Better Call Saul – “Uno” / “Mijo”

Season One, Episode One/Two

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Grade: B

We’re back in Albuquerque! How great was the opening scene in black and white showing our favorite crooked lawyer, Saul Goodman, working at Cinnabon when a big, tough looking man stares him down. You can feel the beads of sweat creeping down Saul’s face as he approaches him. Who is this guy? How did Saul piss him off? But the guy walked right past Saul and hugs a woman that he knew. This is a flash-forward from the last time we saw Saul in Breaking Bad and while it seems like he’s doing pretty well laying low, he’s still followed with great paranoia from the line of work he was involved in with Walter White for all of those years.

So how did he get there? Turn back the calendar and Saul is using his real name, Jimmy McGill. He’s defending three dumbass teenagers who are on a trial for having sex with a corpse from a funeral home, and while he does hold his own in his charismatic way that made Saul Goodman so intriguing, it was a case he simply couldn’t win. This is the man before Saul Goodman. This is Jimmy McGill, public defender driving a crappy car with a miniature office in the back of a beauty salon. He’s a sad man with barely enough money to live off of, but with the knowledge we have of this character there’s enough to intrigue me about how he turns into Saul.

There’s an important story arc between Jimmy and his older brother, Chuck, who is a partner at Hamlin Hamlin & McGill, one of Albuquerque’s most prestigious law firms. The problem here is that the firm is acting like Chuck is on the payroll while Jimmy is demanding they buy his shares out to the cost of $17 million. Chuck hasn’t been at work for a while because of some kind of electromagnetic hypersensitivity, apparent when Jimmy visits him. He has to ground himself before entering, discard his keys and cell phone outside, and dumps Chuck’s groceries in a large cooler of ice instead of a refrigerator. While it seems like Jimmy has a good point that Chuck should be paid for his share of the firm, Chuck is pure at heart and always believes in doing the right thing. He knows that for the firm to raise that much money to buy him out, they would have to liquidate, which would result in a lot of lay-offs and he’s not willing to do that.

That’s most of the back-story that takes up the first half of the episode. There is also Craig Kettleman, the county treasurer, who has been accused of embezzling $1.6 million. Craig is about to sign off on Jimmy as his attorney when his wife, Betsy, convinces him that they should sleep on it, or more accurately take their case to Hamlin Hamlin & McGill. This is when we first see Jimmy act like Slippin’ Jimmy, by convincing two skateboarding punks to stage a car accident on Betsy as Jimmy comes to the rescue. The plan backfires and the kids run into the wrong car. Not only is it not Betsy’s car, but it winds up being the grandmother of Tuco. Yes, that insane, violent Tuco from Breaking Bad.

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“Mijo” immediately gives us insight to what exactly happens inside of Tuco’s house after the skateboarding kids follow his grandmother. As a viewer, we know what Tuco is capable of and while those kids are so annoying I couldn’t wait for them to get beat up, but in the kids’ perspective it was cringe-worthy that they had no idea who they were talking to. That’s one of the things the writers are going to have to concentrate on during this prequel spin-off. It’s neat seeing how characters from Breaking Bad are slowly showing up as we see how they’re all connected, but there’s a fine line that can take away from certain scenes. For instance, when Tuco and his buddies take Jimmy and the skateboard kids to the desert, I’m not worried because we all know that Jimmy lives. Every ounce of suspense is taken away from that scene, while when it was Breaking Bad we had no idea who was going to be killed, making every scene full of tension.

And that’s exactly what happens. Jimmy escapes a near-death encounter with Tuco, the skateboard kids have their legs broken, and Jimmy goes back to being a public defender during a pretty snappy montage showing him working his ass off so he doesn’t starve to death. But then an interesting proposition gets dumped at Jimmy’s little office. Nacho walks in and tells him to find out where to find the money that Kettleman embezzled. Nacho will then steal the money from them and give Jimmy ten percent. Nacho wants him to think of this as a business proposition, but there are two things that are holding Jimmy back. First, he’s still influenced by his brother and wants to do the right thing and become a respectable lawyer. And second, he’s deathly afraid of Nacho. But it seems like he’ll eventually take this offer once his luck runs out.

So far, so good with Better Call Saul. Bob Odenkirk is more than capable of continuing this witty and talky character that we loved during Breaking Bad. We can’t watch this series and constantly compare it to Breaking Bad, though it’s near impossible in the same setting and characters. This is a completely different show without the character development of Walter White turning from a dying teacher and family man to a ruthless drug king and killer. Jimmy McGill is a weasel, though it’s nice to see that he once had a conscious and tried to do the right thing. But we all know sooner or later he’s going to fall back into his Slippin’ Jimmy habits. Is that interesting enough to keep watching? You bet it is.

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