THIS RECAP CONTAINS EXTENSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE ABOVE EPISODE.
I have previously heard Better Call Saul described as like watching an aged tortoise slowly, but definitely, making its way across a vast expanse of terrain, assured and captivating with every movement, never reaching its destination too hurriedly – yet certain of getting there, having been economical and wisely conserving in the process.
It’s a trait that was a hallmark of Breaking Bad, one that frustrated the show’s few critics in its middle seasons. Episode upon episode could pile up without apparent key turns in the narrative, and then without warning the drama would explode, making the whole experience that bit more rewarding.
The shocking death of the cocky Arturo (Vincent Fuentes) in the climax to ‘Breathe’ is one such moment. An episode otherwise low on suspense and intensity violently comes alive in a sequence that at first seems, for a second or two, to herald the demise of Nacho following his and Arturo’s arm-twisting of Victor and Tyrus in order to land six, not five, keys of cocaine from their pick up. After all, Nacho pulled the gun and we knew Gus is aware of his guilt relating to Hector Salamanca’s current state.
But Gus doesn’t think like that. He would rather be rid of the nuisance, hot-head Arturo, and take Nacho’s brains all for himself. And for extra brownie points, he has incapacitated Gus’s arch-nemesis, who, even in a vegetative existence, has not yet met the nasty end Gus has planned for him. But Nacho may just have enabled exactly that to happen, and even better – at a time and place suitable to Gus, one day. Oh, how the tables will turn.
Nacho and Arturo had previously shown up to the hospital and been forced to feign sympathy for ‘Don Hector’ at the silent behest of an ever-menacing Marco and Leonel. A softly comedic scene, the presence of the Gus-sponsored Johns Hopkins specialist Maureen Bruckner (Poorna Jagannathan) gave an indication of the precise ways in which Gus plans to control everything about Hector’s unenviable existence from this point forth.
The Breaking Bad characters really pile up in this episode, don’t they? And sure as day here comes Lydia, making her routine stop in Albuquerque to meet with distributors and more importantly, to scald Mike for his transgressions in a darkened boardroom. Despite her reiteration that his job as security consultant is nothing but a ‘paper transaction’, he plans to repeat last week’s stunt at Madrigal’s seven other locations in the south-west, to suppress his discomfort at being nothing but a name without a face on the payroll. To Lydia’s dismay, Gus seems fine with it – his trust in Mike appears watertight even at this early stage of their relationship. Walter White-lookalike Madrigal employees – your badges are safe for now. But it is unlikely that the extent of Mike’s work will be phoney health and safety auditing for much longer.
We do know one job offer he has – and it involves the central character who takes something of a back seat in this episode. Jimmy’s quest for a new job isn’t going too well, the thrill of telling white lies to Kim about made-up office manager positions clearly not enough to satisfy his need for nuisance. Instead, with apparent spontaneity, he emphatically secures and immediately rejects a position of copier salesman, before giving a passionate and detailed criticism of the shoddy recruitment process of Mr Neff (Andrew Friedman) and Seymour (Michael Naughton).
A routine scene, there is nothing new we learn about Jimmy from the encounter. He’s still rash and unpredictable, and it seems that a low-level, non-lawyer job will be unlikely to satisfy him between now and being able to practise again – which at this point, it’s pretty unlikely he will ever do again under the name James McGill, at least legally. Only later, by the light of a fish tank, do we learn of the real takeaway from the humdrum interview scene. Spying the same kind of Hummel figurines featured in season 1 in Mr Neff’s office, Jimmy seemingly hatches a plan to take from the rich and give to himself – and maybe Mike, if he is interested, or as is unlikely now, needs the cash.
All this while Kim sleeps, weary from a hard day of ferociously berating her old boss for his behaviour in the aftermath of Chuck’s death. Arm still in a cast from her car crash, she doesn’t need all her limbs to beat Howard emotionally black and blue in his office following settling Chuck’s estate. Were her feelings previously unclear regarding Jimmy’s new apparent lack of guilt over his brother’s passing, they are now.
If Jimmy feels let off the hook by what Howard told him, it appears that Kim saw it rather differently in that to her, Howard’s confession was an attempt to pass on guilt to Jimmy. Regardless of that inaccuracy, Howard is not to know that, but he is sure to have been wise to Chuck’s pittance of his inheritance left for Jimmy. She scolds him too, for trying to dress that up, and also for burdening Jimmy with a final letter meant for his eyes alone. Maybe most crucially, that last part could prove key later. Does Kim give Jimmy the letter? If not, he is unlikely to take that well. And when he reads it, sooner or later, what will the parting words be? At least Kim’s allegiance to Jimmy is assured for now.
All of this dramatically (in the narrative sense) pales in comparison to what we see in the final moments of ‘Breathe’. It is an incremental episode bar the shocking finale, the kind that makes Better Call Saul so rewarding.
Arturo’s nasty end also raises another interesting point. The nature of the show as a prequel means that certain characters’ fates are known through Breaking Bad: Jimmy/Saul, Mike, Gus, Lydia, Hector, Tyrus, Victor, Marco and Leonel all feature here. Obviously, Arturo does not – and neither do the other, more central characters of Kim and Nacho, among others on the periphery.
Their character arcs, without unknown end points, are therefore as intriguing an aspect to the show as the mechanics behind its ties to Breaking Bad. As for Howard, let’s hope that was not his final appearance, as Patrick Fabian has been superb.
Better Call Saul season 4, episode 2 is available on Netflix now.