SPOILER WARNING: While I’ve made efforts to not give too much away, this article may contain plot details from both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad.
A year has passed since we last saw Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) unwittingly confess to fraud on a tape secretly recorded by his elder brother. It would be a good idea to bring yourself up to speed on the story so far, as ‘Mabel’ picks up events immediately after that climactic scene. There’s no time jump, with the first episode of the new season being an unforgiving point of re-entry for viewers with a fleeting memory.
It’s not exactly a bad thing, as the show reached complex and distinctly interesting points with each of its main characters at the end of season two. But when ‘Mabel’ starts calling back to past events in a big way, you can’t help but think this should have been a finale or epilogue to the previous season. Jimmy’s risky yet hilarious commercial shoot on a United States Air Force base in last season’s ‘Fifi’ is one such example, and prompts one of the officers who escorted Jimmy and his phoney war hero on to the base to threaten Jimmy with legal action at his own offices. The encounter is humorous at first, with Jimmy throwing every dirty Saul Goodman tactic at the officer to dissuade him, but it touches a nerve when Jimmy sees parallels between the situation and his fraught fraternal relationship. It may have had more impact a year ago, but is nonetheless a reminder that actions have consequences, as the officer warns Jimmy that “the wheel is gonna turn, it always does”.
Amidst Jimmy’s increasingly destructive antics, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) meanwhile remains staunch and committed to running an honest practice. However, Jimmy’s dubious intervention in landing her the coveted Mesa Verde account from the grip of Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) and his own brother, is a buried body that’s starting to stink, and Kim’s patience with Jimmy a bubble that is sure to burst.
I could probably watch an entire series of Mike doing stuff like this, to be fair.
We pick up with Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) just after person, or persons, unknown sabotaged his efforts to kill crime kingpin Hector Salamanca, leaving him a hastily scrawled but firm message: ‘DON’T’. The fact that someone has gained the upper hand on Mike leaves him frantic and shaken, a side to him that we don’t often see, but it doesn’t take him long to reboot and get his head back in the game. Wordless and absolutely methodical, Mike sets about dismantling his car, piece by piece, in an effort to find a bug he’s certain the mysterious saboteur has planted in it.
It’s always brilliant to see Mike at work; everything he does is deliberate, careful, and assured. An effortlessly cool ex-cop with a plethora of dodgy contacts, tools, and experience at his disposal, it’s good to see us working towards the total badass we see in Breaking Bad episodes ‘Full Measure’ and ‘Bullet Points’. He’s hellbent on finding whoever has been tracking him, and I have a sneaking suspicion Mike’s quest will bring us a few steps closer to being reacquainted with a certain fried chicken tycoon. Better Call Saul has been running two entirely separate stories for a while, and the dichotomy between Mike and Jimmy’s stories is starting to become jarring. Jimmy’s inevitable involvement with Gus Fring isn’t likely to be an organic partnership, so it will be interesting to see if these wires will get crossed or enter a collision course this season, as it’s something the show desperately needs to do.
Chuck McGill (Jimmy’s elder brother, played by the fantastic Michael McKeen) is playing a longer game as he sets about trying to make Jimmy pay for his crimes, with the help of the tape he secretly recorded in the shocking climax of season two’s ‘Klick’. His aversion to electronics is still wonderfully bonkers, and some of his actions ‘Mabel’ hint that he may even begin using his psychosomatic affliction to a devious advantage. He agrees with Howard that the recording may prove inadmissible in court, but despite Jimmy’s continued love for his brother and his rose-tinted nostalgia for their relationship, it would appear that Chuck is about to embark on a very personal crusade against Jimmy.
Chuck ‘accidentally’ plays Jimmy’s confession to Ernesto (Brandon K. Hampton), setting into motion a grander plan.
That’s not to mention the flash-forwards to Jimmy/Saul in the present day, masquerading as ‘Gene’ the Cinnabon manager, whose story appears to be gaining unexpected momentum and mystery as he collapses at work. Still in hiding after his role as Walter White’s accomplice during the events of Breaking Bad, his hermit facade even slips to reveal a man desperately longing to return to a life as a sleazebag lawyer.
Following the precedent set by the previous two seasons of Better Call Saul, the first episode chugs away with all the urgency of asbestosis. But that’s fine; we’re not dealing (for the most part) with drug barons, DEA manhunts, and neo Nazis; and we know there are bigger things in the pipeline. And besides, Better Call Saul‘s return is a reminder of how beautifully shot the series is. Everything is exquisitely framed against the breathtaking desolation of New Mexico’s deserts, with the 2002 setting’s retro tinge continuing to delight and evoke nostalgia. Unlike the new ground covered (at the time) by Breaking Bad, we know where Jimmy is going and what he will become, but the journey remains a thoughtfully written, gorgeous visual indulgence all the same.