Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Better Call Saul Season 4, Episode 3, “Something Beautiful”

Like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is not the kind of show that leaves logistical problems unaddressed. A problem the end of “Breathe” poses: how to dispose of Arturo’s body in a way that won’t arouse the Salamancas’ suspicion of Gus. The answer is to make Arturo appear to have been the victim of an ambush by a rival cartel. On Breaking Bad, when Walt and Jesse would come up with a plan like this, most of the time we would watch the whole process, from the posing of the problem, to the brainstorming of a solution, to the execution of the plan. Here, however, we skip all but the execution phase, leading us to wonder what Tyrus and Victor are doing, at least until they pop the trunk to reveal Arturo’s corpse.

Withholding the beginning stages of the plan, and having Victor and Tyrus carry it out wordlessly and without complication, makes them seem much more coolly efficient – or even ruthless – than Walt and Jesse. Or at least, more so than Walt and Jesse early in Breaking Bad’s run. Disposing of bodies and evidence eventually became so routine for them that they too could do it wordlessly, as with poor Drew Sharpe.

Adding to Tyrus, Victor, and ultimately Gus’s ruthlessness is their indifference in shooting Nacho. Evidently, Nacho had agreed to be shot in the shoulder to help sell the fake ambush, but did not expect to be shot in the gut as well. Overkill? Perhaps, but the potential lethality of the gut shot removes any hint of suspicion from Nacho, who is indeed lucky to survive it. While no one in the Salamanca organization is as cunning and calculating as Gus, Gus has learned not to underestimate his rivals (behavior we see in his dealings with Walt and Jesse as well), thus he’ll happily go to extremes to effectively plant a mole in the Salamanca hierarchy and further his personal vendetta against the cartel.

Gus’s powers of foresight and calculation are also on display in his phone call with Juan, and in the scene featuring the surprise reappearance of Gale Boetticher. Gus’s play here is twofold. First, by tricking Juan into having Gus find domestic meth producers, Juan is compromising himself by disobeying Don Eladio’s orders, which Gus knows will make it easier to eventually dispose of him (as he will in season three of Breaking Bad - note the hint of a smile on Gus's face as he concludes his call with Juan). Second, the scene with Gale shows that Gus is already in the process of ensuring that – eventually – Gus will be the one to supply the meth from north of the border, exponentially increasing his share of the profits.

Beyond amusingly reintroducing Gale in the most Gale way possible – he’s singing along to a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” that replaces the real lyrics with various chemical elements – this scene is interesting because it further reveals what a long game Gus is playing. We know from Breaking Bad that Gus funded Gale’s university scholarship, but the description of their relationship on that show always seemed quid pro quo: in exchange for the scholarship, Gale would eventually become Gus’s meth chemist. Here, however, it seems as though Gus didn’t attach any strings to Gale’s scholarship, and that Gale ends up working for Gus because he expertly manipulates Gale into coming up with the idea himself. Gus checks with Gale about the purity of some meth samples Gus provided him, and Gale suggests that he could do better, as if this is the first time the thought had occurred to him. If so, Gus is truly a master manipulator, sensing that Gale would be so grateful that he’d happily work for Gus as means of repaying his “kindness.”

As if to demonstrate the contrast between the execution of a hiccup-riddled Walt/Jesse plan and a flawless Gus/Tyrus/Victor one, Jimmy’s plan to steal the Hummel figurine and replace it with a much less expensive lookalike is fouled up by the unexpected presence of the Neff owner late at night in the office, forcing Jimmy’s thief-for-hire to hide, and for Jimmy to come up with a plan to rescue him. It’s an amusing little suspense sequence, notable largely because the thief Jimmy hires is Ira, the leader of the thieving exterminators with whom Saul will eventually connect Walt and Jesse in Breaking Bad. By showing Jimmy cultivate this contact, Better Call Saul weaves ever tighter the network of characters that inhabit the world it shares with Breaking Bad.

Over in Kim’s corner of the show, she’s back in the lawyer saddle, working for Mesa Verde. However, Kevin’s condolences about Chuck seem to rattle her. When exploring the models of the new Mesa Verde branches, she gets lost in thought (conveyed nicely through stylistic touches, like the camera seeming to float behind Kim’s head, and the sound of Kevin’s voice dropping out and the score picking up). On the way out, she pauses when looking at a statue in the lobby, and then has her new paralegal, Viola, unexpectedly drop her off at the courthouse. It’s unclear exactly what’s going through Kim’s head here, but with Chuck on her mind, perhaps she’s thinking about how her success with Mesa Verde is a product of Jimmy’s sabotage of Chuck. If not for Jimmy, Chuck and HHM would be handling the bank’s expansion, so perhaps she feels momentarily guilty. Or perhaps it’s something else – we don’t end up learning why she went to the courthouse, so her behavior here could be a thread that will be picked up in subsequent episodes.

Either way, the final scene of “Something Beautiful” is another nice Rhea Seahorn showcase, as Kim silently becomes more and more distraught when Jimmy reads the letter Chuck left for him. Kim’s reaction here is multifaceted. Primarily, it’s a product of the bittersweet poignancy of Chuck’s letter, which is from an earlier chapter in the brothers’ relationship (after Jimmy had decided to turn his life around, but before he had decided to become a lawyer), and thus is full of kind and loving sentiments. Kim is overwhelmed by how severely it contrasts with the bitterness and acrimony of where their relationship ended. Her reaction is also a product of her remembering (or realizing) that Chuck really was supportive of Jimmy’s efforts to turn his life around, to a point (the limits of that support were reached when Jimmy tried to cross into Chuck’s professional domain, which Chuck considered too sacred for the likes of Jimmy).

I almost wish the entire scene were played out in the shot of both of them sitting side-by-side rather than cutting to closer shots of Kim and Jimmy, as it would have highlighted Kim’s emotional progression, while also requiring us to choose where to look: at Jimmy’s indifferent reading, or at Kim’s difficulty in holding back tears. For his part, Jimmy’s nonchalance reveals that he’s still wearing his emotional armor – the letter doesn’t seem to affect him at all. He doesn't even stop eating his breakfast, reading the letter in between mouthfuls of cereal, and after reading it, he blandly remarks that Chuck could write well. Perhaps Jimmy really has washed his hands of Chuck. If he were to be vulnerable around anyone, wouldn’t it be Kim? Ultimately, Jimmy is more concerned about how the letter upset Kim than for how the letter has any bearing on his and Chuck’s relationship. Considering that the episode ends with Jimmy stopping short of comforting Kim (in a nice composition that emphasizes a barrier between them, one that Jimmy could remove if he wished), the scene is possible additional fodder for the “Jimmy and Kim are driven apart” hypothesis.

Other thoughts:

- That two-shot of Kim and Jimmy is much like a shot from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, about which André Bazin famously wrote that it forced viewers to choose between looking at a pretext action (George, the man stuffing his face) and the real emotional action (Fanny, the woman on the right who becomes more and more upset as the scene progresses). Except in Better Call Saul, Kim is more emotive than Fanny is in Ambersons, and Jimmy’s reaction to the letter is more than a pretext, given that it’s another example of a Saul-like imperviousness to emotion.

- At first I thought Jimmy’s thief might be Huell, but no such luck.

- So, when does Jimmy meet Lawson, the weapons dealer?

- I suspect Mike rejects Jimmy’s offer because he’s comfortably employed in his front job at Madrigal, but a part of me thinks he’d still reject it regardless.

- As far as burning cars go, the image of Arturo’s car burning in the setting sun is a beautiful one.

- It must be tough to be a nurse for a veterinarian who works on the side as a small-time criminal go-between. I wonder how often she's on the receiving end of a hard stare from someone like the Cousins.

- The vet refers to one of the Cousins as Yul Brynner. That’s a Saul-level reference.

- Kim seems to have learned from her mistake of taking on too much prior to the car accident, thus her hiring Viola. Good for her.


  1. If there’s one show that pays more attention to detail than any other, it’s Better Call Saul (and when it was on the air, Breaking Bad) so to see Victor and Tyrus put their plan into motion in the episode’s cold opening was vintage Better Call Saul, with Nacho being unexpectedly wounded a nice twist that underlined the mortality of his situation.

    The scene with Gale, like you said, shows a glimpse at how methodical and planned out Gus’ measures are, but it’s also tinged with a sense of foreboding, knowing what happens to Gale (him offering to cook for Gus and Gus turning him down adds a tragic overtone to what in almost any other show’s hands could’ve been a fanservicey filler scene.)

    Kim’s scenes just continue to showcase what a fantastic actress Rhea Seehorn is. Her role (however small it may be) in Chuck’s death is eating away at her more than it seems to be for Jimmy (the shot of her face tinted in purple
    light was another excellent use of cinematography from the show). The fimak scene where Jimmy reads Chuck’s letter provided a final send off to the Jimmy/Chuck relationship and the implications of the beginning of the end for him and Kim.

    The heist with Jimmy and Ira was a fun little storyline that provided brief moments of levity to the other somber and intense aforementioned storylines (loved the reference to the sliceless pizza pies back in Breaking Bad). Given both shows’ track record of there being a consequence to every action though and the implication that Ira left his glove behind, I can see this heading into more tragic territory for the show.

  2. Yeah, it was really nice that the Gale scene added something new to our understanding of both Gus and his relationship to Gale. These writers know what they're doing - every scene always serves some purpose.

    Ha, I didn't catch that Neff was eating slice-less pizza. That is indeed a good reference to the place Badger ordered from during Jesse's rager in season 4.

    I also didn't notice that Ira left his glove, but if so, you're right that this could turn into more than an amusing caper, especially if he left it on the shelf next to the figurine. However, if the show were to make hay of this, I suspect the end of the heist might have concluded with a lingering shot of the errant glove resting on the shelf to make it less easy to miss, increasing the suspense overt its possible ramifications.