In its second episode, Better Call Saul has already started to come into its own. With all of that introductory exposition out of the way in “Uno,” “Mijo” was able to really take its time, and just focus on a few key scenes that delved into the mind of our old friend, Slippin’ Jimmy. The confrontation with Tuco was predictably macabre, but I say predictable in the best of ways. There was not a question of Jimmy surviving the encounter (since this is finally his show). Rather, the horror came in imagining what sacrifices or deals he would have to make in order to ensure his safety.
The Jimmy of “Mijo,” though, is just starting to lay the foundations of his moral world. His handshake with Tuco in the desert made him feel like Pontius Pilot, seemingly, but he couldn’t just walk away and leave his partners in crime to die there. In the episode’s best scene (although there were many to choose from), Jimmy negotiates with Tuco over a punishment settlement. Or as he puts it to one of the twins later, “I talked you down from a death sentence to six months probation. I’m the best lawyer ever.”
His justifications didn’t stop there; he explains the hospital bill to his brother as being “a really good thing.” He saved their lives, sure, but also, the entire scheme was his plan to begin with. Later, when approached about ripping off the thieving couple he was hoping to represent, he adamantly insists that he is lawyer, not a criminal. But his desperation being what it is, and his openness to negotiate terms of wrong doing (or turn his head to certain aspects of it), have laid a particular kind of groundwork for his work in as a criminal’s lawyer.
Where Better Call Saul really distinguishes itself (aside from Bob Odenkirk, who continues to be absolutely outstanding in every moment) is in its visual style. Years ago, Vince Gilligan brought a gorgeous, cinematic aesthetic to Breaking Bad that helped define this new Golden Age of television. You no longer had to watch a movie to get the experience of a frame filled only with the natural beauty of a western sky. It was now on cable. In “Mijo,” the juxtaposition of Jimmy’s dire situation in the desert — coupled with Tuco’s glee over leg breaking — against the bruised New Mexico sky was stunning.
Where Saul is starting to distinguish itself from Breaking Bad, though, is in its strong noir, almost pulpy, influences. One example is the lighting when Tuco first held Jimmy at gunpoint in his abuelita’s living room, and another is when Jimmy was setting up his bed in his boileroom office. Jimmy’s date, too, was a study in sound editing.
One of the things that made Breaking Bad, and now Saul, so rare is that attention to every detail. But another key component is the seamless integration of humor. When Jimmy wakes up at his brother’s house, a hungover mess with the weight of two men’s broken legs (and the bill for them) hanging over him, the darkness of his encounter with Tuco and his crew is undone thanks to Chuck’s theatrics with the cell phone, and his “space cape.” Jimmy calls gentle attention to its absurdity, but Michael McKean plays it so straight that you almost start to think Jimmy is the crazy one.
In Breaking Bad‘s first season, things were very, very dark. There was a bleakness and a heaviness that permeated everything. So far with Saul, that hasn’t been the case. It’s probably down to Odenkirk’s ability to easily transition from comedy to drama (like the montage scene with his clients, which was fantastic), as well as that difficult overall combination of comic noir. Either way, “Mijo” really started to show a series that knows what its aims are, as we follow Jimmy down the rabbit hole.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
Musings and Miscellanea:
— So many great individual scenes, even from the very start with the “salsa” stain, and the trepidation both viewers and Jimmy felt over what it might portend. Also, did I spy some repeat Saul clients or associates among those who he represented in court in this episode?
— Those twins are like poor man’s versions of Jesse Pinkman, aren’t there?
— “Biznatch!” – Tuco
— First The Americans, and now this. I’ve officially seen too many legs broken on TV this week.
— “She felonied me!” – Flick or Flack.
— “Wow, you got a mouth on you” – Tuco. I would love to see who would win between Jimmy McGill and Boyd Crowder from Justified in a battle of the silver tongues.
— Someone actually once gave me that cat Jimmy gave to the court clerk.
— Jonathan Banks kills it every time.
— The pillow in the file cabinet! I weep for Jimmy.