Many reviewers have noted that this season of Better Call Saul feels like a slow burn–or at the very least, the first two episodes feel as such because that’s all that was released to critics in advance. After the first episode I can agree with my contemporaries, and, although the particularly slow nature of “Mabel” should be acknowledged, Better Call Saul has always taken its sweet time in giving the audience what it wants, and expects.
This is a show that spends the first five minutes of each season with black and white shots of a mall in Omaha, Nebraska, following a balding man named Gene as he performs menial tasks. In the cold open for this episode, Gene (the future Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk) eats a sandwich on the second floor of his mall when a kid runs by, DVDs falling out of his oversized coat that screams “I have stolen electronics.” Gene watches silently and, like always, there’s some very complex acting going on as Gene debates whether or not to protect the kid or to rat him out to the police. Ultimately Gene’s too scared to defy the police and tells them where the kid is, but Saul peeks out from behind the apron just a tad as Gene yells at the kid to get a lawyer. Show creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have teased that these flash-forwards of Gene could become more frequent, and I would actually be surprised if we did not see more of black-and-white Omaha this season.
The rest of the episode can be summed up in a few sentences. Chuck plans to do something ominous with the tape of Jimmy confessing to altering the Mesa Verde documents. Jimmy faces trouble from the marine featured in last season’s “Fifi” and Kim’s perfectionist nature is contrasted with Jimmy. Mike tracks down the mystery person who left the “Don’t” note on his car in last season’s finale. Mike’s time in the episode–almost half, which has become the norm for this series–is especially slow, and often features Mike sitting alone and waiting for something to happen, with very little dialogue making the final cut. Jonathan Banks gets plenty of time to be methodical this episode, and I am monumentally impressed with how much he can convey through his body language. Vince Gilligan obviously thinks the same thing and this episode, which he co-wrote and directed, showcases the beauty of the simple acts of Mike’s life.
I was particularly attached to Kim in this episode as well, although she too is given relatively little to do. Burdened with the knowledge that she’s advancing her career because of an illegal act, Kim tries to draw as little attention to herself as possible, even making the preliminary paperwork for her Mesa Verde casework perfect down to the punctuation (should she use a semi-colon? I’m fond of the dash myself.) This season will not be an easy one for Kim as Jimmy comes closer to Saul Goodman. Although Rhea Seehorn has mentioned in recent interviews that it’s possible for her character to have a relationship with Saul Goodman during the timeline of Breaking Bad, I don’t see that happening. Kim can’t handle Jimmy’s antics, and every day she’s reminded of the ultimate burden that he will bring on her career–in “Mabel,” she takes a few of his elderly clients, although she hadn’t planned on it. As we’re accustomed to, Rhea Seehorn is tremendous even in the little amount of screen time she gets. If I had had a blog last season, it would have been non-stop ranting about Seehorn because she is truly remarkable in this role, and I’ve often described her as the best female character on television.
More so than ever Better Call Saul is building to something. It’s common knowledge that we’ll meet a younger Gustavo Fring in the next episode, yet this show does a great job of not letting that fact define the season. “Mabel” is a bit of a filler episode, yet one that avoids “filler” stereotypes by being a very solid hour of television in its own right, and one that successfully has its audience asking for more.