The best stories tend to be about people who just don't know when to stop. It seems a vital part of the human experience to repeatedly realize that the time to have stopped doing whatever it is you're doing has long since passed, and Vince Gilligan has carved out a nifty career telling stories that focus on this particular slice of life. Breaking Bad was inarguably about Walter White's choice to start selling drugs because he had no other way to provide for his family in the face of an insurmountable catastrophe, and went on to explore his decision to continue selling drugs because he eventually came to love doing it even when it clearly threatened the safety of himself and his family members. Vince Gilligan loves himself a character who just can't seem to leave well enough alone, and this third season of Better Call Saul has three of those characters, each of them at the heart of two different parallel narratives.
Part of the fun that comes with Better Call Saul is the game that Breaking Bad viewers get to play as they spot all of the tiles that fit into Vince Gilligan's vast Albuquerque mosaic, and watch them slowly work their way into the places we know they'll be however many years down the line, when Team Heisenberg is eventually ready to storm on scene. Jeremiah Bitsui's Victor has already shown up twice now, and Fring's first non-Pollos Hermanos appearance comes at the top of "Sunk Costs," and it's absolutely chilling. Giancarlo Esposito positively owns the frame every time he's on screen, but Fring's even-handedness quickly establishes an accord with Mike as the two decide that their mutual beef with Hector Salamanca might be a great reason to team up.
Which leads us to another thing Gilligan loves: tradecraft. This episode isn't the first this season to be full of Mike quietly going about his spy business, and the usual combination of note-perfect scoring and engaging direction make long stretches without dialogue about as gripping as they can possibly get. Without a word, Mike executes a relatively simple plan to get one of Salamanca's trucks rolled by the Border Patrol, effectively accomplishing his and Fring's goal without either of them having to get their hands dirty. Despite its lack of too many complicated moving parts, Mike's plan isn't apparent at first, and watching it unfold is a testament to Better Call Saul's impeccable sense of visual verve and well-established characters. At this point, we know that Mike is a brilliant and experienced field agent, so our ability to just implicitly trust in his plan and let it unfold in front of us is a given. It's an engaging bit of television and neatly sets up what's sure to be a season-long conflict between the two competing drug lords, with Mike unfortunately caught in the middle.
Jimmy, on the other hand, isn't doing so well. Chuck, having recorded Jimmy's confession about tampering with the Mesa Verde documents, has now also goaded Jimmy into bursting into Chuck's locked apartment and having a meltdown that gives Chuck the opportunity to slap Jimmy with a handful of criminal charges. The rift between the Brothers McGill continues to grow at an exponential rate, and Better Call Saul deftly explores the decades of resentment that have simmered between the two men, eventually coming to poison what was once a more supportive relationship.
Chuck, despite needing Jimmy in a very real way (due to his ironically psychosomatic illness), can't help but carry with him a deep and immovable sense of resentment for Jimmy's continued ability to get away with so much rule-breaking and shortcuttery. As he waits for the cops to come pick him up, Jimmy delivers a short monologue to Chuck that prompts a face-fall of epic proportions: the life just slips right out of Michael McKean's eyes as Jimmy tells him that eventually Chuck will die alone, in a hospital, surrounded by painful machines. It's a pretty devastating moment in an already-fractured relationship between two brothers who actually do love each other deep down, but don't know how to reconcile the parts of their personalities that have always butted heads.
Jimmy suffers through a pretty solid amount of humiliation at Chuck's hands, "getting fingerprinted with the hoi polloi," but he ends the episode on an up note because Jimmy always manages to surround himself with people who will pay attention to the details when he won't. When Jimmy gets irritated and rips off the painter's tape, leaving part of his "Wexler McGill" logo with an imperfect edge, Francesca fixes it up for him off-camera. When Jimmy is too careless and impatient to avoid getting himself charged with multiple crimes — one of them a straight-up felony — by his own brother, Kim is there to slap him on the back and head into battle next to him. And we know she'll be a good ally because we've been watching her work her ass off, sleep in her office, and shower at the gym across the street for however many episodes.
Teams are coming together and some pretty major conflict lies on the horizon in Albuquerque. Mike and Gus Fring are getting ready to take on Team Salamanca on one side of town; Jimmy, Francesca, and Kim are getting ready to take on Team HH&M on the other. Due to the nature of the show's status as a prequel, we already know what some of the casualties of the oncoming war will be...but Gilligan and his writing staff are so adept at creating character-driven conflict, that even a mostly table-setting episode like this one is pretty thrilling.
Oh, and also...
• It'd be kind of awesome to see that huge-foreheaded DA fellow just get beaned by a milkshake thrown from off-camera, wouldn't it?
• The dissolution of Jimmy & Chuck's relationship is made all the more painful when you remember how wistfully Jimmy described their conversation back in the season premiere. "For ten minutes, Chuck didn't hate me." Jimmy might never understand why it is Chuck resents him so much.
• Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito are both an absolute pleasure to watch in this episode. Both have multiple moments where their mere presence speaks volumes in the absence of spoken dialogue.