There are times in the brilliant Better Call Saul when it seems like our two main characters exist in totally separate universes. All you have to do is look at "Mabel," last night's third season premiere: while Jimmy McGill is stuck in a biblical family struggle and dealing with the ins-and-outs of elder and banking-related law, Mike Ehrmantraut is off on a tense one-man mission to methodically take down the Salamanca gang. The tones couldn't be farther apart: Jimmy's story is an emotional punch to the gut dressed up like a law procedural, while Mike's story is a perpetual b-plot that could brattishly be called, "Old Man Mike's Very Competent FanFic Prequel Spy Adventures."

But those somewhat contrasting tones are ultimately more complimentary than not. In the most fundamental thematic ways, Jimmy and Mike have everything in common: both are smarter than anyone gives them credit for; both are patient and willing to work harder than their peers to achieve their goals; both are survivors with a capacity for deep empathy for the losers of the world; both are their own worst enemies more often than not.

And most importantly: both Jimmy and Mike are inherently decent men who make devastating-but-understandable moral compromises and find themselves inexorably pulled toward an inevitable destination (huh, sounds a bit like a certain high school chemistry teacher). The invisible hand of tragedy—that should be capital-t Tragedy, in the really big, really Greek sense—is hanging over Better Call Saul more than ever in the newest season. The more time we spend with the pre-Breaking Bad iterations of these beloved characters, the less we want to see them fulfill their destinies.

In season two, Better Call Saul exceeded expectations every step of the way: it was funnier (Hoboken Squat Cobbler!), more comfortable with its BB roots (all those Salamanca gang cameos), and most of all, it made its characters take a tumble through an emotional washing machine that subtly ratcheted up the tension every episode (everything about the long-simmering Chuck/Jimmy family feud). When the show started, everyone couldn't wait to see Saul Goodman in his seedy prime; now, I just want Kim to be happy for a few episodes longer.

Things pick up right where we left off last season, with everyone still dealing with the fallout of their decisions: Mike is on the hunt for whoever stopped him from assassinating Hector Salamanca (WONDER WHO THAT COULD BE), Kim is struggling with Jimmy's role in "muddying" her career (she sure spends a lot of time obsessing over that semi-colon!), and Chuck is planning his revenge on Jimmy with as much venom as his electromagnetically-sensitive mind can muster.

The Jimmy/Chuck divide has become the most compelling Rorschach test for viewers of the show, and there is no real "right" answer. Chuck—the guy who spent his whole life doing things by-the-books, the guy whose self-worth is completely entwined with his intellectual prowess and professional reputation—is the wronged party at this point. Jimmy may not have realized it, but he did the worst thing he could have done to Chuck with the Mason Verde sabotage: he made him feel like he was losing his mind. On a different show, Chuck would be the clear protagonist fighting against a manipulative sleazebag.

But we know Jimmy too well. Sure, he cuts corners and isn't much of a criminal attorney, but his intentions are generally good and altruistic (Jimmy wasn't primarily trying to hurt his brother—he was trying to save Kim). And Jimmy really does have Chuck's best interests in his heart most of the time: he wants to be a caring, attentive, kind brother. He wants to make his big brother proud of him (as is clear with his misplaced outburst to the Air Force captain). It's really hard not to side with Jimmy, the rule-breaking underdog, more than Chuck, the guy whose rightness is undermined by his own (perhaps justified) pettiness: "Don't think I'll ever forget what happened here today. And you will pay."

It's with that one line that a season-long storyline is launched that seems like it has only one conclusion: the invention of Saul Goodman. When Howard confronts Chuck about the tape, he can't fathom what the point of any of this. "If that tape is useless in a court of law and no help in the court of public opinion, whats the point? Because I cant think of a single use for it." But Chuck can, because Chuck has never forgiven his fuck-up of a brother for being so damn loved, by everyone from their parents to Chuck's own assistant, Ernie.

Will Chuck get his revenge by ruining Kim's career? Did he purposefully let Ernie hear part of the tape to make sure that he would tell Jimmy? Does he want Jimmy to make another mistake that he can send him to jail for? Is this all leading up to the reason why Jimmy changes his name to Saul Goodman? And will Chuck ever truly be satisfied?

Ultimately, the only reason Jimmy confessed at the end of season two was to make Chuck feel better. Chuck cares more about outsmarting and outmaneuvering his brother than whether or not he goes to jail for a felony. It seems that Chuck has the same narcissistic personality as ABQ's legendary meth cooker. He may have a different set of resentments than Walter White, but Chuck has a similar bitterness that has been building up inside him and is now spilling over. No wonder Saul Goodman would one day be so attracted and patient with a personality like Walt's—yes, he was attaching himself to a very lucrative money train, but he also reminded him of his big brother. Neither Walt nor Chuck really appreciated him as much as they should have. And Jimmy stuck it out with both of them far past when he should have.

And where does it ultimately lead him? To the first scene in the premiere, in which we have our yearly check-in with Gene, the most depressed Cinnabon manager in all of Omaha. He just wants to be left alone to quietly eat his lunch on a mall bench. But we get a glimpse of Jimmy/Saul when he barks at the teenage shoplifter, "Say nothing, you understand? Get a lawyer!" The whole experience—the run-in with police, the brief moment in which he reconnected with himself— overwhelms him back at the shop. Whether he just collapsed or has a serious illness, the cause is the same: Gene can't keep denying who he is, where he came from, and why he ended up there. He can't be himself and he can't not be himself. It's a tragedy.

The Honorary Huell Babineaux 'What The Huell Else' Section:

  • A great demonstration of how the brothers differ in every way: they even have different approaches on how to rip tape off the wall as they are dismantling Chuck's Fortress of Solitude.
  • To expand on a point from above: all four main characters are patient and willing to work harder than their peers to achieve their goals. There's Kim obsessing over the Mesa Verde regulatory filing; Chuck putting his revenge play into motion (very slowly); Jimmy meticulously scrubbing the rainbows from the office. And most impressively, there's Mike wordlessly inspecting his car for bugs; he barely has any words in the episode, but his scenes are nearly as tense as any from a season four BB episode.
  • The cat is way out of the bag: Gus Fring returns in next week's episode, and he's gonna be a major player for the rest of the season (and presumably the rest of the show). EW has an interview with creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan about how he fits into everything. He may not be fully formed, but they're not looking to deflate his larger-than-life presence: "I think it occurred to us we didn’t want to see him too early in the fumbling beginnings of his career because he’s just so cool. He’s so fascinating and so mysterious."
  • EW also had nine teasers about the new season, which showed there will be more BB character cameos, Michael McKean's Emmy-worthy turn ("I know a lot of folks in the audience hate Chuck and there are good reasons for that, but he is also a fascinating character and a fascinating counterpoint to Jimmy.") We'll also get the real first appearance of Saul: "This is the season where you’re going to see Saul Goodman appear — but maybe not in the way that you’re expecting."
  • If you're looking for one more supplementary text, this Gould/Gilligan interview with The Hollywood Reporter is the best of the bunch.
  • And finally, I'm on the fence about whether to continue doing recaps every week (like the last two seasons), or just pop back in around the finale to look back at the season as a whole. If you feel strongly either way, let us know in the comments below.