Spoiler warning: If you somehow haven’t watched Breaking Bad, the restaurant owner is from that show — if you want to see him revealed organically on Better Call Saul, read no further!
Better Call Saul has been prepping us for Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) to return for quite some time. We knew he was an important part of Jimmy / Saul (Bob Odenkirk) and Mike’s (Jonathan Banks) history from Breaking Bad, so it would make sense for him to come into play during Saul. Further, the show has done some Los Pollos Hermanos-specific advertising and fun, cheesy commercials to build up to the event. So here we are, in only the second episode of Season 3, and Gus is nigh.
I’ve argued before, most recently in my review of Season 3, that Better Call Saul is better when it’s not trying to be Breaking Bad, or connecting to Breaking Bad too closely. But “Witness” was essentially Breaking Bad. Most of the episode was leading up to Gus through Mike’s surveillance (which we of course knew would happen). Still, it was great to see Jimmy try and track the backpack in the restaurant just because of the inherent tension Odenkirk brings to the scene. We know Gus is dangerous, yet we know the two work together in the future — somehow I was able to remember the former and dismiss the later when watching Jimmy twitch and bring a nervous energy to his task, worried that he might be caught.
The backpack never moved, but Gus swept up beside it. Did he know he was being watched, or was there something there on the ground that Jimmy couldn’t see? Later in the episode we saw Gus sweeping outside and then slowly stand up, narrowing his eyes as he perhaps caught sight of Jimmy’s car reflection in the restaurant window. He was suspicious, and of course later we see that lead to Mike being brought out to a desert road where his gas cap GPS has been deposited, along with a cell phone that we don’t hear the conversation for — yet. But we can guess who it is.
Esposito has made it clear that we will be seeing a lot of Gus in the next few seasons of Saul. I’m not altogether sure that’s a good thing. So much of Gus’ power as a character comes from him being a mysterious figure. The genius of his process is in how careful he is, which is why no one around him ever knew about his drug connections until, essentially, his death. But as great as the tension was in the scene with Jimmy interacting with him at the restaurant (especially the incident with the trash can, as Gus brightly donned gloves and helped him dig for his watch), we’ve seen it all before. It’s almost identical to how Gus first met Walt (or rather, first passed him by and then later revealed himself). It’s a great thing to see for the first time, if there are any Better Call Saul fans who haven’t watched Breaking Bad (who I would be fascinated to hear from — @keeneTV, y’all). But for the rest of us, it feels a little stale.
What worked really well in “Witness” was — on the lighter side — seeing Howard (Patrick Fabian) hopping over backyard walls, and — on the more dramatic front — the build-up to both Kim (Rhea Seehorn) finding out what Jimmy did to Chuck (Michael McKean), and Chuck’s ultimate betrayal. It wasn’t enough that he taped his brother’s confession. When he knew that wouldn’t hold up in court, he hired a bodyguard and had Howard there to bear witness to Jimmy’s outburst and confession. It was sickening to see Chuck’s machinations all in the name of pride. What Jimmy did wasn’t right, but he came from a good place. Chuck’s actions do not. Odenkirk killed it, once again, as he confronted Chuck: “For this you destroyed our family? Are you happy now? For what? For nothing!”
Maybe part of it is not knowing Jimmy’s story at the point, or how he becomes Saul, that makes his story so riveting. With this and the entrance of Gus, the way becomes very clear for Jimmy to continue his Saul transformation. But it also means we’re definitely in Breaking Bad territory. These are still early days for Gus, too, and there may be more to his own transformation that we’ll see in subsequent episodes and even seasons. But while AMC may be quick to want to connect the two worlds, Better Call Saul has its own charm and appeal that gets watered down with too much Breaking Bad. They can both be good and they can both exist in the same world without so much crossover — at least, not yet.
Better Call Saul airs Monday nights on AMC