It’s taken five seasons of “Breaking Bad” and two-plus seasons of “Better Call Saul” to figure out the one word that defines this particular television universe, but we now may finally have it: Consequences.
With the return of “Saul,” now in Season 3, we remain fascinated by the story of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), the nascent “criminal” lawyer whose attempts to build his own private law practice – we know thanks to watching “Breaking Bad” – take a dark turn. But the first two seasons of the series depict a man whose preference for short cuts is actively working against something resembling a moral core, which is also working against a loyal heart.
And that means… Well, let’s face it: You probably don’t want spoilers if you’re reading this. You just want to know whether or not the third season of AMC’s celebrated drama lives up to expectations established by previous years. And fortunately, we can report that yes, we remain scared for the characters we’ve come to love dearly, and yes, everything you love about the show continues as you might hope. Specifically, every action has a reaction, and every bad choice made by Jimmy and his cohorts will come back to haunt them.
But while that remains true, it doesn’t mean that “Saul” remains static. Instead, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have not only kept front and center the reverberations of Jimmy’s actions from last season, but also continued to advance us closer to the inevitable “Breaking Bad”-set future they’ve committed to honoring.
The most obvious indicator of that evolution is the (re?) introduction of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) — a spoiler only if you’ve avoided every bit of press about the series this year. AMC has openly acknowledged that Gus will be appearing in this season, but the guidelines provided to the press forbid us from mentioning exactly when it happens — which actually works in the show’s favor, because it helps craft the legend of Gus in his earlier days as that of an almost etherial figure. One comparison might be Keyser Soze from “The Usual Suspects,” but the more intriguing notion is the shark from “Jaws.” Always lurking. Always observing. Always ready to strike.
“Better Call Saul” gets a lot of praise and acclaim for its top-notch acting, smart writing and innovative filmmaking, and that continues in Season 3. At least one sequence in the first two episodes invokes comparisons to filmmakers like Terrence Malick and Steven Soderbergh. But more importantly, the show lives in the details it celebrates on screen, the details which make the show infinitely relatable to anyone who’s ever fussed over a semi-colon, or labored over a paint job.
Meaning is never too buried under the surface with this series — some of the symbolic gestures made come with an anvil’s light touch. But that seems to be the point, in the same way that “Saul” celebrates silence above wordplay, a unique quality amongst the loud narratives crowding the landscape.
This choice especially proves to be a showcase for Jonathan Banks. A standout performer in Season 1, Banks took more of a back seat in Season 2, but so far Season 3 indicates that he will no longer be sitting on the sidelines. (This is not said to undercut the performances of Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn and others, who support a fascinating ensemble.)
There’s a lot of story still pending, of course, but from what we’ve seen the show’s commitment to smart, engaged, and challenging storytelling has yet to falter. There are sequences that will make you ask questions. There are sequences that will offer very little explanation. But in pushing to understand, the experience becomes all the more richer.
And all of that is in service to what makes the series so genuinely interesting, especially in the wake of all the “Law & Order”-esque narratives we’ve been marinated in all these years. Because it’s honestly weird how “Better Call Saul,” a show based on the premise of a halfway decent lawyer becoming a completely corrupt crook, is one of the most ethically engaged shows on television.
This is not really to the credit of Jimmy, let’s be clear, but rather the lawyers who surround him, and the emphasis on the law’s less sexy attributes. “Better Call Saul” isn’t afraid of the criminal underbelly of Albuquerque, but it also still seems to believe that the law can truly serve those who need it.
Or perhaps it’s not the show that’s naive — it’s us, as viewers, for buying into the fairy tale. For believing that there is such a thing, as justice for all.
“Better Call Saul” Season 3 premieres April 10 at 10 p.m.