REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Mabel”

The following is a review and recap of the first episode of the third season of Better Call Saul, available on AMC in the U. S. and on Netflix internationally. Expect story spoilers. 

It’s finally that time of the year again. Better Call Saul, which is currently my favorite show on television, is back. You know, it’s funny. Before I had seen the show, I was extremely worried about Better Call Saul somehow retroactively hurting Breaking Bad. As we now know, my fears were unfounded as Better Call Saul has become not just a great spin-off show, but also my personal favorite spin-off show.

In the first episode of the third season – Mabel – ‘Gene’ briefly shows his true colors, Kim Wexler grows increasingly paranoid about her own work, Mike Ehrmantraut tries to figure out who’s been watching him, and Jimmy McGill has ten good minutes with his brother.

“Say nothing, you understand!? Get a lawyer.” – ‘Gene.’

Even though Better Call Saul is a spin-off prequel to Breaking Bad, one of my favorite things about this show is when they tease us with scenes with the post-Breaking Bad Jimmy. Jimmy, or Gene as he is now called, has been doing everything he can to stay out of trouble since adopting this new identity as the Cinnabon manager. But, in Mabel, Gene was put to the test. As he was sitting there – just minding his own business, reading a paperback version of David Niven’s memoir The Moon’s a Balloon – a young lawbreaker hid from authorities right in front of him.

When he’s asked about the kid’s whereabouts, every bone in Jimmy’s body is telling him to help the kid, who he probably sees a little bit of himself in. But, in service of his own interests, he points out where he is and the young man is swiftly apprehended.

Then, in one of the most shocking moments of the episode, Gene shows his true colors and screams out a piece of advice. It’s an excellently framed scene, which shows us just how insignificant ‘Gene’ is trying to seem, while still reminding us that even though he’s not actively acting as Slippin’ Jimmy he’s not comfortable letting someone else ruin their life while they slip, so to speak.

Tragically, as we see next, Jimmy’s cover may be about to be blown as he passes out on the job. One now fears for his cover as ‘Gene,’ if he’s taken into a hospital to be treated. A truly terrific episode teaser, which may be the most exciting sequence of events in this episode.

“Well, Howard’s breathing again. You made him very happy.” – Jimmy to Chuck.

The season truly begins right where the last one ended. Jimmy unwittingly confessed on tape, and we pick up with Jimmy going outside to tell Hamlin that everything’s fine now. When Jimmy returns to Chuck’s home – after having spoken with Hamlin over the phone – Chuck is taking his homemade Faraday cage down.

As Jimmy starts to talk about The Adventures of Mabel, Chuck is fairly quick to bite back at him to remind his younger brother that Chuck read it to Jimmy – their mother didn’t. Deep down to his core, Chuck feels slighted and overlooked. As I’ve written previously, Chuck has, in spite of his own intelligence and his honorable profession, always been seen as inferior to his brother. He never got over his spiteful jealousy.

As Chuck picks up on how Jimmy is testing his brother’s memory, he returns to his ordinary mood. Later, Jimmy tells Kim that he had forgotten what it felt like to not be hated by his brother. Chuck is just as ‘bad’ as his brother if not worse, he’s definitely more cruel than Jimmy.

In a later scene, Chuck agrees with Howard who mentions that the recording is basically useless in a court of law and that it won’t help HH&M get Mesa Verde back. Still, Chuck believes it is worth something. Either Chuck just wants to lord it over his brother, or perhaps he’s got a plan.

One of the most interesting moments in the episode is when Ernesto, who has previously stood up to Chuck and helped Jimmy, seemingly accidentally gets to hear the recording. However, as a lot of people have already pointed out. Chuck smiles at the end of the scene. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he’s using Ernesto to catch Jimmy red-handed.

“Guys like that. When crunch time comes, it’s always someone else’s fault.”

I’m still not comfortable seeing Kim work with Jimmy. I just have this feeling that he’s either going to break her heart, ruin her career, or get her killed. In Mabel, Kim actually gets a lot of praise from her friend at Mesa Verde. But Kim still feels guilty, and it’s a guilt that will probably never escape her. Over the course of the episode, she becomes not just overworked, but also anxious and paranoid.

“What do I look like, RadioShack? It’s gonna cost you whatever it costs me. Plus, my end.”

While the Mike portion of the show is the part of the show that feels the most like Breaking Bad, it also has a tendency to be the portion that can easily frustrate viewers. Mabel is a very patient episode – a real slow burn – but it is also appropriately paced. Mike may be the smartest person in Better Call Saul, and seeing him figure out how to get one over on the people tracking him is fascinating. We’re going to get to Gus Fring at some point, but we need to be patient. He can’t just pop-up out of nowhere.

“Always on the high horse. Always trying to make me feel like I’m…”

While Mike and Chuck are laying their traps, Jimmy is feeling frustrated with just about everything. At the top of his list is Chuck, but he takes his frustrations out on someone else. I hadn’t forgotten about Jimmy’s commercial, but I had, honestly, no idea we’d see the Air Force Officer again. It’s a tough scene to watch as our protagonist is clearly hurt.

Mabel is a strong season premiere episode that, unlike Switch last year, is true to the season finale episode that preceded it. Sure, it is a slow burn, but if you’ve seen the first two seasons of Better Call Saul, then that shouldn’t surprise you or catch you off guard.

A-

– Jeffrey Rex

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