Television

Published on February 12th, 2015 | by Michael

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Better Call Saul – Mijo – Review

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Oh AMC/Netflix, you are spoiling us. The US cable station has decided to show this second episode of Better Call Saul the day after the pilot, which for UK viewers meant an episode appeared in our Netflix at 7 in the morning for the second consecutive day. Sadly, from now on we’ll have to wait a week for next fix. Mijo follows on immediately from where Uno left off, with James ‘Saul’ McGill inadvertently blundering in to the path of Tuco (Raymond Cruz, relishing his return to the role). Fresh from jumping in front of the wrong car, admittedly not really their fault, the Chuckle Brothers (Steve and Daniel Spenser Levine) compound their error by insulting Tuco’s Grandmother (not Mother, as I assumed in my review of the pilot). Their reward is to be slapped upside the head with a walking cane. Into this situation comes the unfortunate McGill, fortunately as we know from his adventures with Walt and co, Saul is many things but stupid he is not. Under pressure, McGill delivers a stirring monologue preaching a reasonable response from a furious Tuco. It’s great here seeing the genesis of the silver-tongued Saul, in the pilot he was reduced to losing arguments with trenchant officials.

In any event, his pleas seem to work but then one of twins drop them all back in it by shouting that McGill put them up to the scam in the first place. This sets up the next set piece, the familiar stand-off in the desert. Better Call Saul is really pulling out the stops here, opening this episode with consecutive nerve-shredding scenes. Joining Tuco out in the desert are his compatriots from Breaking Bad, Gonzo and No-Doze as well as new guy Nacho, played by Michael Mando, known to FPS lovers as Vaas, the compelling villain of Far Cry 3. There are seven people present here, but really this scene plays out as a three-hander between McGill, Tuco and Nacho. McGill insists that Tuco is a victim of mistaken identity, Tuco is convinced McGill is lying, Nacho believes he can ferret out the truth. The shifting dynamics here are a joy to watch as McGill briefly pretends to be a FBI to save himself from torture and Nacho tries to catch him out, all the while not overstepping his mark with his volatile boss. Again we see the Saul of Breaking Bad coming through as McGill pleads for his life with articulation and coherence. The second, even more intense second half of this scene involves McGill attempting to save the lives of his hapless accomplices. Having spared McGill, Tuco wants to kill the twins who called his Grandmother a ‘biznatch’. McGill tries to haggle him down – ‘let the punishment fit the crime’. Tuco really is a fascinating character, he’s a pure psychopath who wants to skin the twins, or pull their tongues through their throats. At the same time he’s willing to listen to McGill’s reasoning instead of just shutting him down. In the end a compromise is reached – Tuco will break a leg each of the twins.  As the deed is done, the camera lingers on Bob Odenkirk, the very picture of revulsion and regret as he watches his partners being tortured. Later, a man gratuitously breaking bread sticks throws McGill off on a date, leading to a rush to the gents. Saul was never that au fait with the violent side of the business, the young McGill is even less so.

Saul Desert

It’s fair to say the plan had gone awry

Arriving home drunk, McGill forgets to ground himself and to remove his mobile, which leads to a showdown with Chuck the following morning. The fact that Chuck feels he has to wear a space blanket concerns McGill and the fact that McGill has paid a hospital bill for two strangers doesn’t sit easy with Chuck. ‘It’s not what you think’ protest McGill ‘It’s not the return of Slippin’ Jimmy’. I’ve really enjoyed the scenes between the two so far and given Chuck’s condition, it’s likely that the majority of his scenes will be between just Odenkirk and Michael McKean.

Thankfully for all concerned most of the rest of the episode follows McGill doing his day job as a put upon Public Defender. What is most noticeable about these scenes is how soberly McGill dresses when compared to the colourful shirts and ludicrous ties that we associate with Saul. Chronicled in this extended montage are McGill’s running battles with the jobsworth Mike in the parking lot booth and his one-sided negotiations with a prosecutor who repeats the phrase ‘petties with a prior’ so often you begin to wonder if you’re watching the next Too Many Cooks. McGill still has to psyche himself up before his appearances, saying ‘it’s show time!’ into a mirror even when he isn’t alone. For the second episode running, McGill has to let people know that he’s not mad, merely quoting a movie (he doesn’t specify which, All That Jazz maybe?).

For all his hard work, McGill still goes back to the same terrible office, off a store cupboard. A way out presents itself at the end of this episode in the unlikely form of Nacho, who was intrigued by McGill’s story of the embezzlement of over $1.5M. He wants information on the crooked official, in return for a 10% finders’ fee. Naturally, Tuco doesn’t know that Nacho has taken it upon himself to embark on this scheme. Apologies if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad but without spoiling that show it’s probably prudent to point out at this juncture that while Tuco, Gonzo and No-Doze appear, Nacho does not. Are we to infer at this early stage that he over-reaches himself and runs afoul of his boss at some point? Given Tuco’s temperament, this seems more than likely although writers could just be playing with us. That’s the problem with prequels in which characters are always in danger; if they didn’t appear later down the timeline, they probably died.

Saul Vaas

‘Remember me?’ Michael Mando as Vaas

A note on the tone of the show, which I neglected in my rhapsodising over the cinematography in the pilot. When it was first pitched, Better Call Saul was widely described as a comedy. While the opening two episodes have provided their fair share of laughs, the overall feel is not so far removed from Breaking Bad. This episode is particular was dripping with menace and even featured men tied up in basements a la Crazy 8. It will become apparent what type of show it wants to be in time but at the moment it’s very much in its predecessor’s vein, a crime drama with moments of levity. It has even borrowed one of the scarier villains from Breaking Bad, and furthermore we know he’s not going anywhere soon. Such tonal uncertainty is not in of itself a bad thing. The British cop series Babylon had a similar identity crisis early in its run and that proved to be one of the best programmes this country has produced in years (seriously, go watch it). As for Better Call Saul, it’s more than just the continuing misadventures of a hooky lawyer, indeed it’s showing excellent signs as several threads are being weaved together with real skill, as you’d expect from Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. Whatever happens from now on, it this is clearly more than just a hastily conceived cash-in. It could even be the Frasier to Breaking Bad’s Cheers.

Michael

Michael comes from the middle ground between light and shadow, between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. He will write on comics, TV and film, plus anything else that might occur to him.

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