Warning: Major Spoilers follow for the entire series of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.”
Everyone’s favorite criminal lawyer is back, with “Smoke” the season four premiere of “Better Call Saul.”
As is customary with a new season of the show, we start out with a cold open focusing on Jimmy McGill’s new identity post “Breaking Bad,” Gene, a manager at the local Cinnabon. It picks up right where season three’s opening ended, with Gene getting taken to a hospital after passing out.
Interestingly, the scene where Gene is stretchered out is eerily similar to Chuck’s trip to the hospital at the end of season two. There’s even a moment where he looks at a machine and it makes a similar buzzing sound to whenever the elder McGill brother was exposed to electricity.
We see it set to a montage of “My Echo, My Shadow and Me” by The Ink Spots. Everything seems to be normal and Gene gets to leave, as there were no medical issues related to the fall.
Of course, the paranoia that has overtaken Gene shines again, as he has to have his license information re-entered by the hospital clerk, who had made an error. Yet the whole time he’s fidgeting and worried, terrified that he’ll be recognized and outed as Saul Goodman, a known associate of Walter White.
This was a situation that Saul Goodman or Jimmy McGill could’ve easily talked their way out of, but now he’s reduced to a finicky, panicking mess. He’s a shell of what he once was and it is sad to see. These Gene scenes illustrate that point quite well.
It only gets worse when he enters a cab to get home, and the driver has an Albuquerque Isotopes air freshener and seems to stare at Gene for long periods of time. It appears he recognizes Gene, and he frantically asks to be let out.
It takes forever, but the driver lets him out and doesn’t leave, while Gene frantically walks away. That’s all we get, but it was a scene that continues the paranoia that Jimmy feels in his life, but leaves us with some questions.
Who was the cab driver? A former client of Saul Goodman? Someone from Jimmy McGill’s past? Or just a random guy? Did he really recognize Gene, or was it just his paranoia blowing things out of proportion? After all, that is what the first three Gene scenes have been about.
Why didn’t the cabbie immediately leave, as it doesn’t take that long to count out the money he received? Maybe he got a phone call, or is calling the police? If he wasn’t suspicious of him then, he will be now due to how erratic he acted.
It’ll be interesting to see how that gets resolved, but as usual, these Gene openings are wonderfully shot and create a real sense of dread and tension. I just wish we got more than one of them per season.
The episode then goes back to Jimmy’s story and picks up right after Chuck set his house ablaze in the previous episode. He gets a call from Howard and makes his way to the remains of Chuck’s house.
He notices all of the appliances Chuck was using just days earlier laying out in the yard, realizing he relapsed. From then on, Jimmy’s story is quiet and melancholy, as he listens to his brother’s obituary written by Howard, though he stops halfway through most likely due to it containing so many professional accomplishments (Notice how Howard sits up tall and doesn’t look at the paper when he gets to the HHM section of the obituary).
He sat through the whole funeral, shaking hands and playing nice with several of Chuck’s colleagues that wanted nothing to do with him before his brother’s death. Even Cliff Maine, the man who two seasons ago called Jimmy an asshole (though it was well deserved).
He went through all of this, really only saying a few words until the end of the episode. Following the funeral, Howard let Jimmy and Kim know about his fear that forcing Chuck out of HHM due to his malpractice insurance rising and the negative effects his outbursts have had on the firm led to him committing suicide. He points out how careful Chuck was with his lanterns as evidence that it couldn’t have been an accident.
After a bit of silence, all Jimmy says is, “Well Howard, I guess that’s your cross to bear.” Howard looks absolutely crushed and even Kim is taken aback, shooting Jimmy an evil eye.
He then cheerfully feeds his fish and makes some coffee, whistling joyfully. This is definitely one of the coldest actions we’ve seen Jimmy take, and Patrick Fabian acts this scene out tremendously.
After seeing Jimmy quiet for most of this episode, silently processing Chuck’s death, it leaves some questions about his final statements.
Did Hamlin’s admission of guilt provide Jimmy a way to transfer his own guilt on to him? Was that the moment Jimmy was waiting for the whole time? Is this Jimmy taking Chuck’s final words to him to heart, since he destroys everything he touches? How will Kim react to this? Is this just how Jimmy plans to bottle up his emotions, and will he explode later on in the season, potentially at Kim? The possibilities are devastating to think about.
Elsewhere in the episode, we saw the fallout from Nacho’s pill-swapping assassination attempt on Hector. While it seemed Nacho wanted to get out of the business altogether, he is being pulled in even closer as Juan Bolsa gave him a promotion.
The theme of paranoia present in the Gene scene works here as well, as Nacho can never seem to find a good time to get rid of the fake pills, and when he finally does, Gus’ man on the inside is watching him. Also, the knowing death glares Gus throws at Nacho are gonna lead to something bad, right?
But perhaps my favorite part of this episode was Mike infiltrating the Madrigal plant and grilling the manager on all of the security risks present in the factory. While it’s a little open-ended why he did this, it’s most likely so when someone looks at the numbers and sees a security consultant, they’ll know that that person exists and isn’t just a money-laundering front.
The segment of him driving the golf cart through the warehouse was really entertaining to watch, and of course, the music selection was on-point.
Overall, this was a quiet episode of “Better Call Saul” that sets the table for what’s to come this season. We’ll be seeing Mike interacting more with Lydia and Gus, Nacho possibly getting entangled in a gang war and Jimmy embracing the dark side of him that Chuck always knew about.
And even then we got some great deadpan Mike humor, some beautiful music and cinematography and an incredibly powerful ending scene. A good start to the season and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Rating: 4 office party birthday cards out of 5