Monday, April 17, 2017

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Jimmy and Kim Learn a Shocking Secret About Chuck in 'Witness'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 3.02 "Witness"

Jimmy and Kim hire an assistant. Mike seeks out a mysterious acquaintance. Chuck uses the law to gain an advantage over Jimmy.

Across three seasons, Better Call Saul has told two largely separate but equally compelling prequel stories to the events of Breaking Bad. In one corner, it's the journey of Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman, lawyer to the criminals of Albuquerque. In the other, it's how Mike became associated with the criminals of this community. They are two journeys that intersect on a number of occasions as well. Jimmy and Mike's relationship has lasted longer than any of the other characters who will one day be important on Breaking Bad. Mike calls Jimmy whenever he needs a lawyer who is willing to play around with the morals and ethics of the law. They are two completely different characters as well. Mike is this stoic, ex-cop who can go these long stretches of simply investigating what is happening without uttering a single word. Meanwhile, Jimmy is a flamboyant guy who can talk his way out of any situation no matter what. It's a fascinating dual narrative for the show. One that has only gotten better as the series has gone along. It's inching closer to the devastating moments that cement them as their future personalities. The world is getting more intense and complicated for them. And yet, it's still important to be hopeful about the characters unique to this show because their journeys are just as crucial to see as well.

The second season ended with Chuck making a recording of Jimmy confessing to fraud and forgery in the Mesa Verde case. It was something that Chuck couldn't prove. And yet, he knew Jimmy did it because he knows his brother so well. That family dynamic is so toxic but interesting to watch. It's filled with so much resentment and hatred to each other. But they remain an important part of each other's lives as well. Jimmy gave up caring for his brother on a regular basis. But Chuck has made it a point to continue to disrupt Jimmy's life as he's tried to have a successful legal career and happy personal life. Now, Jimmy finds himself starting his own firm with Kim. They are working together even though they are not technically partners. But this tape has the potential to destroy everything for all of them. Jimmy did the crime in the first place to help Kim because he loves her. And yet, her knowledge of it is affecting her ability to be a good and sane lawyer for the client. And now, she's spiraling even more because she can no longer just avoid talking about this subject with Jimmy.

It's surprising just how quickly it took this season to address the tape. The premiere picked up only a few seconds after the second season finished. After Jimmy left, Howard came over and outlined to both Chuck and the audience just how the tape can and can't be used. It can't just be put into evidence to potentially destroy Jimmy's career. There are too many issues that Jimmy could raise in court that would ultimately get the case dismissed. Right now, the power of the tape comes from the unpredictability of what Chuck wants to use it for. Instead of using it to destroy Jimmy's career, he uses it to make him just as paranoid. When Jimmy learns of the tape in this hour, it's surprising but also devastating. He can't believe his brother did that to him. They aren't in a great place but they are at least being honest with each other. This ruins all of that. It's chilling to watch as Jimmy solemnly rolls the painters tape off the wall to reveal the logo he's made. It's the technique that Chuck showed him last week. It needed to be done carefully. But here, it's all that Jimmy can afford to do because he's so shocked.

Of course, Jimmy can be unpredictable as well. Chuck is right with everything he says about Jimmy. The audience knows that. And yet, he's such an asshole about it. He has this big and pompous attitude where everything has to be his way or the world simply isn't right anymore. That makes him the villain of this story. But it's nuanced as well. Chuck believes he knows his brother so well. He knows he'll always self-destruct because that's just who he is. He's expecting him to break into his house to steal the tape stealthily in the middle of the night. He forces Howard to sneak through the backyards of his neighbors just to have secret meetings about it. In the end, Jimmy does try to steal the tape. But he does it out in the open. He's absolutely distraught and hurt that Chuck would do this to him. This is the worst thing that Chuck has ever done. Rational thought can only do so much. Right now, he's pissed and needs to do something about it. Of course, that just makes the situation worse. Jimmy storms into Chuck's house to steal the tape and threaten Chuck. Howard and a private investigator are witnesses to that. So all of this will only add to the legal hardships that Jimmy and Kim will have to deal with this season.

And yet, Jimmy is able to have some fun in this episode as well. He's continuing to charm the elderly. He's able to get Kim to commit to hiring an assistant. He knows how to succeed in this world. He simply lays on the charm and the folksy details and it's enough to win over people. That's what he's been doing for a long time. But now, Mike calls him for a stealth operation. He's not all that successful in that endeavor. Mike has put in so much work to learn who is following him. He wants to know why someone is bothering to track him just so he doesn't kill Hector Salamanca. It's so wonderful to see Mike be so skilled at tailing someone without them noticing him. He was able to turn the situation to his advantage where he has the upper hand. Now, he's just gaining as much intelligence as he can. He's trying to understand this new world. It leads him to Los Pollos Hermanos, a very recognizable Breaking Bad location. The surprise and excitement of that reveal is palpable. The show has provided a lot of teases over who this mysterious character will be. It may be easy to guess for some before this moment. This moment is crucial too for a number of reasons.

"Witness" marks Giancarlo Esposito's return to this universe. His debut is minor but very fitting for the character as well. He starts in the background just slowly creeping into the frame. Jimmy is on a mission for Mike to see what happens to the bag that belongs to the person he is following. Nothing ultimately happens which is a bit of disappointment. But it's also a pivotal moment because Jimmy and Gus Fring are seen interacting. On Breaking Bad, it was said that those characters had never interacted before. This run-in seems innocent enough that Jimmy would forget that it ever occurred in the long run - especially since he doesn't understand most of what's going on in Mike's world. He wants to be more involved. He cleared his whole morning schedule for Mike. But Mike still has very little patience for Jimmy's antics. He's a valuable resource. He's a good guy to know because he's very smart and skilled as a lawyer. But Mike doesn't need a partner to help him investigate. He's capable of doing just fine on his own. He's still just surveilling this criminal operation. Getting clue after clue. And yet, the hour ends with the reveal that despite his best efforts the people he's following are on to him as well. This may finally force a face-to-face though. It proves that Mike is very good at what he does. But he's still walking into the unknown. The audience has a better understanding of the situation than he does. And yet, that doesn't deescalate the tension at all.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Witness" was written by Thomas Schnauz and directed by Vince Gilligan.
  • When Jimmy is at the Los Pollos Hermanos watching the guy, was nothing suppose to happen or did they know they were being watched by him? Jimmy's not great at surveillance. He basically spends that whole sequence just staring at the guy completely. Unbeknownst to Jimmy, Gus is aware of him as well - though maybe not his connection to Mike.
  • It's fascinating to watch Jimmy coach Francesca through interacting with people on the phone for his business. He proves himself very knowledgeable about how to act with the elderly. His advice works perfectly during the first caller. And then, the second is Mike who has no time for the folksy details.
  • Kim officially becomes Jimmy's lawyer. That's a decision she may later come to regret. She's in this situation because of Jimmy. But there's no easy way out of it either. She's obsessing over minor details in her work. And yet, she still wants to help Jimmy as well. Ernesto comes to her and she can no longer be ignorant to what's actually going on.
  • Chuck deliberately made it so Ernesto heard the tape recording, right? It wasn't just an accident that complicated Chuck's plans. It's what he wanted to happen so the information would ultimately get back to Jimmy. It may have worked even better than he planned.
  • The cold open shows Chuck just as paranoid as ever with him looking out the windows at night and making sure all the doors are locked. And yet, he's not alone. That's an important reveal. Despite all of this, he has company. But that company is there to protect him. He's there to ensure that nothing bad happens in the middle of the night.
  • It's definitely suspicious and amusing to watch as Howard runs through backyards and climbs over walls. It's not clear at first why he's doing that. It's a journey that ends at Chuck's house. That really shows how worried he is that Jimmy will get wind of his plans. Howard is right to point out how crazy and costly all of these precautions are. But again, Jimmy still comes over and falls into the trap.
  • The end credits say "Starring Giancarlo Esposito." So I'm guessing he's going to be a series regular this season. That's very exciting. Though I'm also preparing for a future where Esposito and Jonathan Banks face off at the Emmys as well.