“I cannot hear about this sort of thing ever again.”
After last week’s superb opener, Season 2 of Better Call Saul continues to put Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) relationship with Kim (Rhea Seehorn) front and centre. They’re far from the world’s most romantic screen couple – they kiss, have sex and even hold hands less than The Underwoods in House of Cards, who are hardly Cupid Central – but their chemistry is so convincing that we immediately buy into their relationship.
Buying into things is all part of Saul Goodman’s talents – convincing people that he can give them something, or that they can get something. We’ve seen the roots of that in Slippin’ Jimmy already, but Season 2 of Better Call Saul moves at a gentler, more confident pace, which means we get to see what causes McGill to slide into Slippin’ Jimmy.
At first, it looks like Jimmy’s conman past is firmly behind him, as he makes the most of his job at Davis & Maine – nice desk, company car, respect from his colleagues, he’s living the lawyer dream. Kim’s even jealous of how good a set-up he’s got going on. There’s a wholesome air that lingers in the fancy firm’s hallway – the boss plays guitar to blow off some steam – that is wonderfully at odds with Jimmy’s past and Bob Odenkirk, for whom we cannot invent enough platitudes, is brilliant at mining that awkardness while barely doing anything. Poking his head round his boss’ door, he comes across like a timid schoolboy in the head students’ corridor, his mildly out-of-place wig only adding to the notion of him dressing up for the part of an honest lawyer.
Then along comes Chuck.
Mike McKean’s sibling was a troubling point for Season 1, as Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould repeatedly asked us to buy into their relationship as a source of sympathy. It never quite worked, but Chuck’s betrayal at the end of the first run gave us something we really could work with: Chuck as a brother, maybe not, but Chuck as villain? Now that feels right.
After Chuck’s absence from Episode 1, he gets a whole opening segment to himself here – and it proves as perfectly formed as the prologue for last week; a tiny, ominous short film brimming with tension. McKean proves just how much he can convey without saying a word, his head nodding almost imperceptibly in time with the beat of the piano piece he’s playing. The few words he does use carry even more weight: “Jimmy’s working at Davis & Maine,” Howard tells him. “As what?” comes the barbed reply.
Chuck’s return to his old firm arrives just as Jimmy is getting into his stride with the Sandpiper case – but his patter, which proves that he’s as good at schmoozing people at meetings as he is clients, falters as soon as he sees his older brother. It seems like a small hiccup, but it’s hugely significant that it’s only with Kim’s silent support (again, Better Call Saul is great at showcasing its cast’s talent for non-verbal communication) that Jimmy can find his showman spiel once more. (Chuck, as you would want from any good nemesis, is the one person who can see through Jimmy’s front.)
We also continue to catch up with the amusing story of the hapless drug dealer Pryce, who sets himself for trouble when he ditches Mike (Jonathan Banks) almost straight away. Like Jimmy, Pryce is trying to put on a show – this time, of being a big man in Albuquerque’s underworld – but it never sticks, thanks to his entertainingly inept delivery of every line, his faux anger and his ridiculously over-the-top car. Mike, on the other hand, is the kind of criminal you buy into immediately, with or without his connections to Breaking Bad’s universe.
If Pryce is destined for a tumble, though, we still know that Jimmy is – and it’s Pryce’s demonstration of naivety and poor judgement that leaves us most worried about our man McGill. Just as Pryce can’t tell the difference between selling stolen meds and chatting to the police about his own property being taken, Jimmy can’t tell the difference between conning a guy into paying for his drinks and fabricating evidence to defend a client; just as we’re reminded of his charm being used for good with the elderly Sandpiper residents, all of whom love him, we also see it used for bad in the police station, as he concocts the worst allibi for a suspect since A Fish Called Wanda. Needless to say, the cops buy it.
What causes that reappearance of Jimmy’s slipping morals? It seems to tie in to Chuck’s betrayal, a self-fulfilling prophecy that Jimmy seems tragically destined to prove right. McGill can talk the talk, but we already know that every moment of honesty is only him tricking himself.
And what of Kim? Kim, we realise, is another matter. The episode’s excellent, blunt ending only emphasises the potential for conflict between her and McGill further down the road. Like Chuck, she can also tell when she’s being lied to. The question is whether she wants to buy into Jimmy’s straight-laced side – and for how much longer. Not saying something true, after all, is very different to saying something false.
Better Call Saul Season 2 is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Tuesday at 8.01am.