It’s a testament to the skills and talents of everyone involved that Better Call Saul can put out an episode where nothing much happens and it’s still enrapturing. Any other show and you might knock it for being boring, but not here. Somehow, even stagnation manages to be captivating.
At this point in the story, that’s probably no coincidence. Stagnation seems to be a running theme across the board for the characters in this story at this time. With Jimmy on ice as a lawyer, he’s got precious little to do but accept a mediocre job as a cell phone salesman and, well, bounce a rubber ball. His boredom is key to note, however, as it will no doubt play into his evolution into Saul Goodman.
Already you can see the wheels turning as Jimmy begins looking at the angles, searching out ways to garner a little excitement out of his life. As a legitimate lawyer, Jimmy was able to keep his mind active enough to stay focused on walking the straight and narrow. Now though, he’s got nothing but time and as his interactions with Ira have shown he’s using that time to fall back into his old ways. His already shaky foundation is cracking more with each moment of mindless boredom, pushing him further down his path of corruption.
Kim, meanwhile, is feeling the pressure of stagnation in her own way. Though her solo practice has been built on back of Mesa Verde, this season has shown a considerable lack of engagement with the company on her part. Earlier this season, the prospect of the bank’s growth seemed to overwhelm her, forcing her into an existential quandary.
One gets the impression that she’s bored by her current enterprise, which would explain why she took the day off to go sit in Judge Munninger’s (Ethan Phillips) courtroom. As a star at HHM, Kim Wexler was a powerful attorney, dueling in courts on her client’s behalves, engaging with the law like a warrior of discourse and argument. Now, she’s little more than a paper pusher, filing the right papers after making sure the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.
Previous seasons have shown that she’s more than willing to engage with Jimmy in acts of simple conning and fraud. Will this continue as she gets more and more bored with her current position? It’s not hard to see a scenario where, thanks to some scheme by Jimmy, she winds up taking a fall. Could this be the start of her downward spiral?
Nacho continues to find himself torn between loyalties. On the one hand, he’s got to maintain his position within the Salamanca family, even if it includes backing up the twins as they endeavor to brazenly take out another organization’s stash house. Barely recovered from the two bullets he took in the last episode, he’s forced to take up arms as the twins wipe out a whole crew in broad daylight.
This doesn’t earn him any points with Gus, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Fring sees him as a disposable pawn that he can squeeze some intel out of before an unceremonious disposal. Nacho of course had his reasons to induce a stroke in Don Hector, but in Gus’s world, there’s only room for his own vengeance. As this season continues to unfold, Nacho is the character we should be most concerned with. How much longer can Nacho survive within this prison of conflicting loyalties? Eventually, something has to give and no doubt it will be devastating when it does.
As scary as Gus is—and Better Call Saul has been doing an amazing job of taking an already terrifying villain and making him worse—Mike isn’t someone who scares easily. As teased by the episode’s cold open, and expanded upon later, he’s the kind of person who will call out a liar in the middle of a group therapy session. That’s an interesting trait for them to explore here and showed us the closest we’ve ever seen to Mike losing his cool. As we continue to watch these characters descend deeper into the criminal world, we’re forced to wonder what might’ve happened if Mike’s son hadn’t been murdered. He was close to contentment as Mike could get, and one selfish act set him down a path of tragedy and pain.
As much as he might’ve lost his cool—well, inasmuch as Mike does—he still managed to look Gus in the eyes and let him know how little Fring’s usual intimidation tactics would work on him. Gus is pissed about Nacho Varga and knows Mike’s connection with him. Instead of groveling, however, Mike basically shrugged his shoulders. It’s not his problem as far as he’s concerned.
That attitude no doubt shocked Gus, but it also gives us hints about why a man like him respects a man like Mike so much. Neither are the kind of men who suffer fools, and Mike has no qualms with letting anyone know if they’re being foolish. Though the episode ends without giving us closure about what Gus wants from Mike now, that’s not something we need yet. What’s important is how Mike was willing to stand up to Gus, further cementing his respect.
As uneventful as the episode might seem, history tells us that this is about par for this point in a Better Call Saul season. As the fourth episode of the season, it needn’t do much but set up the midseason climax, which we’re getting next week. Historically, Better Call Saul drops episode fives that go off like an atom bomb (see also: “Chicanery,” “Rebecca,” and “Alpine Shepherd Boy” from seasons three, two, and one, respectively) which means we can look at this as the calm before the storm. This episode was the kind of slow that isn’t slow in retrospect, and serves to establish the game changing curveballs that get thrown at us in future. What they’ve got in store remains to be seen, but we’d do best to prepare ourselves for the inevitable.
Better Call Saul airs Monday nights at 9/8 central on AMC.