By Henry Schecker
“Better Call Saul” is a juggernaut hour of cable television.
Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould reached top gear with their writing and directing in the final season of “Breaking Bad” and have steamrolled that momentum of quality into now three seasons of “BCS.”
The season opens with the continuing story of Saul Goodman’s post “Breaking Bad” life as Gene, the mild-mannered manager of a Cinnabon in Nebraska.
As Gene, we see Saul go through the mundane processes of running the mall sweet shop until he goes on his depressingly humdrum lunch break. Gene spots a shoplifter frantically running from security who ducks into a photo booth across from the bench where Gene is eating his lunch.
As the security guards approach, Gene becomes apprehensive and aloof, perhaps paranoid that Saul Goodman’s jig is up, but the rent-a-cops simply ask him if he saw the shoplifter.
In a scene of fantastic acting on Bob Odenkirk’s part, Gene points his finger at the photo booth and stares at his finger in disbelief as if to say “did I really do that?”
As the security guards grab the shoplifter and drag him away, the inner Saul comes out, just for a moment, and Gene shouts “Don’t say anything! Get a lawyer!”
Cut back to the past, and we’re with Jimmy (Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean) right after Chuck secretly taped Jimmy’s shocking confession from last season’s finale.
The brothers share a moment of kindness when Jimmy uncovers a copy of “Mabel,” a book Chuck read to him as a child and the inspiration for the episode’s title.
It’s in this moment of shared nostalgia that really shows a convincing bond between these two brothers. Odenkirk and McKean really have a unique and natural chemistry in the scenes they share that makes for compelling drama.
The moment is shattered when Chuck coldly states “You’ll pay.”
Chuck plays the tape for his Hamlin-Hamlin-McGill law partner, Harold Hamlin (Patrick Fabian.) Harold states that while he believes Chuck, there’s not much on the tape that could stand in court, saying “if the tape serves no purpose, why keep it?”
Michael McKeon then pulls his most evil smile, and as Chuck, declares he has plans for the tape.
McKeon’s delivery was kind of over the top, but it’s kind of suiting to Chuck’s character.
Chuck is so high on being right that he beams with pride and can’t wait to try to dismantle Jimmy’s hopes and dreams.
Jimmy’s relationship with Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is strained, because she knows about Jimmy’s confession from last season and is unsure if she can really trust him.
Jimmy tries to make amends for sticking her with dozens of clients on short notice by offering her dinner, but Kim refuses and instead refocuses her energy into her work.
Meanwhile, Jimmy’s homemade commercial from last season lands him in hot water.
A Captain from the military base the commercial was shot at catches wise to Jimmy’s hustle and realizes “there never was a Fudge Talbot,” the fictitious war hero Jimmy used to get access to the base.
As he gets more and more aggressive towards Jimmy, Jimmy snaps and vindictively threatens the Captain with legal action that could get him dishonorably discharged, showing his first real glimpses of Saul. Not the cowardly, smooth-talking “Slippin’ Jimmy,” but fullon, cold-blooded Saul Goodman.
As “BCS” has rolled on, it’s become a show that is almost equally about “Breaking Bad” fan favorite Mike (Jonathan Banks), which in this writer’s opinion has broadened the show’s appeal and splits up the legal jargon and family drama with noir-style sleuthing and “Breaking Bad” style shootouts.
Mike very rarely has someone get the drop on him, so when a mystery person put a halt to his cartel assassination plans, it shook Mike to his core.
Mike figures the only way someone could have known his whereabouts is with a car tracker, and the resulting scene of Mike dismantling his 1987 Chevy Caprice wagon is very “CSI.”
The episode ends with the tracker becoming the tracked with Mike hot on their trail.
Given how heavily it’s been advertised, it’s safe to guess this is fellow “Breaking Bad” alumni Gus Fring, enterprising fried chicken franchise owner and New Mexico’s largest meth mogul.
“Mabel” didn’t follow up last season’s cliffhanger so much as it extended the cliff even higher.
As we inch closer to Jimmy’s transformation into Saul, you can feel the world of “Better Call Saul” starting to spiral downward.
Who knows what beautiful tragedies lie ahead in season three and beyond, but that’s what’s got me on the edge of my seat; that’s what makes this show so addictive.
How many heartbreaks? How many stumbles? How much more can shady, but good hearted James McGill take before he becomes the slimy, cold blooded, manipulative, selfish, pride-less Saul Goodman?
We’ll just have to wait and see.
“Better Call Saul” is in its third season. As of this writing, it has not been confirmed if there’s a fourth season.
“Better Call Saul” airs 10 p.m. on Mondays on AMC network.
You can catch up on the first two seasons on Netflix or AMC now, and watch the season three premiere now on AMC.com.
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