‘Better Call Saul’ pits Jimmy against one of Walter White’s enemies. Sort of.

02.15.16 2 years ago 53 Comments

Better Call Saul is back for its second season. I posted some general thoughts on the new episodes last week, and interviewed co-creator Peter Gould about what happens in the premiere. My review of that episode's coming up just as soon as my name's Giselle St. Claire…

“I've been doing the right thing for all these years, and where has it got me?” -Jimmy

Saul season 1 ended with our man roaring down the open road, “Smoke on the Water” blasting on the soundtrack. He had given up the straight life, or so it seemed. He was free.

With “Switch,” the series doubles back in a few ways. First, we open with another flashforward to poor Cinnabon Gene, with his lonely, colorless life in Omaha. At first, the sequence just seems to be a rehash of what we saw at the start of this series, but it expands to underline just what a terrible fate this is for Jimmy/Saul/Gene. He had Ed from the vacuum repair shop set up this new life for him as a way to avoid prison, but he's only traded one kind of cell for another. A truly free man who got locked in the mall's trash room could just open the emergency exit and not worry about the consequences; Cinnabon Gene can never, ever, do anything even vaguely sketchy if it might bring him into contact with police. The time he spends trapped in that room is a more literal kind of imprisonment, but back when Saul was advising Walt to turn himself in rather than spend a life on the run, maybe he should have listened to his own advice.

In the present-day action of “Switch,” Gene is still Jimmy, and he spends much of the hour enjoying life out in the world, whether floating aimlessly in the country club pool, or enlisting Kim to help him scam poor Ken Wins(*). Life is good.

(*) Yes, that's the same obnoxious bro (played both times by Kyle Bornheimer) whose car Walt blew up (after Ken first stole Walt's parking spot) in one of the very first Breaking Bad episodes. Jimmy's assault on the guy is less violent (and, compared to the cost of replacing a car, less expensive), but still brutal in its own way.

But by the episode's end, Jimmy has traded in the Hawaiian shirt for another suit, taking a job at Davis and Main that gives him a company car, an apartment that's not in the back of a nail salon, and a nice office that somehow seems every bit as prison-like as the trash room was for Gene.

Why does he do this? Gould suggests that it's for Kim: that their night together – and, more importantly, the morning after – makes him realize that Chuck wasn't the only person he was trying to impress by grinding out an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. This doesn't come out of nowhere. Jimmy and Kim's relationship was laid out carefully from the very first episode of season 1, and we saw in Jimmy's attempt to lease an expensive office so that he could work with Kim that he would do almost anything to remain near her. Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn have chemistry for days, and the sequence where Kim went all in with Jimmy on scamming Ken was a nice reminder that she's not the Good Girl being pined after by the Bad Boy. Kim has her darker edges, and she was enjoying the hustle almost as much as Jimmy was – in some ways, more, because this was new to her. But where he thought it was perhaps the start of a glamorous new life on the grift for them, she clearly saw it as a one-time adventure. And so for now, at least, he's taken the corporate law job not because he's great at it (though we know he is), not because he's trying to impress his brother (because to hell with that guy after the “You're not a real lawyer” business), but as a way to stay tethered to the one good thing he feels he got out of the experience.

There are some bumps along the way to getting to that moment, particularly with the insertion of a scene where Jimmy meets Clifford (played by Ed Begley Jr.) into the middle of what we saw at the end of “Marco.” It's not that it's impossible that Jimmy had that conversation before turning around and talking to Mike, but it wasn't incredibly graceful, and reflected the hesitation Gould, Vince Gilligan, and the other writers (including Tom Schnauz, who wrote and directed “Switch”) had when they reconvened for season 2 about the speed of Jimmy's transition to Saul Goodman.

But the rest of the episode was great, and if Jimmy isn't back to Slippin' Jimmy quite yet, the wall art in his new office sure looks like it was made for this particular occupant(**) and his long history of falling down for money.

(**) It's also a bit evocative of Walter White's pants flying towards us at the start of Breaking Bad, and the way the air filled them up to make them look like an invisible man was wearing them.

At the hour's end, Jimmy ponders his very quiet, tastefully decorated cell office and comes across the eponymous switch, which comes with a warning to never turn it off. At first, I assumed this would be Chekhov's Light Switch, and Jimmy would flip it at the moment he was ready to blow up his life at the new firm. Instead, he flips it immediately… and nothing seems to happen. 

But that neatly sums up Jimmy's current circumstance. This is, on paper, a great place for him to be: fancy job, good pay, professional respect, and a case that will keep him working with Kim. It's all he thought he ever wanted when he was working to get his law degree and pass the bar. Even flipping the switch doesn't signal doom. But you get the sense that maybe he wanted it to.

Some other thoughts:

* Not only did the show bring back Ken Wins, but the tequila in question is Zafiro Añejo, which is what Gus gave as a “gift” to Don Eladio in “Salud.”

* One interesting side note from the Gould interview: Mike's occasional employer “Price” wasn't necessarily meant to remind us of the early Walter White, even if his goofy and very beige wardrobe did that for me and others. Once the clown turns up in a flame-covered Hummer, Mike wisely walks away, which means Nacho's free to peek inside Price's glove compartment to find his real name (Daniel Wormald) and address, and make off with both his stash and his baseball card collection. To quote a fellow who's been to Albuquerque, but failed to make a left turn there, what a maroon.

* This week, in movie quotes: Rather than taking the Davis & Main job, Jimmy might just “walk the earth, like Jules at the end of Pulp Fiction” – a kind of double quote, since in Pulp Fiction, Jules intends to walk the earth “like Caine in Kung Fu.”  (Also, would anyone be surprised if Tarantino's 10th and allegedly final movie catches up on what Jules has been up to ever since he and Vincent Vega parted ways?)

* The episode is dedicated to Todd Sopher, a teamster who worked on both Saul and Breaking Bad, and had brief cameos on both shows, including as one of the guys helping Walt set up his magnet at the start of BB season 5. Sopher died in October.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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