This will contain spoilers for Better Call Saul Episode 1.
“I just talked you down from the death sentence to six months’ probation. I’m the best lawyer ever.”
That’s the kind of outlandish claim you expect from Jimmy McGill, Albuquerque’s favourite loser attorney. But it’s the context in which it’s said that makes it so funny.
Yes, funny. After an uneven opener, Episode 2 of Better Call Saul hits it comic stride in style – no wonder AMC wanted to premiere the first pair two days in a row. This second outing is a belter.
Mijo, though, is in many ways its own double-bill, sandwiching two, very different parts together.
The first continues Uno’s cliffhanger, with Jimmy being dragged into the living room of Tuco Salamanca at gunpoint. After confusing their intended target – the Kettlemans – with Tuco’s grandma, the skateboarders Saul started scheming with find themselves in mortal danger. It would be a stretch in any other TV series, but Better Call Saul can pull it off, thanks to its secret weapon: Raymond Cruz.
Cruz goes to town as the unbalanced drug dealer, dreaming up ever more gruesome ways to exact revenge on the kids who punked his abuelita. “Colombian neckties!” he cries, practically twitching with his excitement. All the while, Jimmy squirms uncomfortably, trying to negotiate a way out.
There’s a slight problem, of course, with all this: we already know that Mr. McGill will survive. If not, how can he go on to become Walter White’s lawyer in Breaking Bad? But if the shadow of Vince Gilligan’s former show is a potential issue, this episode actually benefits from the prequel’s efforts to recapture some of that drama’s dark vibe.
After Episode 1’s uneven pull between silly and serious, Tuco gives Jimmy someone to react against, if not for tension, then for laughs. Odenkirk pitches it perfectly, his eyes widening and his hair flapping out of place, as we wait to see what he’ll do next – not because we fear for his life, but because it is almost guaranteed to be highly amusing.
The giggles carry us over into the second half of the episode, as we get a taste of the mundane routine of Jimmy’s pathetic life: crammed into a room in the back of a nail salon, he lives for vending machine coffee, paltry pay checks and constant bickering with car park attendant Mike Ehrmantraut. It’s a deftly edited montage, which doesn’t exactly endear us to our hero, but eases us into the show’s world. By the time Michael McKean’s older brother reappears, we know where we stand – and their conversation, complete with mobile phones and tin foil, gives a surprising hint of patience on both sides of the table.
The first half of the episode interrupts the second, though, when we propertly meet Tuco’s number two, Nacho. His introduction suggests that Better Call Saul could find its way into an ongoing vein of violent plots and silly jokes; an altogether different routine that could pave the way for Jimmy’s slip from criminal lawyer to (ahem) criminal lawyer. Will the transition manage to be this smooth in future weeks? It’s impossible to say. But the arrival of Special Agent Jeffrey Steel shows that fast-talking Jimmy is starting to find his feet – or, more accurately, his tongue. And sometimes, that’s all you need.
“I’m the best lawyer ever,” he claims. The funny thing? You’re almost inclined to believe him.
New episodes of Better Call Saul will arrive on Netflix UK every Tuesday at 7am.
Where can I watch Better Call Saul on pay-per-view VOD?