Monday, February 9, 2015

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Jimmy Takes a Trip to the Desert & Chuck Has a Bad Reaction When He Returns in 'Mijo'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 1.02 "Mijo"

As his troubles escalate to a boiling point, Jimmy finds himself in dire straits. An act of carelessness puts Chuck at risk.

A lot of time was spent in the series premiere yesterday establishing Better Call Saul as its own show. The opening episode had to spend time showing how the world of Saul Goodman - aka Jimmy McGill - was different than the world of Breaking Bad. It largely succeeded in that goal as well. Yes, there are Breaking Bad cameos that sneak into this world. But Better Call Saul is trying to do something different with its main character. Saul was never the best integrated character into the Breaking Bad mythology. He had his practical skills that could assist Walter White from time to time. But he wasn't an active part of the story.

Better Call Saul is about Jimmy's journey into becoming Saul Goodman. He has this conman quality to him but he's still trying to make an earnest living out of being an actual lawyer. Jimmy tried doing this con in order to reel in a big fish as a client. With that kind of money, he could easily pull himself out of the desperate lifestyle he is currently living in. Of course, things don't go according to plan and he winds up in the midst of the criminal elements of Albuquerque. It's fun to see Tuco again. He's very important for the future. And yet, I'm really glad that he's not the primary figure who will introduce Jimmy into working for the criminal side of things.

Jimmy has to spend a fair amount of time in this episode dealing with the fallout of his failed con. Tuco isn't a man to be messed with. He is dangerous. He's the one with the gun and all Jimmy and the twins can do is try to talk their way out of it. Jimmy's sense of gab is one of his biggest defining traits. He puts on a performance in order to get what he wants. When that doesn't work, he tries trying the people what they want to hear. He's slyly trying to weasel himself out of this situation. We know that he's going to survive this trip to the desert. But the stakes do feel real to him in the moment. Consequences are still being delivering even though we know he survives. Jimmy's life is spared but Tuco is ready to kill the twins for disrespecting his abuelita. It's up to Jimmy to talk him down to a smaller punishment. They each have to suffer one broken leg. That's a major upgrade from death. And yet, it's horrifying in the moment. Tuco takes immense pleasure from hurting them. As they scream, all we get is the look of dismay and horror on Jimmy's face. He negotiated for this but it doesn't make it any easier. It's rough on his psyche. And yet, it also makes him see himself as a better lawyer considering he talked Tuco down from death to "a couple months of probation."

This brush with death sickens Jimmy. That scene at the bar is just gorgeously shot. The whole episode is and that's very much to the credit of frequent Breaking Bad director Michelle MacLaren. That scene shows that while Jimmy tries to move on and act like nothing just happened to him, it did have a profound effect on him. Breaking breadsticks is nothing like breaking bones but it's enough to bring that memory back up. He'd rather focus on the beautiful woman sitting right in front of him. But he can't. Instead he focuses on getting drunk. That reckless behavior sends him back to Chuck's house and potentially does great harm to his brother. The illness that is effecting Chuck is much more psychological and apparent than it was in the first episode. He has this crippling fear of modern technology to the point where he can't do anything when it's around him. After throwing Jimmy's phone into the front yard, he's still dealing with the side effects hours later. He doesn't feel safe unless he's wrapped in the "space blanket."

His interaction with his brother eventually sends Jimmy spiraling right back to the straight-and-narrow and tedious work of being a public defender. His work is set to a fabulous montage. His life is able to fall into a routine again simply because he's determined to make it work and not become "Slippin' Jimmy" again. To him, that has very dangerous consequences. So right now, he'll defend whatever lowlife criminal lands in jail, get his cup of coffee, collect his check and then argue with Mike, the gate attendant at the courthouse. It's a very fun sequence.

But it also sets up a reality that isn't destined to last very long. Jimmy does the work and gets paid but he's still operating out of the same back room office which we also learn doubles as his bedroom. That's sad but completely in line with the unsuccessful life he's living. When Nacho turns up again, it scares Jimmy to his core. And yet, Nacho is proposing a scheme that could benefit them both. Now he wants to steal the money away from the couple who Jimmy was trying to con before. Jimmy no longer wants to be a part of that world. However, a $100,000 dollar payday sure beats the $700 per trial he is currently working on. Crossing that ethical line will be huge for him and likely very entertaining to see for the audience.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Mijo" was written by Peter Gould and directed by Michelle MacLaren.
  • I'm glad that the show isn't easing into the Jimmy-Mike connection just yet. Right now, Mike is simply a brief part of Jimmy's everyday life who aggravates him because he's a stickler for the rules and the stickers. Something will change eventually but the current arrangement is fun nevertheless.
  • Knowing that Chuck saw the hospital bill, Jimmy immediately starts proclaiming that he's not descending back to his con man ways. We know that's untrue. However, it's interesting that he jumps to that conclusion right away.
  • A trip out into the desert was a thing Breaking Bad always excelled at. Thusly, it could seem like Better Call Saul was trying to copy that success even though Saul fighting for his life is very different from Walt. The show knows that though. So the entire event is framed differently but just as successfully. Again, all the kudos to MacLaren.