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BETTER CALL SAUL Ep 8: “Fifi” Was An Entertaining Hour, But Another Slow Step

There’s a very fine line a television show has to walk in order to do a slow build rather than just beinging slow. Better Call Saul is heading towards that line in the wrong direction.

I praised the premiere episode of this second season by saying nothing happened and it was great. What I meant simply was that no major plot points or action pieces really occurred, but it was a fascinating character study that had a whole lot of fun, and ultimately a wholly satisfying hour of television. What I didn’t know then was that most of the episodes would be the same way, and now it’s starting to drag.

Make no mistake: I am still fully vested in each story and each character, with Jimmy, Mike, Kim, Howard, and Chuck constantly getting new and interesting parts of their characters added. It’s just that we could probably be doing that at a little bit faster pace.

Last week’s episode had Kim deciding she wanted to go out on her own and that felt like the first major plot development in weeks. I know Mike had his tense showdowns (and if you like The Cousins more than I—you do—it was probably a lot of fun), but considering this is a prequel there was a cap on what could happen in those moments.

One way I judge how good an hour of television was is by how fast it went. Better Call Saul isn’t dragging within each episode—I don’t think I’ve walked away unhappy at the end of any of them, and often I think they went by quickly—but it is dragging on a larger, more macro scale. The season is starting to feel too slow.

What happened this week? Jimmy had one funny scam and one vindictive move against his brother, who again showed his resentment for Jimmy. Kim didn’t land a client. Mike did some reconnaissance work and made a nail hose (my guess is to use to blow out some tires, either on a truck carrying lots of drugs or Hector Salamanca’s car). It wasn’t much. Not much has really happened at all this year.

- Better Call Saul _ Season 2, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/ Sony Pictures Television/ AMC
This might read as “I want Breaking Bad style adrenaline,” but I don’t, at all. This is a show about the people not necessarily the plot, and that shouldn’t change, but getting from point a to point b a little faster would make for a more entertaining and complete show. It’s clear they can do it too, because they did just that in season one. Like I said, it’s a fine line.

My hope is that next week we’ll finally get to the fireworks factory, between Mike’s looming vengeance on the Salamanca family, and Jimmy crossing a line by sabotaging his brother’s career. Except I thought this week would finally be the one where things picked up, so maybe it’ll be the finale. It’s great to know the characters and their motivations so well, but seeing them put into difficult (and different) spots can be a great way to further explore that too.

There are only two episodes left, and I am confident that this slow, slow burn will have a worthy payoff, I really do. I’m not really down on the show or season (this is really the only negative review I’ve written this year, and even here I was invested in this episode, as I’ve been in all of them), it’s just that fine line has been creeping closer and closer, and I’d hate to see them cross it.

Now just a few thoughts on this week’s episode right after I grab my grandpa Fudge a water…

  • You know why people lose their minds over long tracking shots? Because they’re awesome, like the opening scene of tonight’s episode. It’s like watching a world-class dance troupe. It also made a border patrol check of a truck absolutely fascinating to watch.
  • Every episode is made better by Michael McKean being in it. It’s one thing to hear how great an attorney Chuck really is, but to see it in action was another thing.
  • - Better Call Saul _ Season 2, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/ Sony Pictures Television/ AMC
    This is a case of Chuck not doing anything wrong, but still being a jerk. All he did was legally and above board retain a client, but his hatred for his brother is so intense he managed to ignore his (imaginary) illness to stick it to him by screwing Kim. That’s some real animosity.
  • Yet somehow in spite of Chuck being an a-hole, what Jimmy did with the Mesa Verde files was really crappy. Jimmy’s look of self-doubt after his brother thanked him for taking care of him was a pitiful moment. I don’t know If I believe Chuck, but Jimmy leveraged his love for his brother into an opportunity to get back at him, and not on a personal level, but where it will really hurt Chuck the most: work.

This is why I still enjoyed this week’s episode, and why I’ve enjoyed every episode really. The characterization is superb, and the performances are equal to the writing. When they find the right balance between that and plot the show will go from being really good to great again.

  • I can’t be the only one asking this: is the wheelchair bound, bell-ringing Hector Salamanca we know is coming going to be the result of something Mike does to him? That. Would. Be. Awesome. Don’t threaten granddaughters. Grandpas hate that.
  • We don’t discuss Howard much, but it’s been a real pleasant surprise to find out what a round, interesting character he really is. Every time we learn something new about him it feels like a revelation.
  • Better-Call-Saul-Howard-Kim
    I don’t always love the overt Breaking Bad elements of the show, but with food being used to ship drugs it feels like we might be getting a little closer to the (inevitable?) inclusion of Gus Fring, which I genuinely think will be great for the show.
  • Not sure I’ve ever been given the double-barrel thumbs up in my life. That’s kind of sad. Though it didn’t actually mean anything for Kim, so maybe it’s not that great.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Talk about it with us in the comments below.

Images: AMC

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