Better Call Saul Season 4, Ep. 1
We had three cliffhangers from the end of season 3 to be resolved in Better Call Saul season 4 episode 1. True to the style of the show, this episodes ends with two of them were partly resolved though questions are still dangling, and one is resolved and then immediately replaced with another one. As promised by the show’s creators, most of this episode was dark, punctuated by more light-hearted scenes involving the inscrutable Mike Ehrmantraut.
Gene, the Cinnabon Manager
When we last saw Gene, he was lying unconscious on the floor of the Cinnabon. EMTs are called, but not before shoppers goggle at his inanimate form Now he’s in the hospital, and the good news is, it was a false alarm, he didn’t have a heart attack. He’s discharged, but his stress level is amplified as the billing clerk is having trouble with his credentials. She asks for his driver’s license, and we get to see the forged Nebraska licensed that was made back during the last season of Breaking Bad, when he assumed the identity of Gene Takovic.
Tense moments pass as he’s called upon to also recite his social security number. Then the clerk realizes it’s her error, she typed the letter O instead of a zero. But there’s one more poke at Gene’s anxiety level when she calls him back — but it’s only to return his license, which she’d forgotten to give back.
He thinks he’s safe when he gets in the cab, but then he sees there’s a decoration that says “Albuquerque” hanging from his mirror, and the driver keeps staring at him. Finally, he can’t take it and asks to be let out right where he is, a residential neighborhood. He gets out and starts walking. The cab doesn’t move. He reaches a corner and turns and is finally out of sight of the cab. But the mystery of whether the driver recognized him remains. More stress seemed to be in the cards for Gene Takovic.
Farewell, Charles McGill
The most significant cliffhanger from Better Call Saul season 3 was what was going to happen to Chuck. We last saw flames growing inside his house, where he was in a mostly catatonic state. The show opens the next morning where the sparks from the fire are metaphorically drifting down on Jimmy and Kim, asleep in bed.
Jimmy’s reaction is stoic — we see a lot of scowling but dry-eyed Jimmy in this episode. He takes the time to notice that all of Chuck’s electrical appliances have been tossed into the back yard. “The firemen didn’t do that,” he tells Kim.
While Jimmy sits and scowls some more, Howard takes it upon himself to make funeral arrangements and write Chuck’s obituary. We learn Chuck was valedictorian of his high school class even though he graduated at age 14, and then he graduated magna cum laude from law school. Howard’s father, George Hamlin, was in private practice when Chuck joined him and was the driving force in growing the firm to the huge organization it is now. So poor little brother Jimmy had a lot to live up to, and reveals his feelings by putting the phone down before Howard has finished reading the glowing list of Chuck’s accomplishments.
At the funeral, Jimmy is impassive, while Rebecca, Chuck’s ex, is sobbing in the row behind him. Howard hands her a handkerchief. When Jimmy and Kim get home from the funeral, they find Howard sitting on the curb waiting to confess to them that he thinks Chuck killed himself because he forced him out of the law firm. Howard looks 10 years older; chin quivering, voice quavering, he’s ready to take full blame for Chuck’s suicide, despite Kim’s reminder of the length and severity of his illness. Careful viewers will note that Howard doesn’t mention the $3 million check he gave Chuck to buy him out. I’m thinking enough days have gone by that Howard was able to determine that the check never cleared. Maybe Chuck never cashed it and it burned up along with him.
Howard mentions the insurance, and Jimmy comes out of his stupor long enough to ask about that. Howard explains that the insurance company somehow found out about Chuck’s condition and raised their malpractice rates. Jimmy, who knows he was the one who told them, in a fit of rage against his brother, immediately perks up, says, “Well, Howard, I guess that’s your cross to bear,” and gets up, feeds his fish with a slight grin forming on his face, and then offers to serve coffee.
Kim is not convinced that he’s been suddenly relieved of his grief, and neither are we.
Nacho’s Plan Backfired
The other cliffhanger was what happened to Hector Salamanca. He’d been taking pills that Nacho swapped out for his nitro pills, and he collapsed with chest pains at the end of season 3, but Gus gave him CPR and an ambulance was called. Nacho and Gus are left alone on the site of their meeting, and Gus is on the phone. Nacho is attempting to drop the doctored pills down a storm drain but Gus interrupts him and tells him Juan Bolsa wants to see him.
Juan Bolsa delivers the news that Hector had a stroke. He says the operations will continue as before but Nacho is responsible for overseeing Hector’s part of the operation. So, rather than being cut loose, Nacho is being drawn even further into this criminal cartel. To make matters worse, Gus’s tough guy, Victor, is tracking Nacho, using a device similar to the one in Mike’s gas cap, and is watching as Nacho throws the pills into the river in frustration.
Viewers who pay attention will remember that Gus stopped Mike from killing Hector because he felt a quick death by sniper’s bullet was too good for Hector. He doesn’t seem pleased at this current development, either. If a debilitating stroke doesn’t cause enough suffering, does Gus just want to be the one dishing out the punishment or does he have something even more painful in mind? Gus predicts that someone will make a move on the Salamancas and that will lead to war which will lead to chaos, which will bring on investigation by the DEA.
Mike the Security Consultant
On Mike’s last day as parking lot attendant, he is told the boss requires him to give back his company windbreaker. It’s clear he won’t miss this job, but he’s also not happy sitting around doing nothing, and soon enough he’s managed to sneak past into Madrigal and find all of the holes in their security.
These series of scenes are a great example of one of the strengths of this show, and I hope we see more in Better Call Saul season 4. We’re not clear, until the end, what Mike is up to, but we love watching him work while we try to figure it out. The music playing in the background as Mike zips around the warehouse in a golf cart serves as a welcome contrast for the despondent mood of the scenes with the other characters.
It’s All in the Look
This season looks like it will be about characters being drawn down dark paths, almost against their wills. Though some memorable lines were spoken in this episode, and we enjoyed watching Mike tell the warehouse workers to obey the rules about wearing gloves and lift belts, other moments were best because they were unspoken looks: the Taxi Driver looking at Gene and Gene looking everywhere else but back at him, Gus sizing up Nacho, Kim trying to figure out what made Jimmy perk up, and Jimmy’s wry grin while feeding the fish. We get a glimpse of what the characters are thinking even when they don’t say it out loud.
Moments like these are one of the things that makes this show great.
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