Better Call Saul
Chain reactions abound throughout Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, be it the minor chemical compounds that crystallize into something altogether more potent, or major personal choices — like Walter White callously watching Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane, die from choking on her own vomit — that snowball into something far more catastrophic.
In “Something Beautiful,” bit gangster Arturo’s death sets off both a literal chain reaction — i.e. the metal spike strip Victor and Tyrus lay out to help stage Arturo’s death as outsider sabotage — and one with massive implications for all the major characters’ lives moving forward. Gus, thwarted in his hopes to methodically unravel the Salamancas one boss at a time, uses Arturo’s murder as a chance to make Juan Bolsa antsy and nudge him toward authorizing work with a Stateside supplier.
Enter beloved Gale Boetticher (David Costabile, no doubt as enthused to be back as Gale is to mess around with sodium solutions), yet another poor soul unaware of his imminent mortality. He appears to be making good on Gus’s investment in him as a scholarship beneficiary, teaching high-school classes (nice touch) and developing the skill set to spot shit meth from Shinola. Gus is either genuinely reluctant to rope his eccentric prodigy into the cooking operation or simply deems it premature, but for now Gale can happily rap along to Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements” in relatively innocent bliss.
The same can more or less be said for schmucky Mr. Neff. Sure, he’s couch surfing in his office, been robbed blind of a valuable Hummel figurine and tricked into chasing after his downshifted sedan wearing nothing but an undershirt and boxers (having him scream at it as if it were an animate object was a nice, pathetic flourish), but no one got hurt and he’s none the wiser about his stolen collectible. The real loser here might be Jimmy, who’s $4K richer but bankrupting whatever’s left of his ambition to stay straight. The shot of him and Ira (yep, the same Ira who was psycho Todd’s boss on Breaking Bad) walking away from Neff Copiers in silhouette was like the reincarnation of Marco and Slippin’ Jimmy.
This might be where Jimmy and Mike differ, despite their shared reverence for doing one’s job down to the finest details. Unbeknownst to Jimmy, Mike doesn’t need the $4K that would come from the Hummel heist thanks to Madrigal’s magnanimousness. And as Mike listens to Jimmy’s spiel over eggs and bacon at his favorite diner, he even feels for the guy, going so far as to convey sympathy over Chuck’s passing (a grace note that can’t help but shake memories of Mike’s softening toward Jesse in BB). The job simply doesn’t rise to his standards. Mike is an anti-hero in the purest sense, something Walter White surely never squared, but he’s also no mentor, and he’d rather politely demur than divert Jimmy’s moral path.
Kim, however, is in a slightly stickier spot. She and Jimmy are taking steps toward true commitment, co-habitation and all, and as his moral compass zigs and zags, her priorities are coming into focus. She doesn’t explicitly see through his white lies about where he’s been on the job hunt or why he’s sleeping in late, but she is grappling with what to do about her role — from her perspective at least — taking sides in and further inflaming the family dysfunction between Jimmy and Chuck. After Jimmy reads aloud his brother’s unconvincing letter professing reluctant sibling admiration (color me surprised that development occurred so matter-of-factly), she tears up and gets some distance, coming to terms for the first time with the pure tragedy of it all.
For all the major revelations and wrongdoings in “Something Beautiful” (oh, the titular irony) — Nacho taking two bullets for Team Fring and being brought back to life by oily Dr. Caldera, Gale and Gus, Jimmy’s misdemeanor, etc. — it’s Kim’s journey that jars the most. As Kevin and Paige bring her behind the curtain, showing off Mesa Verde’s massive, nationwide expansion and acquisition plans, Kim can hardly hold back the epiphany that all of this is too overwhelming. Mesa Verde is operating less like a small regional bank whose business she rightly wrested back from Chuck than, well, a white-collar cartel. And unlike Jimmy (or Jack Hoxie in Outlaw Justice, the poster of which hangs framed in her condo, or Juan Bolsa, who supervises rancheros on his expansive land), she’s not cut out for this cowboy shit.
What spells the end for her and Jimmy may not be any one bad deed or doing away with the truth, or for that matter the history they share as conspirators (not that Kim is at Skylar White levels of complicity) in the events leading up to Chuck’s apparent suicide. They’re just different people who want different things, no matter how much they want each other or the dire degree to which he needs her. She and Jimmy aren’t Tyrus, Victor, and Nacho out in the desert (not yet), contriving a grisly scene in service of greed and grim vengeance. They don’t have to “make it look real.”
Apart From All That
• Out with the old (Francesca, for now) and in with Viola (Keiko Agena), Kim’s paralegal (for now).
• And how about a hand for Fran the waitress (Debrianna Mansini), another reminder of the tautening binds between Breaking Bad and Saul.
• Fun fact: Episode director Daniel Sackheim is also queued up to helm at least one installment of True Detective season three.
• Caldera’s a ballsy son of a bitch.
• Who knew the cousins were so sentimental? And apparently not squeamish about giving blood.
• The samples Gus had Gale test were generally from 38 to 58 percent pure. Walter’s White’s meth? Ninety-nine percent.