Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Season 2, Episode 8
Ivan Radford | On 11, Apr 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
If Episode 7 of Better Call Saul’s second season was a showcase for the show’s editing, Episode 8 goes to the other extreme with no cuts at all in its opening sequence. The Breaking Bad prequel has always made the most of its prologues, but Fifi is the first time we’ve had one unfold in a single shot.
It’s a bravura start to the hour, as we glide across the Albuquerque border with the smoothness of Salamanca’s contraband smuggling operation. All the while, events are accompanied by the careful tick of a metronome on the soundtrack – the steady beat of carefully laid plans. That meticulous pacing has been evident more than ever before in this second season, which has balanced the low-key moral dilemmas of Jimmy’s world with the background danger of Mike and Breaking Bad’s criminal underworld to gripping effect.
But if the opening focus on Hector’s ice cream trucks containing more than raspberry ripple makes you think we’re about to see a drug-busting crime thriller, Fifi may surprise you: in fact, almost the entire episode is full of legal shenanigans.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a long, concentrated dose of legal drama, but it’s a mark of Better Call Saul’s success at building its McGill-centric universe that when we do, it’s genuinely thrilling. This latest lawful kerfuffle is prompted by Kim quitting HHM to set up her own firm – something that puts her and Howard in direct competition for Mesa Verde, after she brought them on board in the first place. After impressing with her steely resolve and her tipsy grifting in previous episodes, Rhee Seehorn combines the two to wonderful effect by talking Kevin from the company round to hiring her as their sole representative – when she smiles at Jimmy to tell him the news, it’s the happiest we’ve ever seen her.
Jimmy, of course, had other ideas of how the whole thing should pan out, suggesting some technically legal but morally dubious trickery to allow her to poach Mesa Verde away from HHM without them realising. Kim’s victory, then, is a notable one – until, inevitably, it fails, and HHM drag Mesa Verde back to their side of the fence.
This is where the episode gets interesting, because Chuck is the one to railroad Kim – and he does it purely to spite his brother. It’s the most overtly cruel thing we’ve seen Mike McKean’s older sibling do and it’s brilliantly nasty – Chuck spends 10 minutes pretending to support Kim, but really undermining her entirely, a speech that’s written beautifully by Thomas Schnauz. All the while, McKean’s wolfish smile peaks through at the end of his sentences. Most telling of all is the fact that he musters up the willpower to do the whole thing with the electricity turned on; a shot of him throwing off his tinfoil blanket before leaving his office is almost like watching a superhero, or bullfighter, go into action.
The result is a textbook demonstration of how Better Call Saul has positioned Jimmy at the centre of its narrative, using supporting characters to explore his and Chuck’s relationship, but also making it clear that anyone coming into contact with Jimmy is inherently tainted by his dodgy tactics. We knew Kim and Jimmy were never going to have a happy ending. Now, we really, really know.
The episode isn’t finished there, though: the stakes may be small, compared to Breaking Bad, but the closer Season 2 of Better Call Saul gets to its finale, the more extreme each character’s actions are, pushing things that bit closer to tipping point. And so Jimmy strikes back at Chuck. Until now, he’s always been compassionate to his older brother, something that’s made Bob Odenkirk’s scumbag increasingly sympathetic, the more we see how mean Chuck is in return. But here, Jimmy doesn’t hold back, seizing the chance steal some documents and, after a quick trip to the photocopy store, fake some incorrect figures to make Chuck incompetent.
This is where the editing comes into play once more, as director Larysa Kondracki and his cutting room deliver a knockout sequence of arts and crafts and administrative sabotage. It’s something carried out with the attention to detail that Mike has, as he gradually builds a spike strip from a garden hose – and gets his granddaughter to help. Both are tiny, seemingly trivial tasks, but each of them has the potential to do major damage; it just so happens that the damage is being inflicted upon people whom deserve it.
As Jimmy goes all-out with the photocopier, he’s accompanied by the stylish, laid-back riffs of “Why Don’t You Do It?” by Little Barrie – the same band who provide the theme tune for Better Call Saul. You can almost here that tune coming through in the shuffling guitar licks and bending notes – an audible signpost that we’re watching a decisive moment in the transition from Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman. It’s an act of revenge that will push Saul and Chuck further apart, but also one that means that, even if Kim gets Mesa Verde back, it won’t have been on her terms – a secret that it’s hard to imagine being kept for the next two episodes. The music may be relaxed, but that meticulous metronome of pacing? It’s still ticking.
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