Crime, Drama, Review, TV

Pre-Prosecution Diversion: A Review of Better Call Saul Season 3, Episode 3 “Sunk Costs”

Last week, Jimmy showed a particular blindspot when it comes to his brother Chuck, and this week we begin to finally see what Chuck’s real plan is – and yes, it’s exactly what you thought it was. Before I get into details of the episode, this is just a reminder that I do a synopsis as well as a review, so don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled.

[Spoiler Warning: The following article is a review and brief synopsis of this week’s episode, and as such will discuss plot points of Better Call Saul S03E03, “Sunk Costs” as well as events from the previous two seasons.]

We follow two primary storylines once again this week, and I’ll begin with Mike’s.

We pick up right where we left off, with Mike answering the phone and saying, “Yeah.” On the other end is Gus Fring, who tells Mike that he does “not wish to see your gun.” If Mike doesn’t pull his out, Fring will reciprocate. Two cars approach, and he walks up to Mike. Out of the other vehicle steps Victor, watching on from the background.

Mike holds up the “DON’T” paper he found on his car at the end of last season, and asks what Salamanca is to him. Fring is cagey, only saying that he isn’t yet done with Hector Salamanca. He does, however, ask Mike to repeat his earlier theft from one of Hector’s trucks. It’s clear that Fring’s gamesmanship is on show, and Mike, although he does initially refuse, decides that he, too, is not done with Hector Salamanca.

Cut to a scene over the border in Mexico. Mike retrieves some cocaine from a local doctor, and then drives out to the middle of nowhere (a sign says 20km to the US border, confirming that we’re in Mexico). He stuffs a bag of cocaine into the toe of a pair of bright red sneakers, ties them together, and then tosses them over a wire hanging over the roadway. We’ve actually seen these sneakers earlier, in the show’s cold open. Then, they were barely hanging by a thread, the bright red color completely washed out by the sun. Back in the moment, Mike hides his car and settles on a nearby ridge overlooking the sneakers. He’s been scouting – a truck with Salamanca’s cover company, Regalo Helado, comes trundling along, and stops at a drop made out of an old tire-rim, much like the drop we saw back in episode 209 when Salamanca’s driver was picking up his gun on the US side of the border.

As the two men from the truck approach the drop, Mike shoots into the air. They drop, and stare in every direction. Mike waits a few seconds, and then fires into the air again. The two men exchange looks – hunters, they ask? They get up, put their guns away, and return to the truck, while Mike shoots another three times up into the air. Then, with his sixth shot, he carefully aims for and hits the toe of the red sneaker as the truck passes beneath it, sprinkling it liberally with cocaine. Naturally, when they are at the border check, a dog gets a hit on their vehicle, and the two men are arrested – another pain in Salamanca’s side.

This ties in with one other interesting piece from the cold open. As we see the tired and frayed sneakers, there’s a truck approaching from the middle distance – but this isn’t a Regalo Helado truch. Painted on its side: Los Pollos Hermanos. We see part of Fring’s plan; by hurting Salamanca’s transport reliability, he is able to sidle his way into that aspect of the business, thus, I imagine, increasing his overall piece of the pie. It’s purpose served, we get one last shot of the weathered sneakers, as their frayed shoelaces finally give way and the shoes drop to the ground.

The primary storyline is, of course, the fallout from Jimmy’s actions at Chuck’s last week.

We pick up right after the confrontation, with Jimmy rooting around his glove box. He finds an old pack of smokes and a matchbook (that conveniently has the number for a Bail Bondsman printed on it), and he sits on the curb outside of Chuck’s to have a smoke.

Chuck walks up behind him, and explains that he’s doing this for Jimmy, doing it so that Jimmy will realize that he needs to stop what he’s doing before he gets into real trouble. “Here’s what’s going to happen,” he says. “The police will arrest you, and I’m sorry but I will be pressing charges. I told you there would be consequences. But, I have to believe that you’ll face those consequences and you’ll come out the other side a better man. I know, it’s hard to see right now, but Jimmy this is an opportunity. That’s why I’m doing this, not to punish you. To show you, truly show you, that you have to make a change before it’s too late. Before you destroy yourself. Or someone else. And I believe you can change. You’ll find your path. And when you’re ready, I will be there, to help you walk that path.” Self-righteous much? Chuck’s been spouting this holier-than-thou nonsense so long, he appears to have drank his own Kool-Aid. He’s falling all over himself in his smug reassurance that he’s doing the right thing for Jimmy, that Chuck knows best.

Jimmy won’t make eye contact with his brother. He looks sad as he says, “Here’s what’s going to happen. One day you’re going to get sick, again. One of your employees is going to find you curled up in that space blanket, take you to the hospital, hook you up to those machines that beep and whirr…hurt. And this time, it’ll be too much, and you will, die there, alone.” The cops pull up, and he finishes, “There’s my ride.” Chuck just stands there looking stunned. It’s as though he truly felt that what he was doing was for Jimmy, and that Jimmy would recognize this and thank him for it. He had no clue that this might end his relationship with his brother.

We get a montage of Jimmy going through the arrest procedure, which is interrupted by one of his prosecutor colleagues (DDA Oakley) stopping by to mock him. He realizes that Jimmy’s actually pretty low at this point, so he steps back and tries to offer him some help, saying he’ll try to move Jimmy’s first appearance up so he won’t have to spend the night in jail, and recommending that Jimmy punch the biggest guy in lock-up in the stomach to establish his dominance. Jimmy doesn’t get angry with Oakley – he looks so beaten down, he has no fight left at this point.

We cut to another montage, this one of Kim waking at 5:30am, and going through her morning routine. As she leaves her gym, she sees a familiar sight – Ernesto’s car. He tells her he’s been fired (this confirms that Chuck is a grade-A asshole – not only did he purposely use Ernesto to get Jimmy to break into his place by “accidentally” allowing him to hear part of the tape, but now he punishes Ernesto for this breach by firing him. I am going to be so very happy when Chuck, inevitably, gets his.

Cut to the court, where an orange jumpsuit-clad Jimmy is entering his plea of Not Guilty. Kim comes into the court and announces that she is his counsel. He refuses, and won’t accept her help. Back at the office, after making bail, Jimmy explains to her his thinking – he got himself into this mess, he wants to own it, so he also wants to fix it himself. But nothing is ever that simple.

He makes his first move at the courthouse. He settles in beside DDA Oakley, and offers him some fries. He then lays out his plan, which includes pleading down his one felony to a misdemeanor, with hopes of avoiding jail time, limiting the suspension of his law practice, he hope, to under a year. Oakley is all in agreement that this sounds like a great idea, and he wishes Jimmy luck. Jimmy looks stunned – he thought Oakley would be taking the case. He asks who, going through names of other local DDAs, but Oakley tells him it’s somebody from outside, a person named Hay, a person who is “tough but fair.”

We go back to Chuck’s house, where he’s meeting with the very same DDA Hay. She explains to Chuck that she intends to pursue each of the charges, and that he has to be certain he wants this done before she’ll agree to take on the case. He says he has every intention of following through, but then appears to have a change of heart. Michael McKean’s genius in this scene is that he’s able to act so well at acting badly, that I suspect that most of the audience is rolling its eyes while watching Hay take his bait hook, line, and sinker.

And what exactly is that bait? We find out later that evening, when Kim notices Jimmy outside having a smoke. She joins him, and they joke about how old the cigarette is. This scene is a lovely homage to the very first time we met Kim, when she and Jimmy leaned against a wall in the underground parking under the HHM Law Agency way back in Season 1. Here’s a photo for contrast (this isn’t from the first episode, but is from Episode 107 – but you can see the way the scene is framed very similarly, both with placement of the characters, as well as the lighting of the scene).

He fills her in. Hay is offering a Pre-Prosecution Diversion or PPD, a special program whereby a person, deemed to have a small likelihood of re-offending, is given an opportunity to avoid jail time for a felony offense, so long as they plead guilty. As Kim says, it’s a “get out of jail free card.” But not so fast – there’s one caveat. Jimmy has to make a written confession directly to the New Mexico Bar Association, effectively giving up his license to practice law. And he’s under no illusions – he tells Kim that it’s Chuck’s idea.

Kim argues that the Bar will look at the whole case, understand the mitigating circumstances, that Jimmy may be able to argue for leniency. But he scoffs – not only is it a felony conviction, but Chuck knows everyone on the Bar – he either made them, got them there, or is friends with them. Jimmy won’t stand a chance if he tries to rely on their kindness, especially considering that the whole thing is Chuck’s plan to begin with. Kim insists that Jimmy needs help this time, and, finally, he relents. He asks her why she wants to help him, him of all people. She gives him a look that says, “Because I love you, you idiot,” but what she says out loud is, “Let’s just call it the fallacy of sunk costs.”

Another excellent episode to follow-up last week’s. Season 3 is quickly shaping up to be at least the equal of the two seasons that have come before, and that’s something that its got even over its lauded predecessor/pre-sequel, where Seasons 2 and 3 of Breaking Bad both started off a little on the too slow-burn side of things. While Chuck’s maneuvering of Jimmy and Jimmy’s responses to it were stellar, it was really Mike and Fring who stole the show – but of the two, primarily Mike. Jonathon Banks is a remarkable talent, and Gilligan (as well as producer Bob Odenkirk, who could easily resist this move) has recognized that giving his development equal space with Jimmy/Saul’s is in the best interests of the show. The two of them are fascinating characters, and I can only hope that Fring gets much the same treatment going forward.

Breaking Bad‘s great strength was in its fascinating characters; even when the writing meandered a little or storylines got confused, you could always rely on another colorful character to come out of nowhere and keep you riveted. BCS has done the same thing, right from the earliest episodes (with the Kettlemans and Nacho Varga, not to mention the more regular new characters such as Chuck, Kim Wexler, and Howard Hamlin), and continues to introduce new characters into the fold. That we’re now getting reacquainted with possibly the best (non-Walter White) villain in small-screen history in the person of Gustavo Fring is of no small import. This week’s episode gave us a very tantalizing tidbit about his manipulation of the Salamanca cartel, of how he began to exert his revenge on the man who, if you recall, killed his friend many years ago in Mexico (if you don’t know what I’m alluding to here, you really need to go back and watch the last couple of seasons of Breaking Bad again). I’m truly relishing the opportunity to watch Fring developing right alongside Mike and Jimmy.

It will be interesting to see how much time is given to each character going forward through the end of Season 3. While I do want to see as much of Fring and his gang as possible, it might also serve to dilute the show. Right now, it’s about 60% Jimmy and 40% Mike. I sense that, much like the Salamanca bits (save for Tuco’s inspired introduction back in Episode 102), much of Fring’s exposure will come as part of Mike’s story. Jimmy will cross paths with Mike and his burgeoning group of psychopathic acquaintances, but their two stories will mostly stay separate.

But there is hope for all the Fring fans out there. Where the difference might lay is in how Gilligan and Gould view Fring’s character. While the Salamancas were largely peripheral characters following Tuco’s death in Breaking Bad, Fring was always front and center, especially through the latter half of the series. He’s very popular, and Giancarlo Esposito is a massive talent. To under-utilize him here would be…criminal.

Steve’s Rating: 9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)
Another excellent episode that does much to unveil Chuck’s master plan, and gets Fring involved in the action. What more could we ask for?

Episode: 303
Airdate: April 24, 2017
Directed by: John Shiban
Showrunners: Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould
Written by: Vince Gilligan (creator) & Peter Gould (creator); Gennifer Hutchison (written by)

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