Better Call Saul
Anytime you’re asked to meet someone in an alleyway straight out of Hellraiser, odds are you’ll either wind up dead or with a major albatross around your neck. Granted, Mike’s is no ordinary neck. It’s tough and reddened from years of hard work and harder living, and can handle having major weight anchored to it.
As he stands across from Nacho and considers the proposal to make one of his human headaches (Tuco, we assume?) “go away,” he can nevertheless tell this one decision may sink him like a stone. Mike endures for another decade-plus before meeting a fatal bullet, but what’s so unique about Better Call Saul is we won’t have to wonder how small choices will have major consequences deep into these characters’ journeys. The likely choice to accept Nacho’s offer all but seals his fate.
Earlier that day, in the Davis & Main offices, Jimmy exercises similarly perilous judgment that accelerates his descent into underworld dealings. Where once-schmucky Jimmy McGill landed in the crosshairs of cartel activity at random, he’s now fast-tracking his way to a lasting entanglement with the Salamancas and their kind. So much for making partner.
Though, one could argue that it’s all Chuck’s fault. Jimmy’s older brother is fixated on remanding him back to a life of petty mischief — so much so that he openly questions the integrity with which Jimmy recruited two dozen new clients in the Sandpiper case. In fairness, he’s not wrong to be suspicious. As we observe in the winning opening segment, Jimmy pays a Sandpiper van driver to pull over in Amarillo so he can hop aboard and drum up new business with a dog-and-pony show. It’s unethical and worthy of disbarment, but it works. And fortunately for Jimmy, the partners at both Davis & Main and HHM are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt (for now) and cast Chuck’s misgivings aside.
To Cliff’s credit, he and the Davis & Main honchos only call Jimmy to the carpet after he airs a TV commercial aimed at seniors in Colorado Springs without their approval. Generally speaking, they were game for a media buy — so long as it was appropriately “kinda nebulous, but not too nebulous,” like the snoozer spot their guys threw together. Jimmy knows better. He knows you’ve got to be direct and illustrative; you shouldn’t leave anything to the imagination. Enter his duo of film-student wunderkinds from season one, who are — shall we say, willing — to go for round two if it means a hundred bucks each. So long as Jimmy realizes there’s no dolly and they’ll be shooting in black-and-white. The result, even by Kim’s admission, is almost tasteful: It depicts an elderly woman in dire straits after she’s been manipulated out of her savings. Viewers in Colorado Springs agree and light up his “Sandpiper Hotline” like so many Fixodent smiles.
When Cliff interrupts Jimmy and Kim’s living-room viewing of Ice Station Zebra with a late-night call, all Jimmy wants to hear is, “Way to go Charlie Hustle. Fuck your brother and his ‘eternal vigilance.’ This is how an attorney who’s unambiguously unafraid of electricity advocates for justice in the 21st century.” What he gets is a furious boss, who is understandably incredulous at his underling’s audacity. Not hard to see how, several years on, our thoughtful ad director will regress into Saul Goodman, local television’s most shamelessly artless ambulance chaser.
Back in the present, Mike’s got plenty going on that justifies mulling Nacho’s offer, never mind being talked down to by his shady veterinarian-cum-criminal middleman. His daughter-in-law Stacey is cracking under the pressure of work and single motherhood. She’s not quite paranoid, but she’s certainly neurotic about imaginary gunshots and other bumps in the night that aren’t really there. After an overnight stakeout in his car (and, as some readers noted, that does seem to be a new maroon interior courtesy of Nacho’s dad), Mike witnesses little more than a paperboy slinging the next morning edition onto driveways and curbsides — hardly the “pop pop pop” of a 9mm. But he still feels responsible for his son’s death and can’t have his granddaughter Kaylee raised in an environment that makes her mother feel unsafe. His reasons for “breaking bad,” as it were, are less self-absorbed than Jimmy’s, but just as hard to switch off.
Season two has been a mostly slow burn so far, but it’s building toward dirty deeds, severed ties, and binding new relationships that — in their own small way — all clear a path for Mike and Jimmy/Saul to one day make Walter White’s acquaintance. When Jimmy hangs up with Cliff, returns to Kim and Ice Station Zebra, and asks, “Anything blow up yet?” he certainly doesn’t know that. But in fact, he’s already affixed a bomb to his life and lit a long fuse. For now, one thing’s for sure: Jimmy’s slippin’.
Apart From All That:
- I continue loving the attention to specific times and numerical delineations, particularly in light of the mathematically gifted chemist who eventually alters their lives.
- Jessica Fletcher forever.
- Okay, so we know Kim has daddy issues, hence her high standards for Jimmy.
- More asides like Jimmy’s “Does anyone like you?” to his camera guy, please.
- Amos Leidecker is a great name.
- This week’s opening titles said it all.
- No actual Birdie’s Buffet in Amarillo, but try Furr’s.
- This was Scott Winant’s first directorial effort for Saul, though the former My So-Called Life co–executive producer helmed two episodes of Breaking Bad (“Crawl Space” and “Green Light”), and recently worked behind the camera for Fargo and The Affair.
- KKTV: for all your Colorado Springs news, weather, and solicitations.
Corrections: A previous version of this recap suggested that Jimmy and Kim were watching The Poseidon Adventure, and failed to mention Scott Winant’s work on Breaking Bad.