Last year (after many, many years of doing it), I got burned out on doing weekly recaps of TV shows. There’s something about the grind of recapping that can take away the enjoyment out of watching television. Most shows don’t need episodic breakdowns and analysis — it’s better to just exist in their world. It’s not a judgement on their quality or complexity, but just a comment on their style. Some shows are fun to obsess over and pick apart, and some are full of outrageous moments that beg for discussion. And while there are certainly plenty of Breaking Bad Easter Eggs littered throughout its spinoff Better Call Saul that bear mentioning, its style ultimately is one that asks that you just come and immerse yourself in the story. It’s a world meticulously crafted not to be picked apart, but to be absorbed.
That’s a long way of saying that I’m enjoying Better Call Saul’s second season a lot more than Season 1 so far, although I think it goes beyond recap burnout. Saul launched with huge expectations about how it would exist within the beloved Breaking Bad universe, and it’s tough for any series in that position to find its voice quickly, and figure out how much it owes to its predecessor. Some of the early associations the show made with Tuco (Raymond Cruz) were a little precious, and Mike Ermantraut’s (Jonathan Banks) noir side story didn’t feel like it connected well enough until the end of the season. But it grew, slowly, into something great.
What Saul did get right, immediately, was the daily life of Slippin’ Jimmy McGill (later known as Saul Goodman), played with wonderful nuance and bravado by Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk owns the series, and he so beautifully portrays the struggle that Jimmy goes through throughout Season 1 and into Season 2 between his “morally flexible” side and his budding law career.
It seemed clear at the end of Better Call Saul Season 1 that Jimmy was ready to fully embody the new persona of Saul, but Season 2’s start shows that’s not yet the case. After the revelation of betrayal by his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), Jimmy understandably turned against anything associated with him, and goes back to his scamming ways. Yet, his good work on the Sandpiper case has also landed him a cushy job offer a coveted law firm, and it is of course Kim (Rhea Seehorn) who encourages him to take that gig and prove to himself — and Chuck — that he can do it.
But we know that Saul is always up against a bleak future, which the show reminds us of in its deeply depressing first cold open, with a trip back to Omaha and the Cinnabon. Still, now the that the show has established itself and the main players, it’s free to explore Jimmy’s main quandary: the persona of Saul comes out of Jimmy’s twin desires of practicing law and breaking it. But before that unification can happen, the show builds its framework on that dichotomy, almost like Jekyll and Hyde. Jimmy runs a scam and involves Kim in the payout, for example, and while she enjoys it, she has to draw the line when Jimmy later shares with her a story of how he (hilariously) falsified evidence to get a client off. Though he thinks he can do both as separate parts of his life, he can’t. And that struggle keeps Saul endlessly compelling.
There’s also something to be said for Saul’s roster of quirky client characters, too, like Season 1’s Kettlemans, and this year (to start things off, as of the first two episodes available for review) Price (Mark Proksch), who is — like the others — a greedy idiot. We met him in Season 1’s “Pimento” when Mike set up a deal between him and Nacho Varga (Michael Mando), but in Season 2, he’s driving a suped-up Hummer and talking way too much to the police. Mike ends up calling in Jimmy for a little pro bono shady-lawyer stuff, which he’s happy to do, and it’s a believable way to keep the two connected, keep Mike doing what he does best, and also to establish Jimmy’s excellent talent for spinning yarns in a quasi-legal way.
These scenes are fun, colorful, ridiculous, and help give Better Call Saul a unique flavor while also calling back stylistically to Breaking Bad (the open sky, the excellent use of natural and low lighting, the casual backdrop of parking garages, storefronts, and more). Each of these clients are a contrast to Walter White for Jimmy, for Mike, and for Breaking Bad fans, and it’s really fascinating to see how Walt subverted expectations by making things work, and turning darker — whereas these others can’t — to save himself. But, he also did so at an enormous ultimate cost, one we’re reminded of when we flash forward to Jimmy’s future.
Better Call Saul’s new season jumps right back in to the Sandpiper case, law firm culture, Chuck and Jimmy’s now-frosty relationship, as well as Jimmy’s budding romance with Kim, and his association with Mike (who is now an entrenched ally). But what really keeps everything sewn together so beautifully is watching Jimmy when he’s alone. In a fantastic scene towards the end of the Season 2 premiere, Jimmy is in a new office. He’s coming to grips, silently, with the fact that going down the “right” path may work out after all. Then, he spots a light switch on the wall with a note that says, in bold type, to never turn the switch off. He pauses, considers, peels away the sign but doesn’t rip it off completely, looks out the window, and takes a deep breath. Is he the man who obeys the rules, or rallies against them? In a flash, he flips the switch off and on — just for a micro second — replaces the signage, and smiles. Slippin’ Jimmy is back.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent — A fantastic return
Better Call Saul Season 2 premieres Monday, February 15th on AMC.