Friday 18 October 2019

Better Call Saul season 2 first episode review - 'quietly, cleverly propulsive'

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman and Rhea Seehorn as Kim in Better Call Saul
Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman and Rhea Seehorn as Kim in Better Call Saul

Pat Stacey

Better Call Saul is back for a second season which, after one mouth-watering instalment, promises to be as much fun as the first one.

For a while, this deceptively low-key opener, called Switch, looked like it was going to be a holding-pattern episode to ease us into Stage Two in the metamorphosis of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) into Saul Goodman.

As it turned out, it was quietly, cleverly propulsive. If the first season dealt with the “Why?” of Jimmy’s transformation into Saul, the second is concentrating on the “How?”.

Pre-credits, we’re back in the stark black-and-white present of the Omaha Cinnabon where Saul, or Gene as he’s now calling himself (how many aliases can one man handle before he forgets who he is?), works.

Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul

While he’s dumping bags in the rubbish disposal room. The door swings shut, locking him in. He’s reluctant to open the emergency exit door. A sign — not the first significant one we’ll see this episode — says an alarm will sound and the cops will be summoned, so he sits it out on an overturned milk crate.

Whoever Jimmy is now, we know who he wants to be, who he misses being. When he’s released by the janitor hours later, he’s left a scrawled “SG was here” behind on the wall. Then it’s back to where we left off last year.

Jimmy is offered a job at Davis & Main, the swanky Santa Fe law firm that want him to handle their part of the nursing home case. He dithers, pulling Kim (Rhea Seehorn) aside for a private word.

If he takes the job, will it make a difference? Does it mean they’ll have a future together? “One thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other,” she tells him.

Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut and Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman
Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut and Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman

Jimmy walks away from a golden opportunity. Again, he wonders to Mike Ehrmentraut (Jonathan Banks) why they handed in the Kettlemans’  bag of cash instead of just splitting the $1.6 million 50-50.

“I know what stopped me,” he rages at Mike. “You know what? it’s never stopping me again.”

Kim catches up with him lolling around in the pool of an expensive resort hotel. He’s given up the law so he can live life his own way, without rules. He’ll be Slippin’ Jimmy again, getting by on conning schmucks.

“So, no plan,” deadpans Kim. “Just walk the earth like Jules at the end of Pulp Fiction.”

Jimmy gives her a demonstration of how his smooth-talking charm can get anything they want. He ropes her into pretending they’re siblings who’ve inherited over a million dollars, in order to con a loudmouth broker at the bar.

It’s not a big sting; the only satisfaction is getting the mark to foot the bill for a bottle of exclusive tequila that costs $50 a shot.

Kim is exhilarated, though, revelling in the scam and even adding her own embellishments to Jimmy’s yarn. In the thrill of the moment, they end up spending the night together.

But she knows small-time fraud is not a sustainable lifestyle and so, finally, does Jimmy. He decides to accept the Davis & Main job after all and it turns out to be everything he (thinks) he’s always wanted: huge salary, luxurious office, company car, even a choice of which expensive painting he wants hanging on his wall (the one that’s there is a contorted man — symbolic, perhaps?).

Typically, though, Jimmy can’t resist breaking the rules. There’s a note stuck on the light switch in his office that says: “Never Turn Off!”. Jimmy flicks the switch. Nothing happens. Or maybe something did happen, but we don’t yet know the consequences. There could be a dead cat in a box somewhere.

Meanwhile, Mike is still acting as bodyguard to novice criminals and annoying blabbermouth Daniel, who turns up for the latest drop-off of the pharmaceuticals he’s been stealing from his employer in a hideous canary-yellow and red Hummer.

Mike refuses to get into it, so Daniel decides he can do without his muscle. While pretending to admire the interior of the gas-guzzling monster, the dealer Daniel’s doing dangerous business with finds his address in the glove box

When Daniel finds his house has been burgled and his precious collection of baseball cards is gone, he calls the cops, who promptly smell a rat and figure out the stench is coming from a hidey-hole in the skirting board. Someone will be a needing a good lawyer.


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