, that’s because Mike’s got a lot going on. First things first: Never forget that Jonathan Banks can own the screen without uttering a word. For his first five minutes on screen (nearly exactly to the second — we checked), Mike is on a paranoid rampage following the discovery of the note on his car — with just the single word “Don’t” scribbled on it — sending him on a quest to figure out exactly who is tracking him, and how.

Mike’s strategy for “why” begins with “how,” as he disassembles his car into scraps in search of a tracking device… which he eventually finds hidden in his gas cap, proving that he’s being watched by… somebody. The rest of his storyline in “Mabel” focuses on him utilizing some military grade tracking equipment — as well as his well-established cunning — to take that tracking device and use it to find out who planted it, essentially flipping the script on his pursuer.

Mike maybe says 30 words total in the entire episode, and that’s only thanks to two characteristically terse scenes between other people. However, he dominates the action, with the cat-and-mouse game established last season continuing at the end of the episode, as he stalks his prey through the rain-soaked streets of Albuquerque.

Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Achievements in Filmmaking

It makes sense to start calling out each week one particular moment or sequence that reminded us exactly why we like to say things like, “This is the best-crafted show on television.” This episode’s time lapse montage, in which Mike deconstructs his car at the auto salvage yard, is a perfect example of this.

It’s not just the way music, editing and cinematography work together to create a truly striking sequence, one that blends the rough terrain of the junkyard with the elegant setting of the New Mexico sun. It’s the way it communicates one of Mike’s most fundamental character traits: patience. The sort of patience that might lead you to underestimate him — at your peril.

Remembering What Hasn’t Happened Yet (The “Breaking Bad” Tie-In)

For the record, Mike’s auto salvage yard of choice is not Old Joe’s Junkyard, owned by Old Joe (Larry Hankin) from “Breaking Bad” Seasons 3 and 5. We’re instead at Five Days Salvage Yard, owned by a man played by Forrie Smith and credited as Junkyard Owner.

Let’s deal here with the flash-forward, bringing us back to the black-and-white future waiting for Jimmy– wait, sorry, Gene. A typical day at the Cinnabon gets a flash of drama when Gene helps the cops arrest a shoplifter. The brush with the law, and the brief resurrection of Gene’s past lives, are probably what trigger his collapse a little bit later at work, but there’s not a lot we learn about his ultimate fate here.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill (as Gene) - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

A random geographic note: Gene’s Kansas City Royals lunchbag isn’t unsurprising for a man trying to lay low in Omaha. Sure, in his earlier iterations, Jimmy/Saul never showed much interest in baseball, but as Nebraska resident Gene, rooting for the Royals makes geographic sense (thanks to IndieWire Sports Experts Steve Greene and Ben Travers for weighing in on the matter).

Gus Watch

If you didn’t know from previous press reports or some of the delightful viral marketing that AMC’s been putting out, Gus Fring is coming to “Better Call Saul”… but not quite yet. This week, we’re sitting in the dark, just like Mike, waiting to find out exactly where this mysterious tracking device might lead.

In the meantime, though, do enjoy the very informative video on what it takes to be an outstanding Los Pollos Hermanos employee below.

On The Journey From Jimmy to Saul

Jimmy’s confrontation with last season’s Captain Bauer (Brendan Fehr), who Jimmy tricked for a chance to shoot his commercial in front of an authentic B-29 bomber, is a valuable reminder that “Better Call Saul” is a show all about consequences. But even more importantly, it’s a show about one man with more than one persona, revealed with the show’s usual nuance as Jimmy finds himself backed into a corner by the angry officer. There’s no one moment in which Bob Odenkirk’s performance shifts, but you see all-too-clearly the kind of lawyer Jimmy is destined to become; the kind of lawyer who might eventually find himself helping a meth dealer launder his cash.

“It’s From a Movie!”

Beyond the quick “Wax on, wax off” reference — and by the way, it does not shock us that Chuck has not seen “The Karate Kid” — this was an episode which featured books rather than films: Specifically, Gene’s lunchtime reading choice of actor David Niven’s memoir “The Moon’s a Balloon” (according to Amazon, it’s “one of the best-selling memoir of all time”) and then Harry Thurston Peck’s “The Adventures of Mabel,” a copy of a children’s book from 1896 that Chuck reveals was a possession of his and Jimmy’s late grandmother.

“The Moon’s a Balloon” is notable just for how random it is; “The Adventures of Mabel” plays into decades worth of McGill family history that underlie one of the episode’s most emotionally complex scenes.

Michael McKean as Chuck McGill, Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Best Quotes

“Don’t think I’ll ever forget what happened here today. And you will pay.”
— Chuck

“For 10 minutes today Chuck didn’t hate me. I forgot what that felt like.”
— Jimmy

Watching Jimmy and Chuck interact means paying attention to the subtleties of how Odenkirk and McKean interact, as both men find themselves fighting the instinctual brotherly love they still share, despite all the misery they’ve put each other through.

And through so much of that early scene, you see that back-and-forth struggle in full swing, with childhood memories and Chuck’s elder sibling instincts kicking in to teach Jimmy just the right way to roll tape off a wall without ruining it. You think, just like Jimmy, there’s a chance that things could be good again… and then you remember Chuck’s low capacity for forgiveness and that his dignity hides a heart at times capable of extreme pettiness. For these two, brotherly love is a bad habit. One that hurts them both in different ways.

In Conclusion, Your Honor

It feels so good to be back in this world, even though we know bad things are on the horizon. However, this is an episode which teased more than it revealed. More could have happened with the Jimmy storyline, and whatever we’re supposed to parse from the Gene sequence will probably be impossible to determine until we pick back up with that story, likely in the season finale.

Being teased is never a great deal of fun, but watching Mike at work is always fascinating, and the smarts and confidence on display are exactly why we keep up with this show, week after week. Mike should never be considered a role model, except in this one regard: Thanks to him, we’ve learned the value of patience.

Grade: B+

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