Margaux and I discuss last night’s tense, brilliant Better Call Saul.
Trevor: We’ve spoken in the past about the long (sometimes excruciatingly long) sequences in Better Call Saul, which show a patience with the material that has kind of become the show’s trademark. I think “Witness” is a perfect example of this technique. It’s slow in a way that would seriously handicap any other show that wasn’t so damn riveting, and I give credit for that to director Vince Gilligan, who trusts not only his material but his audience. There were long stretches of this episode without dialogue, but I never lost the plot. Pretty terrific stuff. How did “Witness” work for you?
Margaux: This episode set up a lot of the necessary groundwork in very smart, effective ways. Vince Gilligan mentioned his philosophy about directing last week on the Better Call Saul Insider podcast (highly recommended, but it does give you giant case of FOMO – you just really want to hang out with everyone involved in this show). Anyway, Gilligan said that the best things in life, and since art imitates life and all the yada-yada, come to those who wait, and he applies that mantra to all his creative endeavors. Gilligan is a practiced master of restraint, and with the colorful history of Breaking Bad build on, there’s a lot of symbolism to keep you busy while no one is talking. All that being said, by the time you figure out the namesake of the episode, I was on the verge of tears. Gilligan loves himself a good old fashioned Godfather-level betrayal.
Trevor: He sure does, and the whole crew behind both shows – “Witness” was written by Breaking Bad veteran Thomas Schnauz – really love foreshadowing too, so I’m sure getting to do a prequel is just a blast for them. Saul Goodman was such an interesting character on BB, and (I’m speaking in generalities here, sorry), this show has done such a great job of making him more than comic relief. This is my long way of saying how much I appreciated the little origin story we got in this episode; I don’t mean the beginning of Mike’s relationship with Gus, I mean Kim telling Jimmy “Give me a dollar,” which is the same thing Jimmy told Walt and Jesse. Everything about this show informs the Saul Goodman we know, and more than that, the world of one of the best shows ever made. This might sound hyperbolic, I know, but sometimes I just take a step back to really admire the craftsmanship on display. There’s such a huge story being told, and we’re focusing on the minutiae of it.
Margaux: Exactly. It’s a show about people who focus on tedious details, except for its protagonist, Jimmy. The interview with Francesca is a perfect example of this, Jimmy is ready to hire her at the mention of the DMV – or whatever it’s called in New Mexico – reminding Kim that, “perfect is the enemy of perfectly adequate”. When Jimmy asks her what she thinks about the replacement rainbow mural, she notes it’s, “on that side [the M of McGill], it’s a little crooked” – it encapsulates who Jimmy McGill really is. But now that Jimmy pointed out how it could also look like a stock market crash that’s a bit of excellent ominous foreshadowing.
Trevor: Yes! When I first saw it, I thought “That’s a little obvious,” but since the show hung a lantern on it, it becomes pretty clever. I want to set the record straight: Vince Gilligan is better at this than I am.
Margaux: Vince Gilligan is better at this than most showrunners and show creators putting shit out right now. Who else could ruin their own surprise of bringing back a beloved villain and still make it terrifying, entertaining, with an extra side of shit just got real? Vince motherfuckin’ Gilligan, that’s who. Using Gus Fring heavily in the promotional material for the new season should’ve drained all the tension of seeing him again with his face intact, but it didn’t. Watching Gus loom over Jimmy’s shoulder, to Jimmy’s complete unawares, like the shark from Jaws – dun dun dun. He was fake sweeping up a storm, he could smell something suspicious on Jimmy. He’s so ice cold, always calculating his next move behind his stretched-out smile. Jimmy was trying not to get involved, but it seems like he only made himself more obvious.
Trevor: That was such a great reintroduction, just seeing Gus, out of focus, over Jimmy’s shoulders. This is what we were talking about earlier, Gilligan’s trust in the viewer. And honestly, that whole sequence in Los Pollos Hermanos was terrific; Jimmy is so uncomfortable and flummoxed in a nonverbal role that he basically forgets how to function as a human. This is one of the first times we’ve seen him actually clumsy.
So my question for you: do you think Ernesto hearing the tape was part of Chuck’s plan? He doesn’t seem too concerned about it, and we know he’s a good actor when he needs to be. I have a feeling Ernesto’s involvement might have been Chuck’s idea – sure, it might be too coincidental for Ernesto to have hit play on the recorder, but those buttons are pretty sensitive and it doesn’t altogether beggar belief.
Margaux: Chuck is so conniving, but doesn’t want his direct fingerprints on it, he is a sniper from the side. So yes, I have to believe he intended for Ernie to hear the tape. He knows Ernie has a soft spot for Jimmy, and decent relationship with Kim, and that Ernie – being so junior and all – would seek their advice on what to do. I really didn’t think I could despise Chuck more, but this asshole’s wrath knows no bounds. Getting HHM to foot the bill for his round the clock surveillance was straight up bat shit crazy. And Howard just…goes along with it. Does Chuck have something on Howard too? Because even though Howard tries to reason with Chuck to take it down a notch, it’s still Chuck who seems to have the upper hand in every conversation. Who gets to say “Enough!” to this prick?
Trevor: Chuck is someone Jimmy has looked up to his entire life, and a big reason he became a lawyer. But he sees how petty and vindictive his brother is, and it really shatters his Platonic ideal of what a lawyer is supposed to be. I think there’s a straight line between Chuck and Saul Goodman.
I loved seeing Jimmy flip out on Chuck. Michael McKean is so damn good that I first thought “Wow, Chuck looks genuinely freaked out,” but now, after talking with you, I know that was just more playacting, trying to make Jimmy think he had the upper hand, trying to get him to go as far as he could.
Margaux: I thought I genuinely saw Jimmy’s heart break in that confrontation with Chuck, and then Chuck turned around and rubbed lemon and poured salt on the wound, Jimmy quickly realizes he’s been double had. Two other witnesses in the room that going to obviously side Chuck in legal proceeding. He’s fucked, not an ally in the room. And he’s lost his brother, his only family, as Jimmy shouted at Chuck earlier: “you destroyed our family, and for what?” Well, now he blew up any shred of hope in the future by wholly throwing Jimmy under the bus, and then backing it up over him
Trevor: And I love that “Witness” is smart enough to end on the implication, let it all sink in to the viewer. One thing this show does exceptionally well, which not a lot of prequels do, is introduce believable stakes – Saul is in BB, so everything must work out in BCS, right? Wrong – did you ever see Kim or Chuck in Breaking Bad? Margaux, I love this show. Do you want to talk stars?
As I said last week, I’m fairly certain Chuck will die by the end of the season, but Kim’s fate is still cloudy, but I think the next couple of episodes are critical to their relationship. I love the cellphone on the gas cap in the middle of nowhere, Mike finally made by Gus (I guess, who else could it be?). I want to say “Witness” is my favorite episode of the season, but then I realized we’re only on episode two, I just enjoyed how – especially towards the end – it ramped up in such a way, it had all the tension of last years season finale. But I’ll try not to get ahead of myself. Four and a half stars.