It seems that the legion of fans that Better Call Saul has garnered around the world is going to have to wait longer than usual before the much-anticipated season 4 hits our screens.
In previous years, we have become accustomed to the show appearing as part of the spring schedules, but with filming of the new season only commencing in January, it looks likely that the latest instalment of Better Call Saul will not be available until September 2018, when it will be a key component in the fall viewing schedules.
However, devotees of the show will no doubt feel that the wait is worthwhile as the elaborate (and sometimes seemingly disparate) storylines, and the show’s complex relationship with its ‘sequel’ Breaking Bad, head towards a denouement.
Analysing the success of Better Call Saul is not an easy thing to do: it is a far from conventional TV show in so many respects, so ordinary criticism in many ways doesn’t do it justice. The way it moves backwards and forwards in time, and the fact that it can be at the same time both a prequel and in some ways a sequel to Breaking Bad, means that there are layers of ambiguity and complexity that ‘stand alone’ shows simply can’t reach. You don’t have to have seen Breaking Bad to appreciate Better Call Saul, but enjoyment of the show is undoubtedly enhanced by the many resonances and incidents of foreshadowing that we find throughout.
Much to the consternation and bemusement of the elderly patrons at the bingo game, Jimmy recounts an elaborate tale of revenge which ended in his defecating through the sunroof of a rival’s car, whose children were sitting inside at the time.
Jimmy’s story is both hilarious and horrifying in equal measure, but what caps it for many is the non-plussed reaction of the senior at the end who asks, “Excuse me? Are you gonna read that number?” The old man is not shocked by Jimmy’s bizarre reminiscence, but instead he is simply put out that his regular game of bingo, where he could win some prizes without it costing money, was being interrupted by a stream of consciousness with a very unpleasant ending.
But it’s not only these quasi-absurdist moments that have captivated fans of Better Call Saul. It’s also the way in which the show skilfully creates stunning climaxes that don’t necessarily come at the end of a season as a conventional cliff-hanger.
Season 3, episode 5 (entitled ‘Chicanery’) is widely acknowledged as probably the best episode of the entire show, and one for which the writer Gordon Smith received a Writers Guild of America award. The episode brings to a climax the long-simmering, yet in many ways undeclared, bitter hostility that has always been present in the relationship between Jimmy and his older brother Chuck. In a variation of the classic courtroom scene, in which the tension throughout is almost unbearable, Jimmy manages to demonstrate that his brother’s supposed allergy to electricity is psychological rather than physical, and in a single moment we see Chuck’s life and everything that he believes about himself crash down around him. In a split second, we know that Chuck’s mission to have Jimmy disbarred has only succeeded in bringing himself down too.
But Better Call Saul’s popularity isn’t entirely due to this symbiotic connection to Breaking Bad, even though the two share a number of characters, settings and preoccupations; it is its dark and sometimes absurdist humour, which often manifests itself in classic set piece scenes, that is one of the show’s major appeals.
For instance, one of the most talked-about scenes in the first three seasons, and one that has turned mere fans into devotees (if the online forums are anything to go by), is the classic ‘Chicago Sunroof’ scene in the finale of the first season, ‘Marco’. Calling bingo at the Sandpiper Crossing home for the elderly, Jimmy is perplexed that balls marked with a B continue to be drawn and, frustrated, he breaks off from calling the game to deliver an exquisite monologue that gives us a fascinating insight into one of the many facets of his personality and past life.
We can also expect to see more favourites from Breaking Bad ‘returning’ (although in chronological terms, they are actually moving forward in time, rather than back). It is also likely that the relationship between Mike and Gustavo Fring, which is just beginning, will develop further towards the stage where Mike is working for Fring, as we see in Breaking Bad.
But apart from these broad possibilities, it’s hard to tell and fairly fruitless to speculate. One of the delights of Better Call Saul has been the way it has constantly thrown us off balance, undercutting our expectations despite the fact we all know where Jimmy is heading. It’s a difficult act to pull off — keeping viewers on tenterhooks about how a major character develops, even though we are all well aware of the final destination.
All we can confidently predict is that we should expect many more surprises along the way before Jimmy’s final transformation into Saul is complete.