Review: Better Call Saul (Season 3, Episode 1)

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Slow-burning

Much like its second series, the premiere of Better Call Saul Season 3 is a slow-moving affair, but one that effectively picks up the pieces from last year and keeps the drama ticking along.

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Better Call Saul is a show that likes to take things slow. Even so, after the dramatic end to season 2, it’s frustrating that its third season seems reluctant to jump straight into the conflict between Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy (a.k.a. Saul Goodman) and his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) that we’ve been waiting the best part of a year to watch unfold. Instead, after a brief flash-forward to Jimmy’s post-Breaking Bad life (when we see he’s still willing to stand up for the little guy against the law), and a recap of that final scene from season 2, it’s back into the doldrums of Jimmy’s work at Wexler-McGill, albeit not without some touching character moments and a smattering of the show’s typical brand of comedy.

There’s not too much to say about Jimmy’s storyline in this opening episode, which is a shame. As one of the most entertaining characters from Better Call Saul‘s parent program Breaking Bad, and with many more hilarious moments besides from previous episodes of this show, you’d expect his story to carry the premiere with his definitive wit, especially considering the season 2 cliffhanger. Unfortunately, we get little of that. There’s an amusing encounter between him and Bauer (Brendan Fehr), the US Air Force Captain previously seen in the previous season, over Jimmy’s lie about Fudge being a war hero, which could set up conflict for episodes to come and tests Jimmy’s resolves, and we do get more of the long-brewing animosity between Jimmy and Chuck; but otherwise there’s nothing much of substance. It’s a shame because it’s great fun to watch Jimmy under pressure and against the wall, only to come up with some last-minute trick to slip his way out of trouble (heck, they had that whole “Slippin’ Jimmy” story set up in the first series to play off that), but there’s none of it in this episode. You can only hope that Chuck will get round to using that tape from season 2 in future episodes.

Mike’s (Jonathan Banks) story is another that is frustrating, but for different reasons. Fresh off the events of season 2, we see his reaction to his foiled assassination attempt on Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), as he searches for a mystery saboteur who seems intent on keeping Salamanca alive. Mike’s clever cat-and-mouse games with the saboteur set things up nicely for the promised return of Gus Fring down the line, but here’s the thing – it has no relation to what Jimmy is doing at this point in time. We know that Mike and Jimmy/Saul can work well off each other from earlier episodes of the show (especially during season 1) and from Breaking Bad, so it is more than a little annoying that the two are being kept completely separate, at least for the time being. That’s no detriment to Mike’s story as we explore the criminal underworld and learn some interesting backstory on a few of Breaking Bad‘s more renowned characters, but it does seem strange that a whole section of a show called Better Call Saul doesn’t seem to focus on ‘Saul’ at all.

None of this is to say that the episode is bad – far from it. The performances are once again excellent, especially from Bob Odenkirk, who provides the right mix of sleaziness, intrepidity and comic timing as Jimmy throughout the episode, whilst Jonathan Banks shines as the forever fed-up Mike. There’s some great camerawork as well (with the hyperlapse of Mike’s search for the tracking device standing out), and the soundtrack, as with previous seasons and with Breaking Bad, is on point. It’s just that some scenes feel overlong, and there isn’t particularly much drama to speak of, which is surprising given the climactic ending to the previous series.

Season 3’s opener serves to smooth out the cliffhangers of season 2 whilst still keeping the stakes high for future conflict. It would have been nice to see tensions boil over from the start, but for now it’s nice just to be reunited with Jimmy McGill Esq. and the colourful characters he meets in 2002 Albuquerque.

Better Call Saul airs weekly on Netflix in the UK.

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I play/watch/listen to things, then write about playing/watching/listening to things. Special powers include downing two litres of tea at a time and binging a 13-episode Netflix series in only 12 hours. Deputy Records Editor 2017/18, or something like that.

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