TV Review: ‘Better Call Saul’ Continues to Slow Burn Toward ‘Breaking Bad’

We’re now in year 3 of the “Better Call Saul” experiment, and the show continues its march toward becoming one of the landmark series in television history. Like any prequel, there are inherent issues with trying to tell a unique story that leads up to a familiar, and beloved, narrative. However, “Better Call Saul” has been surprisingly effective in its own right, despite the fact that we know how the series ultimately ends.

The season opens with another glimpse into the post-“Breaking Bad” world. The Cinnabon employee, known as Gene (Bob Odenkirk), continues to be scared of the world around him. Gene has done everything possible to avoid the police over the past few check-ins, even if it meant sitting in a room with a trash dumpster for hours. This time, he is confronted by police in Omaha when a young man shoplifts from a store. Gene tells the young man to get a lawyer, but soon after he collapses. Will he be picked up by an ambulance? Will this be how Saul is discovered? These are all fair questions, but at this point, the story jumps back to the past. 

The past is also a bit of a hectic place. Jimmy (Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean) are still having it out. While Jimmy is trying to help his brother, there’s still a hatred between the two that is a little unsettling. Jimmy wants the relationship to go back to the way it once was, but Chuck seems uninterested. What is somewhat startling is the knowledge that Chuck is right about Jimmy. He’s a grifter and a cheat whenever he can be, and while that is fun for the audience, it is almost undeniable that Jimmy is a bad person in real life. The family drama continues to crescendo through the episode, and as more people become aware of Jimmy’s corruption, the potential backlash continues to build.

One of the more impressive sequences of the episode follows Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), and further reinforces the dichotomy between the “Mike-show” and the “Jimmy-show” storylines. Banks continues to dominate the screen when he’s front and center, and absolutely takes over the episode. There’s about a five-minute sequence in the episode where Mike simply works on a car, and it is perfectly directed. Not only does the montage advance the plot, but it gives the audience insight into Mike’s overall view toward life. Simply put, he’s an absolute badass and doesn’t need anyone’s help. As he hunts down the people tracking him, it’s only a matter of time until he comes into contact with the heavily teased Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Once the two have met, we know that violence is just around the corner.

Through three seasons, the series has continued to float due to its strong performances. Bob Odenkirk is giving an amazing performance as Jimmy, and the transformation toward Saul is subtle and believable. The flashforward sequences further give him a chance to showcase his formidable acting talents. Meanwhile, Jonathan Banks is electric in every scene he’s in. To be honest, the show’s slow burn technique has been fun for a season or two, but audiences are getting anxious. Banks pumps an energy into the show that only makes it painfully obvious that he is currently without an Emmy for the show.

Rhea Seahorn is also continuing to give strong and subtle performances week in and week out. In this episode, she is forced to make a choice that will impact Jimmy in the future. What’s surprising is that her choice is made via Microsoft Word. Again, Seahorn provides a level of gravitas to the unsaid choices she’s making and builds tension through her nonverbals and facial expressions. The three performances continue to give the show a strong foundation, and the show builds from their strength.

Ultimately, if you’re a “Breaking Bad” fan, the series seems like it’s heading toward that story (finally). If you aren’t a fan, then there’s not much reason to tune in. The transition from Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman, to Gene at Cinnabon, is likely only for the hardcore “Breaking Bad” fandom. It’s because of this issue, that it’s hard to give a glowing review of the episode and show. It is extremely well directed, well written and has good performances. So why does the show feel so inessential? It’s a question the show needs to address as it moves forward. Hopefully, the show will finally hit its stride in the coming weeks.

What do you think? How are you enjoying “Better Call Saul?” Which “Breaking Bad” characters do you want to see? Let us know in the comments below! 

“Better Call Saul” airs on Monday nights on AMC.

GRADE: (★★★½)

About Alan French

Alan French is a movie buff, a TV lover, and a sports fanatic. He graduated from Florida State University in 2013, and received his MA from the University of Central Florida in 2015. His all-time favorite TV shows are 'Parks and Recreation,' 'M*A*S*H,' and 'Game of Thrones.' You can find him on Twitter and Medium @TheAlanFrench.