After many months of doubt and apprehension, it finally arrived. And it was wonderful.
Things could be going better for James McGill. In his latest case, his clients are an “innocent” group of necrophiliacs, his office is a boiler room, he’s constantly harassed by a dour-faced parking lot attendant, and his brother’s former partners are trying to deprive him of his rightfully earned stake in the firm. Not to mention drug dealers are trying to sink their claws into him. Could be worse, right? RIGHT?
If one cannot tell this isn’t a retread, but a genuine labor of love for Bob Odenkirk to delve into the unexplored past of the man who would be Saul, then perceiving nuance isn’t a strong suit. James McGill is a man with a lot to prove, to others and most especially himself. He’s on the edge: can’t find clients, apparently owns only one suit, and no one takes him seriously. However, he remains cautiously optimistic about becoming a reputable lawyer despite defending rather questionable folk.
A spin-off is a generally derisive proposition; one based on one of the most popular and beloved series in modern television history? The mere idea of a show based on Saul Goodman had a few fans ready to skin staffers alive for even brainstorming the concept. Within the first five minutes, all that unnecessary tension and months-long trolling immediately flies out the window. This isn’t Breaking Bad Lite, Better Call Saul is certainly of its own show. So far a few locations and old faces have reemerged with cheery approval, shown figuratively and literally from another angle. The installation of new elements in old haunts only creates a deeper mythology within this dreary desert town. The interconnectivity between the shows has been used with a subtlety many BB fans will enjoy and will likely dissect a myriad of times.
If there’s any unsteady ground in either episode, it’s the introduction of fresh faces in this beloved sordid universe. The most notable characters being the Lars and Cal Lindholm (Steven and Daniel Levine), two skate enthusiasts-cum-grifters who have a whole world of learning to do in the art of the con. If you think it was a grating experience to deal with gangsta Jesse in his hooptie and skullcap, those painfully moronic twins make Pinkman look like Pablo Escobar. Obviously set up to be Saul’s comic relief, the Lindholm’s engage in their physicality and bumbling behavior in liberal amounts yet every ounce of it is used with purpose and precision. James isn’t the polished backroom wheeler we know and love yet, however his untapped talent as a verbal magician is hastily tested. If Jimmy is able to wiggle his way out of near-fatal scenarios (already?!) thanks to Lars and Cal screwing things up, this McGill kid may be capable of doing anything.
Another pair of players who immediately injected depth and intrigue very early in the series are Chuck McGill and Ignacio “Nacho” Varga, portrayed by Michael McKean and Michael Mando, respectively. Never seen in Breaking Bad, Nacho may have been referenced once by Saul during his first appearance in season two, and never again. Clearly the fear of God was put in Saul if he believed Ignacio would send Walt and Jesse to assassinate him; no doubt the man has the juice to take out anyone he pleases. After witnessing his ability to avoid dismemberment and death, Ignacio knows he found someone special that could make him more money or provide considerable leverage in the courts. James isn’t remotely a choir boy when they become acquainted, but the levels Ignacio drags him down in order to make him Saul must be soul-breaking when McGill had no intention of risking his life and license for a bigger bankroll.
A partner of Hamlin Hamlin McGill, Chuck has taken an extensive leave of absence after a particular left him a bit off-kilter. McKean and Odenkirk play against one another very well as brothers who love one another and want to look after the other, yet both are in absolutely no shape to even take care of themselves. Despite being in the dumps, James and Chuck keep lofty, relatively unattainable dreams of reacquiring the prestige and credibility their name once had. As featured numerous times throughout Breaking Bad, the hubris of a lawyer typically gets the best of them. Chuck and Jimmy have their own demons to face; to witness the strain grow between the McGills about whether respect or money is more important while they struggle with their personal crises will make for some interesting television. Gilligan knows how to get it done.
Let’s not even forget the extended cameos and guest appearances so far. Oh MAN. So good. Much nostalgia. Very amazing. Had to go there, sorry.
Better Call Saul airs Monday nights at 10pm on AMC.
S1E1 |‘Uno’ | Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael McKean, Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Steven and Daniel Levine | Director: Vince Gilligan
S1E2 | ‘Mijo’ | Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael McKean, Michael Mando, Steven and Daniel Levin | Director: Michelle MacLaren