Better Call Saul S03E02 Recap: 'Witness'

Every once in a while I'd like to imagine what it would be like to be that one weirdo who watches Better Call Saul but hasn't seen Breaking Bad. In theory, it's doable. BCS has proven to mostly stand on its own, and its tie ins with Breaking Bad are usually pretty vague. If you come to this show for the relationships, the character development, then I suppose that makes sense. But by now it's clear as day that BCS is basically two completely different shows. One is that show about Jimmy McGill, the man, struggling with the bad parts of himself and dealing with his vindictive brother. The other is the show that is methodically connecting the dots to its predecessor show, and I'm fascinated by the idea of watching that unfold without knowing the end result.

"Witness" represents both sides of the BCS coin with two distinct scenes that might have given me heart palpitations. Both involve Jimmy, yet both are completely independent from one another. One has Jimmy doing a favour for Mike, as he inches closer to getting to the bottom of who's tracking him. The other is another confrontation with his brother.

The former is the one I would love to show a non-Breaking Bad fan. It's ostensible innocuousness is sort of what makes it so brilliant. On the surface, all the scene is is Jimmy going into a Los Pollos Hermanos, ordering breakfast and keeping an eye on a dude with a duffel bag. There's no music to ramp up the tension, and seemingly nothing happens. But we get our first glimpse at Gus Fring, as he interacts with Jimmy and helps him find his watch, a pretense for Jimmy sifting through Gus' garbage trying to see if his bag man left anything behind.

Of course he didn't, because Gus and his operation are unlike anything Jimmy and even Mike have ever come across. As Breaking Bad fans, we know this, and that's the source of the tension. There's no need for music because we know what's looming around the corner, what Gus is capable of. There's one particular shot of Jimmy watching the guy Mike sends him in after, with Gus out of focus and in the background cleaning the restaurant. He gets close enough to Jimmy that he could smack him upside the head and tell him to stop. Of course he won't, because that's not how Gus operates, but that looming threat and how casually it's presented is enough to stop you dead in your tracks.

For now, the scene is of no consequence to Jimmy. Mike ends the episode in the middle of a road and on the receiving end of a call from Gus, who's figured out his game by now. That's Vince Gilligan connecting the dots between his two shows. But you get that feeling that Jimmy won't come out of this unscathed. He winds up working for Gus too, and Gus will probably have to deal with him at some point, likely aiding his eventual stock market crash-like slip to the dark side.

Jimmy has more immediate problems to deal with, though, and that brings us to the second chest-gripping scene of the episode, as Chuck's master plan unfolds probably better than he expected. The first scene of the episode shows him preparing for a break-in, confirming that he allowed Ernesto to stumble onto the tape so that he would go to Jimmy (or in this case Kim), forcing Jimmy to act and likely try and steal the tape.

As usual, though, Chuck underestimates his brother. Jimmy doesn't do what would at least have been the subtle thing and try and break into Chuck's house at night, or use Mike to help him, he's incensed that Chuck would stoop to this level, even risk injury with his disease to ruin his own brother. So he flat out busts the door to Chuck's house down and destroys the tape in broad daylight, and unbeknownst to him, in front of Hamlin and Chuck's guard. Jimmy enters this situating screaming at chuck, calling him a piece of shit and an asshole, and he's right. And you can almost see Chuck reveling in the unraveling of his brother. It's fucking disgusting, but it's also thrilling.

At the end of the line, there's usually something to be said about how Mike and Jimmy seem to be on parallel paths, yet under very different circumstances. Both are inherently good people who are capable of terrible things, on their way to a life of crime. Yet they're both handling their respective downfalls very differently. With Mike, it seems no matter what he's doing, someone is always one step ahead of him. He's cunning, meticulous, incredibly well-prepared and careful. Yet despite sending Jimmy into the restaurant and covering his tracks, he still ends up in Gus' grasp. Jimmy, on the other hand, can't keep his damn mouth shut. He blabbed to Chuck last episode and he made a terrible choice breaking into his house. He's his own undoing, aided and abetted by how much of a vindictive asshole his brother is.

A smarter man would probably look at this and make a comparison to Freud, and how Mike is the ego, Saul is the id and Chuck and Gus probably represent two sides of the superego. Mike is organized and constantly trying to cover up flaws. Jimmy will break down doors if he needs to because he knows what he wants. Chuck and Gus, however misguided, are governed by strict sets of rules.

"Witness" seems to have a bit more pep in its step compared to last week's snail-paced season premiere. It's carried by two tense scenes that will go down among the best for this show, and satisfyingly move the story along. "Witness" gets 10 stock market crashes out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • The episode really milks the Gus reveal (even milking revealing the Los Pollos Hermanos sign), but it's totally worth it. Frankly I thought they wouldn't even show him this episode, but the way that his first scene is completely out of focus and then how he innocuously helps Jimmy is sort of perfect.
  • Loved the little detail of Jimmy using Chuck's tape removal technique, before realizing he's mad at him and ripping it off.
  • " Do you ever yell at them? I mean, geezers, how can you not?"
  • One of Jimmy's clients collects bottle caps: "It's a wonderful hobby. What excites me is the hunt."