Much like Breaking Bad before it, Better Call Saul depicts the lives of two characters caught in opposite worlds and the things they have to do to get by; most of which are varying degrees of illegal. But there’s one character connecting these two polar opposite lives, and that thread has been spiraling both characters out of control since the show’s inception.
The first few episodes of this season see protagonist Jimmy McGill dealing with the tragic death of his brother last season in a way viewers hadn’t anticipated: through complete apathy and blaming the untimely death of his brother on almost everyone else. It’s moments such as the normally pleasant Jimmy assuming a cold composure and using it to drop the guilt of Chuck’s death on a visibly broken Howard Hamlin that make Better Call Saul worth a full binge watch. In a few short seasons, we’ve seen not only the evolution of the characters, but also of the show’s writing. Every little hidden detail is now proving itself to have purpose in a grander scheme. Even in the first five episodes of this new season, it’s evident this is not the type of show to be left on in the background while one mulls about their day. Better Call Saul demands engagement in order to piece everything together.
The fourth season seems to be filled with more opening flashbacks than before. One such example is episode four, Talk, which opens with a little boy eagerly watching his faceless father pour concrete in the driveway. The upbeat music bringing this scene to life comes to a sudden halt as the father is revealed to be Mike Ehrmantraut, whose expressionless face fills the screen; suddenly, we’re watching him talk in a support group. For a breezy opener that seems to last only a few short seconds, it’s an important and heart-wrenching revelation for the character, as are many of the smaller scenes that pop up throughout the show.
Better Call Saul makes an art out of showing what the characters are feeling, rather than telling. In episode four, ‘Talk’, we see Jimmy turn down yet another job offer, this time at a cell phone store. It’s not too long in the day after the phone call when Kim suggests he should “talk to someone” to cope with the loss of his brother, and that’s when Jimmy calls the store back and asks if the job’s still on the table. The new job serves as the perfect distraction for not only Kim, but Jimmy as well; there’s no chance of him saying what’s on his mind, but an admission is written across his face in a montage of his lifeless new job. The bleak couple of scenes of him sweeping the floor and cleaning the cell phone displays are contrasted with another montage in the next episode, this time a lively one showcasing Jimmy in a matching tracksuit set slinging the prepaid flip phones no one else wants around the streets, advertising them as burner phones. It’s almost as if we were watching Jimmy McGill in the last episode, and Saul Goodman in this one. And, of course, it’s not what you’d think would come out of the story of a shift supervisor in an empty store.
This show has no concept of filler, and with such lively characters, it has no reason to. Despite frequent over the top antics, each more memorable than the last, the show’s heart is a cast of characters that feel like old friends, and seeing the ways they grow over time. While they often do things they wouldn’t have in a past season, they also offer believable reasons for such big changes. Here’s a simple man with dreams of being a big shot lawyer, doomed to become a sleazy, almost comedically unfeeling criminal lawyer (with an emphasis on criminal.) The sharp, well thought out writing makes the evolution from one to the other feel seamless and organic.
Many television viewers thought Breaking Bad couldn’t be topped once it came to an end, but in three and a half seasons Better Call Saul has already shaped itself into a more complete vision with twists that’ll make sense in hindsight and characters that are believable enough to feel like home.