Better Call Saul: Uno

"Oh, to be 19 again."

As sequels go, it's off to a running start.

So far, so good. Spin-offs are always a gamble. Breaking Bad was one of those lighting in a bottle situations, and BCS has a lot to live up to if it's going to recreate that lightning. If the pilot is any indication, there is hope.

Bob Odenkirk essentially played three distinct characters in the pilot. Or at least 2.5.

Right out of the gate we meet the lowly Cinnabon worker in Omaha, Nebraska. The only interesting thing that happened to him all day didn't even happen when he mistook that family man for a thug. He works a mindless job, sweeps up other people's trash, and spends his evenings watching old Better Call Saul commercials alone in the dark. Shooting this whole first bit in black and white was genius. It was like the dreary icing on an already hopelessly mundane cake.

Six years prior, we meet Jimmy McGill. Most of this episode is used to set him up as your run-of-the-mill ambulance chaser with serious monetary problems. Jimmy can't pay his bills or get clients to save his life. He can't even afford to pay for parking at his public defender gig. We also meet his brother, Chuck, who is suffering from a mysterious illness and can't continue working at his fancy corporate law firm. It gets interesting when Jimmy tears up a 26,000 dollar check from Chuck's old firm in self-righteous indignation. He believes that Chuck should cash out and get what's coming to him, but Chuck doesn't want to put the company in jeopardy. Or does Jimmy see Chuck cashing out as his own personal payday? The last straw is Chuck asking his brother to change his name so that the his tiny law firm doesn't get confused with the company he built. Hey, at least he offered to pay to have new matchbooks printed up.

The last bit of the episode is the very beginning of the man we met from BB. It's the making of Saul Goodman. Hiring the skateboarding con artists to trick a finicky potential client into hiring him brings him face to face with Tuco, the insane drug dealing future adversary of Walter White. And down the rabbit hole he goes into becoming the wealthy lawyer of the shady and crooked that we all came to know. Or so I assume. We'll find out in the next episode, "Mijo".

I like the idea that some of the players we already met will make appearances in this show (I still love Mike). I liked this opening, but tonight's episode was directed by Vince Gilligan and took advantage of his unique camera angles that became known on BB. I worry that BCS won't work if it leans on its predecessor's trademarks or would distancing itself too much be the death sentence?

I tried really hard to watch it as an independent show, but I just couldn't help myself. I kept comparing it to Breaking Bad.

Bits and pieces

There were two closeup shots of VHS tapes being pushed into VCRs. At the trial and sad Saul alone in his house.

I don't think Saul's facial expression changed throughout the entire black and white sequence.

Mike Erhmantraut is a parking attendant.

Was Saul working out of the back of the same nail salon that he eventually owns?

Jimmy: "Frankly, I don't go looking for guilty people to represent. Who needs the aggravation, right?"

Jimmy: "9.6 for technique. 0.0 for choice of victim. I'm a lawyer."


Jess Lynde said...

Aside from the opening sequence and some fun touches along the way, I still wasn't too sure about this show after watching the pilot. It was decent enough, and the cliffhanger certainly left me wanting to watch the next episode.

It was the second episode that really sold me. It wonderfully captured the essence of early and later Breaking Bad with numerous sequences both evocatively shot and edited (Michelle McLaren rocks!). And amidst all the criminal hilarity, we got a really wonderful sequence at Chuck's house, which gives us an emotional anchor at the core of everything that's happening. It's not just a funny spinoff. It gives pathos and weight to Jimmy, even while maintaining the black humor. That glorious combination that hooked me into Breaking Bad in the first place.

I'm now really looking forward to next week's episode, and for the longest time the whole idea of this series turned me off. So, good on ya, Mr. Gilligan, Mr. Gould, and Mr. Odenkirk. I'm in.

Mark Greig said...

I agree with what Jess said. The pilot was okay, but the second episode is where this series really came to life, especially during that brilliant montage sequence (the Wonder Woman movie is really lucky to have a director like Michelle McLaren calling the shot).

Josie Kafka said...

Ditto to both Mark and Jess. The second episode was the one that grabbed me.

However, some of that might be due to my own confusion. I'd thought of BCS as a comedy. Like, a sitcom. So it took me about 45 minutes to adjust to the fact that it wasn't wacky. Or at least it didn't have many wacky moments.