The first episode of Better Call Saul’s season 4 picks up right from where season 3 finale ended. The appropriately titled ‘Smoke’ is mostly about Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) and others dealing with Chuck’s death. We saw Chuck finally reaching a breaking point in the last episode of season 3 and burning himself alive by knocking over a gas lantern. Of course, many of us hoped that he was not dead, but this was not to be. Michael McKean can appear in the show only through flashbacks now.
Let me say this upfront – ‘Smoke’ is a corker of an episode. It is rather slow, but then neither Breaking Bad nor Better Call Saul is known for blistering narrative pace. Having watched the entire Breaking Bad run twice, I am used to it. One of the things that make these shows so compelling is the humanity in them. No matter how evil their protagonists become (Walter White, if you recall, had become a downright monster before his end), they always remain believably human. You will be horrified by their actions, but they would still be understandable – that a person could actually do this.
The journey of Walt and Jimmy towards becoming Heisenberg and Saul Goodman respectively is what both these shows are about. Along the way, we are shown how normal people just like us can turn into utter monsters. And Jimmy, with Chuck’s death, is on the brink of becoming the darkly funny, shallow “criminal” lawyer we see in Breaking Bad, whose biggest concern in life is to profit off others, and not caring from where the money comes from.
For most of the episode, Jimmy mourns the death of his brother and remains almost catatonic. He pays his last respects and deals with sympathisers. Towards the end, Howard confesses to him that he believes Chuck’s dismissal from HHM caused him to commit suicide. This is when Jimmy lights up and says, “Well, Howard, I guess that’s your cross to bear.” This shocked me out of my wits. I remember thinking, that is not Jimmy, that’s Saul, the process has begun. So this is the moment it starts, Jimmy’s metamorphosis into Saul Goodman.
But really, the ‘process’ began the moment Chuck admitted that he never wanted Jimmy to become a lawyer, saying he is a con-man and the law is sacred. Chuck’s death is just the next step. When Jimmy said that to Howard he, of course, knew he himself had a hand in driving Chuck to the extreme. But he chose to withhold the information and put all the blame on Howard. Despicable, yes, but we know humans are capable of worse, don’t we?
After telling Howard that it’s his cross to bear, Jimmy goes up to the coffee machine, turns to Kim and Howard, and asks cheerfully, “Who wants coffee?” Damn. ‘Smoke’ is a magnificent beginning to Better Call Saul’s season 4. There are signs that Better Call Saul may continue after the events of Breaking Bad too and might deal with the present Saul Goodman, or whatever he is calling himself now.