better call saul season 4 review

Better Call Saul, perhaps the best show on TV right now, is back for an all-new season, and it does not disappoint. Season 4 finds Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) slipping even further into the inevitable role of Saul Goodman. The days of Jimmy McGill trying to do the right thing are almost completely over and the time of Saul Goodman is almost fully at hand.

Read our spoiler-free Better Call Saul season 4 review below.

Better Call Saul season 4 is born in fire, and the episodes that follow are left sifting through the ashes. At the end of season 3, Jimmy McGill’s older brother, Chuck, deliberately set fire to his own home…while he was still inside. While Chuck’s fate was left slightly ambiguous as the credits rolled, season 4 wastes no time in confirming that Chuck is indeed dead (side-note: please don’t yell at me about this being a spoiler; Chuck’s death has been mentioned in every single bit of season 4 promotional material – from trailers to the synopsis).

At the time of Chuck’s death, the relationship between the brothers McGill – never very pleasant to begin with – had gone nuclear. Jimmy had humiliated Chuck in a court of law, and the elder McGill found himself being forced out of his law partnership. Chuck wasn’t the only character left in turmoil by last season’s conclusion. Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s girlfriend, was badly injured in a car accident after taking on too much responsibilities at her legal practice. Nacho Varga deliberately induced a stroke in his boss, Hector Salamanca, to keep Hector from squeezing Nacho’s father’s business for money. And Mike Ehrmantraut found himself taking a job with drug kingpin (and fast food restaurant manager) Gus Fring.

Season 4 picks up with all these threads immediately, and then proceeds to follow them in unexpected directions. Like its predecessor Breaking BadBetter Call Saul is a show that thrives on the unexpected. And best of all, it works. These aren’t twists for the sake of twists. What happens makes perfect sense in relation to the characters in question, while also seeming as if it came entirely out of left field.

One might expect Jimmy to be haunted by Chuck’s death, but Jimmy surprises us (and everyone else around him) by adopting a disturbingly chipper attitude. He’s currently barred from practicing law, and while he waits to get back in court again, Jimmy begins chasing down menial office jobs to bide his time. But it’s clear that’s not what he really wants. Even when he finds a job ready to hire him on the spot, he deliberately tanks the interview – and begins cooking up a scheme that could net him some easy money.

The money may be easy, but the scheme is hair-brained and needlessly risky. So much so that when Jimmy tries to recruit Mike to help him out, Mike passes. “It’s not for me,” Mike growls. “And it shouldn’t be for you, either.” Mike can’t understand why Jimmy is going down this road. Neither can anyone else. While Kim remains oblivious (for now) to Jimmy’s current schemes, she can tell he’s not behaving normally. Sure, you could chalk this strange behavior up to misdirected grief over Chuck’s death. But there’s something else going on here. There’s a disintegration at play. A crumbling of the world as these characters know it. It’s no coincidence that the very first visual we get as the season kicks off is that of burning embers floating through darkness. There’s a very real sense that like Chuck McGill, everyone and everything in Better Call Saul season 4 is about to go up in smoke.

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn

Everyone is at the top of their game here. Bob Odenkirk continues to prove how skilled he is at juggling wry humor with unsettling drama. When Better Call Saul began, Jimmy seemed so very far removed from the man we knew as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad. Here, at the start of season 4, we can see Saul almost completely emerged, like some sort of insect crawling from a chrysalis. It’s unnerving, and we want to reverse time. We want Jimmy to stick around, because Odenkirk has made him so likable. But we know such a wish is impossible, and sooner or later, Saul Goodman will have full control.

Rhea Seehorn, as the complex, fascinating character that is Kim Wexler, remains the show’s secret weapon. The actress always shines, in big moments and small. When she’s given the opportunity to blow-up – as she does early on this season – it’s like watching a force of nature. But there’s more to Seehorn’s performance than big, dramatic moments. For the longest time I had difficulty putting my finger on what it was that made Seehorn’s work on this show so remarkable. I knew it was a brilliant performance just through my emotional reaction alone, but there was something specific going on here that I couldn’t quite articulate. The answer came via a recent Wall Street Journal profile focused on Kim as a character and Seehorn’s performance. One specific sentence stood out, and it was like a revelation: “Ms. Seehorn says early in her acting training, she learned that when you’re on stage and not talking, you should be thinking about why your character isn’t talking.” That is a perfect summation of what makes Seehorn’s performance so stellar – as you watch her, you can see that mindset coming through, in her every action, every jaw clench, every eye-blink. It’s hypnotic.

As usual, the direction on Better Call Saul remains the best you’ll see on TV right now. The show revels in montages, and inserts, and extreme close-ups, and it makes all of them work. Each episode director, including Michelle MacLaren, brings their own voice to the show, while also maintaining a continuous visual style. Here is a show that bathes itself in scorching sunlight and impenetrable shadows in equal measure.

Every season of Better Call Saul comes with a question: what Breaking Bad connections will surface? Co-creator Vince Gilligan has already confirmed that you will not be seeing Walter White or Jesse Pinkman this season, so don’t go looking for them. Other Bad characters will come to light, though. Some expected, some unexpected. But as always, one shouldn’t be too quick to connect Saul to Bad. The closer this show gets to Breaking Bad, the closer it gets to coming to an end. And what a tragedy that would be.

Better Call Saul premieres on August 6, 2018. Look for our spoiler-filled review-recaps each week going forward.

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