Episode: 102
Airdate: February 9, 2015
Directed by: Michelle MacLaren
Showrunners: Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould
Written by: Vince Gilligan (creator) & Peter Gould (creator); Peter Gould (written by)

In an attempt to quickly hook viewers, AMC has gone with the two-night premiere (much the same as ABC did with Marvel’s Agent Carter a few weeks ago). It appears to be working, as AMC released initial viewing numbers last night showing that Better Call Saul had the biggest ever cable series premiere, with 4.4 million viewers in the prime 18-49 demographic. It’ll be interesting to see how those numbers move in the next few weeks. But on to the show. Last night’s premiere opened with a glimpse of Saul Goodman post-Walter White, flashed back to Saul’s pre-Saul days (when he was still Jimmy McGill), and finished with a huge surprise for fans of Breaking Bad. Things were looking pretty dicey for Jimmy – so how’s he doing tonight?

<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Better Call Saul Season 1, Episode 2 “Mijo” will discuss events and plot points revealed in the episode, and is written with the assumption that you have a basic knowledge of Breaking Bad (major plot points will not be revealed, but cross-over characters will be briefly discussed) – do not read through if you don’t want to be spoiled!>>

We start slightly earlier than last night’s episode ended, with the wonder twins showing up at Tuco’s house. They push their way inside, harassing the elderly woman, whom we now know is Tuco’s grandmother. He’s prepping dinner, in domestic-Tuco mode, when chaos descends upon him. He’s taking things calmly, trying to parse out what’s happened, when one of the twins calls Tuco’s grandmother a “Biznatch.” Tuco’s face goes hard, his mouth a grim line. He encourages grandma to go upstairs to watch her novella, and reminds her to turn up the sound so she won’t miss anything.

Turning to the twins, he clarifies what they’re there for, that they want money. He knows it’s a scam, but even then, might have been willing to let things go; but the twins have disrespected grandma, and they’re going to have to pay. He grabs a walker cane from a stand, and knocks them both down, smacking them in the face a couple of times for good measure.

Grandma hears some noise, and comes out to find Tuco scrubbing up a “salsa” stain on the carpet. There’s some humorous banter as he maneuvers her back into her room, promising to use the club soda to clean the stain. As he gets back to work, Jimmy arrives.

He, of course, has no idea what he’s walked into. He tries to talk his way out, speaking pretty straight with Tuco. He even tells him, “I’m not sure if this is a situation where I should or should not look you in the eye.” Tuco takes him to the garage on Jimmy’s promise that they will leave and totally forget they’ve been there, but one of the twins messes things up when he tells Tuco that the plan was to scam the grandmother all along.

We jump to the desert, where we see a couple of familiar faces – No-Doze [Cesar Garcia] and Gonzo [Jesus Payan, Jr.] – as well as another of Tuco’s associates, Nacho [Michael Mando]. Tuco is convinced that there’s more here than meets the eye, telling Jimmy that he can “smell lies.” Taking some garden clippers and placing them on Jimmy’s pinky finger, he forces a “confession” out of Jimmy. He’s an FBI agent, on Operation Kingkiller or somesuch, which gets Tuco all excited (“I’m the king!” he shouts). Nacho asks permission to speak with Jimmy, and tells him that he has to be honest. Jimmy reverts to the truth, and tells them all about the Kettleman set-up he was really after.

Nacho suggests letting them all go, as it doesn’t do them any good, but Tuco wants blood for the disrespect the twins showed his beloved Abuelita. He lets Jimmy go, but pulls out a knife, stating that he’s going to skin them both alive. Jimmy, in what feels like a ridiculously selfless move, turns back from his ride to freedom, and begins pleading for the twins lives.

He appeals both to Tuco’s sense of honor, and desire to be seen as the big man. He suggests a proportional response, something that fits the crime. Tuco, in his intensely dense cogitation, makes the connection between choice and judgement, taking on the role of judge with some relish. But he’s so damned literal, such as when Jimmy suggests that the punishment should be in the manner of an eye-for-an-eye, Tuco understands this to mean, “You’re saying I should blind them?” When Jimmy suggests it was their voices that got them into trouble, Tuco gleefully suggests a Columbian Necktie, where a man’s tongue is pulled through a hole in his throat, and wrapped around his neck.

Jimmy dances as dexterously with his voice as anyone on Dancing with the Stars does with their feet, and finally manages to get Tuco focused on the twins’ source of income: their skateboarding scam. He agrees to break two legs – and even this is negotiated down, as he wanted to do two legs each, but Jimmy convinces him that one per twin is enough. Tuco is, as always, massively excited by any violence he participates in, practically spitting with happiness as he points out to Nacho that one of the twins’ legs is backwards.

Jimmy tries not to look at what’s happening, but can’t help but be affected. He rushes the twins to the hospital, where one tells him, “You are the worst lawyer ever,” to which Jimmy replies, “I talked you down from a death sentence, to six months probation. I’m the best lawyer ever.”

Jump to a retro-nineties bar, where he’s chatting up a tanned woman showing a lot of cleavage, and trying to forget about the day’s events in the bottom of a bottle. He can’t concentrate, however, constantly being jarred out of his conversation by a man breaking breadsticks nearby. The action and the cracking noise drive him to the bathroom, where he vomits noisily. He shows up at his brother, Chuck’s, forgetting both to ground himself and to leave his cell phone outside. Chuck nearly blows a gasket, but using tongs, manages to get the phone outside. The next morning, he’s wrapped up in what Jimmy refers to as a “space blanket.” It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Chuck is undergoing some major mental issues, something that was already pretty clear last night, but which gets reiterated here.

Jimmy forces Chuck to take off the blanket – he’s doing so in a loving, but obviously frustrated and slightly resigned manner. Chuck does so reluctantly, and quickly pulls it back over his shoulders as soon as Jimmy’s out the door.

We go into a five or six minute montage after this. Jimmy heads to the courthouse, where he tells the court clerk form last week, that he “doesn’t want to starve to death.” He starts taking cases. We run through them, as he coaches clients, tries plea bargains, practices his banter in front of the men’s room mirror (this time channeling Roy Scheider’s Joe Gideon from All That Jazz, as he says, “It’s showtime, folks!” while making jazz hands at his reflection). In the parking lot, he comes up against the implacable Mike Ehrmantraut again and again, never budging an inch from the requisite number of parking validation stamps. There is a lot of humor in this montage, and not a little bit of Jimmy’s humanity: he really seems to care for the odd ducks and fish out of water that he ends up defending to the tune of $700 of county money per client. He’s exhausted, but seems to be happy with what he’s doing, not even allowing a mis-dropped cup in the coffee machine to bring him down.

But this is a Vince Gilligan show, so something’s going to happen to take away the happy. Sure enough, after he gets back to his office after another hard day, he hardly has time to pull out his hide-a-bed and sit back with a drink (of something that looks suspiciously like mouthwash), when the beauty salon owner knocks on his door – he has a client.

He opens the door to see Nacho Varga there. He wants to make a deal – find out where the Kettlemans’ money is hidden, and he’ll give Jimmy a 10% finder’s fee after he steals it. Jimmy turns him down, claiming he isn’t a criminal. Nacho doesn’t believe he’s legitimate – and he points out that Jimmy wouldn’t even be alive if he hadn’t intervened with Tuco. Still, Jimmy doesn’t budge – but Nacho writes down his number for him, as he says, “For when you figure out you’re in the game.” As far as Nacho can see, Jimmy’s already a player, who just doesn’t recognize it.

This was a solid follow-up to last night’s episode. We went to some dark places – especially Tuco’s gleeful maiming of the Bobbsey Twins – and we had a chance to see Odenkirk’s Jimmy really shine. This is definitely more of a comedy than Breaking Bad ever was, but with the same kinds of quirky characters – and, in fact, many of the same characters literally – we get to see different aspects of similar situations. Where Walter White blew up Tuco’s office the first time they met, Jimmy uses his quick wits and lawyerly charm to get his way. The fact that he steps up for the twins shows that he has, in his own way, a sense of honor, something that I think had just as much effect on Tuco’s decision not to kill them as the arguments and appeals to machismo did.

I find myself really liking Jimmy, pulling for him throughout the episode. We know his endgame to some degree, but the journey there is already proving to be an entertaining one, full of surprises. Bringing in Tuco so early felt a little rushed last night, but with the developments tonight, I can see why Gilligan and Gould chose to do so. What better opportunity for Jimmy to show the breadth of his talent than in trying to talk down the psychotic, sadistic Tuco? No one does psychopath quite so well as Raymond Cruz does right now, and after his too limited role in Breaking Bad, it’s actually quite a pleasure to see him back inhabiting this role.

If last night’s premiere held promise for things to come, tonight’s second outing does nothing to dim those hopes. Odenkirk is absolutely solid, masterful in taking on his own show, and the role of supporting characters is made up of Gilligan favorites, as well as solid character actors like Michael McKean. I can see why AMC has already renewed the show for a second season. This one feels like gold.

Steve’s Grade: A
A second episode that improves on everything that was right in the premiere. Odenkirk and Cruz shine in their moments on-screen together, and the attention to detail and the quiet despair of life are fondly touched on throughout. Each of the characters is a little damaged, and that makes them all the more interesting. I look forward to the next eight episodes of this inaugural season.

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  1. dave says:

    Of course my main concern was, as with any spinoff, “is the character interesting enough on his own to carry a show?” Easily answered “yes”. Now, let’s see where they take it.

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