Monday, February 15, 2016

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Jimmy Continues to Struggle with What He Wants in the World in 'Switch'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 2.01 "Switch"

Jimmy and Kim's relationship takes a new turn. Mike decides it's for the best to sever his affiliation with an unrestrained associate.

Better Call Saul proved itself to be a pretty good if not completely great show in its first season. The journey with the main character has already been determined and known by the audience. And yet, the show did a really smart thing in making Jimmy McGill as equally a compelling character as the future Saul Goodman. This is the story of how Jimmy became Saul. A destination that somewhat seemed fulfilled by the first season finale. Jimmy had put so much work into the case with his brother only to realize just how much hate Chuck has towards him for trying to be a lawyer. It was enough to send him back to his conman ways and give up doing things the right way. In the first season, Jimmy cared for his brother with his difficult condition while also choosing not to take any of the money he and Mike gathered from the Kettlemans. But the season ended with Jimmy being screwed over yet again by the people closest to him. It seemed like the story had reached a satisfying conclusion as he drove off embracing his own complicated life.

And now, the show returns for Season 2 by featuring a Jimmy who wants to embrace the lax life from being a conman once more but continues to struggle with his need to do good in this world. Jimmy is a very good conman. Once again, that is proudly on display in this episode. But he's also making all of these big changes to his life. He has played by the rules because that's what Chuck wanted him to do. Jimmy's whole world changed as soon as he learned about Chuck's true feelings towards him. That brotherly bond has been destroyed. Chuck doesn't appear in this episode at all - though his presence is still felt. Jimmy became a lawyer and moved to Albuquerque just to make Chuck proud. Instead, it just fostered resentment and animosity. And now, Jimmy is forced to question whether it was all worth it. He has the opportunity to truly make something of his legal career. He doesn't have to keep struggling working out of the back room of a nail saloon. He can actually go work for a corporate firm in Santa Fe. Jimmy impressed many people with his class action lawsuit against the nursing home corporation. Now, he just has to decide whether or not to take the opportunity.

Jimmy returned from Cicero a changed man. He left in order to embrace his identity of "Slippin' Jimmy" once more. He had a good run with his former partner in crime, Marco. But Marco's tragic passing forced him back to Albuquerque. Things can't be the same way that they were before. Jimmy is older now and needs to find a direction for his life. He can't continue to struggle the same way that he has been. He's still an effective con man. That can provide him a life of happiness and excitement. But at what cost? In his big mid-life clarity, Jimmy wants to be with Kim. He has relied on her in the past. But now, he wants their relationship to be much more serious. She's proud of all that he has accomplished as a lawyer. She encourages him not to give up simply because Chuck doesn't believe Jimmy is an actual lawyer. But Jimmy doesn't want to lose Kim just because he doesn't want to take this new job. She thinks it's a foolish mistake. But she still cares enough about him to track him down and understand what exactly is going on with him right now.

Jimmy is embracing the chaotic nature of being a conman again. He has played by the rules for so long. And now, he's embracing the fun of life again. That means he walks through life with a willingness to break the rules and challenge the status quo. That amounts to drinking the cucumber water at the saloon right from the spout in front of a room full of customers. Plus, he lures Kim in to helping out with his latest mark. In order to get her to understand where he's at right now, Jimmy shows her just how skilled he is at swindling people for a good time. She wants to have a serious conversation with him about his future but he's distracted by the stock broker at the bar, Ken, who is talking a little too loudly. It presents the perfect opportunity for him to show Kim his real self. She has to accept that too. She needs to go along with this con in order to make it work. She has to choose to be a willing participant. She does and it's a lot of fun for both of them too. They get to drink an entire bottle of tequila that is fifty dollars per shot because Ken is paying. They enjoy pretending to be Viktor and Giselle for the night. It's an excitement that leads to fun in the bedroom.

Jimmy and Kim really do have a fantastic dynamic. That's seen wonderfully in their interactions in the bathroom the next morning when Jimmy just wants to brush his teeth. That shows that they can be a good couple despite the complicated personal feelings involved. It would be fun to have every day be like the con they just pulled together. But that's not enough to build a life for Kim. She wants to work for Hamlin. Even though she complains about him a lot, she gets a ton of pleasure out of working there. That kind of pleasure only comes to Jimmy when he's spying his next target and going in for the kill. It's a lot of fun to him. He enjoys going back to the same hotel and locating his next mark. It's an experience he wants to share with Kim. But he's also aware of how this isn't something she wants to define her life by. It's enough for Jimmy but it's not enough for her. He realizes that and takes the job in Santa Fe in the hopes that he'll be able to continue this happiness with Kim.

"Switch" does play like the show backtracking with Jimmy a little bit. He had that thrilling moment of clarity at the end of the first season. He wasn't going to play by the rules anymore because life has continually screwed him over. He wants to be more reckless with his life. But now, he's struggling to reconcile that with the life he wants to live with Kim. He takes that job in Santa Fe and immediately he feels like he doesn't quite belong in this place. It's a fantastic office space. The production design really is incredible. Jimmy walks in as a lawyer that everyone wants to get to know. That's a feeling that he hasn't experienced before. He holds power in this place. He can ask for anything and they will try to make it happen. But it's still an environment he isn't completely comfortable in. That's made perfectly clear by a sign over a switch saying to always leave it on. Most people would obey the sign without question. But Jimmy wants to switch it off just to see what happens. The answer: It does absolutely nothing. The world doesn't change at all. The same can be said of Jimmy. He's going into this environment hoping to find a new purpose. He hasn't really changed a whole lot despite his moments of clarity. But he's now at least searching for what this life can become if he takes control of it for himself.

Of course, all of this isn't going to end well at all. The conclusion of this journey is already known. This new job won't work and Jimmy will become Saul Goodman. He will assist with Walter White's criminal enterprise before he is forced to change his identity and move to the Midwest to be a manager of a Cinnabon in the local mall. That dour future was already depicted once at the start of the series. It's also a time that is revisited in the opening moments of this premiere. It continues to show just how tragic and complicated his life is in the future because of the actions that he is about to take. He has a simple, routine life in this place. But he also can't cause any trouble for himself. He finds himself trapped in a garbage room simply because he can't use the emergency exit and risk the police discovering who he is. He still yearns to be Saul Goodman again though. Despite how much that persona destroyed his life, he still wants to be him again. It's what he wants more than anything else in the world. He had fun as Saul. And now, he's paying for it. Jimmy may not be willing to embrace that criminal identity yet. But it's still a very tragic future for the character that will only get more complicated as the season progresses.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Switch" was written by Thomas Schnauz and directed by Thomas Schnauz.
  • Mike also cuts ties with his current criminal arrangement. He does it willingly because the client who pays for his protection, Pryce, has spent too much of the criminal money on luxury items. He pulls up in a hummer that's totally decked out. Mike can see where this is going and gets out as quickly as possible.
  • It's a little odd that so much time is spent on Pryce though. After his meeting with Mike where they part ways, he goes through with the meet with Nacho, later on his place is ransacked and the police show up to investigate. He spends a lot of time talking about his prized baseball collection but the officers notice that something is shifty about the place and about Pryce.
  • Jimmy and Kim know that Ken will be furious once he sees how much the alcohol they just consumed costs. And yet, they just go out to the pool to talk and then kiss. It's a tad odd but Ken isn't a complication later on.
  • Jimmy's new boss is played by Ed Begley, Jr. which should indicate that this new work environment will play a crucial role this season.
  • Hamlin still isn't much of a character. He shows up early on to introduce Jimmy to his new potential boss and colleagues but that's it. Perhaps now that he's caring for Chuck he'll be fleshed out more this season.
  • Also, Nacho wasn't all that important last season. He still seems like a very tangental part of the show. A figure connected to the criminal world that will eventually become important but isn't all that necessary right now.