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Better Call Saul – Season 3, Episode 6: Off Brand Review

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★★★★

It goes without saying that there are spoilers in this review, so don't end up looking like one of Slippin' Jimmy's marks.

We spent last week's episode mostly in the courtroom as the McGill brothers faced off over Jimmy's actions. But Off Brand takes us back out into the world of the show for a welcome check-in with some of the other characters. Yet there's still room for some major developments in Jimmy's life. This week's story does a good job of both following the fall-out of the trial and seeing what else is going on, without ever feeling unbalanced. One of the stars here is Michael Mando's Nacho, who we see both collecting cash for Hector (and dominating poor Krazy-8, played by Maximino Arciniega, who will go on to be so threatening to Walter and Jesse in Breaking Bad), working at his father's shop (fans of the show's delicate close-up work got a nasty surprise here as he fell asleep and let a sewing machine needle puncture his hand) and worried that his worlds will collide as Hector decides he wants to use Nacho's pop's shop as his new drug transportation front.

It's handled with the series' typical nuance; a character who on other shows could be just a henchman here has deeper levels as a son, even as he deals with Hector's demands. We also witness Hector really starting to suffer with his condition, and the first hint that Nacho might be more involved with his future health issues than first thought.

Nacho's contribution to the hour also briefly touches upon Gus, and Mr. Fring, when he's not fielding calls, is stealthily introducing two elements that fans of Breaking Bad will recognise: the laundry business that hides the super lab, and Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser!) It's a pleasure to see them actually interact – she, of course, dealt with Walter after Gus' death on the parent show – and we're hopeful there will be more from her down the line.

And then there's Chuck, brought low by his outburst, dissatisfied with the result of the trial (even as Howard, bringing booze, tries to convince him it's a win) and really suffering. He can't even bring himself to answer the door to Rebecca, though does seem to be trying to deal with his condition later on. The scene of him attempting to hold the battery and the traumatic walk through town to a phone booth (wouldn't you want to go somewhere less... electric... to try that?) are superbly brought to life by directly Keith Gordon. The heightened feel of the buzzy, flaring electronics we've seen in the past adds just another layer to Michael McKean's tortured performance.

Elsewhere, we have Mike looking to embrace more of his family life, accompanying Stacey (Kerry Condon) to her grief support group, but also confronted by the fact that she doesn't see him in the way he sees himself. It's a quiet little scene, but an effective one, and who needs a torrent of words when you have Jonathan Banks?

The majority of the show still belongs to the main character, though, and there are subtle hints of Jimmy truly beginning his slide into Saul. Especially his cold reaction to Rebecca's demand that he come and help his brother. That, and his growing frustration at dealing with his elderly clients as he informs them of his year-long "break" from the law. It's fascinating how much the episode is able to find him in shadow this episode, outwardly showing the inner turmoil.

And his big plan to keep earning enough to stay at the office with Kim (and therefore make sure Francesca still has a job)? Why, he'll use the advertising airtime he bought for his law firm for other companies and, in a neat contractual loophole, only have them pay for the ad. It's a fun little sequence, which features the return of Josh Fadem and Julian Bonfiglio as the camera guy and sound guy who have not been properly named on screen (trivia note: Fadem's character called Joey Dixon), and introduces a fellow college student, Hayley Holmes' "Drama Girl/Make-Up Artist". For all the comedy of the resulting ad, there's a chill to be had when we learn the name that Jimmy has chosen for his faux facial hair-sporting ad man... Saul Goodman. Can you truly say you expected him to be introduced this way? Kim's reaction is funny, but it's tough not feel for both of them given what we know in the future.

Another great episode of a show that has proved it can shift its format from time to time and still deliver. There are the typically watchable montages (particularly unpacking the Los Pollos Hermanos truck and Jimmy's chat-a-thon with the clients he has inform of his changing status) and great use of light and shadow again. We're headed into the final few episodes of the season in great form.

Better Call Saul airs Mondays on AMC in the US and is appearing weekly on Tuesdays via Netflix in the UK.

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