Better Call Saul S3E1: “Mabel”
Better Call Saul creator and producer Vince Gilligan made a promise about this new season, he said it’s going to feature some Saul. One episode in and he keeps his promise in a slower paced but beautifully executed season premier. Jimmy and Chuck’s relationship is heading in only one direction, Kim stresses out over the circumstances that brought her Mesa Verde, and Mike, like usual, does so much while saying so little. Without further ado, let’s get the recap and review of season three’s premier episode, “Mabel” underway.
“Mabel”, like its seasons one and two premier counterparts, starts us off with Omaha Mall Cinnabon manager Gene in black and white. Like the other two premier scenes, we get some time watching Gene go through the motions of working his job but what follows, is probably the most revealing Gene scene yet. While taking his lunch break, a shoplifter happens to pass by Gene and goes to hide inside a photo booth. The cops are in close pursuit but lose him. They stumble upon Gene and ask if he has any idea where the kid went. The dilemma for Gene is multi-dimensional. He doesn’t want to risk any kind of blow to his cover whatsoever by saying something or leading them the wrong way but this is the kind of kid Gene probably was when he was the shoplifter’s age and the kind of client he would probably represent in his Saul Goodman days. Gene decides to err on the side of caution and point the cops to the photo booth. As they take the kid away he can’t hold it in any longer. He yells at the kid telling him to not say anything and to get a lawyer. Gene has got to stay low to avoid suspicion but it goes against his real character and personality so much. Suppressing Saul is taking a huge toll on his well-being and it’s no surprise that the stress of it all and his brief relapse causes him to pass out when back on the job. Chuck said it best after all, Jimmy, in this case Gene, just can’t help himself. “Mabel” easily has the best Gene scene yet.
Speaking of Chuck, he kind of left us on a cliffhanger last season didn’t he? For those of you worried that Jimmy would likely get jailed because of the tape, you can rest easy for a bit. Howard comes over for a visit in which Chuck reveals the tape to him, and whether Howard tells the truth to Chuck on if he actually believes him or not, it’s really not the important part. Howard runs down a nice and logical list of reasons that this tape would never get Jimmy jailed. As we all know though, Chuck is a schemer. Whether he likes to admit it or not, he can scheme, scam for scam with his brother who he detests for pulling scams. That’s why it leaves little doubt in my mind that when Ernie “accidentally” hears a part of the recording, it was all actually a part of Chucks plan. Chuck knows that Ernie lied for Jimmy and that his loyalty in this brotherly feud lies with Jimmy. I’m thinking that he’s banking his money on Ernie telling Jimmy, and then Chuck will catch Jimmy trying to break or steal the tape. Chuck rather scarily, uses people as pawns to get what he wants. Howard even calls him out on it saying there was no reason to give him a near heart attack, that he should have let him in on his scheme. In Chuck like pretentiousness, he tells Howard that he needed a “certain vérité” (French for realism for those of you wondering) to pull his plan off. If you dislike Chuck, I can tell you “Mabel” probably did little to sway your opinion.
How about Jimmy? Well before that Howard scene I got into last paragraph, Jimmy stuck around for a bit with Chuck while still unaware of the recording. He helps Chuck pull off all the taped down space blankets from the walls. If this scene wasn’t a microcosm of the McGill brothers then I don’t know what is. Chuck slowly methodically, left to right rolls the tape off the wall and gets upset when Jimmy says screw that and just rips it down the middle. Chuck can’t even tolerate when Jimmy rolls off tape in a way that he dislikes, their relationship in a (wal)nut shell. For a second though, they do bond for a bit, reminiscing over their childhood and the stories they would read. The moment is nice but was never destined to last, Chuck reminds Jimmy that he will never forget what happened there earlier today and warns him that he will pay. And with that we wrap up the latest together adventure of the McGill brothers.
Back at work, Jimmy has an unwelcomed blast from the past as a client, the military guy who allowed them access to Fifi. In retrospect we probably should have seen this coming, faking a story about a handicapped war hero and then having him stand up in the commercial was bound to ruffle a few feathers. The following argument has two important aspects, one that Jimmy still wants Chuck’s approval and hates that he can’t have it as the military guy in his moral righteousness, ends up sounding an awful lot like Chuck. When Jimmy yells at him he’s a little mad at the captain but clearly projecting his feelings about Chuck to him. Secondly, we finally do get a Saul moment as he quickly threatens the captain that he really doesn’t want to take Jimmy to court because it can and will end badly for him. The scene is over in a flash, and the Saul outbreak was there for even shorter, but it was there. It’s bound to become more frequent and longer lasting as we move forward though so keep watch for that.
Mike’s scenes, like everyone else’s, pick up immediately after where “Klick” left us. Mike seems initially clueless about the “don’t note” and drives away quickly. Dare I say he might have even been scared, the most scared we’ve ever seen him that’s for sure. He heads over to a junkyard and in a brilliant montage takes his car apart, part by part inspecting everywhere for clues as to the note leaver. What Better Call Saul does so great is taking us on an adventure to a destination we already know. When the montage starts, you know the last place he thinks to check will be the answer (in this case the gas cap) but it’s so much darn fun to watch that I would probably watch a whole episode of Mike doing his investigations. Mike’s investigations take up close to half the episode (in an extended length episode too), he hardly says a word and it’s still an exhilarating watch that never drags. For the people that may have had a little trouble following precisely Mike was doing, I don’t blame you as it was a little tricky. Mike finds out that whoever wrote the note was tracking him through a tracker located in the gas cap of his car. Mike then takes down the tracker’s model number to buy one himself from the sketchy underworld connections veterinarian, along with a monitoring device. Back at home, Mike takes the tracker from the note leaver and swaps it with his own. After draining the battery on the note leaver’s tracker, he figures they will come to replace it with a new one, not knowing Mike swapped it with his own. This goes according to plan and with the monitoring device, he can now track them and he does just that, driving off in pursuit as “Mabel” comes to a close.
Not exactly a groundbreaking thought, but working in elder law probably can get frustrating. Whether it’s an old lady who insists to Kim that a lily pond in her garden, must be mentioned in the will apart from the garden, or a senior showing Jimmy large albums of their grandchildren, I’m sure the job has plenty more of those kinds of clients.
I know that using proper grammar can be stressful so while I have little doubt that plays a role in Kim’s constant changes between periods, semi colons and dashes, but she is clearly feeling guilt that she’s going through with Mesa Verde despite getting them from methods she would never use herself.
Talk about living life on the edge, Mike does crossword puzzles, in pen.
How about Ernie opening that pack of batteries in ten seconds flat with his bare hands? If you don’t give me scissors, opening that pack would probably have taken me a good five minutes.
It’s beating a dead horse at this point, but seriously, the cinematography in this show is second to none. That shot of Mike in the desert with the storm clouds and the lightning bolt, like a painting.
Quote of the day, from Jimmy: “For ten minutes today, Chuck didn’t hate me. I forgot what that felt like.” I usually go with humor here, but this quote was too strong to leave off the review.
“Mabel” starts us off right from the explosive finish of season two, and settles into the slow burning pace that Better Call Saul has mastered. A darker tone is looming as Jimmy flashes some Saul and Mike gets closer to his Breaking Bad origins.