Talking Points

How Better Call Saul perfected the art of the montage

Better Call Saul didn't waste any time confirming it would extend the Breaking Bad universe's legacy of spectacularly-crafted montages. Part-baking tutorial, part-existential crisis, a monochromatic flash-forward depicting the criminal lawyer's new life as a brow-beaten Cinnabon boss in all its tedium kicks off the very first episode. And Vince Gilligan & Co. have continued to master, and subvert, the art form throughout the Breaking Bad prequel, which finally returns for its sixth and final season on April 18.

Indeed, whereas its predecessor largely worked overtime in the editing suite to document the dangerous lab-to-street journey of Walter White's crystal meth, Better Call Saul often does so to captivate viewers with more humdrum matters. In what proves to be the catalyst for his brother's tragic downfall, the second season's most memorable sequence revolves around Jimmy fastidiously forging a number on a legal document. Another finds permanently sullen heavy Mike dismantling a car in its entirety to find a tracking device he eventually discovers in the first place he'd looked, just one of several glorious payoffs the series' show-not-tell approach delivers.

The AMC drama's penchant for the narrative tool occasionally hinges on incredibly tense life-or-death consequences. See Nacho's painstaking preparation to substitute Hector's angina medication with placebos, for example. But it also allows the show to embrace a sense of fun. With its stylized neon visuals, motormouth quips and burst of Henry Mancini, Marco and Slippin' Jimmy's dive bar hustles play out like a scene from The Big Lebowski. Then there's the inspired "Inflatable" sequence in which Jimmy pushes the boundaries of acceptable workplace behavior to its bagpipe playing, sink-defecating limits and the Planet Earth-esque cold open where a hive of ants feast on a tossed-aside ice cream.  

Of course, its true masterpiece shows Up no longer has the monopoly on condensing relationships into emotionally-devastating six-minute montages. Soundtracked by a specially commissioned cover of the classic Sinatra duet, the eight-month-spanning "Something Stupid" fast-tracks both Jimmy's suspension from the legal profession and Kim's recovery from a car accident. More importantly, it also documents how a couple once so in sync — in a prime example of the show's clever visual trickery they regularly cross over into each other's split screens — can drift apart without even realizing.

Indeed, Better Call Saul regularly says more in a single wordless sequence than many scriptwriters manage across an entire season. But even when a lack of context leaves you baffled — Mike repeatedly throwing a pair of trainers onto a power line, Jimmy paying a busload of passengers to write postcards — the madness to the method always makes for sublime viewing.