The flashback in the teaser to “Hero” reveals that Jimmy McGill was using Saul Goodman – as in, “S'all good, man” – as an alias even back in his Cicero grifter days. And the episode that follows shows him taking the first real steps towards becoming the Saul of the “Breaking Bad” era.
For a couple of episodes, he's been doing his best to stay on the straight and narrow, whether working as many public defender cases as he can grab, or trying to warn the Kettlemans when he discovers that Nacho means them ill. And as Betsy tries to thrust a pile of embezzled cash into his arms, you can see that he really doesn't want to take it – and, even after she keeps trying, that he'd really rather do it in a way he can justify to himself as being clean, like a legal fee instead of a bribe. But Betsy's words slice right through the good guy persona he's developed to please his brother, and suggests that no matter how hard he tries or how well he means, the world will still look at him as the guy who used to run the fake Rolex scam, and that he might as well embrace it – and the cash, while he's at it.
The rest of the episode involves a much more elaborate and slow-building con than the one in the Cicero alley. Kim sees Jimmy as acting like a lunatic, Howard Hamlin just sees him as a petulant child, but we know he's up to something with the knock-off suit and hair and billboard(*), and the episode teases his plan out nicely until we get to that terrific stunt sequence with the dangling billboard man. Even though it seems likely to be a set-up, given both the nature of our hero and this show, director Colin Bucksey (who recently won an Emmy for the “Fargo” episode with the shootout in the blizzard) and his team (including director of photography Arthur Albert) shoot it in a way that emphasizes just how high and perilous that scaffold is, particularly to a man without a safety harness like Jimmy. Whether you believe he's being a good Samaritan or a hustler as he climbs the ladder, that looks like a scary place to be.
(*) Complete with use of the trademarked “Hamlindigo.” I now must come up with my own trademarked color, and “Sepindigowall” feels like something where I would wind up in court with Gilligan and Gould's attorneys.
It also doesn't look like anything ever shot for “Breaking Bad,” which is good. I did a radio interview last week where one of the hosts said he was enjoying “Saul” despite never having seen “BB,” a notion that's healthy for this show's long-term future. (Ratings so far have been quite solid, especially since it's airing on a different night from “Walking Dead.” AMC already ordered a second season before the first even debuted.) For those of us who know both, there are lots of fun Easter eggs and hints at where the characters are going, but on some level, “Saul” has to make you interested in Jimmy's adventures for their own sake, and finding ways for the new show to not look like a second-generation photocopy of the old one sure helps.
When Jimmy is in the judge's chambers to discuss the billboard, he insists, “I'm building a brand!” and is told, “You're ripping off a brand!” “Saul” is trying to do both at once, though it's not so much “ripping off” when it's the same creators involved. This was another fun one, and I look forward to seeing what happens now that Chuck has gotten wise – after a traumatic, first person-POV rush outside of his house, using the space blanket like a superhero cape – to the shenanigans he's been up to lately.
Some other thoughts:
* Speaking of Chuck, at what point will Chekhov's Mailbox get robbed by someone who needs access to Jimmy's phone, keys or wallet at a particularly inopportune moment for him?
* If last week's episode hinted at the future Saul/Mike partnership, it's back to the slow burn this week, with Mike only appearing briefly to express a total lack of interest in Jimmy having proved his hunch right. As always with this creative team – including our latest “Breaking Bad” alum writer in Gennifer Hutchinson – they believe patience will lead to greater rewards.
* After our fourth episode title in a row ending being a single weird ending in O, I wondered if the show might keep up the device just for this season, or for the run of the series. But a peek at next week's TV listings says episode 5 is called “Alpine Shepherd Boy.” Maybe this will wind up being like “Breaking Bad” Season 2, where this was a pattern only to some of the titles, which together read as “737 Down Over ABQ,” and which all had flashforwards with plane crash debris. Some obsessive might want to keep track of patterns in the “O” episodes, if there wind up being more.
* There's also now a clear pattern in the title sequence, which always offers up VHS-quality images from the Saul Goodman days, here giving us a glimpse of his desk drawer full of cell phones.
* Good to see both Kevin Weisman (Marshall from “Alias”) and Mel Rodriguez (Patsy on “Getting On” and Chubowski from “Enlisted”) in the opening flashback. The nature of Weisman's role suggests we won't see him again, but I could imagine Rodriguez turning up in later episodes – whether set in Jimmy's past or his present.
* Can someone with a better knowledge of confidence schemes tell me what would be Jimmy and his sidekick's recourse if one of their marks decided to just keep the cash in the wallet rather than trade it (and some of his own) for the watch? Or are we to assume that the cash was just as counterfeit as the Rolex?
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com