‘Better Call Saul’ Review: ‘Quite a Ride’ Is a Captivating Tease of a Very Scary Future

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[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 4 Episode 5, “Quite a Ride.”]

Case Summary

In 2000s Albuquerque, Jimmy’s instincts for salesmanship have kicked in due to the boredom of working a legit job at the world’s most boring cell phone store. The gimmick he’s come up with — marketing burner “pay as you go” phones to folks who might want their “cash-based” businesses to fly under the radar — is a smart one, but the lack of foot traffic (and his innate restlessness) pushes him onto the streets to hock his wares…which goes well, until he gets mugged for his cash.

So it’s back to trying to play it safe and legal… At least, that’s what he says. But as “Breaking Bad” fans know, the future isn’t going to be all that easy.

The Least Legal Move

Is it illegal for Jimmy to purchase and then resell burner phones? The way he tracksuits up and swaggers down the street to Randy Crawford’s “Street Life,” you might think so. But probably the most dangerous element is his choosing to associate with a “criminal element” — something his probation wouldn’t look too kindly upon, and evidence that he’s not above taking these sorts of risks with his future. Jimmy might say that he’s looking forward to being a lawyer again in 10 months, but temptation is getting the better of him.

Achievements in Cinematography

Jimmy’s whole “Street Life” montage is a lot of fun in its brisk editing (credit to Skip Macdonald) and execution — who doesn’t love a Tarantino-eque trunk POV shot? But one particular shot near the end, in which director of photography Marshall Adams captures the reflection of the Dog House neon sign in a puddle, is the sort of simple yet beautiful image this show can be relied upon to supply.

Remembering What Hasn’t Happened Yet (The “Breaking Bad” Tie-In)

Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) - Breaking Bad _ Season 5, Episode 15 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Bob Odenkirk in “Breaking Bad.”

Ursula Coyote/AMC

At the beginning of the season, it was clear that timelines were going to start colliding more than usual, and “Quite a Ride” more than delivered with its opening scene, catapulting viewers to the latter days of “Breaking Bad’s” fifth season.

To get very specific about the timeline, this scene clearly takes place just before the opening of “Breaking Bad” Season 5, Episode 15, “Granite State,” as Saul Goodman, Attorney-At-Law, prepares to leave Albuquerque behind with the help of a “vacuum cleaner repair service.” (Go revisit “Granite State,” and be impressed by how perfectly Saul’s wardrobe, luggage, and hair match with this scene.)

What really matters here is the reappearance of Francesca — a far less chipper and positive woman than she was during her initial tenure as the receptionist for Wexler-McGill — who shreds documents with fervor as Saul tears his office apart for his stashes of cash. Their final goodbye features no warmth, but does come with a reminder for her to be somewhere unspecified on “November 12th at 3 p.m.” to answer a call.

That might be the most plot-specific detail to note from the scene, at least in terms of what’s in store for Francesca. But in general, the scene is a sobering reminder of the path Jimmy is on.

Oh, That’s Right, It’s a Period Piece

Remember the dark ages of cable TV, when if you wanted to watch something specific, you had to be sitting on your couch at just the right time? And otherwise, you were doomed to flip through the channels in the quest to find something worth watching? Jimmy and Kim still live in this bleak era, before the widespread proliferation of DVRs and streaming media. But at least “Doctor Zhivago” is a viable option.

“It’s From a Movie!”

A nice touch when it comes to making “Doctor Zhivago” Jimmy’s movie pick (beyond the fantastic note about how Kim’s favorite genre of film is “lots of attractive men in the snow”) is that the movie opens with an extended “overture,” meaning that for the few awkward minutes when Jimmy is still watching the movie, all that was needed in terms of licensing was that music cue.

Also, a totally random observation: It’s hardly modern in its style, but there’s something to be said for overtures when it comes to big epic films. If a movie must be over two-and-a-half hours, why not lull the audience in with some beautiful music?

Lady Sings the Blues

Peter Diseth as DDA Bill Oakley, Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Rhea Seehorn in “Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Kim’s mind is sometimes a hard thing to understand, but now it’s clear that Mesa Verde being her only client isn’t satisfying her in the long run. However, the way she’s chosen to cope — by representing marginalized clientele — doesn’t seem like a solution that’s viable in a long-term sense, especially since it could cost her the client she worked so hard to land in the first place.

Important detail: even Kim’s loaner necktie (presumably purchased specially for clients) is her signature blue.

What’s Up With Mike?

Mike is putting a few candidates through the job interview from hell, in search of someone to construct the underground meth lab that will eventually become central to Gus Fring’s operation. The first, French candidate says with confidence that he can do the job, but gets a brisk rejection — the second, a German engineer named Werner, earns Gus’s approval but only after telling Gus how hard and expensive it will be.

The candidates brought in are flying into the Denver International Airport and then driving an unspecified time before being picked up by Mike and another unnamed man in a van: It’s at least a six-hour drive from Denver to Albuquerque — which is probably why Mike makes a point of suggesting the men relieve themselves before getting picked up.

All the cloak-and-dagger secrecy surrounding these plans makes for an important reminder of just how good Mike is at his job, but the more compelling thing to perhaps note is what it says about Gus’s agenda: to own his own supply, and better control every aspect of his business. It’s the same careful control that makes him one of this franchise’s most terrifying figures, and also fascinating to watch.

Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Jonathan Banks in “Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Best Quote

“What’s the matter with me? Back in the day I would have spotted those low rent little skeevs from a mile away and they would have known not to roll me.”
“How would they have known that?”
“…Because back then, I guess I was one of them.”
“Well, those days are over.”
— Jimmy and Kim

Oh, Kim. How lovely it would be, if that were true.

On The Journey From Jimmy to Saul

Because here’s what’s truly haunting about Jimmy’s confession to Kim, about why back in the day, the punks who mugged him wouldn’t have even tried to roll him — the injured pride, the sort of wound that doesn’t get better with the application of ice. It’s the sort of moment for a character that can turn him cold, emotionless, and vengeful, and thinking about what it means for Jimmy’s future, at a time when he’s already on a dangerous trajectory, should leave people worried, especially after his encounter with Howard scares him off therapy. Jimmy may say all the right things to his case officer at the end, but as much as he might be trying to convince himself that it’s all true, that everything’s going to go back to the way it used to be, he doesn’t really believe it.

In Conclusion, Your Honor

In writing about the cold open of this episode, it was initially difficult to remember to refer to the character played by Bob Odenkirk as “Saul” — he really has been Jimmy for so long, at this point. And then… it got easier.

For an episode in many ways light in action, “Quite a Ride” was an emotional journey that not only moved things forward a great deal, but also maintained the beginning-of-the-roller-coaster thrill that’s been one of “Saul’s” most exciting qualities. From the minute details to the big reveals, we might know what’s coming — except for when that’s not at all true.

Grade: A