Published on April 10th, 2015 | by Michael0
Better Call Saul – Marco – Review
Sorry, had to be done. So ‘Marco’ (Polo) brings to a close this superb first season of Better Call Saul. Peter Gould, the less heralded of the co-creators, takes the reigns for this one, both writing and directing this one as Jimmy takes a big step towards becoming Saul.
James McGill is rather outnumbered in this one, in fact. First up, the pre-title sequence has Slippin’ Jimmy saying goodbye to his partner Marco (he of the Rolex scam) and to his out life as a conman. He re-appears for a brilliant montage back on home turf and there’s a real sense that Saul Goodman is the man humming ‘Smoke On The Water’ at the end. All of which means that Elder Lawyer James McGill takes a bit of a backseat this episode.
He’s not the only one. Mike, Chuck and Kim are all reduced to bit parts this week (Michael Mando is nowhere to be seen, if anyone but me is interested). Instead, the various faces of the man born James McGill take centre stage, along with the titular Marco. Jimmy has understandably been sent into a bit of a tailspin after the bitter revelations of last week. This becomes increasingly apparent as Jimmy has what might be described a bit of a moment while calling bingo for the old folks. You can imagine that Jimmy might be suffering a sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after last week. If that’s the case, then the proliferation of Bs from out of the bingo machine act like the popped champagne corks and such that make service men and women think they’re back in combat. With each B spat out, Jimmy gets a little madder until finally he treats his audience to the tale of the ‘Chicago Sunroof’ and how he ended up in jail, as seen previously. Odenkirk is wonderful in this scene, delivering the whole speech into a microphone and striding around into his audience. I half expected him to shout ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!’. What Jimmy needs is a change of scenery.
Back in his old stomping ground of Cicero, Jimmy finds in Marco someone who likes him for who he is, as well as someone who draws out his very worst habits. Their first score is a thing of beauty. Like the old Rolex gambit (and I suspect all their scams), it relies on the greed of the mark. Jimmy spins Marco a yarn about a Kennedy 50 cent coin in which JFK is facing west, apparently minted by a rogue technician inspired by the frontier spirit of the USA. The pair take their time, drawing in the sceptic across the bar with real patience. Gould does an excellent job showing Jimmy and Marco at work and how they work together until eventually they relieve the poor sucker of $110 (which they use to by everyone in the bar, by my count about four people, a drink). The pay-off is that having shown a scam in such detail, Gould can then employ a lengthy montage sequence, largely impressionistic, in which we hear the pair deliver their pitches to all manner of fools. ‘I shouldn’t even be telling you this’, says Jimmy ominously, straight to camera. This all ends with Jimmy waking up with two women, one of whom is very angry to discover she didn’t spend the night with Kevin Costner. For those paying attention, this is a reference to a Breaking Bad incident in which Saul tells about how he got someone to sleep with him because she thought he was the Field of Dreams actor – ‘It worked because I believed it’.
After the women have left, Jimmy checks his phone as is touched to find all his clients have been trying to get in touch. Accordingly, he decides to end his week-long grifting bender and make his way back to Albuquerque. Marco, whose day job is making Stand Pipes, is not so keen to re-join the working stiffs and tempts Jimmy into your actual one last job. Marco, it turns out, has one remaining fake Rolex with which to part a fool from his money (the guy who made them has long since been deported, sadly). The scam starts off much as we’ve seen before, though this time the focus is on Marco. We even see that Jimmy’s wolf cries with his newfound buddy act as a signal for Marco to get in position. To psych himself up, Marco hums the all too familiar riff from ‘Smoke on The Water’. However, come show time, he plays the part of a comatose man all too well. When he fails to respond to Jimmy’s pokes with a stick, Jimmy immediately pulls the emergency cord on the scam, even calling Marco by name (at which point the potential mark splits with Marco’s money. You win some, you lose some).
At Marco’s funeral, Jimmy is wearing Marco’s old pinkie ring. ‘That might be worth a dollar or two’ another huckster named Bud tells Jimmy. This seems to be the last straw – Jimmy soon makes his way back to Albuquerque. Despite Chuck’s best efforts, there is still an offer on the table to turn Jimmy into a bona fide lawyer, one on a partner track, no less. Kim informs Jimmy that another law firm has been brought in to help HHM with the Sandpiper case, and they’re impressed with McGill the younger’s work. It’s very telling that Jimmy’s first two reactions to this news are ‘Chuck wouldn’t like it’ and ‘how did you [Kim] make this happen?’. Jimmy might be striving to be a lawyer but he’s still defining himself in relation to others. Indeed, making his way to his dream job interview, Jimmy pauses, looks at his new ring, and turns tail. ‘That was quick’ remarks Mike. ‘No charge’.
It seems to me that while Kim strives to have Jimmy improve himself (and pulls strings behind the scenes to get him jobs) and Chuck attempts to hold him back, Marco loved Jimmy for who he was. On his way out, Jimmy has a heart to heart with Mike. Why didn’t they take the Kettleman money? For Mike, it’s because he had a job to do and he did it. The man has a code after all. ‘I know what stopped me’ begins Jimmy ‘and it’s never stopping me again’. And off he drives, whistling ‘Smoke on The Water’.
Thus ends the first season of Better Call Saul. Tonally, the show has been odd – certainly a far cry from the sitcom it was first described as. But it hasn’t struggled to find its footing; indeed few series seem as comfortable in their own skin so early on. The changes between tense action, melodrama, comedy and tragedy felt natural rather than incongruous. While the central conceit – young man becomes successful strip mall lawyer- is less gripping than that of it older brother Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul’s first season is probably of a marginally higher quality. If it improves at the rate the former show did, it’s going to be something pretty bloody special. What did you think of the first season? Let us know in the comments.