A (mostly) spoiler free review for Better Call Saul s6 e3: Rock and Hard Place
Before we begin on our review for episode three let's talk about Better Call Saul season six in general. I've always held the opinion that the prequel series is actually better than Breaking Bad, the show the much loved Saul Goodman made his debut on. Season six is further proof of this, it's immaculately written, it's one of the best looking shows around, and it's by far one of the best acted shows too. Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Tony Dalton, and Giancarlo Esposito all return for the show's final season and it goes without saying that they all turn in award worthy performances yet again. The writing from Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould is also as sharp and witty as ever, but that should also go without saying. Essentially season six is more of the same and that's exactly what everyone wanted. But you're not here for a general discussion about Better Call Saul are you? So let's get on with the review.
Rock and Hard Place runs at a slightly slower pace than the first two episodes and as such it covers a lot less ground storywise. Episodes one and two saw Jimmy dealing with, Hamlin, the Kettlemans, and the fallout of his defense of Lalo Salamanca (a.k.a Jorge De Guzman). It also followed Nacho on the run from just about everyone and that's right where episode three picks up. The plotline with Jimmy and Kim going after Hamlin very much takes a back seat while Mike and Nacho take the overwhelming majority of this episode's screentime. Removing the focus from Jimmy and Kim turns out to be a great call from the writers as it gives the show room to begin to tie up any remaining loose ends and subplots that need to be tied up (i.e any subplots that don't continue into the story of Breaking Bad).
In many ways this episode actually feels more like an episode of Breaking Bad than Better Call Saul, and that's no bad thing at all. In fact, it's only natural that this would be the case as the events of the two shows begin to get closer and closer together, the distinct line between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad gets blurred a little more as each season goes on. The most noticeable difference between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad is the tone and tonally this episode falls much more in line with the latter, it's grittier and generally more serious than what we've grown accustomed to in the prequel spin off. A lot of that tonal shift comes with the subject matter, the story of Nacho Varga is a generally tragic and lonely one that greatly contrasts the currently generally positive story of Jimmy McGill, so you can see why this episode might feel a bit different to the last two.
It's at this point that I'm going to go into my first major worry for the final season of Better Call Saul, I worry that there are too many subplots to wrap up and characters to deal with but not enough time to do it. Now I have no doubt in the immense writing talents of Gilligan and Gould, but at a certain point you have to wonder whether they've bitten off a little more than they can chew by carrying so many plot points that all need resolving into the final season of a prequel show. In any normal show that wouldn't really be a problem, character's fates and whereabouts can be left open, but in making a prequel series you confine yourself to certain pre-existing narratives meaning that everything has to fit together within those narratives perfectly.
That brings me into my only criticism of this episode, certain aspects of the overall story feel a bit too rushed. At the end of the episode we reach a point that feels like it could be a real climax, a proper flashpoint for this season but in practice it just turns out to be a bit of a non event. The confrontation between the Salamancas, Gus, and Nacho is on paper a brilliant prospect, the culmination of six seasons worth of build up, but in the end its just a bit disappointing. To me this feels like it was as a result of the problem I just mentioned, too many resolutions and not enough time. It felt as if certain characters had to be at certain points by the end of the season regardless of how they got there. Not only did it feel anti-climactic but it was also somewhat confusing, I'll do my best to explain how without spoilers. At the end of the episode Nacho makes a decision that seems so out of character and doesn't seem to line up with his previous motives and intentions (his main intention being to get back to his father and get away from the cartels). Don't get me wrong though, none of it's done badly, I just feel as though there was an opportunity for Nacho's story to go in a different direction that would have made a bit more sense.
With all of that being said, I love that this episode leaned so heavily into Mike and Nacho. I like that the writers aren't afraid to completely turn away from the main character of the show in order to give these side characters the coverage they deserve and it's all done so flawlessly well right up until the climax (and even that wasn't done badly).
Without spoiling it I can't really say much more about the plot, although maybe I'll revisit this at a later date to fully discuss it in full spoilery detail.
There were some great character moments and appearances in this episode. It's always great to see Jimmy and Kim together in any capacity (even though I live in constant fear of the inevitability of their marriage ending), but it's even better to see Huell Babineux and Jimmy together and this episode delivers on that. Huell is a shining star in the Breaking Bad franchise and deserves as much screentime as he can get. Mike Ehrmantraut continues to be an absolute standout too, Jonathan Banks steals every scene he's in, in fact the thing that initially got me into Better Call Saul was Mike's increased presence so it was great to see him get so much play in this one. Finally, it's worth mentioning that Giancarlo Esposito continues to absolutely kill it as Gus Fring and with every minute he shows exactly why he should be universally considered the best TV show villain of all time, there's just something so perfect in the understated way Esposito plays the character.
Rock and Hard Place is an extremely solid episode that's slightly hampered by the urgent need to tie up loose ends. If you've watched this episode before reading the review I'm sure you'll know what I mean. It's faultless in every other way though. As I said before, it looks amazing, it's phenomenally well acted, and it's (for the most part) extremely well written, I just wish it wasn't confined by the narrative put in place nine years ago by Breaking Bad. I worry that this might end up being the case throughout the rest of the season with so many things yet to be concluded (Kim, Lalo, Hamlin also all have plotlines that need to be resolved), the last thing I want is for the final season of such a phenomenal show to be spent just rushing to make resolutions for the sake of resolutions. I don't think I'm the only one with this fear either, and I don't think I'm the only one who will be slightly disappointed by certain aspects of this episode.