AMC’s Better Call Saul
Season 4, Episode 1: “Smoke”
Directed by Minkie Spiro
Written by Peter Gould
* For a recap & review of the Season 3 finale, “Lantern” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Breathe” – click here
Open on Cinnabon. Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) – now living as Gene Takavic – works some time in the future, following his adventures with Walter and Jesse as Saul Goodman. Something’s happened to him. Paramedics peel him off the floor at work. They take him to the hospital, check his heart. He keeps waiting for the cops to find him. Doc tells him he’s okay: no heart attack. Before he leaves, a nurse asks to see his driver’s license. There’s a problem with it in the system. Makes Mr. Takavic quite nervous when his “social security number” comes up, too. But everything goes well eventually.
Gene takes a cab and reels from the close call. The driver acts strangely, though. Or is merely Gene’s paranoia working overtime now? Life, for the man formerly known as Saul formerly known as Jimmy, is a constant state of looking over his shoulder, worse than ever before. I love the contrast we get to see between these future moments and the timeline of the series back before we even knew Saul.
We see glimpses of fiery ash floating over Mesa Verde files. They cross over and dissipate around Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) in bed. Visual foreshadowing of Chuck’s (Michael McKean) death in the fire at his home. He gets a call from Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) letting him know what’s happened soon enough. Poor Chuck died from “smoke inhalation.” His brother sees how Chuck had totally gone off the deep end right before the fire, all the electronics relegated to the backyard like a mini junkyard— a horrible relapse.
Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) is continuing on with life as it’s been. Except he’s finishing up his job working security on the tollbooth. Change of pace, somewhat, with the new job and all. He goes to see his granddaughter like usual, just about the only time we ever see him happy. Stacey (Kerry Condon) is likewise happy to have him helping more than usual. Given that he gets to make his own hours on the payroll with Madrigal. And quite the pay it is! Except it makes the man curious, and he’s dying to know more about the company.
Over the phone, Howard reads Jimmy what will be Chuck’s obituary. It’s a long-winded, inhuman-style obituary which does nothing for the personal side of the eldest McGill brother. Regardless, Jimmy’s having a hard time dealing with Chuck dying. Kim breaks out a bottle of the rare Afiro Añejo first seen in Breaking Bad, so the two of them can do a few shots and grieve.
We’re privy to the aftermath of Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) watching paramedics cart Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) off, after his “stroke.” Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda) wants to see Nacho. He lays down the law, making sure everything works slick without any interruption. What this does is give Gus the chance to try exerting influence.
Nabbing himself a Madrigal ID card, Mike slips inside the company offices in Albuquerque to take a look for himself. Sly bastard. Well versed in the art of blending in, helping himself to coffee and a clipboard and mingling amongst employees. He even signs “Tina‘s birthday card” like any other colleague. Out in the warehouse, he takes a deeper look at the place. Mike notices, just by virtue of his not getting caught or even asked a single question by anybody, there’s not exactly super tight security outside the physical badges. He actually goes up to a manager, complaining about the security. His balls are utterly massive. One of the best characters on both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
At the funeral, all sorts of people pay their respects to Jimmy as he sits up at the front of the church. It’s a monotonous drone of various people he’s probably not spoken to in ages, if barely ever in the first place. Such is the case with funerals. Although a few people do genuinely grieve Chuck, like ex-wife Rebecca (Ann Cusack), and Howard, too. Later on, Howard wants to talk to Jimmy about “the lanterns.” He believes it was an intentional suicide on Chuck’s part, not an accident. He also talks about their having a fight over the insurance. This is what leads to further guilt for Jimmy, who was the one to cause the whole “malpractice insurance” debacle, ultimately leading to his older brother’s being forced out of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. While Howard blames himself, Jimmy’s the one who brought this on. All he can tell Howard is it’s his “cross to bear.” More of the dark evolution of the man who’ll eventually become Saul Goodman. Wow. Cold as fucking ice.
The reason why this show is SO GODDAMN GOOD is because of pacing. This is where the greatness of many shows lies, because to pace a show well – especially a prequel, whose characters we know and the end result we know going in – is to really get us involved. Better Call Saul is off to a fine Season 4 start! “Breathe” is next week.