Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Season 2, Episode 6
James R | On 23, Mar 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
“We were just supposed to scare you.” “Well, try harder next time.”
As Better Call Saul grows into its own, increasingly distinctive beast, the show’s relationship to Breaking Bad throws up questions that loom larger and larger. What happens to Kim, whom we never see in Vince Gilligan’s future series? And what happens to Hector Salamanca, whom we effectively met for the first time last week? And when will Gus enter the picture?
Better Call Saul begins to answer those mysteries with Episode 6 (Bali Hai’i), as both Mike and Kim take more of a central role than Jimmy. Mike, after turning down Hector’s offer to help Tuco get off, finds himself under threat, while Rhea Seehorn’s lawyer finds herself in as much of a career pickle as McGill.
Jonathan Banks remains eminently watchable in his role as the fledgling enforcer, a guy who resolutely refuses to give in or be intimidated – even when someone breaks into his house and leaves him with his hands shaking. Mike’s not just a tough cookie; he knows how to act like a tough cookie, a layer to his character that becomes clearer as he spends more time with his family. After all, he whisked them away to an anonymous motel with a swimming pool, he was that concerned about them. A brief appearance by cousins Leonel and Marco Salamanca (Daniel and Luis Moncada), though, makes it obvious that he can’t keep them out of harm’s way. The camera shows us the old man and his granddaughter, Kaylee, from their perspective, as one of their hands, shaped like a gun, moves from him to her – a visual decision that only adds to Mike’s vulnerability, as he is powerless to stop the Cousins taking control of the POV.
At the same time, Kim is moving into gradually hotter waters too: reinstated by Howard (presumably at Chuck’s behest), she jumps straight into the Sandpiper case, but finds herself stuck in court fighting a losing battle with no support. It’s enough to catch the attention of Mr. Schweikart, the head of HHM’s opposition, who promptly offers the plucky lawyer a job.
Kim is staunchly loyal to her own company, despite them underappreciating her – exactly the kind of stubborn moral stance we’ve come to expect from her. She even refuses a free drink during their meal. That subtly contrasts with her solution to the dilemma she’s placed in: rather than pick between the two firms, she responds to Jimmy’s calls instead (he’s been ringing her singing the titular song every morning – a romantic gesture that she listens to, slightly smiling), and invites him for a quick spot of grifting.
After a man hits on her in a hotel bar, she takes him for all he’s got, as she and Jimmy pretend to be the owners of a dotcom dating business. It’s a genuine treat to see them back together pulling a short con, their chemistry never better than when the two performers are anticipating the other’s comments. The attention to detail is impeccable – the money they trick their mark out of is paid to “Ice Station Zebra Associates”, an offshore account that Saul Goodman likes to use in Breaking Bad, simultaneously giving his attachment to it a sentimental depth and reminding us that this relationship ultimately isn’t going to last.
The couple’s bond remains fascinatingly ambiguous, not least because Kim is the one who instigates their latest piece of rule-breaking: after the ethical lectures she’s given Jimmy, this is a significant step down for her, one that reinforces the sympathy the show has for underdogs who aren’t rewarded for doing the right thing and therefore resort to doing the wrong thing. By now, Kim even has an alter-ego ready to hand: the brilliantly-named Giselle St. Claire. It’s an even bigger slide for Wexler after that dedicated montage last week. Did she really save herself? Or was it Chuck?
At the same time, there’s an unspoken air of doomed romance about Kim and Jimmy’s fling – both are intoxicated with the pleasure of getting what’s coming to them, and fuelled by the determination to succeed on their own terms, not on other people’s sympathy (whether that’s Chuck getting Jimmy into the mail room or getting Kim back out of the dog house). Even when they try to support each other in taking honest opportunities that do come their way, it’s with a bizarre kind of disappointment; Kim knew that Davis & Main wouldn’t make Jimmy happy, but he went there upon her insistence, while Jimmy is likewise eager to convince her of the benefits of jumping ship to Schweikart. If each one does it to make the other one happy, though, they surely know they won’t have the same reaction themselves; this week’s cold open reminds us that Jimmy can’t sleep at night (literally) while working for Davis & Main, and that it’s only by returning to his dodgy roots (and tiny fold-out bed) that he feels at home.
That prologue is another demonstration of the classiness of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s team – like Kim’s montage of well-meaning hard work, it’s a sequence that shows us Jimmy’s internal dilemma, rather than spells it out for us. Better Call Saul is at its best when it comes to these small touches, embracing its own slow pace to wallow and absorb the shifting nuances of its developing characters. But almost as if the writers have suddenly noticed the end of Season 2 is four weeks away, Episode 6 sees the show speed up, moving not just Mike’s story along but Kim’s as well. It doesn’t matter who the focus of the story is – the show’s strength, as we’ve said before, is that any of its supporting characters can work in the lead slot – but the usually patient storytelling feels crowded with events here, which leaves us with the weakest instalment of Season 2 so far.
That’s not saying much, particularly in a world where many will wait for a while after AMC’s weekly release schedule to binge-view the episodes on Netflix (when any filler hours can be easily consumed), but it is a sign of what makes Better Call Saul work: Episode 1 to 5 of this season felt like their own distinctive show; Episode 6 feels slightly more like a prequel to Breaking Bad. Those questions still linger in the Albuquerque air, but here’s hoping the series doesn’t answer them too quickly.
Better Call Saul Season 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Tuesday at 8.01am.
Photo: Ursula Coyote/Netflix