REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Off Brand”

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

In the sixth episode of the third season — Off Brand — Jimmy (played by Bob Odenkirk) gets ready for his sabbatical, while Nacho (played by Michael Mando) has a tough time keeping his family life and his work with Hector Salamanca (played by Mark Margolis) separate. Off Brand was directed by Keith Gordon and written by Ann Cherkis.

Let’s start where the last episode left off. Jimmy gets a relatively short 12-month suspension following the hearing. It’s a suspension, but it is a success for Kim and Jimmy. It could’ve ended much worse. Rebecca, who had been fooled by Jimmy to appear at the hearing under false pretenses, is adamant about seeing Chuck, who is hiding in his home unwilling to acknowledge her presence.

So she seeks out Jimmy, as she wants his help to get in touch with Chuck. Jimmy, obviously, refuses — Chuck crossed a red line for Jimmy. He had misled Rebecca, and he has ruined Chuck — but, to Jimmy, Chuck has made his bed by being cruel to him, and now Chuck has to stay and lie in it. From Rebecca’s perspective, Jimmy is ignoring the well-being of a mentally ill — her words, not mine — relative, but she doesn’t realize how much he has been there for Chuck, only to be walked all over.

Later, Hamlin visits Chuck with an offering of a 35-year old Macallan whiskey. Hamlin tries to spin the suspension as a win, but Chuck never bites — he is severely wounded. After Hamlin has left, we see Chuck trying to will himself into betterment by clutching a high-voltage battery. Chuck has to find a way to cope with the new reality.

As does Jimmy, who after informing his clients of his ‘sabbatical,’ realizes that his commercial deal could get him in trouble during his suspension, which forces him to find new uses for his remaining commercial slots. And that is when Saul Goodman is born in a commercial filled with star-wipes. It’s all good, man.

What is all the more interesting is the way this episode sets up a new direction for Michael Mando’s character Nacho. In the episode’s opening teaser, we see Hector insisting that Nacho punish Krazy-8 — who you may remember from Breaking Bad — for not having brought enough money for Don Hector.

We then cut to Mando at his father’s shop, where Nacho is using a sewing machine. This episode teaser highlights the way his work for Salamanca is bleeding into and ruining his normal life, with him accidentally injuring himself on the sewing machine.

Much later, Nacho is confronted by Don Hector, who insists that the Salamancas will use Nacho’s family business as a front for their criminal operation. Nacho doesn’t want to involve his family, but his hands are tied — until he sees a potential out. He steals a loose pill from Hector’s pill glass. This could get Nacho killed, but it may be the only way out for his family.

Much of the story in this episode functions merely to set up future pivotal scenes, as such this is a transitional episode that moves us on to a new reality for the show after the excellent Chicanery episode, which, in a way, felt like a season finale. It wasn’t, though, it was merely the halfway point of the season, and, therefore, this kind of transitional episode is essential.

Seeing Lydia (played by Laura Fraser) make a cameo appearance is a nice a surprise for fans, but it doesn’t tell us much. Mike’s storyline also doesn’t really go anywhere in this episode. Conversely, Jimmy, Nacho, and Chuck’s stories give us much more to process satisfyingly. The birth of Saul Goodman is satisfying, and seeing Chuck risk his mental health to cope with his new reality is hard to watch. But it is Nacho’s storyline that works best for me. Michael Mando’s character is starting to live up to his potential.

B+

This episode originally aired May 15th, 2017, and it is being reviewed now to be ready for the season four premiere.

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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