Better Call Saul is back with its second episode of season 4, “Breathe”, showing us some of the first signs of Jimmy’s descent into Saul.
On paper, Better Call Saul has no right to be this good. It’s a spin-off and a prequel, which should mean that it’s all but devoid of tension. Yet somehow, against all the odds, the creators of the show, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, have managed to not only pull it off, but if “Breathe” is anything to go by, they’ve also made something that seems to have a fairly consistent upward trajectory.
It’s a very difficult balancing act for a prequel; you know where the story ultimately ends but they still need to show you something new and exciting. The Star Wars prequels really suffered from this and just decided to give everything a backstory and cram in as many knowing winks as possible. Better Call Saul has consistently managed to sidestep this by making a series where I genuinely can’t predict what’s going to happen from one week to the next. Yes there are some callbacks to Breaking Bad but, up to now, they’ve always felt organic and natural rather than forced for the sake of recognition.
I think the success of the show is in no small part thanks to Bob Odenkirk’s superbly layered performance as Jimmy. The transformation from an honest and good spirited man into the sleazy, moral black hole that we meet in Breaking Bad is inevitable, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping it’s not going to happen. This week, in “Breathe”, we see Jimmy continue his slide towards embracing the murkier side of life. He has something of a unique interview technique as he’s trying to find a job to keep him steady until he can practise law again. There was a brief moment during the episode where I thought he was actually going to give a normal life a try. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like it was ever meant to be.
“Breathe” feels very much like an episode where things are being shifted into place and the starting point for mapping out the major direction for this season. With Chuck no longer in the picture, it seems like Jimmy will need another antagonist. My early bets were on Howard (Patrick Fabian), but after seeing the always fantastic Kim (Rhea Seehorn) absolutely demolish him this week (in an incredibly satisfying fashion) I’m not so sure.
There’s not too much time for Kim in “Breathe”, but what she does do is brilliantly played. But I can’t help but worry about her character in the long run; after all, she never shows up in Breaking Bad. It’s more than likely she either doesn’t survive and that’s what tips Jimmy over the edge, or he pushes her away with his shift to Saul Goodman.
Tensions also seem to be increasing in the aftermath of Hector’s (Mark Margolis) unfortunate accident with his medication. His absence has left a power vacuum that Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) is keen to fill. During the final, brutal scenes, Nacho (Michael Mando) had the look of a man who’d jumped out of the frying pan and into the heart of an active volcano.
I don’t think there are many TV shows that are as consistent as Better Call Saul and “Breathe” only continues that trend. It can be a little slow in places, but it just oozes atmosphere and tension from every pore. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.