Can the show maintain its position as one of the best prequels ever made?
The topic of what makes a good prequel is one that fuels many of our discussions on film and television. What’s the best starting point? What characters should be the focus? What events should be foreshadowed? And how much is too much fan service? These questions have been asked in relation to many of our favorite franchises. From Star Wars to Game of Thrones to Star Trek, to name just a few.
But one prequel has spent years showing everyone else how it’s done. I’m speaking, of course, about Better Call Saul. The Breaking Bad spinoff that once seemed like a bad joke has defied all expectations and quietly become one of the best shows of the “peak TV” era we’re currently living in. And with one month until the series returns on August 6th, we now have the first trailer for the upcoming fourth season, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.
Spoilers for all three seasons of Better Call Saul ahead.
The trailer is short and doesn’t give very much away, at least as far as plot points go. What we do get a glimpse of, however, is the ongoing transition from Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) to Saul Goodman.
We open with McGill in what appears to be (almost) full Goodman mode, making a snarky remark about the difference between lawyers and snakes to get a laugh out his colleagues. A line that wouldn’t feel out of place in any of Goodman’s Breaking Bad appearances. Next up, we hear Jimmy outlining his plan for returning to practicing the law, whilst sporting a terrific tracksuit.
The second half of the trailer then shifts over to the wacky antics of Mike and Gus (Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito). Mike attempts to cut through the bullshit, in the most Mike way imaginable, telling who we’re meant to believe is Gus to “just tell me about the job.” In another bit of possibly sneaky editing, we see Kim (Rhea Seehorn), still recovering from her accident last season, going all out on Howard (Patrick Fabian).
Finally, we see what looks to be the nightmarish consequences of Nacho’s botched attempt on Hector Salamanca’s life. Bodies piled up, The Cousins wielding double pistols and a chilling line delivery from Esposito — “I decide what he deserves.” Yikes. For Nacho’s sake, I sure hope Gus isn’t talking about him.
Speaking to USA Today, showrunner Peter Gould explained that Gus “takes advantage of every opportunity,” although “his interests are not always exactly what they seem to be.” Between this and Gus’ terrifying glare after Salamanca’s heart attack, things aren’t looking so good for Nacho. Especially considering Gus’ wildly unpredictable nature (box cutters will never be the same again).
In addition to this trailer, Entertainment Weekly also revealed an intriguing set of promo photos. The first of which is particularly bleak, showing Jimmy and Kim at what appears to be Chuck’s funeral. As you may remember, Chuck committed suicide at the end of season three, which Jimmy does not yet know about. Gould went on to discuss how this shocking final scene will affect Jimmy:
“At the beginning of this season, Jimmy finds out what happened to Chuck and his reaction is not necessarily what you’d expect. But there’s no question that it changes him and his relationship with Kim.”
This is certainly reflected in the photo, as Jimmy and Kim stare blankly off into different directions. They sit divided, as people in the background comfort each other.
Next up we see more of the tension between Jimmy, Kim, and Howard that will likely be at the forefront this season. In the aftermath of Chuck’s death, the bad blood between the three will surely escalate. They sit surrounded by what looks to be at least some of Chuck’s obsessively hoarded paperwork. The shadow of Chuck still hangs over them, even as they come to terms with his passing.
Next, we see Gus shaking hands with an unseen man. There’s not a whole lot to go on here (other than Esposito’s always frightening smile), although it’s possible the man is obscured for a reason. Whether that reason is that he’s an existing character remains to be seen. And then we have Mike being, well, Mike. Nobody does the unimpressed stare like Jonathan Banks.
USA Today also revealed a set of stills, and although there is considerably less to take from these, we do get a glimpse of what looks like Jimmy struggling to work his way back into the law business. This image is also taken from the scene at the beginning of the trailer, which paints a picture of Jimmy using his trademark sense of humor to deflect what he’s going through.
So what can we expect from the upcoming season? Well for a start, the shadow of Chuck McGill will be hanging over the show. For three seasons, the core of the narrative remained Jimmy’s strained relationship with his brother. And Michael McKean’s immensely nuanced performances ensured that the character remained equal parts sympathetic and hateable.
With Chuck gone, Jimmy’s (and the show’s) world has been ripped apart. While Better Call Saul is smarter than to have him break completely over this, Jimmy’s good nature will likely be eroded significantly by the death of his brother. Despite their problems, Chuck was one of a few people who kept Jimmy grounded. And with him out of the picture, and potential issues with Kim arising, it’s unnerving to think where Jimmy might end up this season.
Which brings us to the issue of whether Jimmy will finally slip into full Saul Goodman mode in Season 4. Which I wouldn’t count on. At least not entirely. Despite Odenkirk’s claims that “Everything moves faster” this season, this isn’t a show in any hurry to get to where it’s going. Co-creators Gould and Vince Gilligan have spent three seasons carefully building up every plot thread. It seems unlikely that after all this they would rush that transformation. While Season 3 certainly gave us an indication that Jimmy was going down a dark path, I’d be surprised if he went all the way just yet.
From an outside perspective, it’s also difficult to imagine the series without McKean. Especially when this year has also seen Westworld struggle to go forward having dropped a major character. However, I believe Gilligan and Gould deserve at least some credit here. After all, Breaking Bad was able to maintain its high quality after killing off the likes of Gus and Mike, so it seems unlikely that we’ll be seeing a significant drop off here. Whether we’ll get anything as emotionally affecting as the hell the McGill brothers put each other through is another issue, though. Amongst all the cartel business, the most shocking moments have often revolved around Jimmy and Chuck. The secret recording, the hidden phone in the trial, and of course Chuck’s death.
Again, though, Better Call Saul has done such a terrific job of setting up each individual relationship over the course of three seasons. And I have no doubt that any one of these, especially Jimmy and Kim’s, will provide some heavy emotional beats.
As for what I’m hoping for? Well, it’s mostly for Gilligan and Gould to keep doing what they’re proven to be so good at. Building up characters, taking their time to tell the story, all while working in Breaking Bad references. Much has been said about how Better Call Saul has consistently perfected the art of the perfect prequel. Developing side characters, not rushing to conclusions and keeping fan service at a level that serves the story. And if the show can continue to do all this, while progressing the narrative in a satisfying way, we’re in for one hell of a season.