Better Call Saul Season 3 makes a good case for itself on Blu-ray .
Better Call Saul Season 3 shows the prequel spinoff series continuing to write its own interesting chapters into the lore of Breaking Bad, as its characters journey toward the condition where we will find them during the 2007-2013 program. Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks continue to lead the cast as the series becomes a more compelling show in its own right. The ten episodes of the third season of Better Call Saul maintain the wry perspective the show has had since its inception, but things are becoming steadily more serious. The overall arc of the series, showing Odenkirk’s character of Jimmy McGill as he transitions from a real attempt to be a decent man an a lawyer to the outright chicanery of Saul Goodman, picks up steam in the third season, as another major character from Breaking Bad becomes part of the story: Gus Fring (still expertly portrayed by Giancarlo Esposito). Fans of Breaking Bad are already watching this series in droves, although this spinoff is strong enough that it could attract new viewers who never saw the earlier show. (I’ll note that it really helps to have seen Breaking Bad before watching this one, particularly at the top of every season, but it’s quite possible to enjoy this show for its own pleasures.) There’s another catch here, in that we’re discussing the third season of a running show: I wouldn’t recommend starting the series with this season, as there’s too much built-up story that a viewer would need to have digested before being able to fully understand what is currently happening. That said, I have a feeling that most people reading this review are already fans of the series and likely have already picked up their copies of this Blu-ray. If they haven’t done so yet, I heartily and Highly Recommend that they purchase it.
SPOILERS: Once again, it is important to remember that Better Call Saul is a prequel. The stories and scenes depicted in it (with the exception of a single scene at the beginning of every season) take place several years before the characters of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman began working together in the meth racket. On the one hand, this can limit the series in that this show must eventually dovetail with the later timeline of the prior series. On the other hand, the prequel has the option of bringing back multiple characters who appeared and died on Breaking Bad over the course of its run. And like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul makes great visual use out of the wide landscapes around Albuquerque, New Mexico. Unlike Breaking Bad, the prequel series isn’t about the grim descent of a supposedly decent schoolteacher into becoming a criminal kingpin. The story here is a lighter approach on the same kind of theme – with the prequel, we’re really seeing how an already somewhat compromised attorney took the steps to become a fully and unabashedly criminal lawyer.
MORE SPOILERS: When we first heard about the notion of a prequel spin-off to the Albuquerque-set Breaking Bad, I confess having some skepticism, particularly given that the announced main characters of Saul Goodman (Odenkirk) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Banks) were supporting players in the earlier series. If anything, the idea sounded in 2013 to be a reverse AfterMash, where viewers could enjoy a little more time with loved characters and situations for a year or two before the inevitable cancellation. Among other issues, we already knew the endgame for both characters – that Goodman would wind up living in hiding somewhere far from New Mexico and that Ehrmantraut’s fate would be even more dire than Goodman’s. So it was an enjoyable surprise to find that the first season of Better Call Saul found many lightly comic ways to approach the two characters, showing that there could be a lot more depth and a lot more story than viewers initially could have thought possible.
MORE SPOILERS: The initial moments of every season of Better Call Saul are actually flash-forwards to where Saul Goodman ended up after Breaking Bad. As we’ve seen over the three seasons, Goodman became a non-descript manager of a Cinnabon franchise in Omaha, Nebraska. These moments, shown in black and white, depict a miserable Goodman toiling away as “Gene” by day, always looking over his shoulder for fear someone from his past will recognize him (he’s on the run both from the law and from the criminals he once represented). Given that every year has given us a further glimpse at “Gene” and his misery, one has to wonder where the future storyline is taking him. But like much of Better Call Saul, the flash-forwards are played less for grimness and more for something lighter – in this case, a wry sadness about how things turned out for Goodman.
EVEN MORE SPOILERS: Much of the story of Better Call Saul over the first three years has really been about who Saul Goodman really is – namely, a former (or current?) scamster named Jimmy McGill who has worked to reinvent himself as a genuine, legit attorney. The initial reveal about McGill’s identity is compounded by a running story about McGill’s older brother Chuck (Michael McKean), a once-powerful attorney now mostly confined to his home by a major psychological breakdown manifested in his apparent hypersensitivity to all forms of electricity. Jimmy is shown to be constantly helping his brother, by bringing him supplies and emotional support and even coming up with inventive ways to allow his brother to come back to work – such as lining his suits with protective foil. The early episodes of the prequel series have shown Jimmy trying to make it as an attorney while working with lawyer Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) and occasionally battling with his brother’s law firm partner, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian). Running parallel with the Jimmy stories have been scenes with Mike Ehrmantraut, a former police officer now working as a parking lot attendant at the Albuquerque courthouse. Ehrmantraut’s scenes have tended toward the grimmer side, showing his descent into criminal work and foreshadowing how McGill will eventually break bad himself. But Ehrmantraut is also given a much greater dose of humanity in this series – his scenes frequently involve his daughter-in-law and granddaughter and generally show him trying to do the right thing albeit through fairly shady means.
YET MORE SPOILERS: At the same time, Better Call Saul has repeatedly shown an ability to find moments of real seriousness and real depth. During its initial season, the episode “Five-O” included a devastating monologue from Ehrmantraut (well-delivered by Jonathan Banks) detailing how he compromised his police officer son to protect him, only to see corrupt cops kill him anyway. More directly at the heart of the show, the episode “Pimento” provided a first major blow to Jimmy McGill and a push toward becoming Goodman – the revelation that his own brother had been the primary obstacle to his law firm ever hiring Jimmy as anything other than a mail room assistant. In a vicious tirade, Chuck finally tells Jimmy what he really thinks of him as a lawyer: “I know you. I know what you were, what you are. People don’t change. You’re Slippin’ Jimmy. And Slippin’ Jimmy I can handle just fine. But Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun.” This startling moment, completely denying Jimmy of the approval he thought he was earning from his brother, can be seen as a major turning point for the series – one that would play out over the second and third seasons. There’s an interesting reverse parallel with Breaking Bad in the approach to the evolution of Jimmy/Saul: The original series tracked the transformation of teacher Walter White into the criminal kingpin (of sorts) Heisenberg by repeatedly rewarding Walter for the bad things he would do. So Walter’s descent was marked by a near-constant positive reinforcement, a few family hiccups notwithstanding. In Better Call Saul, Jimmy’s attempts to do the right thing are almost always met with negative reinforcement, whether that comes from his brother’s disapproval or from other unpleasant outcomes. So, Jimmy McGill is repeatedly learning that no good deed goes unpunished while watching more craven individuals constantly get away with bad deeds.
FINAL SPOILERS: With the third season, Better Call Saul has advanced the plot to the point where Jimmy McGill’s ability to practice law has been suspended, and to where drug kingpin Gus Fring has brought Ehrmantraut into his orbit. Simultaneously, the stories have brought Jimmy closer to Kim and have driven Jimmy and Chuck farther and farther apart. (And as a side story, the stories have included a running subplot with Nacho (Michael Mando), a low-level member of the Salamanca drug gang seen multiple times in Breaking Bad – with the third season, things have progressed far enough to show how Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) winds up in his bell-equipped wheelchair.) The stories of the third season have a general feeling of bigger wheels beginning to turn. At the same time, the series continues to benefit from high quality writing, directing and acting.
SPOILERS NOW DONE. IT’S SAFE TO READ FROM HERE FORWARD: Better Call Saul is a genuine pleasure to watch and a series that I look forward to viewing when it airs. Each season’s Blu-ray set is an added pleasure in that each set provides excellent high definition transfers of the episodes, coupled with plentiful bonus features including commentaries, featurettes, deleted footage and more.
The Blu-ray of Better Call Saul Season 3 was released on January 16th, including a generous amount of special feature material– commentaries on every episode, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, multiple featurettes and multiple fun Training Videos for Los Pollos Hermanos, narrated of course by Gus Fring. Once again, I Highly Recommend this Blu-ray set for purchase.
Better Call Saul Season 3 is presented in a 1:78:1 1080p AVC transfer (@ an average of 30 mbps) that shows off the fine details provided by the Panasonic VariCam 35 equipment used by Director of Photography Marshall Adams. There’s a wide range of textures, colors, environments and fleshtones on display throughout the season. Things get started with the black-and-white flash-forward and move through multiple wide-angle compositions, both in large exterior shots and in extreme close-ups. It’s a pleasure to see a show that looks this good get a solid picture transfer. To my eye and mind, a Blu-ray set like this makes the case for why it’s important to actually get the season set rather than just rely on online viewing via Netflix.
Better Call Saul Season 3 is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (@ an average 2.1 mbps, but dialing up to 3.0 mbps in the bigger scenes). The episodes mostly consist of dialogue scenes, so there isn’t a lot that the mix needs to do, but it does occasionally kick in with atmospherics and music when the moment is right – particularly when Mike Ehrmantraut is on the move. Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also available in French, Japanese and Portuguese.
DISC BY DISC
As I’ve done in prior television series set reviews, I’m going to break down the content on a disc-by-disc basis. Better Call Saul spreads the episodes across three discs, with each episode getting a scene-specific commentary and each disc getting a varied amount of special features. THERE ARE PLENTY OF SPOILERS IN THE EPISODE DESCRIPTIONS. If somehow you have not watched Season 3 yet, please skip this section until you have done so. And if you’ve not seen Seasons 1 or 2 yet, I strongly recommend you watch those first.
Mabel – The season opener starts with a flash-forward to Gene’s life at the Cinnabon in Omaha, culminating with him collapsing behind the counter. The show then returns us to the moment that ended Season 2, with Chuck having secretly taped a damaging confession from Jimmy and beginning to make use of the audio. A side plot shows Mike working to find the mystery man who stopped him from killing Hector Salamanca, complete with a French Connection-styled dismantling of his car to find a remote tracker. This episode includes a group audio commentary with writer/producer/director Vince Gilligan, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, producer Peter Gould and director of photography Marshall Adams. The discussion covers a lot of ground, including how the time lapse work was done for the flash-forward and how Adams was able to match the look of the series to its earlier seasons. (Adams was new to the show, having just started with them as of the third season.) A deleted scene is included (0:51), showing Mike’s return to his parking attendant job. A short featurette on the flash-forward scene, Gene of Omaha (7:41, 1080p) is included. This featurette really gets into the logistics of filming at the mall where Gene is seen toiling at the Cinnabon – including a photo-realistic backdrop the crew placed in front of a department store’s entrance. And there’s a quick Easter Egg in the Mabel sub-menu, which will show a little gas cap – if you click on that, you’ll be shown an overhead plan view of one location shoot with the label “Director’s Homework”.
Witness – The second ep of the season plays out two major threads from the season opener. Mike’s pursuit of his mystery man takes us back to Los Pollos Hermanos and its owner/manager Gus Fring, seen here only in terms of what we see at the fast food place. But Mike’s attempts to use the tracker lead him to a remote road and a ringing cell phone. Jimmy’s situation erupts when he finds out about the tape of his confession. His outburst to Chuck (complete with him breaking into Chuck’s desk to destroy the tape) plays right into Chuck’s hands, as Jimmy is immediately confronted by a waiting Howard Hamlin. The commentary for this episode is with Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, writer/producer Thomas Schnauz (introduced as Jonathan Banks…), producer Nina Jack, producer Robin Sweet and associate producer Robin Carroll. One of the subjects discussed in the commentary is the fact that the first two episodes were crossboarded and shot together – meaning that rather than filming one episode before the other, they actually mixed the schedules, thus allowing them greater efficiency. This was also due to Vince Gilligan having directed both episodes himself. An extended scene (2:01) is included, showing Jimmy and Mike meeting for breakfast. A featurette, The Return of Gus Fring (6:37, 1080p), is included in the episode menu, covering the return of the Fring character and thus the return of Giancarlo Esposito to this story universe. (I note that Vince Gilligan engaged in a bit of fun to hint at this return through the second season – if you line up all the first letters of the episodes of Season 2, you get an anagram for “Fring’s Back”. At the same time, there was a strong effort for secrecy about this plot point, even though internet speculators were constantly trying to uncover it – so the filming for Season 3 was marked by constant misdirects so the public wouldn’t know the character or his Los Pollos Hermanos setting was about to return.)
Sunk Costs – Jimmy’s outburst at Chuck has immediate consequences, where he could potentially face jail time. Jimmy quickly realizes Chuck’s plan for him isn’t about having him jailed but about getting him disbarred. Mike finally meets Gus Fring and begins to work with him to undermine Hector – by inventively spiking one of Hector’s drug mule ice cream trucks with cocaine, thus setting up a repeat of the great border crossing motif from Season 2’s “Fifi”, only this time with Hector’s mules being arrested. The commentary here is with Peter Gould, writer/producer Gennifer Hutchison (who wrote this ep), exec producer Melissa Bernstein, exec producer Mark Johnson, Nina Jack and director John Shiban. The discussion covers how Shiban staged and directed the remote road meeting between Mike and Fring, something that had to match where Gilligan left it in the second episode. (Sidenote: I’ve done this on episodic television before, and when we can, we will actually shoot the scenes for both episodes at the same time, to keep things simple. But that’s not what was done in this case, for various reasons.) The discussion also covers what would really happen at the US/Mexico Border if the dogs suddenly like the scent on your truck…
Additional Special Features:
Gag Reel (4:35, 1080p) – The annual gag reel is presented here in all its glory. Plenty of line flubs, miscues and anything else that can go wrong and does.
I’ll note again that there are two featurettes on this disc, Gene of Omaha and The Return of Gus Fring, but they are found within the menus for the first and second episode.
Sabrosito – This episode begins with a return appearance by Stephen Bauer’s Don Eladio, as the rivalry between Fring and Hector really begins to play out. This situation is magnified when Hector comes to Los Pollos Hermanos and attempts to bully Fring into capitulating. Mike is shown dealing with a new offer from Fring, and taking a job from Jimmy to photograph the inside of Chuck’s house for the upcoming Bar Association hearing. Jimmy and Kim trick Chuck into revealing that he had made copies of the confession tape – something that will play into their plan to undermine his. This episode gets a commentary with Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz (who directed this one), Jonathan Glatzer, casting director Sharon Bialy, costumer Jennifer Bryan and actor Michael Mando. An extended scene (5:40) is included, stretching out the situation of Hector’s unhappy visit to Los Pollos Hermanos. A deleted scene (0:48) is also shown of Fring’s henchman Victor meeting him.
Chicanery – This pivotal episode centers on the Bar Association Hearing where Chuck is hoping to have Jimmy disbarred. The ep begins with a flashback to the beginnings of Chuck’s EHS problems, as a way of reintroducing his ex, Rebecca (Ann Cusack). In the present, Jimmy has Rebecca attend the hearing, something that irritates Chuck but doesn’t overwhelm him. What takes the situation to Mars is that Jimmy has arranged to have Huell (someone who will become an associate of Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad in the story’s future) plant a charged cell phone battery in Chuck’s pocket before the hearing, thus showing in court that Chuck’s situation is psychological. Chuck responds with a vicious outburst in court, only realizing too late that he’s done so in front of the Bar committee and his ex – thus playing directly into Jimmy’s hands. This episode gets a commentary with Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, writer Gordon Smith, director Daniel Sackheim, editor Skip Macdonald and Michael McKean.
Off Brand – Jimmy’s manipulation of Chuck gets him the best possible outcome – the Bar Association doesn’t disbar him, but they do suspend him for a year. Since he can’t practice law for a year, Jimmy finds a unique way to sell the commercial airtime he’d pre-purchased for his practice before the mess – he creates a TV producer character named Saul Goodman and works to produce commercials for local Albuquerque businesses. At the same time, Nacho (Michael Mando) begins to get more focus as Hector attempts to bully him and his family. In response, Nacho is able to steal one of Hector’s medication capsules. This ep gets a commentary with Vince Gilligan, director Keith Gordon, sound editor Nick Forshager, re-recording mixer Larry Benjamin, writer Ann Cherkis and Patrick Fabian. An extended sequence (4:15) is shown of the free-form improv of Jimmy calling his clients to explain he’s on a yearlong hiatus – with an introduction by Peter Gould. And there’s the Saul Goodman Productions commercial (0:55), submitted for your approval.
Expenses – Jimmy’s best possible outcome winds up costing him more than he can possibly pay, including the problem that trying to make the commercials to fill his prepaid slots actually costs him even more. Nacho works a plan to replace Hector’s medicine with placebos – and Mike cautions him to make sure he switches the pills back in the end. A final blow to Jimmy about his insurance premiums now skyrocketing leads to Jimmy making sure to mention Chuck’s mental illness to the insurance company. This episode gets a commentary with Peter Gould, writer/director Thomas Schnauz, Robin Sweet, Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn.
Slip – Chuck tries to work through his psychological EHS symptoms. Jimmy goes back to his old ways to get money, pulling a “Slippin’ Jimmy” routine in a music store and getting a payoff for it. Nacho switches Hector’s heart capsules with his dummy replacements. Mike and Fring arrange for Fring to launder money Mike took from Hector. This ep gets a commentary from Peter Gould, writer Heather Marion, Patrick Fabian, Michael McKean and music supervisor Thomas Golubic.
Fall – The penultimate ep for the season brings things to a head for multiple characters. Jimmy tries to get his big Sandpiper case settled, which would bring him a million dollars, but Hamlin won’t do it. Hamlin also winds up in conflict with Chuck as the malpractice insurance problem leads to Hamlin forcing Chuck out of the firm and Chuck suing them in response. Jimmy cons one of his former elder law clients into taking the settlement. Kim overworks herself to the point that she crashes her car. This ep gets a commentary from Peter Gould, Melissa Bernstein, writer Gordon Smith, director Minkie Spiro, Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn.
Lantern – The Season 3 finale sees Hector Salamanca suffer a heart attack, and Nacho’s move to switch the real medication back is seen by Fring. Kim takes a leave of absence from work after the prior episode’s disaster. Jimmy feels guilty about this, and about his manipulation of the elder law clients, so he manipulates things again to restore balance and cancel the settlement. Chuck is paid off by Hamlin, and thus loses his law career. When Jimmy visits Chuck to try to apologize to him, Chuck refuses to acknowledge it and sends him away. Chuck’s EHS problems accelerate to the point that the title item is used for an unfortunate purpose. The final episode gets a commentary with Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Michael McKean, composer Dave Porter and producers’ assistant Desa Larkin-Boutte. A short deleted scene of Jimmy waiting at the hospital (1:26) is also presented.
The third disc also contains the following materials:
It’s a Bad, Bad World (9:59, 1080p) – This is a basic making-of featurette for Season 3, incorporating the usual soundbites and on-set clips.
Signs of Saul (6:35, 1080p) – This featurette gets more into how the various characters and situations of the series are presaging what will happen later in the story on Breaking Bad. This is where the discussion of returning characters from the earlier (and later) series really gets attention.
In Conversation (8:46, 1080p) – This is a group interview/discussion with Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks and Rhea Seehorn, where they discuss their characters and the events of Season 3. Seehorn has a great concept in particular for a way they could wrap up the flashforwards – one has to wonder if she’s anywhere near where the writers are heading the story…
Los Pollos Hermanos Training Videos (15:30 Total, 1080p, 10 Sessions) – This is a fun carry-over set of materials from the show’s website. Here we have 10 Training Videos for employees of Los Pollos Hermanos, narrated and led by Gus Fring (Esposito) – covering all sorts of necessary issues such as waste disposal and conflicts between employees and how to professionally handle them. Of course, Mr. Fring is oddly intense in some of this material. And was that a human body in the waste barrel? I note that the video quality of these videos is intentionally degraded – at multiple times, I saw various artifacts that I thought were dirt on my plasma screen, only to realize those artifacts were actually part of the high definition image.
Digital Copy – Instructions for obtaining a digital copy of the season are available on an insert in the packaging.
There’s one additional Easter Egg, of a sort. The disc’s main menu, in which we see Jimmy McGill standing in prison bar-like shadows is an active image, where the paint roller in Jimmy’s hand is seen to drip white paint on the floor and create the pool as seen on the package’s cover.
The episodes are subtitled in English, Arabic, Dutch, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish. The usual pop-up menus are present.
Better Call Saul Season 3 is a solid continuation of the fine work Vince Gilligan and company have been doing since the end of Breaking Bad. The third season continues the story forward and provides some of its deepest and most interesting moments to date. The Blu-ray set presents all ten episodes in solid high definition, buttressing them with a generous collection of special features. For fans of the series, it’s a no-brainer to Highly Recommend this set for purchase. For people who have not seen the series yet, I strongly recommend it – but I’d also recommend you start with the first season and not try to begin your journey in the middle.
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