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Better Call Saul Episode 2 Review – “Mijo”
At one point in the express paced, morally driven second episode of Better Call Saul, McGill says “I’m not a criminal, I’m a lawyer.” A foreshadowing and realisation from McGill that his world could be changing very dramatically in the coming weeks.
The second episode retains the fun and tension of the premier’e third act, as McGill stands held at gunpoint by Breaking Bad’s Tuco Slamanca, who’s captured the incompetent twin skateboard hustlers. McGill knows that this could ruin his career – potentially his life – so he unearths the unborn Saul Goodman and attempts to fast talk and come up with a logical and justified reason why the twin skateboarders should be let go. However, just as McGill begins to convince Tuco, things escalate when one of the twins says that the whole scam was McGill’s idea.
Characters backstabbing each other was a constant trope in Breaking Bad, and when one of the twins puts McGill right in the middle of the conflict, it echoed when Walter White first plunged into the seedy side of Meth-making, when he was held at gunpoint by Krazy-8 – the look of a new, unfamiliar world. The scene in the desert is a real accomplishment from the writers to believably go from black comedy to sheer shock.
The shock of it plays on McGill’s mind as the episode goes on. It’s a pivotal moment for his character as he realizes that he is now both responsible and in danger of slipping into this world. He tries to continue his life normally, but when he is on a date with a woman, he breaks down and finds himself back in his brother Chuck’s apartment. Chuck finds that Jimmy has brought his phone inside his house and quickly dispenses with it. This is McGill though, so he quickly turns himself around, and starts to show his ambitious side again, and at the same time realizes he needs some money to get himself as far away from the situation in the desert recurring as possible. So he’s willing to be a public defendant again – to make sure he raises enough money to become the lawyer he always wanted to be.
This episode gives the series the kick it needs, in more ways than one. First, the desert sequence was used to hook Breaking Bad fans in, it reminded us of the high stakes tension Gilligan and Gould can create, and it showed us the show’s potential. So we are hooked – but what else did the scene achieve? Its main goal was to introduce the main villain of season 1, and no, not Tuco, but Far Cry 3’s Vaas Montenegro, Nacho Varga.
Obviously Tuco could not be season 1’s main antagonist, due to the fact that he was Breaking Bad’s season 1 villain and the fact that his main contribution to the world is drug deals, and Better Call Saul doesn’t want to drift into that familiar water. Instead, the show runners needed a villain who would represent Better Call Saul’s themes, and that is Nacho, played by the impressive Michael Mando. Nacho is less into drug dealing; he is more into conning and scamming, a trope we have already seen with the twin skateboarders. He’s out there to corrupt the corrupted. Breaking Bad dealt with a man desperately trying to provide for his family but being corrupted by power and notoriety in the process; Better Call Saul deals with a similar topic, but wants to explore the other side of the law and how McGill tries to balance an honest career as a lawyer and a criminal informant.
I could be wrong, I’m no Gilligan or Gould: this episode may seem like Breaking Bad, but it’s starting to change into something else entirely.
Bob Odenkirk again showed that he can carry this series. He portrays a vulnerability mixed with an inner confidence that suits the rough around the edges McGill. He makes it feel like we are watching a more raw and naïve Saul Goodman, which is making a character we all know the same, but slightly different at the same time. It’s a tough thing to pull off, but Odenkirk does it smoothly. His chemistry with Jonathan Banks’ Mike also allows for a bit of comedic relief, even though I think Mike’s character will become a big part of season 1 as it goes on.
As ever, the direction was superb and that’s no surprise considering the director was long-time Breaking Bad collaborator, Michelle MacLaren who directed eleven Breaking Bad episodes. The long shots and the montage of McGill in the courtrooms were the highlight in terms of visual storytelling this week that again reaffirm she is one of the best directors in TV right now.
The whole team behind this show are at their top of the game right now. So far they are balancing the show’s appeal between new fans and old seamlessly. Better Call Saul is starting to become addictive, and so is collecting Mike’s parking stickers for Saul.
Check out next week’s episode which will air in its usual Monday night at 9pm slot on the 16th.
Episode 3 – “Nacho” shows us that Jimmy is eager to prove his dangerous client’s innocence.