Here at 25YLSite, we handle a lot of heavy lifting. Analysis, interpretation, deep discussion, introspective interviews… you name it, we’ve got it. “Favorites” takes a lighter approach to the material we normally cover. Each week, we will take you through a list of favorites – whether it’s moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever! – in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: Ali’s top ten favorite Better Call Saul episodes.
Choosing a list of favorite Better Call Saul episodes is a near-impossible task. There isn’t a single episode of the series that I don’t like, but after a very real struggle, I’ve managed to come up with a list of my personal favorites. Since picking them was hard enough, I’m not even going to try to rank them, so I’ve chosen to present them in chronological order. Honorable mentions go to literally every episode of the series that isn’t on the following list:
Written by Gennifer Hutchison; Directed by Colin Bucksey
We’ve already witnessed Jimmy pulling an elaborate scheme to get the Kettlemans’ business, but that was a spectacular failure. In “Hero,” we see one of his plans actually come to fruition. This episode makes my list because Jimmy’s billboard scam falls into that “so crazy it just might work” category and we see just how far Jimmy is willing to go to achieve his goals. “Hero” would make my list just for giving us the term “Hamlindigo blue,” but it’s really the passion that we see in Jimmy in his quest to be able to practice the law under his own name that sets this one apart for me. And then there’s Kim’s look at the end, in which the brilliant Rhea Seehorn speaks a thousand words without uttering a sound.
“Alpine Shepherd Boy” (S1E5)
Written by Bradley Paul; Directed by Nicole Kassell
This is, hands down, the funniest episode of Better Call Saul. I’ve seen it countless times and I still laugh. The sex toilet scene is absolutely hilarious (and played perfectly by Bob Odenkirk and Tim Baltz). But even more than the fact that it’s funny is that it gives us the first real glimpse (besides shared cigarettes) of the intimacy between Jimmy and Kim. It gives us Jimmy painting Kim’s toenails and doing his Tony the Toilet Buddy impression, while also developing Kim’s character in the conversation they have about Jimmy going into elder law. It also gives us some darker moments, as the repercussions of Jimmy’s billboard scam put Chuck in the hospital. We can see how much Jimmy really loves his brother here, which sets us up nicely to be devastated by events later in the season.
Written by Gordon Smith; Directed by Adam Bernstein
This is Jonathan Banks’s episode and he delivers a heartbreaking performance. We know Mike as the strong, silent type who goes about his business with a quiet, cold precision. Until now, the only time we’ve see him express any sort of emotion is in his obvious love for his granddaughter, Kaylee. In “Five-O,” we learn Mike’s backstory, which explains the circumstances surrounding his strained relationship with his daughter-in-law, Stacey. We learn that Mike’s son was murdered and that he avenged that murder shortly before moving to Albuquerque. Mike’s genius is on display as he executes his revenge plan, and we see the Mike we’ve come to know in action. But it is the scene when he is telling Stacey what happened and opening up about his feelings about Matty’s death—especially the heartbreaking line “I broke my boy”—that make “Five-O” so memorable. Mike Ehrmantraut cries. Who knew?
Written & Directed by Thomas Schnauz
I love a good plot twist, and “Pimento” delivers. After a season spent watching Jimmy selflessly care for his brother—something miles away from Saul Goodman’s life of self-servitude—we finally learn the heartbreaking truth that Chuck has been working against Jimmy the entire time, and that he’s just as good a liar as Jimmy. After Howard delivers the crushing news that Jimmy will not be allowed to work on the Sandpiper case with HHM, Chuck lets Jimmy believe (as he always has) that it’s Hamlin’s fault. But Jimmy is smarter than Chuck gives him credit for and he figures out the truth. The scene between Chuck and Jimmy, when Jimmy finally gets Chuck to admit to what he’s done, is a punch to the gut. Both Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean are especially brilliant here, and Chuck’s statement to Jimmy—“you’re not a real lawyer”—is as devastating to the viewer as it is to Jimmy himself.
Written & Directed by Thomas Schnauz
I love Cinnabon Gene, and “Switch” gives us a Gene opener that is just as good if not better than the one in “Uno” (which I love and which almost made this impossible-to-make list). We see Gene going about his business at the Cinnabon and accidentally lock himself in the garbage room at the mall, refusing to call for help because he fears any interaction with the police. While waiting for someone to come, he scratches “SG was here” into the wall—another heartbreaking reminder that he still pines for the life he once had.
The other delightful thing about “Switch” is that we see Kim break bad just a little—engaging in a mostly harmless scam as Giselle St. Clair. It was obvious that Jimmy was in love with her before, but in “Switch” he sees a new side of her that makes him want her even more. And, to everyone’s delight, he gets her. One of the things I love about Better Call Saul is that they are able to show the intimacy between Jimmy and Kim without including gratuitous sex. Other shows take note: we don’t need to see it happen to know it happens. With just a kiss and a communal morning teeth-brushing, “Switch” established the status of Jimmy and Kim’s relationship and demonstrated just how comfortable they are with each other.
“Gloves Off” (S2E4)
Written by Gordon Smith; Directed by Adam Bernstein
To me, this is a perfect episode of television. While it’s definitely a “Mike episode,” unlike “Five-O” it gives equally important screen time to the rest of the characters. We find Kim in a precarious position as she’s forced to suffer the consequences of Jimmy airing his commercial without permission. Jimmy is operating as usual—thinking the ends justify the means—but he’s forced to watch as Kim pays the price for his actions. There is also quality Jimmy/Chuck content. Their conversation about Kim’s culpability (or lack thereof) leads to a fight between them in which Chuck presents Jimmy with some harsh truths. We can see that Chuck, while not as moral as he thinks he is, is not entirely wrong about Jimmy. One line is especially troubling: Chuck tells Jimmy that Kim’s one mistake was believing in him. There’s a lot of truth to it, which begs the question: how much more will Kim suffer for believing in Jimmy?
“Gloves Off” also gives us more insight into Mike Ehrmantraut and where he’s at in his journey toward becoming the Mike we know from Breaking Bad. At this point, even though he’s desperate for money, he is still unwilling to kill for it. He initially agrees to take out Tuco with a sniper rifle—which gives us the excellent scene between Jonathan Banks and Jim Beaver’s gun dealer—but ultimately he’s not willing to pull the trigger and comes up with a brilliant plan to take Tuco out of the equation. We see that Mike is willing to take a vicious beating in order to avoid killing someone. It’s a line he will soon be willing to cross, but “Gloves Off” shows us that it will take more than money to get him there.
Written by Ann Cherkis; Directed by John Shiban
I absolutely adore Kim Wexler and, due in no small part to the brilliant Rhea Seehorn, I think Kim is one of the greatest female characters ever to grace my screen. “Rebecca” is the first real “Kim episode,” which is why it is one of my favorites. We see exactly how much of a hard-worker Kim is and how much her career means to her. In the aftermath of Jimmy’s latest nonsense, banished to the cornfields doing doc review, Kim knows that she is the only one who can get herself out of her current situation. Her iconic line—“You don’t save me. I save me.”—speaks volumes about her character, as does the large amount of time the episode spends following Kim’s desperate attempt to single-handedly bring in new business for HHM. “Rebecca” also has my favorite thing in the entire series to date: a montage of Kim working to get back in Hamlin’s good graces, set to the tune of “A Mi Manera” by the Gypsy Kings. The sequence is absolute perfection, and ends with her finally succeeding, but her happiness is short-lived, as Howard takes the Mesa Verde business, but doesn’t take Kim back.
Written by Gordon Smith; Directed by Daniel Sackheim
If you’d told me that an episode of television set almost entirely at a New Mexico Bar Association hearing would be one of my all-time favorites, I wouldn’t have believed it. “Chicanery” manages to make every single second of the hearing riveting, partly because we are invested in all of these characters and partly because the stakes—for Jimmy, for Chuck, and for Kim—have never been higher. Even though I know in my heart it’s not in her best interest, I love watching Kim work together with Jimmy. We get to see how incredibly competent she is in the courtroom and how far she’s willing to go to save Jimmy, which in this case means absolutely destroying Chuck.
No matter how you feel about Chuck McGill, there’s no denying that Jimmy did exactly what Chuck is accusing him of. We know it, Jimmy knows it, and Kim knows it. So when we watch the two of them systematically setting Chuck up for the ultimate fall, it’s painful. Chuck isn’t a particularly good person, but there’s no denying that he’s suffering from severe mental illness, and it’s hard to see two people we’ve come to care for intentionally take down a man who is in need of serious help.
We can’t talk about this episode without talking about the consistently excellent Michael McKean. In “Chicanery,” he cranks it up to an 11 with a performance that is so powerful that, at times, it’s hard to watch. Watching him rehearse for his testimony, we are reminded that Chuck is not a good person—he’s just as much of a performer (if not a better one) than Jimmy is. And still we feel it deeply when he gets brought low by our protagonist: the brother that he’s spent his life trying to sabotage. “Chicanery” doesn’t make Chuck likeable; it does something more important. It makes him human.
Written by Gordon Smith; Directed by Minkie Spiro
I love Jimmy and (like Kim) I’m willing to forgive and rationalize so many of the bad things he does. That said, I have never been more disgusted with Jimmy as I am at the end of “Fall.” If I’m being honest, it bothered me more than anything we saw Saul Goodman do on his worst day. Because here we see Jimmy targeting an innocent—his elderly former client, Irene Landry, no less—to get his cut of the Sandpiper money. He took no joy in it, but that hardly matters. At the end of the day, Jimmy was willing to ruin an old woman’s life to get his cut. It doesn’t matter that ultimately, to make things right for Irene, he ruined his “good name” among the elderly and any chance he had of restarting an elder law practice. What matters is that we can see Saul Goodman emerging now. The genius of Better Call Saul, which is especially evident in this episode, is that even though we know exactly what his future holds and who he turns out to be, we don’t want to give up on Jimmy McGill. We’re not ready to give up on Jimmy, but “Fall” forces us to confront the fact that Saul is coming (and it makes an old lady cry in the process).
Written by Gennifer Hutchison; Directed by Peter Gould
Throughout Season 3, and especially after the events of “Chicanery,” there was a sense of foreboding around Chuck. You knew it wasn’t going to end well, no matter what happened. I’m generally not a huge fan of shows killing off main characters—especially ones that bring as much to the table as McKean’s Chuck—but “Lantern” does it in a way that makes it seem almost inevitable and makes any other possibility seem meaningless. Of course it would be the lantern. It was foreshadowed enough times, even from Season 1. But the fact that Chuck made that choice and did what he did is what makes this episode haunting and completely unforgettable. From Chuck’s curtain call at HHM signifying the end of his law career, to his final conversation with Jimmy while trying to cling to the illusion that he is healthy, to him ripping his house down to the studs, and, of course, those dark final moments, “Lantern” is a gut-wrenching episode that left us all wondering: will this be the breaking point for Jimmy McGill?
We will soon find out as Better Call Saul is returning to us Monday, August 6th. Here at 25YL, we are excited to begin our coverage of the series. Join us every Wednesday as I review the latest episode. In the meantime, let us know what your favorite Better Call Saul episodes are in the comments or on social media!