A review of tonight's “Better Call Saul” coming up just as soon as I do the sex robot voice…
“I'm no hero.” -Jimmy
I really enjoyed the first two hours of “Saul,” but “Nacho” is the first installment to suggest an actual structure for the new show. We get a story to keep Jimmy occupied for the whole episode, which is resolved on one level even as it's setting things up for future stories with Jimmy getting a look at all the cash the Kettlemans stole. And it's a whole lot of fun from beginning to end.
Though Jimmy protests his good guy bonafides, it's worth noting that most of the trouble he gets into here – and, for that matter, that he nearly got himself into with Tuco last week – came from him exercising a conscience that will mostly lie dormant by the time he's Saul Goodman. In alerting the Kettlemans about the danger Nacho poses, Jimmy does a good thing – not because he has anything to benefit from it, but because it seems like a thing he should do. Given how pear-shaped things go, and given what we know of Jimmy's future, it's not hard to look at this one as the first of many object lessons that would teach him to stop worrying about anyone's interests but his own.
Though Nacho's less volatile than Tuco, Jimmy's very aware of the danger he poses. The show takes pleasure in watching him dance and squirm and try to evade trouble from this mysterious stranger, from leaving a thousand messages on Nacho's voicemail like he's Mikey from “Swingers,” to putting on a loud display with the Albuquerque cops to impress his would-be client. And we see Jimmy's criminal brain at work when he notices the little girl's doll missing and immediately realizes that the Kettlemans faked their own kidnapping.
The teaser gives us more of Jimmy's origin story, which aligns nicely with the first real Jimmy/Mike team-up. “Breaking Bad” never said exactly what caused Mike's departure from the Philadelphia PD – Hank just said his tenure ended “dramatically” – but we can tell from what we knew of Mike on that show and what we've seen of him here that it wasn't something he'd have chosen. He and Jimmy are both in this town because of mistakes they made elsewhere, both on the bottom rungs of different professional ladders, and fate has brought them together here. The show was very judicious with its use of Mike in the first two episodes, and the payoff here isn't huge – they aren't instantly partners or anything like that – but I still had an enormous smile on my face as he helped out Jimmy, even if it was as much to spite the condescending ABQ cops as it was because his instincts told him Jimmy was right.
“Nacho” also starts giving more depth to the members of the ensemble whom we don't already know from “Breaking Bad.” Not only do we get to see a bit more of the title character in action, but Rhea Seehorn gets some extended run as Kim, and we get a sense of the relationship she and Jimmy once had (and, I suspect, will likely have again). And the teaser gives us a glimpse of Chuck at the height of his powers, rather than the diminished hermit Jimmy's looking out for at the moment. “Saul” has to be more than the Jimmy and Mike Show to work long-term, and we're starting to see the other pieces – the supporting characters, the structure, hints of larger arcs – come into place, slowly but surely.
Some other thoughts:
* As I noted last week, the title sequence keeps changing – here with a woman using the scales of justice as an ashtray – with only the VHS style of the footage remaining constant.
* Jimmy isn't a master scientist or engineer like Walter White, but he has his own, more primitive MacGyver skills, here quickly unspooling a paper towel tube to use to disguise his voice on the phone.
* A good payoff to last week's “All That Jazz”-style montage of Jimmy at work: he finally gets one over on one of the prosecutors, who gets completely confused about which client they're discussing.
* Jimmy/Saul's love of movie references continues, with him hilariously making like Nicholson in “The Shining” as he enters the Kettlemans' tent.
* We get our third “Breaking Bad” veteran director in a row in Terry McDonough (and our first script from a “BB” alum other than Gilligan and Gould in Thomas Schnauz). I like how all these familiar directors shoot “Saul” in ways that evoke the original series while seeming like its own thing. What stands out in this episode is the way Jimmy is so often shot from a distance, like a very small player in a much more important story (which he technically is, as far as “Breaking Bad” is concerned, at least).
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org