A Tragic Transformation to the Rescue
Words by Llewellyn Horgan
Last week’s episode “Talk” was one of the slowest of the season so far, comprised mostly of people talking in various darkened rooms. The episode moved at what felt like a glacial pace, with characters merely edging closer to their Breaking Bad starting places, or else engaging in subplots that were clearly just killing time until more exciting things would happen later in the season. Although “Talk” did end with a biggish character moment – Jimmy deciding to use his dead end phone salesman job to sell burner phones to criminals – it took a long time to get there.
Likewise: when two people going into a drug den and killing everyone inside comes across as predictable and unadventurous, you do question whether the show has jumped the shark. Scenes of extreme violence usually come across as shocking and (as guilty as I am in admitting it) quite entertaining. So, when an exciting drug shootout that Better Call Saul/Breaking Bad usually does so well, fell flat, I was worried that it meant bad things for the rest of the show.
The episode also involved a rather dull subplot regarding Mike dealing further with his son’s death – something that the show had explored brilliantly several seasons ago. At risk of sounding callous, it felt like an unnecessary retread.
By the end of this episode, I had my doubts about the strength of this season. Things were low, man. So low that I couldn’t bring myself to write a review.
Lucky then that this week’s episode, “Quite a Ride”, is back on form, with things beginning to pick up. The pre-credits teaser starts off with something new: we find ourselves not with Jimmy, not with Gene, but with Saul. The show has avoided forays into the future beyond the season premiere flash-forwards, but now we find ourselves – at least for a scene – with final season Breaking Bad-era Saul, desperately shredding documents with his long-suffering assistant, and preparing to vanish into a new life. It is a surprising and very effective scene – we would almost expect Walter White to stroll onscreen at any point.
Although I do believe that Better Call Saul works as a show on its own terms and doesn’t have to rely on Breaking Bad nostalgia to be effective, it is moments like this that suggest that, as this timeline moves closer to the other, the show will become stronger, as the tragic transformation of Jimmy becoming Saul takes place.
After this opening scene, the episode becomes stronger and stronger, the plot chugging along nicely. Jimmy sells burner phones to hardened criminals, successfully winning over some scary bikers – before getting mugged by teenagers. Kim works in the criminal court in a legal aid capacity while screwing up things with her cushy bank job. And Nacho is strangely absent this week – I suppose resting up at his father’s house and recovering from his wounds. Mike’s story is still strangely separate from the other characters on the show, but it is nonetheless interesting seeing the beginnings of the super lab that Walter White will eventually torch.
“Quite a Ride” was a much-needed course correct after last week’s mess of an episode. It suggested that more Breaking Bad elements being introduced will improve the show and help Better Call Saul to avoid its propensity in treading plot water.