Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Episode 4 (Hero)
Ivan Radford | On 25, Feb 2015Reading time: 3 mins
If you can’t beat them, join them. That’s the lesson learned by many TV characters over the years. Jimmy McGill isn’t most TV characters.
This week’s opening flashback sees McGill back in his “Slipping Jimmy” days, conning unsuspecting schmucks out of a lousy few hundred bucks via an implausibly intricate scheme that involves fake Rolex watches, pretend muggings and oh-so-convenient guilt trips.
“What’s your name?” asks his latest mark. “Saul,” he replies. “Saul?” Jimmy grins. “‘sall good, man.”
It’s a cheap throwaway gag, but immediately makes two things clear: 1. Names are important and Jimmy doesn’t like to give his away. 2. He’s not an honest guy.
Fast forward back to the present day and we catch up with him outside the Kettlemans’ tent, where they’ve been hiding from what they believed to be Nacho’s gang with their millions of stolen dollars. They’re only too happy to return home, but give back the dough? “It’s ours,” the couple exclaim, with all the righteous entitlement of Jimmy’s flashback victim.
Naturally, they offer him a share of the cash to keep quiet. He refuses – but Bob Odenkirk’s facial expressions twitch enough to suggest otherwise. That dilemma between being a good man and being a bad lawyer is central to this prequel’s journey towards Breaking Bad: the name Jimmy eventually goes with is ironic, but Vince Gilligan’s show proves that there’s mileage in seeing what inspired that irony to begin with.
Once again, that mileage is fuelled by Odenkirk, whose performance manages to be downbeat and likeable as well as manipulative.
With each hour spent in Jimmy’s company, we realise how much of a nice guy he can potentially be: he’s willing to break client confidentiality and risk his own neck to warn innocent people they could be harmed. He’s also ashamed to admit to his older brother (Michael McKean) that he’s cheated his way to success. It’s a side of him that Rhea Seehorn’s Kim evidently likes, happy to crash with him in a massage chair in the nail parlour.
But it’s hard, still, to really care for a man who is, whichever you look at it, either a hustler or a lawyer. (Scenes invoking McKean’s Chuck fail to elicit any sympathy whatsoever – he feels increasingly out of place in the whole thing.) That becomes even more obvious this week, as Hero paints Jimmy as the victim: a down-trodden guy trying to make his own living, while Chuck’s old law firm (Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill) dispute Jimmy using his surname to advertise his services.
“What about the human interest angle?” he asks the local press, as he tries to drum up some support. It’s only by showing Hamlin in such a despicable light that we can cheer on Jimmy at all – Patrick Fabian deserves credit for his immaculately cheesy appearance and I’m-an-asshole delivery. It’s again that entitlement that rankles our protagonist; an admirable trait, but only because these other characters show it more than he does. Jimmy’s not a hero, he’s just the least horrible person in the series. You wonder how many nasty people Gilligan and co. can wheel out of Albuquerque’s underbelly to keep that up, but Better Call Saul’s trick lies in using that angle to sell us this salesman. After all, who could blame him for changing his name, if it’s already been taken from him? If you can’t beat them, join them, another TV character might decide. For Jimmy, though, the lesson is (despite the chuckles) darker and much more cynical: if you can’t beat them, cheat them.
New episodes of Better Call Saul will arrive on Netflix UK every Tuesday at 7am.
Where can I buy or rent Better Call Saul online in the UK?
Photo: Ursula Coyote