Better Call Saul’s Mid-Season Premiere Proves That Compelling Prequels Are Possible: Review

The post Better Call Saul’s Mid-Season Premiere Proves That Compelling Prequels Are Possible: Review appeared first on Consequence.

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Better Call Saul, Season 4 Episode 8, “Point and Shoot.”]

After tonight, the number of remaining Better Call Saul episodes can be counted on one hand, and “Point and Shoot” does an exquisite job of making clear why that is so simultaneously exciting and sad. While it’s yet to be seen if one of TV’s great artistic achievements will fully stick the landing, the beginning of the show’s final run of new episodes packs an entire season’s worth of stress into its slightly extended runtime, while also continuing to deliver the kind of nuanced, character-driven moments which make the show so unforgettable.

It’s a pretty remarkable achievement given the nature of the series, which jumps back and forth occasionally in its timeline but for the bulk of this season has remained pretty firmly a prequel for Breaking Bad. In recent years, prequels have been an increasingly popular way for major franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars to continue expanding the scope of their storytelling universes. But what’s been revealed by these projects, most recently with Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, is that it can be incredibly difficult to build tension within these series, because the fates of so many characters are already pre-determined — hard to get scared about what will happen to 10-year-old Luke Skywalker when we know he’s got a lot more life to live in a galaxy far far away.

Better Call Saul could have fallen into similar traps over the course of its run. In fact, there was skepticism early on as to whether the show could sustain interest in the story of how a small-time lawyer named Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) could become Albuquerque’s pre-eminent criminal lawyer. But it’s episodes like “Point and Shoot” which reveal how to do a prequel just right.

“Point and Shoot” is such an evocative title, almost as chilling as the episode title which came before it. Episode 7, “Plan and Execution,” ended with Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy’s plan to tear down Howard Hamlin’s (Patrick Fabian) reputation succeeding… as well as Lalo’s (Tony Dalton) casual execution of Howard in front of Kim and Jimmy — the true beginning of the end for the series.

Naturally, Episode 8 picks up right afterwards, though not before a typically mysterious cold open that also serves as the embodiment of Don Draper’s failed Sheraton Hawaii pitch — though, by the end of that slow pan away from the beautiful blue ocean, it’s clear that we’re looking at the evidence of Howard Hamlin’s staged suicide. But to get there, it’s an intense cat-and-mouse game — or cat versus cat? Whatever you call it when two incredibly clever and ruthless men face off at last.

Better Call Saul 608 Recap

Better Call Saul (AMC)

The post-opening credits sequence, a nearly 10-minute negotiation between Jimmy, Kim, and Lalo, is exactly the sort of claustrophobic terror that Better Call Saul does so well, as Lalo lays out his plan for Jimmy to go to Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) house and shoot Gus, with Kim remaining behind as a hostage. Watching Jimmy convince Lalo that it should be Kim, not him, who goes to pull the job on Gus is a masterclass moment for the series in general and Odenkirk as an actor in particular. The layers of his performance are intricately tied together: The very real terror over the situation, the clever brain working out a solution that at least lets Kim make her escape, the desperate attempts at silent communication as Lalo agrees to Jimmy’s version of the plan.

And then, as Kim leaves, the relief. It’s fascinating to see how over the past few seasons, Jimmy has truly become a man capable of caring about another person more than he cares about himself. (Of course, this just triggers a whole new level anxiety about what will happen to Kim Wexler, with only five episodes to go.)

Both Jimmy and Kim become relegated to spectators at a certain point, as the true point of Lalo’s plan becomes clear: by sending someone with a gun to Gus’s home, he’s able to make his play at Lavandería Brillante. The crowning achievement of the episode is the second-half showdown between Lalo and Gus, which uses the shadows of Gus’s nascent meth super-lab so effectively in racking up the tension: Theoretically it shouldn’t be such a scary sequence — after all, on paper, we know that if this is a battle to the death, only one of these two men is predetermined to survive.

Lalo might have been a little dismissive of Gus, very much underselling the danger he’s capable of to Kim and Jimmy by saying that “even a housecat can scratch.” The ensuing showdown between them, however, proves that Gus isn’t a housecat but a lion, with a terrifying roar. And that’s even before the firefight which kills off Lalo, meaning that as of right now, the only surviving series regulars on Better Call Saul are characters we know live to see Breaking Bad (except — gulp — Kim).

Breaking Bad Better Call Saul Crossover

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Incoming threats from the cartel are likely to ensue, of course, as Gus has to navigate the aftermath of killing Lalo. After all, as well hidden as that body might be, it’s hard to imagine that Lalo didn’t have some contingency plan in place. It’s all part of what makes the tension of this episode — hell, this show — work so effectively; it’s not a question as to whether or not everyone involved in this particular mess will survive it. (Especially given that not everyone does.) It’s the question of how they escape, and more importantly, at what cost?

The most chilling moment of the entire episode might just be Gus mentally noting Kim’s comment that Jimmy was able to “talk Lalo out of” his original plan. For, yes, this review is consistently referring to the character played by Odenkirk as Jimmy on purpose; he might be Saul Goodman professionally, but the specific character qualities which define Saul haven’t fully bled into Jimmy’s private life yet. Yet being the operative word.

Five episodes to go, eventually bringing us forward into the black-and-white future of Gene Takovic. Just because we know where we’re going, though, doesn’t mean we know how we’re getting there.

Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 9:00 p.m. ET on AMC.

Better Call Saul’s Mid-Season Premiere Proves That Compelling Prequels Are Possible: Review
Liz Shannon Miller

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