A Law Unto Himself
♦Tripwire’s Senior Editor ANDREW COLMAN took a look at the third season of AMC’s Better Call Saul, which finished recently…
Better Call Saul Season 3
Produced by Melissa Bernstein, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould
Stars: Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks
Vince Gilligan promised fans of the show that the action would ramp up in this series, with Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) primed to rapidly revert to type, lost in his amoral maze while dragging the other players down with him – essentially, by the last episode of the run, he would be the shameless, conceited character we saw walk into Walter White’s chemistry classroom at the beginning of Breaking Bad. However the Saul of the parent show had a far more two-dimensional persona befitting his supporting role – that of the wisecracking, fast-talking shyster, conceding his self-awareness to the kinetic madness that was the argot of that series.
Such a statement from the show’s chief maven was basically a tacit admittance that the series, despite its uniformly excellent cast and script, had been on the glacial side, at the mercy of studio renewals which forced the plot and character development to be slowed down to fit the extra episodes. This series would finally usher in certain characters and places that devotees had been champing at the bit to see, and the show’s producers were more than aware of this – when the camera gradually pans back to reveal the Pollos Hermanos signage atop a building, it’s treated, almost reverentially, as the Grand Reveal. Finally, Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) are joining the fray, ready to intersect with Jimmy’s freefall trajectory. We’ll be in that chemistry classroom in no time.
However the complete transformation from Jimmy to Saul didn’t quite materialize by the last act of episode ten, despite being virtually penniless due to his disbarment. Nevertheless it would be churlish to say that this series, focusing as it did primarily on the Jimmy / Chuck (Michael McKean) feud, was anything other than excellent. Not to say that the Gus / Hector subplot lacked drama – the mutual loathing between the rival druglords is quickly brought to the boil, with some notable assistance from henchman Nacho (Michael Mando) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), but was never as gripping as the courtroom battle between the two brothers. Nevertheless Esposito’s performance as a somewhat less assured Gus was perfectly nuanced, his motivation for keeping Hector alive subtly visible.
The motor for the series is the downward spiral of Jimmy and his desperately unlikeable brother Chuck, who proceed to destroy each other in a series of tit for tat acts of revenge. Chuck entraps his younger sibling with a taped confession, which leads to a disciplinary hearing (the most bravura sequence of the run, handled magnificently by McKean) which ends disastrously for him, outwitted by Jimmy’s sly machinations. Jimmy however has yet to realize the implications of his temporary banishment from the legal world, which leads him to penury, desperate efforts to stay afloat and eventual descent into the grift. His phoney breakdown at the malpractice insurers, which reveals the extent of Chuck’s disorder, is a wonderful bit of acting from Odenkirk. It’s also a key moment in the plot, leading as it does to Chuck being forced out of HHM, the law firm he helped construct, by his former cohort Howard (Patrick Fabian) in an uncharacteristically Machiavellian move. Howard, like Jimmy, would’ve had an inkling regarding the effects of their respective decisions but pressed on anyway, resulting in Chuck’s self-immolation at the end. Maybe Jimmy had completed his transformation after all, but then this is obviously a far more fleshed-out version of Saul than the one in Breaking Bad. In Breaking Bad he was a comical villain, here he is an unwitting agent of destruction, whose altruistic component reclassifies him at best as an anti-hero. This is most manifest in his relationship with legal partner Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn, excellent as ever), who he genuinely respects and wants to help, and who in turn saves him from far more dire consequences in his showdown with Chuck.
Gilligan still wants us to sympathize with Jimmy despite the show’s remit – he has to hit bottom at some point to make that permanent crossing to the dark side, and yet Kim, the most sympathetic character in the series (by some distance) still hasn’t dumped him as one would expect, despite the odd moment of doubt. Which means he still hasn’t reached the point of no return, which consequently means another series. It’s been an impressive, if not superlative run once again, with so little production-wise to fault it, but you wonder how long we have to wait for that fateful moment next season when the last of the non-BB cast disappears and leaves him to his Cinnabon flavoured fate. Minor misgivings aside, I will of course be watching.