better call saul something beautiful review

Welcome to our weekly review-recaps of Better Call Saul season 4. Each week, we’ll delve deep into the Breaking Bad prequel series, with spoilers galore. This week we examine episode 3 of season 4, “Something Beautiful.”

better call saul season 4 episode 3 nacho

Nacho

“Something Beautiful” finds Nacho in a very bad place. Last week, Gus revealed he was well aware Nacho is to blame for Hector’s stroke. That’s bad enough, but Gus also murdered Nacho’s cohort Arturo. Here, Gus’ men Victor and Tyrus drive out to a lonely stretch of desert highway with Nacho, and set to work covering up the murder. They stage a scene to make it look like Nacho and Arturo’s car was attacked by a rival gang, and that Arturo was killed in the process. This enables director Daniel Sackheim to partake in the time-honored Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul tradition of watching people perform tasks. BB and BCS never met a task it didn’t like, and we sit back and watch as Victor and Tyrus meticulously stage a scene, dropping bits of glass from the car along the highway, blowing out the tires with spike-strips, setting Arturo’s corpse up in the driver’s seat and then shooting him in the head. This all unfolds without a single character uttering a single word for over 5 minutes.

And then Nacho gets shot.

In order to make the scene look more realistic, Victor shoots Nacho and leaves him bleeding in the sand…with a cell phone to call for help. Which Nacho does, bringing the silent Cousins out to find, and rescue him. Since they can’t very well take the gunshot Nacho to a normal doctor, it’s up to Dr. Caldera, the local veterinarian who has the inside connection on the criminal underworld, to patch Nacho up.

Nacho’s treatment is seen in a brilliant point-of-view sequence as he lays flat on his back, looking up. The camera lens distorts and warps, losing focus. The sound becomes muffled. Nacho is in bad shape. But he survives, thanks to Dr. Caldera’s help (and a blood transfusion from one of the Cousins). Nacho can, of course, take solace in his survival. But he’s in an incredible hazardous spot right now. Gus holds all the cards. Hell, he hasn’t even been officially working for Gus for 24 hours yet, and he’s already been shot. In many ways, Nacho is one of the most sympathetic characters on the show, and we feel genuinely bad for him. Last week, he swore to his father that he was working on getting out of his life of crime. Now, that’s pretty much impossible.

better call saul season 4 episode 3

Gus

Nacho’s life-threatening situation plays right into Gus’ almost ridiculously elaborate plan. The Gus Fring of Better Call Saul isn’t the same Gus Fring of Breaking Bad – he’s a bit more impulsive, and willing to take some very dangerous risks. There’s no way he could’ve known for sure this idea would work out in his favor, but it does. After Don Bolsa learns of Nacho’s attack, he quickly calls Gus and wonders what the hell is going on. Rather than risk potential other attacks, Bolsa instructs Fring to run dummy loads of drug shipments rather than the real deal.

This action will cause dealers to run dry, so Bolsa tells Gus to find a supplier on his side of the border and cut a deal for the time being. Gus points out that this is forbidden, but Bolsa gives him the go-ahead anyway…which is, of course, what Gus wanted all along. He’s amassing his empire, seizing power where and when he can. 

After the phone call with Bolsa, Gus heads over to a local college to meet with a chemist – none other than Gale Boetticher, the Walter White fanboy and future victim of Jesse Pinkman. (Side-note: is this the Better Call Saul episode featuring the most doomed characters yet? Victor, Tyrus, Gus, Bolsa, Mike and Gale all appear, and all of them are destined to meet bloody ends in Breaking Bad).

Gale’s appearance is a welcomed, and amusing, one – he’s introduced singing a song about the periodic table, because of course he is – but I can’t help but read it as fan service. We know that Gale won’t really become an integral part of Gus’ criminal empire for a few years now, so there’s not much for him to really do at the moment. Gus himself more or less acknowledges this by telling Gale (and, by extension, the audience), “You’re destined for better things.” That said, it’s much more interesting to see Gale pop-up rather than someone huge like Walter White. I know there is a large subset of fans just itching for the day that Walt and Jesse pop-up on this show, but Better Call Saul has so thoroughly evolved into its own entity that I personally am in no rush. I’m happy to let Walt and Jesse remain in the future for the time being. 

For now, Gale has been running purity tests on Gus’ product, and found almost all of it lacking. He ensures Gus that he could cook a far more pure product for him, but Gus won’t have it. At least, not for now.

jimmy and mike

Jimmy

Jimmy McGill continues his Mr. Hyde-like transformation into Saul Goodman…or maybe it’s Slippin’ Jimmy? He’s in full-blown scheme mode this week, planning a low-key and perhaps needlessly risky heist. The heist involves breaking into Neff Copiers – where he tanked a job interview – in order to steal rare Hummel figurine. Jimmy goes to Mike for help with this plan, and tries to coax Mike into doing the dirty work – breaking into the office and swapping the expensive Hummel out for a nearly identical, but less valuable copy. Jimmy swears to Mike that they can then sell the Hummel and net $4000 dollars, each.

But Mike doesn’t want any part of it. He says Jimmy’s plan is sound, but it’s just “not for him.” And he adds that it shouldn’t be for Jimmy, either. It’s easy money, sure – but Mike doesn’t need it. He’s got a high-paying job with Madrigal now, and breaking into an office to steal a Hummel for four grand isn’t worth the effort. But Jimmy won’t be deterred. He heads off to Dr. Caldera, and has the crooked veterinarian hook up him with a new burglar.

Enter our second new-but-familiar Breaking Bad face: Ira. Ira is the owner of Vamonos Pest, the extermination company Walt and Jesse (and Mike) bought in Breaking Bad season 5 as a front for their new portable meth lab. The character was introduced to Walt and Jesse by none other than Saul Goodman, aka Jimmy McGill. In Breaking Bad, Saul reveals that Ira and his crew use their extermination business to case potential robberies. Perhaps this is the start of all that. 

For now, though, Ira’s attempt to boost the Hummel doesn’t go so well. At least not at first. Mr. Neff, the owner of Neff Copiers, turns out to be living out of his office (as punishment for buying his wife a vacuum – a very, very expensive vacuum – as a present). Neff’s presence only becomes known after Ira is already in the office late at night, and the burglar has to hide under a desk so he doesn’t get caught. Unfortunately, Neff has hunkered down for the night. I want to stop and applaud how the wonderful way Gordon Smith‘s script portrays how pathetically lonely Neff is in the doghouse. He orders pizza (with dipping sticks, naturally) for one. He plays solitaire. He listens to a management training tape. It’s a perfect portrait of a lonely, despondent man.

In order to get out of the jam, Ira calls up Jimmy, who in turn comes down and breaks into Neff’s car. He both sets off the car alarm and sends the vehicle rolling down a slight hill, causing Neff to come running out of the building in fear and surprise, thus enabling Ira to sneak out (with the Hummel). The job is done, Jimmy (and Ira) will get paid, but when you take a step back, you see how stupid this all was. All this trouble, and potential danger, for $4000. It doesn’t seem worth it. But Jimmy is content. A scam is a scam, and as long as he comes out ahead, what’s there to complain about?

something beautiful better call saul

Kim

Jimmy may be pretty content with the way his life is going at the moment, but Kim appears to be in crisis. She heads back to work with her new paralegal Viola in tow. First stop: Mesa Verde. Kim comes rushing into the Mesa Verde offices, looking ready and determined. She sits down with Paige, she reconnects with Kevin, she presents herself as someone ready and willing to get back to work.

Then it all starts to crumble.

Kevin, the CEO of Mesa Verde, takes Kim to a room decorated with various architectural models. These models represent future Mesa Verde branches in a plan to expand all over the country. The revelation stuns Kim; rattles her. Her full-steam-ahead confidence is gone, replaced by a genuine sense of dread (underscored by the audio slowly dropping out). There’s a wonderful shot here – we’re inside one of the model offices, looking out through a window with slats on it. Kim’s face peers in, and the slats look like bars, making it look like Kim is locked in a prison or a cage. Trapped. She’s realizing that working for Mesa Verde is going to consume her life, and she’s clearly not happy about it. 

After the Mesa Verde meeting, Kim comes home and finally talks to Jimmy about Chuck’s will…and the mysterious letter the dead McGill brother left. This leads to one of the most enigmatic moments of the episode, something I imagine will be studied and theorized until we have an official answer. After the boilerplate details about the will, Kim hands Jimmy the letter and attempts to leave as he reads it, but Jimmy insists she stay.

Is it an angry suicide note from Chuck blaming Jimmy for all his problems? No, it’s not. Instead it’s a mostly pleasant, although slightly cold, letter in which Chuck praises Jimmy for making something of himself, with lines like “I’m proud we share the name McGill.” Jimmy read all of this out loud, indifferently, slurping cereal in the process, He’s unaffected, even a bit smarmy, but Kim is surprisingly emotional. We watch her face crumble, and she eventually breaks down in tears and has to excuse herself from the room, much to Jimmy’s confusion.

So what’s going on here? There are a few theories. One is that Kim forged this letter herself. That she threw away a much meaner letter from Chuck, and wrote up a blander, but more pleasant, letter in its stay to spare Jimmy’s feelings. And that’s why she’s acting so upset. I personally don’t think this is the case, but it’s a possibility. Another possibility: this is a much older letter. Jimmy points out that the letter is undated, and several of Chuck’s comments – “You have taken the opportunity I gave you in the mailroom and you have run with it, becoming a valued member of the HHM family”, for instance – seem to indicate Chuck penned this missive around the time that Jimmy was still working in the HMM mailroom.

If so, why did he never give it to Jimmy? And why did he hold onto it all these years? Chuck also specifically mentions his own death in the letter – “I have left many things unsaid in our relationship through the years. Rather than allow these unspoken thoughts to die with me, I’ve chosen to record them here for you” – indicating that this is a suicide note. Or that could just be misdirection on the part of the show’s writers.

No matter what the case, this letter is curious, as is Kim’s reaction. She’s upset, and more than that, she doesn’t seem Jimmy as a shoulder to cry on at this point. She walks away from him, half-closing the bedroom door. She’s alone, and how terrible that must feel.

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