Better Call Saul is a garrulous show populated with chit-chatty characters — lip-servicing lawyers who deal in small talk the way cowboys deal in lead. It also has the more taciturn Mike, who deals in actual lead. Like cowboys and their bullets, these lawyers use their gift of gab to profit, to pilfer from friends and competitors. Jimmy has been, so far, gabber par excellence, the man who prosecuted Liberty Valance (or would he defend Liberty Valance?). Jimmy’s an artist, spinning pseudo-truths and not-quite-lies into quilted performances — has any character conjured up such luscious fictions as Jimmy when he explained the squat cobbler? But in “Fifi,” maybe the best episode of the show to date (or at least the best since last week’s), Chuck wrests the title from his younger brother. Slippin’ Chuck is as conniving as Slippin’ Jimmy. He might even enjoy the con game more.
Mike, on the other hand, says far less than his loquacious lawyer. He spends most of this week’s episode sitting in solitude, in his car in the dark, watching Hector and his cronies go about their quotidian criminal endeavors as Massive Attack-esque music percolates in the background. He cogitates. As with several of this season’s best episodes, Mike is again relegated to a small role, but, again, the episode ends with him, alone, planning, working.
Lest we forget amidst all this talk of talking that Better Call Saul is the spawn of Breaking Bad, this week’s episode wastes no time reminding us that we’re watching one of the most visually voluptuous shows on TV. With its ravishing use of color to paint recurring metaphors (yellow, green, and purple have become the show’s primary colors) and articulate, carefully enunciated camera angles and focus, Saul says as much with pictorial poetry as it does with words. “Fifi,” directed by Larysa Kondracki (she helmed last season’s excellent “Bingo” and the not-very-good movie The Whistleblower and has also worked on The Americans, the best drama on TV), opens with an adroitly un-flashy long take. It begins with the green/yellow back of a truck, rises up, and drifts over the US-Mexico border check-in. Then it dips back down as a truck passes beneath and follows a police car cruising behind the truck, roving around as Border Patrol inspects incoming vehicles; they’re using long, green-tinged mirrors to look under the trucks. Finally, the camera settles back on the driver, a man whose salt-n-pepper beard suggests experience.
If Better Call Saul was a lesser show, this multi-minute Steadicam shot might not have a payoff, the unmitigated difficulty of such a setup being the only masturbatory reason for the shot’s existence (à la True Detective), or its payoff might be some expected unexpected blast of violence. Instead, we see the truck driver rip open a package, remove a Popsicle, and stick it in his mouth, as much a throwback to gunslingers putting long strands of straw in their mouth as it is a wryly ironic letdown. The post-payoff kicker doesn’t come until the long take cuts and we see the gray-bearded truck driver pull over on a long stretch of barren asphalt, the sun’s emanations spread across the sky. He gets out, moves a rock, and takes a gun out from a secret cache that’s surrounded by a dozen Popsicle sticks jutting out from the dirt.
It seems like every week, this show gets more confident, more daring.
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