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Ranking the Best Montages in ‘Better Call Saul’

Better Call Saul montage feature 2

I don’t think I can say anything about the basic function of the montage that the Team America song didn’t already cover. So I’ll skip the preamble and get right to the bold, declarative statement: no television show has ever been as consistently creative or innovative with the montage as Better Call Saul, no show has used the montage as expertly or eagerly, and no show has ever been as willing to up its own game with this particular storytelling tool. It makes sense that a show about – among other things – both a con man and the importance of craft would rely so heavily on the montage, which is itself both inherently fun (lining right up with depictions of con artistry) and the ideal visual aid for demonstrating the many steps that go into an entire process.

The montage’s combination of fun and care also makes for some of the most memorable scenes of the show’s entire run. Just as every fan has a favorite scam or con from the show, everybody’s got a favorite Better Call Saul montage. Thus, before we get to the definitive List of Better Call Saul‘s Best Montages, period, no discussion necessary, a quick shoutout to the honorable mentions. I would love nothing more than to write a 30,000-word article ranking every single Better Call Saul montage from front to back. You, however, might not enjoy reading. (Fair!)

So – pats on the back and participation trophies for the following montages, each one of which I love and had to sacrifice for the greater good:

  • The Career-Ending Montage (Jimmy self-sabotaging his way out of Davis & Main – Season 2 Episode 7, “Inflatable”)
  • The Mike the Mechanic Montage (Mike disassembling an entire car in search of Gus’ tracking device – Season 3 Episode 1, “Mabel”)
  • The Security Consultant Montage (Mike doing an unprompted and hilariously thorough inspection of Madrigal’s warehouse – Season 3 Episode 9, “Fall”)
  • The Scholarship Kid Montage (High schoolers interviewing for HHM’s college scholarship getting cut off after their first word – Season 4 Episode 10, “Winner”)
  • The Acker Scam Montage (Saul Goodman defends Everett Acker’s home from Mesa Verde with increasing ludicrosity – Season 5 Episode 5, “Dedicado a Max”)
  • The Housecleaning Montage (Cataloguing and hauling away all Saul Goodman’s many gaudy possessions – Season 6 Episode 1, “Wine and Roses”)
  • The Sadness Montage (Gene Takavic scams assorted Omaha douchebros, sleeps with hookers, and pines for Kim – Season 6 Episode 11, “Breaking Bad”)

Without further ado: Better Call Saul‘s Montage Elite, in descending order.

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If you know, you know. (COURTESY: AMC)

#8: The Going-About-Your-Day Montage (from Season 6 Episode 9, “Fun and Games”)

The Context: Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) have to have the absolute most standard-issue, nothing-to-see-here, boring-ass regular day so as not to arouse suspicion after Howard (Patrick Fabian), who was last seen talking to Jimmy and Kim, was killed in their apartment. While the two go about their business like it’s the only thing on their minds, Mike (Jonathan Banks) and his crew dispose of Howard’s body and clean up absolutely all evidence of his murder.

The Soundtrack: Dresage and Slow Shiver’s cover of “Perfect Day” (originally by Harry Nilsson, of Russian Doll fame).

The Delivery: “You keep telling the lie that you’ve been telling,” Mike’s episode-closing advice to Jimmy and Kim from “Point and Shoot” is the unspoken refrain for Better Call Saul’s most grim and gruesome montage. The coffee streaming out of the courthouse’s infamous vending machine makes for a tidy dissolve to one of Mike’s fixers wringing Howard’s blood out of a sponge. The same sponge sopping up more blood in a figure-eight to make Charlie Brown jealous is the natural transition to a shot of Jimmy using a piece of chicken to wipe up barbecue sauce from a takeout tray.

This is how “Fun and Games” opens. For five full minutes, we’re tossed back and forth between the mundane on a high wire and the indescribable made banal like two children playing catch on a lazy summer afternoon. The complete lack of dialogue – other than this happy-go-crazy song’s happy-go-crazy lyrics – is a gentle reminder of how thoroughly isolated Jimmy and Kim are as they navigate the consequences of their actions.

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Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) and his newly reinstated law license redefine the term “gift of gab” to drum up a fresh client base. (COURTESY: AMC)

#7: The Magic Man Montage (from Season 5 Episode 1, “Magic Man”)

The Context: After a year’s suspension, Jimmy / Saul has his law license back. And boy, is he ever eager to make up for lost time. What does the MacGyver of swindles do to put his name out there as fast as possible? He takes a pallet of pre-paid cell phones, programs his number to #1 on the speed dial, and gives the phones away to those of Albuquerque’s citizens in the greatest need of legal counsel.

The Soundtrack: Lee Morgan’s 1963 jazz classic “The Sidewinder.” Fun fact: at 10:26, “The Sidewinder” is the longest montage-accompanying song on this list, and I almost wish they had made The Magic Man Montage ten-and-a-half minutes long. I don’t know whether I could keep up with that much frenzied-yet-still-building energy for that long…but I know I’d like to try.

The Delivery: Of course, Saul being Saul, he doesn’t just walk around the parking lot at the Dog House making conversation with anyone who’ll listen. That was a Jimmy move – albeit a pretty good one – and Saul operates with a little more pizzazz. Amidst a literal circus tent backdrop and putting Huell (Lavell Crawford) on double duty as bouncer and Magic Man verifier (“I asked him not to call me that, but he insists!”), Saul razzles and dazzles with an array of improvised legal pickles so astonishingly detail-specific (“I’m guessing from our brief acquaintance that you’re a fella who, occasionally, though no fault of your own, finds yourself in a donnybrook or two.”) they would have made Robin Williams stand and salute.

In between, Saul slugs down coffee. He blinks in eye drops. He checks his hair. He slugs down coffee. And then he rings his attendant’s bell and shouts “Next!” and welcomes the latest soon-to-be client to his tent. The speed dial button; the phone in its bright yellow bag; the bell; the eyeball; the satisfied faces; the thermos of coffee – the cuts stack up in steady progression, not faster and faster but always a little too quick for us to fully absorb what we’re seeing before Saul’s off and running again. He’s no longer just hawking cell phones and trying to pass the time before his suspension is up; from now on, Saul is selling himself.

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Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) allows herself the merest private recognition of stress while trying to buy her way out of doc review. (COURTESY: AMC)

#6: The Phone Call Montage (from Season 2 Episode 5, “Rebecca”)

The Context: Kim has had enough of her purgatory in document review. She burns through what has to be damn near every professional contact she’s ever made, trying to reel in a client, some client, any client for HHM as a means of (presumably) buying her way back into her office.

The Soundtrack: Gypsy Kings, “A Mi Manera,” otherwise known as the Spanish-language (and superior) version of the Paul Anka song “My Way,” itself best-known as Frank Sinatra’s signature song. (Screen Speck is positively haunted by Paul Anka references.)

The Delivery: If The Going-About-Your-Day Montage is the grimmest on this list, The Phone Call Montage might be the saddest. Nicolas Reyes’ voice, seducing the music at the outset of the montage and straining to match it at the peaks of each chorus, is a bittersweet counterpoint to Kim’s ceaseless pacing, plotting, and grinding. By this point, she’s been in doc review for almost an entire season (Kim lost the Kettlemans as clients in Season 1 Episode 6). Which is a long time to eat shit from anybody – but especially from Howard Hamlin.

So, the only character in this world whose energy and tenacity match Jimmy McGill’s starts spending every spare moment in HHM’s stairwells, bathrooms, bathroom stalls, parking garage, front campus, and conference room, putting out feelers and inquiring after potential clients possibly dissatisfied with their current legal representation. And then crossing off every name on her lists and post-its when none of her leads pan out and heading back down to her non-office in HHM’s basement to scan and highlight a few more documents. Montages aren’t all fun and games, but neither are they full of obvious drama; here, Kim ends up exactly where she started, at least as full of frustration and heartache over the attempt as we are from watching her make it.

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Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), still more Charlie Hustle than Saul Goodman, all-that-jazzes himself up for another day of haste and bustle at the Bernalillo County Courthouse. (COURTESY: AMC)

#5: The Public Defender Montage (from Season 1 Episode 2, “Mijo”)

The Context: Jimmy just solidified his status as the (at least second-)best lawyer in the world after convincing Tuco to reduce the two skateboarding idiots’ death sentence to a single broken leg each. And he’s also convinced the always-suspicious Chuck (Michael McKean) that he is not reverting to his Slippin’ Jimmy ways. After that, what’s a McGill to do but work his ass into the ground as a public defender for $700 per case?

The Soundtrack: “Concerto for Strings in G Major, Rv 151 “Concerto Alla Rustica”: I. Presto.” By Antonio Vivaldi, of course. (Important homage note: Watch the opening scene of Bob Fosse’s 1979 All That Jazz if you want to find out where a ton of this montage’s cues and tics come from.)

The Delivery: This is the montage that made me fall in love with Better Call Saul. It’s the entire episode in miniature; every montage tells a story, but this particular montage is absurdly well-developed both tonally and narratively. It starts in the only place it could – the bathroom, of course! – and pulls back the curtain on Jimmy’s “It’s showtime, folks!” routine of self-assurance. We get the spinning carousel of miscreants and masturbators Jimmy’s tasked to defend, but we also get entire subplots. The infamous “You need more stickers” argument with Mike? It’s all in this one montage. The introduction of now-legendary public defender-turned-private defense attorney Bill “Omar” Oakley? The Public Defender Montage is where ‘ole Oak gets his big start on Better Call Saul.

In terms of visual and aural propulsion, this montage really uses every trick in the book. Sub-montages (“It’s showtime, folks!”, vending machine coffee); deviation (Jimmy’s coffee cup falls over and the machine’s coffee pours uselessly down the drain); accelerated time; refrain (Oakley’s “Petty with a prior”; Mike’s carved-into-granite face) – it’s all here, employed such gusto and verve you could be forgiven for thinking it’s Jimmy himself who reached through the fourth wall and into the editing room.

And the song. The concerto’s consistent and steady, with pulsing strings that kind of even work as a house mix backbeat (everyone’s favorite beatbox, that pulsing dun-tsh). Its gentle, cascading ascents and descents around the main melody counterpoint nicely with the endless miles Jimmy walks up and down and all around every floor of the courthouse and his equally limitless energy for bartering, dealmaking, cajoling, wheeling, dealing, showmanship, caged concocting, charming, pleading, and above all trying that one more thing for that one more case because one more could always turn out to be the big one, the last one you’ll ever need.

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#4: The Copy Shop Montage (from Season 2 Episode 8, “Fifi”)

The Soundtrack: “Why Don’t You Do It” by Little Barrie. Perfect garage rock for a perfectly delirious up-all-night scam.

The Context: After Kim quit HHM to open up a private law practice alongside Jimmy, Chuck poached Mesa Verde away from her.

The Delivery: In a sense, this is Better Call Saul‘s simplest montage. It’s one person doing one thing, over and over, all night long and with such relentless precision that the few people around to see him do it are too bewildered (or exhausted by the late hour) to care. In the same vein, Jimmy’s Copy Shop Montage is a more refined version of Kim’s Phone Call Montage from three episodes earlier. But where Kim’s montage is balanced more toward her persistence in the face of a fuck-it-let’s-try opportunity, Jimmy’s is about finishing a task he can already see completed in his mind. And the audience’s expectations are balanced accordingly: with Kim, we’re hoping alongside her and devastated when she doesn’t make it; with Jimmy, we’re happy to be along for the ride and can only shake our heads in disbelief as we watch him get there.

Which is all a very roundabout way of saying that the surface-level purpose of this montage is to show Jimmy McGill transposing two numbers on a series of legal documents to embarrass his brother and win a client back for his partner. It’s also the last proof you’ll ever need that Jimmy is the most talented plagiarist in the history of fraud.

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Marco (Mel Rodriguez) may not be able to explain wet standpipes to a layman, but he can pull off an intricate barside con like a magician with a ten-chambered top hat at a kid’s birthday party. (COURTESY: AMC)

#3: The Marco Montage (from Season 1 Episode 10, “Marco”)

The Context: Jimmy, back home after falling out bad with Chuck, decides to fall out a little bit further and reverts to his Slippin’ Jimmy ways. Alongside him is his old partner in crime, Marco Pasternak, who lights up like a preteen double fisting Pixy Stix when Jimmy proposes a spur-of-the-moment con.

The Soundtrack: The bold, brassy brilliance of “Banzai Pipeline” by Henry Mancini and His Orchestra.

The Delivery: God, but this is a fun montage. It’s like a collection of urban legends and early 2000s scam e-mails come to life. The focus is always on Jimmy or Marco as they run the gamut: Nigerian royalty with a frozen bank account; mystery valuables “impounded in customs”; a phony violin worth a fortune they unfortunately have to sell for a price too low to pass up; blackened cash worthless until you restore it with a special paste they just so happen to have the last tubes of. The list goes on. The neon lights glow. Jimmy pretends to be Kevin Costner to get a woman in bed. Every night in Cicero’s a hoot and a blast with these two.

The kaleidoscope lens, an homage to early 20th-century montage pioneer Slavko Vorkapic, adds a disorientating, intoxicating air that blends menace with mid-century glitz (itself menace of a slicker sort). “You’re gonna own a full mountain range, guaranteed” is the lowkey standout line; at the same time, the refrain – “Can you keep a secret?” – functions like your choice in a shell game: you try to keep your eye on it, but the promise of winning something for nothing is as much a distraction as the sweet nothings Jimmy and Marco whisper in your ear.

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Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) doing the most intimate domestic chore with the least intimacy they’ve ever had. (COURTESY: AMC)

#2: The Heartbreak Montage (from Season 4 Episode 7, “Something Stupid”)

The Context: In a startling time jump we’ve all forgotten about thanks to “Fun and Games” upping Better Call Saul‘s ante here, we watch several months pass by, during which Jimmy and Kim drift farther apart than they’ve ever been. (So far. #mcwexler)

The Soundtrack: Lola Marsh’s cover of “Something Stupid,” written by Carson Parks in 1966 and made famous by Nancy and Frank Sinatra’s 1967 recording. (In case you’re late to this party [I was!]: Lola Marsh is the name of the band, not the performer. The two band members singing on this version are Yael Shoshana Cohen and Gil Landau.)

The Delivery: Never has a split screen been used to such devastating effect. This is another dialogue-free montage because what good are words when you don’t know how to keep your lover right by your side? Kim, now working at Schweikart & Cokely and serving as Mesa Verde’s chief counsel, oversees the bank’s aggressive expansion while ignoring the question of what exactly she’s doing with herself. Jimmy splits his time between the cell phone store and the trunk of his car, out of which his prepaid phone business – and his introduction as Saul Goodman – is humming along nicely.

But the result is that these two, in lockstep for so long, have less and less to say to each other as they become ever more estranged from themselves. By montage’s end, Kim has faded away from her half of the screen, leaving Jimmy open-eyed in bed as the sunrise comes in through the curtains and us wondering whether he even realizes he’s alone. The “something stupid” of the title is saying the phrase “I love you”; tellingly, neither Jimmy nor Kim had said this to each other by this point in the series. While the rest of the song’s lyrics seem to suggest a relationship made too complicated by those words, the most hopeless thing about watching the McWexler drift is the understanding that saying them now wouldn’t stop the separation.

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Gene (Bob Odenkirk), Gene, the Cinnabon machine, weaving a tapestry of doughy deceit as tasty as it is tangled. (COURTESY: AMC)

#1: The Cinnabon Heist Montage (from Season 6 Episode 10, “Nippy”)

The Context: Jimmy, now hiding in plain sight as Gene Takavic, has been made by Jeff the Cab Driver. He needs to neutralize the threat Jeff poses. So he stakes out the fanciest department store at the mall where he manages a Cinnabon to con Jeff into pulling off a heist, because following Gene / Jimmy’s plan to the letter will mean Jeff has committed multiple felonies punishable by decades in prison. It’s a devious plan. The only real winner is Frank, the security guard.

The Soundtrack: Lalo Schifrin’s “Jim on the Move,” composed for the original Mission: ImpossibleTV series and put to brilliant and fortuitous use in the Cottonwood Mall almost six decades later.

The Delivery: Maybe it’s recency bias. If so, I don’t care: The Cinnabon Heist Montage in “Nippy” is the most fun Better Call Saul montage. That by itself would merit inclusion on this list. If you look at it objectively, it’s fucking absurd in the best possible way – all that happens is Gene goes about his normal, completely humdrum routine of closing up the shop and taking out the garbage. The only difference is now he bakes two extra cinnamon rolls at the end of his shift, takes them to the security office, and lets Frank (Jim O’Heir) blather on about college football so he can stare at the wall of surveillance monitors and envision the heist-to-be.

That’s it. The whole montage is garbage and escalators and chewing. And yet…it’s just fucking awesome. I really don’t know how to explain it otherwise. Not many people know this, but the word “montage” in the English language originally comes from the French for “elevator to the gallows.” And “gallows,” long before its association with your more gruesome Marie Antoinette-type deals, signified “a sudden plunge from the sublime to the mundane.” So Better Call Saul‘s first-ever montage devoted to Gene Takavic is the perfect representation of the phrase’s origins and a sublime distillation of the show’s appreciation of menial tasks, grunt work, and drudgery of all sorts. Throw in Lalo Schifrin’s supremely cool guiro & brass number and show us the Slippin’ Jimmy strut come back into Gene’s walk as he finds a little purpose in life for the first time since fleeing Albuquerque and you will find that the smile stuck to your face is as steadfast and as sweet as the icing you smeared on despite eating with a knife and fork.

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