If you’ve been reading along, you might have deduced that I’m a big Vince Gilligan fan. I talk a lot about his visual prowess – the teddy in the pool, Walt laughing in the hole in the closet, the shredder that opens this episode, appearing to spit paper up into the air from its whirring teeth. But where Gilligan really stands apart from his peers is in his storytelling, not just the stories he tells but how he pieces them together. His stories are outlines, a giant mural drawn in magick marker, which he then proceeds to colour in at random. When it all falls into place, the brilliance of the whole thing comes from both what it is and how it came to be.
The process of unveiling that masterpiece can take a whole season (the teddy in the pool in Breaking Bad), multiple seasons (Jimmy to Saul to Gene) or it can be a matter of moments, as in this episode’s opener. We’ve seen Jimmy, we’ve seen Gene, but this is the closest Better Call Saul has strayed to Breaking Bad-era Saul, and Gilligan keeps us disorientated right up until we see the colour of Bob Odenkirk’s shirt – most definitely a Saul shirt rather than a Jimmy shirt. Once we see that hideously tacky mural and Saul’s panicked demeanour, we know without a doubt that we’re right in the aftermath of Walter White, but Gilligan enjoys leaving us puzzled, even just for a moment. I complained a lot in my Westworld reviews about how the show clung too desperately to its secrets, always waiting too long to let anything slip. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are masterclasses in that, the sure sign of confident storytelling that knows exactly when to reveal and when to keep schtum.
Burners play a big role in this week’s episode. Saul snaps his in half as soon as he calls for a “removal”, something we remember very well from Breaking Bad. Later, when Jimmy’s plot to use paranoia to sell phones has lured its first victim, he’s snapping another one. They need to work on the durability of these things. Jimmy being Jimmy, it isn’t long before his cell phone plan becomes something a little less legal. While Kim tries to work, Jimmy’s out walking the streets, hawking burners to Albuquerque’s denizens of the night. But Jimmy’s not quite the Jimmy he was, and he gets jumped by three little punks, who kick the crap out of him and steal all his wares. You get the feeling that getting bested by such pathetic low lives bothers him more than anything else that’s gone down recently. For all his promises about how he and Kim are going to get a new, bigger office together and have more clients, we know all too well that Jimmy is going to take the easy, less legal option as soon as it presents itself.
Kim’s tendencies are in the opposite direction, which is a terminally bad sign for their relationship. Rather than just focus on Mesa Verde and cash their sizeable cheques, she’s a crusader at heart, someone who needs their work to mean something beyond the monetary award, hence hanging up on Paige to focus on her pro bono client. She’s an astute defence lawyer and a fighter and you can see that she relishes out-manoeuvring the prosecutor as much as she means what she says when she tries to steer her client onto the right path. For all her dalliances with Jimmy’s con games, she’s an honest, sincere person, and you can’t help but feel the point where her and Jimmy’s paths diverge permanently isn’t far away.
Meanwhile, we’re as blind as the hooded architect that Mike guides out into the middle of nowhere in this week’s other storyline. It’s only when he walks into the warehouse and we see the enormous blue machines that we realise exactly what’s going on here. This is the man brought in to construct Gus Fring’s enormous underground lab. He’s confident, slick and he doesn’t get the job. Immediately after he brags about constructing a secret tunnel into Mexico, Gus calls Mike and puts an end to it. The last thing Fring wants is a loudmouth boaster with cartel connections knowing where he’s put his meth lab. Instead, it’s the fretting, so-nearly-vomiting German architect who wins Frings’ approval. It makes perfect sense that Gus would want a man who thinks about every single thing that could possibly go wrong and appreciates the enormity of the task over an overly confident smooth mover. After all, careful planning is the cornerstone of the Fring empire.