“Oh, and point me to your best copier.”
Better Call Saul is a filmmaker’s delight, a showcase for more cinematic tricks and techniques than most major motion pictures. Director Larysa Kondracki brings us into ‘Fifi’ with a continuous four-minute shot following a smuggler across the Mexican border, through customs, and into the embrace of the Salamanca family while transitioning from crane to ground and through the innards of a busy customs inspection depot without so much as a bump in the road. It’s seamless, energetic, and meticulous, a ground-level stroll through the innards of an attempt to prevent crime as thorough as it is fruitless. Death grows from the soil out here, dug out of holes in the ground by silent men.
The episode doesn’t lack for emotional clout or for sphincter-tightening suspense. Rhea Seehorn continues to deliver one of the most quietly exciting performances on the air. Her smile when she thinks she’s won Mesa Verde is heart-stopping, and her booking it through HHM to beat Howard to the punch is as urgent as it is funny. Mike’s quiet surveillance of the Salamanca crime family promises violence so assuredly that the shadow over his craft project with his granddaughter is apparent ever before we know what they’re making. His involving her in his crimes is crushing, a cruel acknowledgement that their connection, no matter how loving, is already poisoned by his choices. Someday she’ll know him for the killer he is, a brutal man who didn’t shy from hiding his atrocities behind his granddaughter’s innocence.
The rust and orange wreckage of the auto yard where Mike concludes his stakeout is part of a breathtaking palette that leaves the episode feeling almost like a comic book, each environment broken down into distinct panels with unique character and color. The fluorescent lights and white surfaces of the copy center, the murky expanses of Chuck’s apartment, the blushing dawn tones of Howard’s office and the cavernous emptiness of Chuck’s; it all forms whole cloth from which Kondracki cuts a pattern as beautiful as anything this side of Hannibal or Cary Joji Fukunaga’s explosive single-shot raid sequence from True Detective‘s first season. Chuck, always as beautifully shot as he is beautifully acted by pro Michael McKean, floats like a ghost in the corners of yawning shots, a small presence made smaller by his fearful curling inward from the pain and noise of the outside world.
‘Fifi’ is a home run, a gorgeous episode that stands out from the show’s already beautiful baseline. It also includes a sequence in which Jimmy passes an acquitted public masturbator off as a war hero in order to get an antique bomber in his commercial, which is something you’re not going to find anywhere else.