Wanting to be the good guy: a review of “Better Call Saul” Season 2.

Spoilers ahead, you are advised not to read if you have not finished season 1 (but it’s safe to read if you have not finished season 2).

At the end of Season 1, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) had vowed that he was “never going to let it (wanting to be the good guy, or doing the right thing”) stop him again, from carving his slice of the American dream.

He had just been betrayed by his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) in breathtaking fashion; his dreams of family loyalty and doing right by his brother, a respectable law position and escaping from his past, were all destroyed by Chuck’s insisting to his partner in law Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) that Jimmy not join the firm, as Jimmy practising law would be like “a chimp with a machine gun.”

But Kim, wonderful Kim (Rhea Seehorn), secures Jimmy a shot at another firm which will work with Hamlin McGill or the OAP fraud that Jimmy exposes in season 1.

At close of season 1 it was clear that Jimmy was rejecting the offer to not be held back in becoming what he wants to be by any means necessary.  From now on he will let no-one tell him that the ends do not justify the means. But in episode 1 there’s a huge reversal; Jimmy takes up the chance at another shot of doing things respectably.  He attempts to woo Kim into a more serious relationship.  But his “slippin’ Jimmy” tricks of the trade can’t be repressed.  Whether introducing Kim into the dark arts of quick bar room cons, or performing sleights of hands in his law practice that would get him disbarred if not prosecuted, his rouge self demands a platform.

Eventually the marriage between Jimmy and a respectable law firm proves to be a non-starter, and Jimmy strikes out in a new relationship with Kim to make it big, prepared to sabotage his brother after last season’s big betrayal.

Meanwhile, ex-cop Mike Ehrmentraut (Jonathan Banks) continues to try and protect and provide for his daughter and grand-daughter.  But his ways have become entangled with Drug Lord Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), here in his pre-Breaking Bad wheelchair days.  He can walk and talk here, and he is highly dangerous.  Ermentraut tries to get one better on him, without any-one getting hurt.  But BB’s law of unintended consequences is making itself felt much more than in season 1 here, and there is a nasty sting in the tale.

The cast are excellent as they were last season.  Bob Odenkirk here tones down the rapid verbal patter and dancing hands.  It’s a more muted, sober Jimmy here, although one prone to the same terrible errors of judgement, deliberately bad or not.  Kim Wexler’s character develops to someone more determined to be successful in their own terms and break through the glass ceiling, even if it means leaving the security of the firm she knows.  She is happy to take part in Jimmy’s bar room cons as a way of letting off steam when wronged by Howard, maybe as a way of kicking back at the male ordered rule-book he represents.  But she is horrified at his malpractice as a lawyer.  Jonathan Banks is excellent again, conveying so much in a twitch of the corner of the mouth.  He’s a fixer and a problem solver whose skills would not shame the most skilled echelons of the CIA’s ‘black-op’s” department.  There is little interaction between him and Jimmy this season, as their stories of trying to out-run and out-think the demons of their past and present run parallel.  I have a feeling they may converge in the world of Gustavo Fring next season.  Maybe, maybe not.

Michael McKean’s Chuck is one of the shows most complex and intriguing characters.  I think we are meant to hate him for his betrayal of his bother.  And yet, we are given a lot of information, related by the brothers or told in flash-back, of how Chuck struggled with his brother’s slippery ways through childhood and beyond, and how he has a knowledge of his brother that perhaps validates his machine-gun toting simian assessment.  Perhaps Chuck could do more to redeem Jimmy and set him up in practice, but perhaps he honestly feels the impossibility of it, and maybe so do we.  Chuck’s illness, his electro-magnetic sensitivity that drives him to wrap himself in a foil blanket, sit in a darkened house and insist that his colleagues leave their mobile phones at the door, gives him his own vulnerability.  By the season finale, Chuck and Jimmy are again in confrontation, there’s been betrayal and counter-betrayal, and it is going to get real dirty real quick.

All this, the memorable minor characters, the quality of the writing, the use of location (Albuquerque is a character in itself) continues the quality of season 1 and makes this so much more than a “spot the BB character or reference” show.  That said, I think it really needs to be enjoyed as a companion piece to BB and not as a stand-alone.  It has similar themes although the scale is smaller.  There are no mid-air collisions, no desert shoot outs or prison massacres here.  It’s more of a chamber-piece than that 5 season behemoth.

And yet, I felt this the weakest of the 2 seasons.  I felt this because it does not build on the momentum of season 1 finale.  Instead it rewinds and tells a lot of the character development of season 1 again.  It seemed Jimmy was scorning and rejecting a respectable law job to build his own practice through un-restrained mischief and larceny.  Instead he unexpectedly has another go at the respectable route, using the odd dodgy trick en-route.  All this makes it feel a frustrating and more padded watch.

But, it still demands your loyalty and there are more than enough hooks to get us back for season 3.





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