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‘Better Call Saul’ Review: Set-Ups and Slip-Ups Abound In the Beginning of the End

Season 3 Episode 8, "Slip," has us dreading the explosion to come.

Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictur

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: Rough Times for Jimmy Are Bad News For Everyone Else

Case Summary

It’s what we’ve been dreading: The return of Slippin’ Jimmy. We get a flashback to Cicero, Illinois, as Jimmy and his old pal, the now sadly deceased Marco, break into the old McGill family general store in search of the perfect coin for their latest con. It’s just enough of a reminder of Jimmy’s old self to sell what happens in the present, as Jimmy deals with some weaselly commercial clients first by trying to reason with them, then borrowing a move from his old playbook, staging an accident in the guitar shop.

Of course, Jimmy’s not a young man anymore, and the fall injures him pretty badly, to the point where it becomes worth his time and energy to help a fellow community service colleague duck out of the job, for $700 and the opportunity to lay down. Back injuries are no joke — even if they also mean a free guitar.

When it comes to the other McGill brother, Chuck’s in a good place after starting to work with Dr. Cruz on his condition, making so much progress that he’s able to walk into a grocery store and actually buy some groceries. It’s a massive accomplishment for the struggling man, who for the first time seems genuinely hopeful about getting better. But in this moment of triumph, Howard arrives with an ominous message about Chuck’s malpractice insurance. Slippin’ Jimmy’s really on a roll.

Achievements in Filmmaking

Beyond the field of many Mikes we see from overhead, something that always deserves more appreciation is the way scenes in Chuck’s house are filmed, especially the ones in the daytime. With no artificial lighting on screen, director of photography Marshall Adams has managed to find a way to make these scenes visible while still communicating the sense of a dark cave, with only trickles of natural light permeating the shades.

What’s Up With Mike?

Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

At the beginning of the episode, Mike goes treasure hunting. Well, the “Better Call Saul” version of it, uncovering a dead body buried outside the Oasis Motor Court billboard you might remember as the site of Mike’s truck heist from Season 2. That would be the same location where Mike left Regalo Helado truck driver Ximenez Lecerda tied up on the side of the road, and thus the same general location where a Good Samaritan driving by stopped to help the driver out — and got a bullet in the head from Hector Salamanca in the process.

How did Mike know where to go looking for the body of the Dead Samaritan? That’s clearly the favor he asked Nacho for last week. But why? The answer comes in his post-group therapy conversation with Anita, in which Anita reveals how much it hurts to not know what happened to her husband.

Let’s be clear — the body Mike found was not Anita’s missing husband Alan, as she clearly states that her husband went missing eight years ago, and this other individual has only been dead for a few months. But Mike was clearly quite affected by her state of uncertainty, and so he decided to do something for another fallen soldier.

We may not know who the Dead Samaritan was, but that dead hand Mike unearths has a wedding ring on it, which means this unknown stranger likely had a family who will be wondering what happened to him. Anita might never find out what happened to Alan. But another widow will soon be spared the same state of limbo.

And that moment of karma-resetting inspires Mike to handle the fact that he simply has too much cash to spend, leading us to…

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

Well, there you have it kids: With some terse words and a firm handshake, Mike and Gus are in business together. How will this work out? Long-term, we know exactly what will happen. Short-term? It probably depends a lot on the “difficulty” that will go into finding a way for Gus to accept Mike’s $200,000.

Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo "Gus" Fring - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Lady Sings the Blues

This is a great episode for Kim as she continues to assert herself as an independent professional — one who remains conflicted by the compromises she’s made. While we’re always a bit worried about Kim, this week gave us even more reason, as she took on extra work on top of the workload that’s already killing her. And she’s doing it for Jimmy, it seems, which makes her previous justification for helping him — “the fallacy of sunken costs” — all the more haunting. Kim, at some point that fallacy will come back to bite you.

Buried in one of Kim’s big scenes, by the way, was an interesting moment for a character who’s often gone underserved. Howard Hamlin has always been a “Better Call Saul” enigma, but every time Patrick Fabian gets a chance to tear into some dialogue, the result is fascinating. Seeing beneath Howard’s client-wooing persona in his confrontation with Kim had us wondering what would happen if we saw more of the show from his point of view. Howard always seems to know a lot more than we do.

Nacho Watch

As mentioned before, one of the most delightful elements of “Saul” is when we get to see characters at the height of their craftiness execute their plans. While it’s thrilling to watch Nacho practice his pill bottle moves, sabotage the shop’s air conditioner so that Don Hector will definitely take off his jacket, and then successfully swap the pills right under Hector’s nose, it’s also underscored by some profound dread. It’s a skillful con, well-executed, and it’s hard not to get excited for Nacho’s success. But the danger is only just beginning there.

READ MORE: ‘Better Call Saul’: Why Saul Goodman, According to Bob Odenkirk, Is More Than ‘Just A Name’

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga, Mark Margolis as Hector Salamanca - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

On The Journey From Jimmy to Saul

I mean, the best we can say about Jimmy this week is that maybe, just maybe, falling back into the role of Slippin’ Jimmy isn’t part of the inevitable emergence of Saul Goodman, Attorney-At-Law. Maybe it’s just a relapse. But in those final moments, as he laid on the ground with cash in his hand after using his knowledge of the law, the significance of Chuck’s long-ago warning that “Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun” had a new power. (One of the worst things about Chuck is how often he might be right.)

Cocktail Hour

Moscow Mules with lunch — a classy choice, one we remember Kim declining back during a business lunch in the Season 2 episode “Bali H’ai.” Now, she’s ready to play on a new level.

Best Quote

“I would not take money from your family.”
— Gus Fring

This was a delightful reminder of the fact that Gus has his own very special personal code when it comes to the doing of business. It also served as a reminder that even Gus will change over the years to come. We’re still a while off from him telling Walter White, “I will murder your infant daughter”… at least, so we think.

In Conclusion, Your Honor

Picking the best quote this week was tough because in many ways, this was a largely non-verbal hour of television — the notable exceptions being Jimmy’s fast-talking legal rambles and Chuck’s long scene with Dr. Cruz, a brilliant bit of acting by Michael McKean filled with his hopes for the future (“I want to be surrounded by friends and colleagues” he says as he party plans) as well as the doubts over his condition he’s finally able to express.

For everyone this week, things are clearly coming to a head, and over the past two seasons we’ve learned that Episode 9 tends to be when the ka-boom happens. Brace yourself.

Grade: A-

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