Previously on Better Call Saul, “Mabel”
After a relatively low-key yet exemplary third season premiere, creator/director Vince Gilligan wasted no time in whipping an already turbulent pair of siblings into a frenzy as the existence of Chuck’s recording eventually became known to all parties. When it seemed life for the McGills couldn’t get any worse, Jimmy’s inability to restrain himself may have ultimately cost him everything. In the meantime, Mike ventured across Albuquerque to uncover the identity of his stalker. Of course we already know who it is, and there isn’t a single person who isn’t giddy to have the calculating, bespectacled sociopath back in our lives.
For a hot second it appeared Jimmy and Kim’s tiny law firm was finally going to gain steam. Wexler continued to shine as Mesa Verde’s golden girl while McGill kept things down to earth by acquiring more clients with his affable everyman persona. Nevertheless the pair needed additional support and it arrived in the form of Francesca Liddy (Tina Parker) as many will recall remained employed as Goodman’s churlish secretary in Breaking Bad.
Evidently Liddy had a far more cheerful disposition before she spent years in McGill’s service. If she was able to maintain a bright outlook on the world after slogging through New Mexico’s Motor Vehicle Division, imagine what manner of soul-crushing work Jimmy must have placed on her lap as time went on. Thankfully Jimmy threw Liddy a softball on her first day at Wexler and McGill by impersonating a folksy yokel that beguiled potential clients with talk about family pets and Cracker Barrel. You can’t say McGill doesn’t know exactly what old white folks enjoy most: freedom, small manageable pets, porcelain tchotchkes, updated wills and Southern-themed restaurant chains. Francesca’s magic worked for some time until a gruff, semi-retired Philadelphian named Ehrmantraut had to rain on everyone’s parade.
For virtually the entire first act of “Witness” we followed Mike on his quest to discover who bugged his Monte Carlo and why they went through so much trouble in the first place. After a series of stops that spanned hours, Ehrmantraut finally reached the end point of his mysterious mark: a Mexican-themed fast food restaurant with sterling ratings in cleanliness and customer service. That’s right, we’re back at Los Pollos Hermanos! Ever cautious, Mike called McGill as a last resort because frankly he knows no one else in Albuquerque. And Jimmy is so daffy few would ever suspect he’s scouting the place for Ehrmantraut. Problem is, McGill’s target is unmatched in guile and adept at exposing threats.
The moment everyone had been yearning for over a year finally came to pass when Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) made his official first appearance in Saul. Gustavo took his sweet time too as he was seen in the background mopping floors while Jimmy shadowed Fring’s bagman inside Los Pollos Hermanos. McGill was so bad at it, so so bad. No doubt Gus knew something was going down before he stepped outside his office; it felt like a frivolous exercise on Fring’s part yet he’s compelled to personally assess any danger to his exceedingly complex operation. Apparently Jimmy’s bumbling antics didn’t fool Gus; he’s survived this long because to him the world is a game of chess, and everyone else is still playing checkers.
Now aware that Mike has discovered the tracker and has scant insight on his shady enterprise, Fring realized Ehrmantraut’s skill set is best suited for his line of work. Calling for Mike’s liquidation would be bad form. As we know, Gus doesn’t like squandering assets with unique qualities… unless their shocking death can prove a point. Which is why it was a sorrowful cameo when Gus’ top lieutenant Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui) rolled out of the fast food joint to parts unknown. Although Saul has successfully established itself as a standalone series within a greater universe rather than a complementary piece to Breaking Bad, it’s a welcoming sight when minor characters – who provided enduring performances – return, if only for a moment. In a way Saul’s existence is a testament to the unforeseen sentiment garnered by viewers for characters that were designed solely to push a lead’s narrative. However in time, the performances by their respective actors formed nuances that made the story line richer than anticipated.
The sentiment also rings true for Chuck, whose paranoia and deep resentment for his brother has now reached into HHM’s coffers. The elder McGill placed investigators on retainer for his protection, which doesn’t make sense to anyone at the firm. Howard had his doubts (rightfully so, as his law partner suffers from psychosomatic tendencies and is constantly triggered by Jimmy) but on this occasion Charles was correct in his assessment. Sadly it was Ernie (Brandon K. Hampton) that unwittingly put everything in motion; expressing genuine concern for his pal Jimmy, he relayed what he knew about Chuck’s tape to Kim, who in turn forced James to hire her to enact attorney-client privilege.
After combing through her legal resources, Kim had no idea what Chuck’s final play was in using the tape against Jimmy. Mere minutes after their conversation, James’ rage bubbled over and he went on a war path, as Charles astutely predicted.
Chuck didn’t know when Jimmy would find out or when he’d confront him. Yet McGill knew how by using Ernie’s sympathy for James as the spark to ignite the oncoming chaos. Charles suspected Ernesto couldn’t keep this secret and Jimmy wouldn’t show any restraint due to their deteriorating relationship. Hence the continual presence of the investigators, not to keep tabs on Jimmy’s activities but to be a witness during the McGills’ inevitable confrontation. It couldn’t have worked any better for Chuck; not only did a P.I. and Howard Hamlin observe Jimmy break and enter Charles’ home, he also destroyed evidence that was inadmissible. That doesn’t matter now because his intent along with the unauthorized access to Chuck’s residence spell a loooot of time in the courthouse for Jimmy in the near future.
Need I remind you one more time, this was only the second episode of the season. Good friggin’ grief. If what occurred in “Witness” was the tip of the iceberg for Saul’s third outing then we are in for a brutal torrent of family discord and rampant legal improprieties. It’s a helluva thing when the criminals come off as more honorable and reserved than the supposed pillars of the community.
So yeah… how about that Cracker Barrel???
Better Call Saul S3E2
Better Call Saul – S3E2 – Witness | Bob Odenkirk,Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Michael McKean | Writer: Thomas Schnauz | Director: Vince Gilligan