*This review isn't spoiler-free, but also there weren't really any major spoilers this week*
We've been in a bit of a dry spell TV-wise so far in 2017, but today sees the return of Better Call Saul, a show I can never get enormously excited about but which I'll still gladly watch new episodes of without delay.
It's become tradition now that seasons open with a black and white catch-up on the life of post-Breaking Bad Saul Goodman. In 'Mabel' we find him still living as Gene, the manager of a mall-based Cinnabon, but growing increasingly frustrated with his sedentary, law-abiding life. Last season he scrawled his old name on a wall and this time around he helps police only have a change of heart. It's unclear where these cold opens are going - is it the case that the creators simply can't resist dipping back into the Breaking Bad era universe, or are we building towards a meaningful epilogue to the original show? There would be a nice symmetry with the main events of Better Call Saul if Gene returns to being Saul the same time Jimmy finds his inner Goodman...
When you fire up this week's episode you'll probably be met with a season 2 recap which Netflix prepared, which is just as well as BCS' plot is built on incremental changes and small court intrigue it's hard to keep track of between seasons. Jimmy's story is skinny this week, picking up where we left off, with Chuck taping his confession. It seems this wasn't a false cliffhanger and Chuck does indeed intend to use it, with Howard being informed of the tape's existence and assistant Ernesto also getting caught up in the sibling beef.
Mike's story is the more compelling part of the show this week, as he frantically tears apart his car after learning that Gus Fring has been tracking him last season. Jonathan Banks is brilliant at holding your attention without saying a word, and as he slowly Magiver's his way out of a tricky situation, it all feels very reminiscent of Walter White's cunning early Breaking Bad evasions.
The real star this week though is director of photography Marshall Adams, who almost does his job too well - leaving you gawping at the stunning and inventive shots when you should be taking on plot information. From the opening dolly shot through the foil curtain to the time lapse of Mike fastidiously assessing his car (above), the episode looks beautiful and props (I'm sorry) to the production designer and lighting team too who give the show an alluring, noir-ish feel and yellow hue.
'Mabel' is a somewhat slow start to the season but you really have to just try and appreciate the slow's low speed and how it revels in the mundanity of life. I have my reservations about its increasing reliance on Breaking Bad characters (Salamanca, The Twins, soon Gus Fring) but these do undeniably ratchet up the tension. Stick with it, season 3 is definitely going places, with Bob Odenkirk telling us recently Jimmy will even be called Saul Goodman by name.