BETTER CALL SAUL moves with the assurance of a series that knows exactly where it’s going to end up–and so do we, since we’re aware that sad sack attorney Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) will ultimately wind up as slick Saul Goodman in the world of Breaking Bad (and then as a woeful Cinnabon manager named Gene). Series creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are in no hurry to get there, though, and Saul has a very different pace and tone than Breaking Bad.
The Season 3 premiere, written by Gilligan and Gould and directed by Gilligan, picked up exactly where Season 2 left off, with the reveal (to us, not to Jimmy) that his confession of fraud to his obsessive, prideful, psychologically damaged brother Chuck (Michael McKean) had been secretly recorded. That fuse was merely lit in the episode, however, as Chuck made it clear that he knew how to use the tape to cause Jimmy maximum damage, but not how he planned to do it. The B plot was equally deliberate, following fellow Breaking Bad character Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) as he painstakingly ripped his own car apart a la The Conversation to find the bug that had tracked him to the desert in the Season 2 finale, then let the battery run down and planted his own bug to be picked up by those following him.
Better Call Saul is playing a long game, connecting the dots of Jimmy’s journey. In the meantime, it provides a showcase for crisp, precise writing, and a haul of vivid acting, not just from Odenkirk and Banks, but from Rhea Seehorn as Jimmy’s quasi-partner in law and sometimes otherwise, and Patrick Fabian as the head of Chuck’s old firm, and from minor characters as well, like the shady vet and junkyard proprietor Mike encountered in the premiere. (The much-publicized arrival of Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring didn’t occur in the opening hour.) The quality is high, the ratings are strong, and Better Call Saul answers to no one but itself.