Last week’s episode of Better Call Saul was a sedate and melancholy affair, thanks to the seriousness surrounding the death of Chuck McGill. The episode’s producers masterfully captured the mood through the deft use of silence and dramatic pauses. In retrospect, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) had very little to say, stumbling around the episode in a daze in a way that is natural in anyone who has just suffered the sudden death of a close family member. It isn’t until the last scene where Jimmy comes out of this shellshock as he listens to a tearful confession from his rival Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian). After Hamlin opens his heart in a real and vulnerable way, Jimmy delivers one of the coldest and most heartless lines he’s eversaid in the series, one so cold and damning it rivals Chuck’s to Jimmy at the end of last season. It is such a shocking change of character for the otherwise likable Jimmy McGill, it is hard not to see him in a different light now.
In this weeks episode,”Breathe,” we see Jimmy coming out of his shell. He demonstrates a confidence as he sets out to find a job, one that impresses his girlfriend Kim (Rhee Seehorn). His first stop is to a photocopier and office supply company, where he dazzles the management with his knowledge of copying machines. When the concern is raised that he is not a salesman by trade, he then turns on the charm and impressively demonstrates how being a lawyer is the ultimate form of salesmanship. Impressed, it is obvious he has the job––but then he gives a last-minute pitch to seal the deal. What happens next is probably one of the greatest moments in both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. The scene ends with an amazing moment of symbolism, where Jimmy’s car–-a sunny yet increasingly worn down yellow Esteem—screeches out of the parking garage in a manner not unlike a fancy sports car, and it started up without the typical hesitation and difficulty.
Jimmy’s sudden dedication to finding a job was to avoid an estate meeting with Howard Hamlin. He had told Kim that it wasn’t an important meeting, but she showed up without his knowledge. The confrontation that follows is another instance of a character showing a much different side to their established personality, as she positively explodes at Howard. We see that Kim is fully in love with Jimmy as she defends him and protects him in a way that makes it clear just how deep her feelings are for him. It’s almost easy to feel sorry for Howard, who seems positively helpless and sincerely shocked by her outburst. In a telling scene at the end of the episode, Kim never makes mention of what she did earlier that afternoon.
Meanwhile, in the growing tension between the Salamanca family and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), we discover that Gus has been keeping tabs on the medical condition of Don Hector(Mark Margolis), who would suffered a debilitating stroke at the end of last season. Fring has been sending spies to monitor the process and report back to him, even possibly going so far as to hire any medical expert from Johns Hopkins to help care for Hector. Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) unsuccessfully attempts to reconnect with his father, who feels betrayed by his son’s actions when last season offered up his father’s upholstery warehouse as a location for the Salamanca Family to use as a drug processing space. Nacho is running on nervous energy, as he is responsible for switching Don Hector’s heart medication for one that would kill him. The episode ends with a scene that recalls a previous drug transaction between the Salamanca family and the cartel, where instead of getting the agreed-upon amount of cocaine, Fring’s men short change Nacho; I standoff occurs, and Nacho gets the agreed-upon amount, but upon leaving the deal, Nacho and his man are jumped by Gus, and a long time secondary character is brutally murdered. Gus states that he knows what Nacho did, that he hasn’t informed the Salamanca family, and that Nacho is now “his.”
If the previous episode was slowly paced in order to build tension, ”Breathe” is almost amphetamine-fueled, a jittery roller coaster ride that doesn’t let up for a second and makes the 45 minutes go by in half the time. While there is a whole season yet to come, it is not unfair to say that “Breathe” is easily one of the finest episodes of the series.