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Better Call Saul Episode 3 Review – “Nacho”

Some moderate spoilers ahead.

I thought I had slipped into a lucid day dream; Jimmy McGill was in prison, he sported an even more elaborate comb-over than the one he has already. He greeted his brother Chuck, who came to visit Jimmy, to see how he was holding up (Chuck also had a healthier, golden head of hair). I soon realised this wasn’t a dream at all; I was watching the intriguing twist opening to Monday night’s third episode: an opening that revealed that Jimmy – for all his attempts at being a straight arrow lawyer – just isn’t suited to the straight life and he never was.

It’s all the better that Jimmy isn’t a do-gooder; otherwise there wouldn’t be a show. Better Call Saul’s third episode carries on the tension from the last installment, but adds higher stakes and moral dilemmas that will leave you reaching for your oxygen tank, even though you probably don’t have one … who does?

The first scene for episode three, as I said, is unexpected and cut off from the rest of the episode, but it reveals and hints at quite few a reasons for why Jimmy is like the way he is in the present day, and the most obvious hint is that Jimmy wasn’t always the quick thinking lawyer we know him as today. In this scene we see Chuck, a successful and powerful lawyer, having a dominating effect on Jimmy as he begs for him to get him out of jail. There’s no fast talking or quick thinking tactics from Jimmy like we usually see, he’s a cocky bum who may or may not have committed a sex crime and doesn’t have any remorse for it. It’s like watching role reversal; Jimmy’s desperate while Chuck is calm and the one with the knowledge and advice. However, when we first met Chuck, he was the one who seemed desperate while Jimmy was the cool, calm and collected type who tried to guide him; and to see this shift in power between Chuck and Jimmy hints at why Jimmy still looks up to Chuck in the present day, even though Chuck is now a paranoid and unstable wreck. These little ambiguous pre-credits scenes are what we have become accustomed to with Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s writing, as these scenes are always there for a reason but we just don’t know ‘why’ yet.

The episode jumps back to the present day after the intro. We are back with Jimmy. His situation with the brooding Mexican criminal, Nacho, and America’s squarest outlaws (the Kettlemen’s) has worsened. Jimmy’s a little tipsy as he sits in his massage parlour/office. He calls his friend at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, Kim Wexler. He tells Wexler that the Kettlemans might be in danger, which gets her suspicious. Now we’re thinking ‘it’s time to back down Jimmy’ but, no, his conscience and moral compass is still set on trying to do the right thing, so he calls the Kettlemans and warns them of their safety. This ‘slip of the tongue’ from Jimmy is reminiscent of the moment when Walter White in Breaking Bad told his brother-in-law, Hank, that Hiesenberg may still be out there. You knew it could only get worse if he said it, but it proves yet again, that this will be a character driven show and won’t provide conflict to forward the plot for plot’s sake. It feels real and exciting as these characters create their own problems and resolutions which are beginning to make Better Call Saul tick.

You know from when Jimmy puts down the phone on the Kettlemans things are going to get messy, especially as Gilligan/Gould love this kind of trope: a character balancing and trying to juggling between different sides of the law. It gives purpose to that opening scene, showing that Jimmy for all his wanting to do the right thing, he just can’t help but be a sleaze bag. He rushes into any opportunity no matter if it is legal or illegal, but then finds himself in an extremely dangerous situation which always seems to put others more at risk, than his own life e.g. the Kettlemans.

Jimmy soon finds his situation going from bad to worse as the Kettlemans are seemingly kidnapped, but by whom? Well, the cops think its Nacho, as his van was found outside with him inside it. That leaves Jimmy in a sticky patch.  He goes to visit Nacho at the station, and tries to persuade Nacho that he’ll only get eighteen years in jail – not too bad – but Jimmy hasn’t quite got that Saul Goodman spark quite yet, so his offer falls on deaf ears as Nacho warns Jimmy that if he doesn’t sort this mess out “Things are gonna be bad for you.”

The confrontation between Jimmy and Nacho is the center of this episode and for it to be a memorable one, it needed to be executed perfectly. So no surprise, it was. Not only the writing, but the acting and chemistry between Nacho and Odenkirk was a joy to watch. Odenkirk again, shows that he can play the same character but in a different manner. Jimmy is rough around the edges and still coming to terms with the criminal underworld, as he only really has had a small bite size of the criminal underworld compared to what he’s about to embark on. His nerves are well controlled you never get the impression he’s over-acting the part of going for that “Big Hollywood star moment,” as they say. The same can be said for Nacho, who isn’t your typical Mexican shout-curse-snigger criminal; he has a brooding and sombre presence which juxtaposes Jimmy’s perky flittering nature. The scene gives the stakes a huge lift, and you start to feel that sweaty palms thrill which the scene was aiming for.

A young Jimmy (right) and a young Chuck (left).

The two creators have also found a reason to make us care for Jimmy, as many were worried that he was merely a two dimensional character. After Jimmy leaves the angry Nacho, he attempts to find the Kettlemans through an unlikely source, something which only the quick thinking Saul Goodman could do, and that is what I think makes Saul Goodman, or Jimmy, not only compelling but admirable. He thinks outside the box, he looks at the small aspects and explores them in detail. He is a determined person  and, while he may make bashful decisions, he always manages to come up with a magical solution that saves the day, but has Jimmy got the moral dilemma which Walter White had?

Breaking Bad had the moral dilemma of a family man stricken with cancer who wanted to leave a healthy stash of money for his family when he was gone. Once he got into that world, he couldn’t get out. It was a compelling watch and a compelling conflict. You saw Walter White’s motivations clearly, but the same can’t quite be said for Jimmy McGill, yet.

I keep harkening back to that opening scene, but it showed and hinted at so many possibilities and aside from revealing Jimmy’s love affair with crime and Chuck’s overall power in their relationship, it hinted at Jimmy’s motivation as to why he will do anything to get ahead and why he wants to do the right thing. Chuck was always the more respected and loved brother, something Jimmy wished he was. Jimmy feels like he was accused of a crime he never committed, hence he does not want to return to jail otherwise his career would be over. It heightens the stakes for his character even more and gives him a tragic quality that is masked by his fast talking, jokey nature. Hopefully Jimmy’s backstory will continue to reveal itself as the show goes on (its been renewed for a second season.)

The backstory will be revealed slowly but always at the precise moment, and the same can be said for the character relationships. Up until this episode we have only been teased by Jimmy’s odd friendship/relationship with Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill lawyer Kim Wexler, who appears to be on the side of Jimmy while also being on the side of Hamlin, but you get the impression she isn’t fully committed to either. No doubt she will be an important character to the series, especially as at this moment she seems to be Jimmy’s only (sane) friend.

Other relationships should come to fruition in the upcoming episodes, from the likes of Howard Hamlin, and Chuck McGill. Chuck will no doubt become a nuisance to Jimmy if his ‘condition’ worsens and will become more deluded just when Jimmy needs him most. As for Howard Hamlin, well I expect there’s going to be some juicy conflict when the firm’s clients, the Kettlemans, are revealed to be outlaws (the unlikeliest looking outlaws).

For now though, we are left with an almighty cliffhanger-ish end that again leaves us wishing we would’ve saved up the episodes and binge-watched it, but to avoid spoilers would be impossible unless you locked yourself in the bathroom for 10 weeks. It’s just so hard not to watch it at the moment, the pace is electric and the plotting is intricate. It’s a struggle to find any flaws in something so well directed, written and scored.

If you like your TV tense and intricate, then this third episode of Better Call Saul should fill that need.

Ending on another note: I suppose only time will tell if this has the lasting effect and moral messages of Breaking Bad, but it’s fast becoming harder to compare it to its parent series, and is more becoming a cousin series thanks to its central theme. Breaking Bad’s central theme of a poor family man desperately trying to provide for his family, but his greed consumes him, and he transforms into a ruthless drug kingpin. Better Call Saul has similar qualities, in that Jimmy tap dances between both sides of the law, the same as Walter did, but the ethics and motivation are different. Better Call Saul wants to explore a determined, hapless lawyer and is journey through to earning success and respect, as his start to life has lost him any credibility to be taken seriously. Besides, if you’re not into all that symbolism and moral mumbo jumbo, then just watching it for Jimmy’s endless movie quotes is good enough: “Heeerrreeess Jooohhhnnnyy!”

Episode 4 – “Hero” has Jimmy facing harsh consequences when his relationships become strained.