'Better Call Saul' keeps adding layers with new batch of episodes

"Better Call Saul" is TV's version of a Russian nesting doll, slowly adding layers to the "Breaking Bad" pre...

Posted: Aug 7, 2018 2:50 AM
Updated: Aug 7, 2018 2:50 AM

"Better Call Saul" is TV's version of a Russian nesting doll, slowly adding layers to the "Breaking Bad" prequel, inching toward its logical expiration date. As the new season demonstrates, the AMC show has grown richer in the process, even if the pacing at times remains a trifle sluggish.

It has taken the producers almost 14 months since Season 3 ended to cook up a new batch of episodes, but they reward the audience's patience by picking up where season three left off, with a major development that is seemingly hastening the descent of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) from well-meaning, morally lax striver to sleazy, wholly corrupt drug lawyer.

At the same time, the series is operating on multiple tracks -- not just the parallel path of former cop Mike (Jonathan Banks), but also the arcs of drug dealer Nacho (Michael Mando) and drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), whose arrival gave the show a shot of adrenaline, even if "Saul" is taking its time, as usual, in chronicling how Gus built his empire.

Last, but not least, there's Kim (Rhea Seehorn), the straight-laced attorney whose soft spot for Jimmy has revealed unexpected sides to her personality, who begins to see him in a different light as the season progresses.

Kim has always felt like the fulcrum on which "Saul" bends, to the extent that alienating her -- or however she exits Jimmy's life -- will essentially complete his transformation into Saul Goodman. That has added depth and poignance not just to their relationship, but to every good deed that Jimmy does, realizing he's eventually going to end up sweating through those tense black-and-white flash-forwards that kick off each season.

It's something of a common refrain (at least from this critic) that "Better Call Saul" can't be sustained indefinitely without running out of narrative real estate. For now, though, the series -- already renewed for a fifth year -- has exceeded expectations, with creators Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and their team tapping into the reservoir of dark humor, surprising twists and visual storytelling that made "Breaking Bad" so compelling, albeit without rising to that level.

The show remains a signature franchise for AMC, so much so that the network is pairing its return with a new drama, "Lodge 49," a series about a directionless surfer who stumbles onto a strange fraternal order that may hold the clue to putting his life back on track. The show strives to be whimsical but feels so weightless there's little incentive to stick around long enough to find out -- an unwitting endorsement, in a way, of the fine line that "Better Call Saul" navigates.

Granted, the first three episodes don't provide much of a road map for where this season is heading, but they do set up a number of juicy possibilities. And if "Better Call Saul" viewers have learned anything, it's not to fret too much about where -- and when -- the show will wind up, but rather to sit back and say, "It's all good, man."

"Better Call Saul" premieres Aug. 6 at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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