This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.
Can we talk about that cold open? Was that not such a perfect encapsulation of Vince Gilligan’s mastery over his craft, of his impeccable way of exploring characters and communicating so much with barely a word spoken? From the start I was on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, tense, just waiting for somebody to emerge from the shadows and put an end to Saul Goodman. Now retrospectively I recognise how illogical that thought was. The show isn’t about to put a final nail in its protagonist’s coffin in the first minutes of its second season. And hey, not much in that scene even indicated that there was any such concern. But still I was terrified.
Of course the obstacle facing Saul or whatever he’s called now was simpler and so much more effective for it: locked in the garbage area faced with the choice of spending a night in there or risking alerting police. Which, for the former criminal lawyer of a notorious drug kingpin, obviously would not be ideal. So he waits. And it sucks. Once Jimmy McGill, once Saul Goodman, and now a pathetic man reduced to spending his night among the bins because of the off chance that a policeman might recognise him. Then he sees the screwdriver and the tension mounts again. Is he going to come up with an ingenious way to get out? Is he going to kill himself?
None of the above. Instead he left the smallest, most pathetic sign of who he really was, the person who he misses so much, and the same person who crafted the downfall of Jimmy McGill, a once good man.
Because no matter how much the Season One finale seemed to suggest that Jimmy was one name change away from being Saul Goodman, Switch quickly demonstrated that his inherent morality was not about to disappear so quickly. Sure, he was happy to keep scamming people and even managed to bring Kim in during a highly entertaining sequence where the two of them take full advantage of a sleazy scumbag they meet in a bar, but Jimmy’s desire to better himself is not gone, and his assertion last year that doing the right thing would never stop him again was revealed to have been more of a momentary blip on his journey rather than a full blown turn. For now, Jimmy decides to take the more prestigious job he had seemingly rejected and, after drunkenly sleeping with Kim, seems closer than ever to an actual healthy relationship.
But Better Call Saul is a tragedy, a masterful one that uses our knowledge of how this story will end to imbue every decision Jimmy makes with a certain weight and portent, a lingering knowledge that no matter how hard he tries he will one day give up completely.
What is so clever about this show is how it subverts our understanding of Saul Goodman and what we thought we wanted from him. Coming into this series there was probably a certain amount of expectation that it would be a more comedic, fun show replete with black humour. It certainly has those elements, but by and large Better Call Saul is a slow, thoughtful and moving drama that somehow turned one of the funniest characters from Breaking Bad into the most tragic, creating a situation where the last thing we as the audience want is to see Jimmy become Saul. It’s incredible storytelling from the best in the business.
So what will eventually turn Jimmy? It feels too early in a hopefully long run to speculate, but watching him get closer with Kim makes me wonder if there isn’t a second major betrayal looming around the corner. The truth about Chuck’s intentions still obviously stings, yet Jimmy seems to have found a form of solace with Kim, with whom he shares a genuine liking and an easy chemistry. Now obviously arriving at the events of Breaking Bad there was no significant other in Saul’s life, especially not one as level-headed and fundamentally decent as Kim, which tells us that at some point these two will part ways permanently. It’s going to be fascinating to see just how that happens, and whether that occurrence will blow away another chunk of Jimmy’s already damaged morality.
The fact that this show exists is an absolute treat. Is it as compelling as its predecessor? Not really, but how many shows could reasonably be expected to be? Better Call Saul is intelligent, entertaining and beautifully made television, created by masters of their craft at the top of their game. That cold open in many ways sums up everything brilliant about the series; managing to be surprising, haunting, tense and moving in a wordless five minute sequence. Personally I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Better Call Saul season 2 airs on AMC in the US and Netflix UK.