Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Season 2, Episode 5
James R | On 15, Mar 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
“I’ll put Frances on that.” Those five words sound harmless, until you’ve seen Episode 5 of Better Call Saul Season 2. The Breaking Bad spin-off has more than established by now its slow pace, which prioritises people over plot. As it reaches the second half of its second run, it sticks resolutely to that approach – and the result is a heartbreaking character study. No, not of Jimmy, but of Kim.
Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have a knack for building up supporting characters into leading ones – see: this whole TV programme – and that’s demonstrated once again with “Rebecca”, an episode that gets its name from a tiny glimpse of the eponymous woman, who turns out to be Chuck’s wife. We meet her in yet another of the show’s brilliantly composed prologues, as Jimmy comes over to Chuck’s house for dinner.
The lightbulbs are on. Michael McKean’s looking younger. But some things never change: Chuck is quick to apologise to his better half and warn her that Jimmy’s an acquired taste. Sure enough, he’s cracking lawyer jokes within minutes of sitting at the table, much to the displeasure of his brother – but much to the delight of Rebecca, who finds herself won over by his charm. Chuck is appalled, but also sad, that other people can see past Jimmy’s faults and like him; the sight of McKean attempting to do his own lawyer joke later, in bed, is amusingly tragic. You can almost hear the punchline fall flat in the silence.
It’s typical of Gould and Gilligan to explore their central protagonist by focusing on his impact upon other people – the conversation between Rebecca and Chuck is echoed towards the end of the episode in an exchange between Chuck and Kim, as he seems to offer her a way back into HHM’s good books.
“He has a good heart,” he says of Jimmy, “but he can’t help himself.” It’s a message we’ve heard before, but now, we’re learning more about Chuck than his brother. Is he wanting to become Kim’s mentor, thereby usurping Jimmy’s position of good favour? Is this somehow payback for Jimmy’s winning way with Rebecca – a jab at his younger brother’s paramour? McKean, as ever, is calm and composed, but his eyes twitch with an enjoyably repulsive air of calculation. (The whole conversation, meanwhile, leaves the unspoken question hanging in the air: what happened to Rebecca?)
In the present day, Jimmy is living up to that description, as he runs about trying to work on his Sandpiper case without crossing more ethical boundaries. He’s helped by second-year associate Erin, who pops up with notes on his paperwork to ensure he dots every legal ‘i’.
“We put two spaces after a period on all our documents,” she informs him, before accompanying him to the courthouse to request some papers. Jessie Ennis delivers it all in an entertainingly clipped fashion that only makes Bob Odenkirk’s manner even more flustered.
A hilarious incident involving a cuddly toy once again draws the red ethical line behind Jimmy, as he bends the rules to succeed – but, just as with Chuck, the familiar debate that ensues does more to develop another character that isn’t Jimmy.
Step up, Kim Wexler.
Rhea Seehorn’s love interest has become the moral compass of Better Call Saul, her relationship with him a barometer for his slide into criminal territory and our reason to root for his good side. But she’s more than the girlfriend reprimanding him for his shortcomings: she’s a lawyer with a career of her own, something that we learned last week can be damaged by Jimmy’s actions.
Jimmy, inevitably, is all too ready to step in and help, cooking up a plan to sue HHM for unfair employee treatment. But Kim is having none of it. “You don’t save me,” she retorts, with Seehorn’s now-trademark steely resolve. “I save me.”
And so we get to the meat of the episode: Kim doing just that.
Better Call Saul has always had an appreciation for routine and repetition and that eye for editing comes to the fore beautifully here, as we watch Kim working through her contacts to get out of the lowly office she’s been banished to. At first, it seems like she might be touting for work – but it’s not a job she’s after, rather more work for the company. Accompanied by the Gipsy Kings’ cover of My Way, the result is a painstaking portrait of someone’s painstaking loyalty to doing the right thing; she methodically works through each possible client, even finding order in Post-It notes, despite conducting her calls in a corridor.
When her effort pays off, that dragged-out length of time means that we really do feel her sense of achievement – one that’s reinforced when Paige, her old friend at a fancy bank, compliments her for remembering how they take their coffee during a meeting. “She’s a keeper!” exclaims Paige to Howard. He smiles politely.
It’s a smart piece of storytelling, juxtaposing Jimmy’s ongoing drop with Kim’s apparent climb back to the top. But as she suggests being assigned to the bank’s workload, as years of paperwork (and tons of money) comes rolling in through HHM’s doors, Howard simply brushes her aside. “I’ll put Frances on that.” Those five words are a brutal reminder that even doing things by the book can’t guarantee victory in the Breaking Bad universe. Hector Salamanca’s brief appearance, tying Mike Ehrmantraut further into Tuco’s underworld, will have Vince Gilligan fans ringing bell with excitement, but it’s Kim’s story that really builds up the underdog world of Better Call Saul. The idea that Jimmy can’t save himself from falling is something we’re already used to. The idea that Kim can’t save herself either, though, is genuinely heart-wrenching.
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.