‘Better Call Saul’ Allows No Room to ‘Breathe’ (TV RECAP)

[rating=8.00] “Breathe”

Better Call Saul has always been a series bespoke with tragedy, and the latest episode was particular tragic.

Or, rather, it was rife with the suggestion of tragedy.

Like a great painting or sculpture, it’s often what isn’t shown that carries the bulk of the emotional weight. Negative space has the power to move and inform just as much as brush strokes and elegant chisels. Better Call Saul has always operated within the blankness and unspoken, but this week displayed a level of mastery that stuns with emotive force.

This was always bound to happen as the series moves closer to the Breaking Bad time period; as we inch towards the era of Walter White, the cataclysmic walls inherent in the narrative begin to close in. While there’s still plenty of room to breathe, we’re getting ever more claustrophobic as we careen toward the inevitable.

Take Kim. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the best case scenario for Rhea Seehorn’s character is an irrevocable heartbreak which fundamentally alters who she is and why we love her. Her love for Jimmy allows no other option—assuming, of course, she makes it out alive. Though we’ve never had reason to doubt the depth of her love for the future Saul Goodman, we saw just how far she’s willing to go to protect her man.

We should all be lucky enough to have a partner as supportive as Kim. Chuck cutting Jimmy out of his will was always a given—we knew that, Kim knew that, Jimmy knew that—and still she stood, proud and protective over the man she loves, livid as she stood up to Howard. And she was right to. Howard screwed up royally by approaching Jimmy with the revelation that Chuck killed himself so soon after the funeral. In any other scenario, she would have been correct to call him out for alleviating his own guilt at the expense of Jimmy’s anguish.

Here, however, it speaks only to the eventuality of her ultimate tragedy. Chuck’s suicide is more Jimmy’s fault than Howard’s. At the very least, the each share an equal weight of the cross, to use Jimmy’s words. Her soft spot for Jimmy will, we know, be her downfall, in one way or the other. She is, like so many of us have been, blinded by love, deafened by adoration. As sweet as her moment of passion with Jimmy is later in the episode, we immediately see the payoff for her support as she lays sleeping.

Without Chuck there to serve as an anchor, Jimmy is helpless against the currents of his nature. We can only assume his night with Kim was one of intimacy and delight, but he barely waits before planning a caper. A Hummel heist seems impending, a scheme inexplicably worth thousands of dollars, and the kind of thing Jimmy had given up not so long ago.

Things of course seem to be on the upswing. As we start the episode, Jimmy is up early, dressed, and ready to start his day job hunting. He even, by the grace of his smooth talk and charm, lands the job in his first interview (well, at the very least, the first interview we see him take). However, with his con-man eyes, he’s quick to note how easily his would be employers were taken. He is, shockingly, aghast that they would deign to hire him without performing their “due diligence” and immediately, disgustedly, refuses their offer.

He of course noted the small collection of Hummel figurines sitting on the shelf in the office. You’ll recall that Jimmy first encountered this bafflingly valuable collector’s items all the way back in the season one episode, “Alpine Shepherd Boy.” We see the wheels turning, but don’t want to believe it’s happening. And we don’t, not until later, as Jimmy leaves Kim in bed to perform a little research and make a call to Mike.

It’s both exciting and heartbreaking. Exciting because it further pushes us along the road to Saul Goodman; Jimmy has been set adrift and his old ways are coming back to him. Better Call Saul’s entire premise as a series was to give us more of the despicable lawyer, and he’s, as yet, made no real appearance. He’s coming, though, and the dark clouds of his impending arrival are thrilling to watch move across the horizon. But knowing how much of a betrayal it is to Kim is devastating. She’s not only stood by him, but stood up for him for years, since even before the start of the series. It’s hard to watch her get caught in his wake, knowing just how much she stands to lose.

This thematic dynamic is echoed as we explore more of Nacho, who’s still trying to cover his tracks in the wake of Don Hector’s stroke. Like Jimmy, Nacho feels like a fundamentally good person who, perhaps, got deeper into the game than he ever intended. Seeing his father’s business get strong armed by Hector last season snapped things in place for Nacho. He needs to get out.

Hector Salamanca’s stroke was supposed to better enable that; we get that sense watching him interact with his father. He’s working on it, he tells him as his father asks when he’ll be free. His machinations may have been cloudy to us, but Nacho has never been anything other than a guy with a plan. It’s just unfortunate that his plans so disrupted the plans of Gus Fring.

Both the cold open and the finale of last night’s episode were centered around Gus and his plans. Hector becoming incapacitated ruins the decades long plan of revenge Gus began back in the 80s or 90s with the murder of Gus’s business partner and, according to some theories, lover. As Gus states at beginning of the episode, balking at the notion that Don Hector’s state is, somehow, just, “I decide what he deserves. No one else.” That’s bad luck, Nacho.

You could argue that it was worse luck for Arturo, though in the long term I doubt it. True, Arturo is the one who Gus killed at the end of the episode, after he and Nacho strong armed the supplier for an extra kilo of meth, but in the grand scheme of things, being suffocated in the parking lot of a fast food distribution center parking lot sounds a lot like getting off light. Nacho is helpless watching his friend and partner slowly die, forced to his knees by Gus and his men. Even more helpless as Gus tells him he knows what he did, and that he’s willing to keep it a secret—but he works for Gus now.

Who knows what manner of subterfuge Gus will have his knew charge embark on, but whatever he gets into it will most certainly be in the exact opposite direction Nacho would prefer to walk down. What further tragedy awaits him as we continue moving forward toward Breaking Bad? Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are way too clever to go in any direction we can imagine, but given how devastating we can imagine the outcome, we should be very worried about Nacho.

Though we’re still too early into the season to begin making guesses, so far season four has provided us with a rich foundation upon which to build as Better Call Saul continues onward. Each moment serves to ratchet the tension even higher, creating a taut spectacle of the human condition that could snap at any moment. They’ll no doubt keep it that way as long as they can, but the unavoidable is coming and the wire will soon snap and, with that, we will finally see what happens when Jimmy breaks bad.

Better Call Saul airs Monday nights at 9pm/8pm central on AMC.

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