Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Season 2, Episode 9 (Nailed)
James R | On 17, Apr 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
Will he? Won’t he? That’s been the question Better Call Saul has left us asking for the whole of its first two seasons – at what point will Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) finally become Saul Goodman? The answer, of course, has been that it’s not a single moment that will mark his transformation, but a series of small steps. If Season 1’s mapping of that journey was slightly uneven, Season 2 has proven remarkably consistent – and it’s only fitting that, as co-creator Peter Gould takes the director’s chair, this penultimate instalment should prove the best episode yet.
One of the keys to the second season’s success has been the positioning ofChuck as a villain, rather than an ally. As a sympathetic character for whom Jimmy cares, Chuck was uninteresting, but as an enemy for whom Jimmy still has affection, he becomes a fabulously cruel, desperately tragic opponent, who not only leads to Jimmy’s transformation, but also fuels it further. Episode 8 saw Jimmy take one of his most important decisions at that perpetual crossroads: the sabotage of Chuck’s Mesa Verde documents, a moment so significant it was accompanied by the catchy guitar licks of theme tune creators Little Barrie.
Nailed charts the aftermath of that betrayal in thrilling detail, as both brothers taste victory and defeat.
We begin with Chuck, who has never seemed happier, as he heads to the New Mexico Banking Board to finish an application for a new branch of Mesa Verde – only for the discrepancy manufactured by Jimmy to come to light mid-hearing. The discovery itself is, of course, no surprise, but Chuck’s reaction is: he’s so proud and confident in himself that as soon as Paige and Kevin suggest that Chuck might have made an error, he loudly overrules them, in front of the judging panel (something that this man of order and procedure would surely never normally do). Michael McKean is great at this stuff: after last week’s precise takedown of Kim, he’s wonderfully repugnant here, and even more so in defeat. Howard puts a nice face on it, but Chuck is mortified.
A brother-on-brother confrontation swiftly follows, as Chuck warns Kim that this was all a plot by Jimmy. Is it astute knowledge of his brother, or crazed paranoia that just happens to be right? McKean rants and accuses with just enough zeal to make anyone else struggle to tell the difference, but Bob Odenkirk’s scoffs and squirms with equally dubious conviction – the tiniest gesture from him reminds you that he could easily be performing once more, and we know that Kim knows Jimmy as well as we do and can read such body language.
Jimmy, of course, was careful – Chuck’s only evidence is being Jimmy’s brother all these years, right back to when Jimmy made fake IDs in high school. “You and Mozart, eh? You both started young,” quips Chuck. It’s the kind of small detail that Better Call Saul has based its drama upon, always subtly developing its characters’ back-stories.
The other rock upon which the Breaking Bad prequel has been built is Rhea Seehorn, whose performance as Kim deserves all the Emmys and Golden Globes that awards bodies can throw at her. She’s been masterful this season, from the fun-loving con man’s sidekick to the honest hard-worker and, here, loyal friend. “You’ve never believed in him. You’ve never wanted him to succeed,” she rails back at Chuck. “I feel sorry for him. And I feel sorry for you.”
We already know Kim can mount a spirited defence, but this is the best yet, as she argues that Chuck made Jimmy the way he is – something that rings true to everyone in the room. It’s that added analysis from a third party that really kicks the brothers’ relationship up a gear, from rivalry to tragedy. For the first time in the show’s history, we really do begin to have some pity for Chuck. Gould and team present the whole thing in a typically gloomy mix of half-shadow and half-light, neither one looking like they’re about to find redemption.
Jimmy, though, thinks he’s in for plain sailing – if only for a moment. And he’s just as bad as Chuck, turning onhis Saul Goodman showmanship skills for a hilarious sequence at a high school, where he’s trying to shoot a sequence for his lawyer advert – one that, after the airplane earlier this season, would see him standing in front of the American flag. Subtlety, thy name is not McGill. The returning cameramen have become more and more a part of the Better Call Saul landscape, a reminder of just how well the show manages its supporting ensemble – like everyone else in the show, they orbit around Jimmy and have become corrupted by their collusion with him. This subplot has been neatly threaded through the whole season, seemingly for comic effect, but the scripting is so tight that you wouldn’t be surprised if the Season 2 finale will finally let us see the finished video for ourselves. Hell, it may even be the closing sign-off.
The other equally well-paced subplot has been Mike (Jonathan Banks) and his growing involvement in the Salamanca underworld. The spike strip from Episode 8 makes its debut appearance here and, sure enough, it does the job of stopping one of Hector’s ice cream trucks – letting Mike steal a huge hunk of cash from the drug dealer. Mike’s journey has been gradual, but painstakingly thought-out, as the concerned daddy and granddad takes care not to kill or harm anyone; the closest he’s come to real violence is being beaten up himself by Tuco. That moral stance is just as visible here, as he ensures that the driver of the sabotaged truck isn’t harmed.
The result is Mike the happiest we’ve ever seen him – he even flirts with a waitress in a diner, something that’s akin to watching a women being chatted up by gravel. But, like Jesse Pinkman before (or after) him, Mike is in for a rude awakening when he meets up with Nacho and hears that a helpful passer-by came across the delivery driver – and paid the price to Hector with his life.
The notion of innocent collateral damage is one that’s at the heart of Vince Gilligan’s world – one that goes right back to Walter White’s transformation from good guy to bad guy, no matter what his intentions (a transformation that, once again, was slow, not sudden). And so it’s inevitable that Jimmy is also brought crashing back down to earth with Kim’s reminder that he needs to cross the ‘i’s and dot the ‘t’s to prevent Chuck’s discovery – prompting a visit to Lance the copy guy down at the local 24/7 printing shop, to bribe him into silence. (Surprised by the eventual importance of the cameramen this season? The unexpectedly pivotal role of Lance is even more satisfying.)
A visit from Chuck to the copy shop puts Jimmy and he once again on a head-to-head collision course – and this is where Better Call Saul strikes its biggest blow. As Chuck (McKean once again in full, smug flow) gets increasingly worked up at the poor printing shop employee, his electromagnetic illness flairs up – again, what a brilliant move to stage the climax in a room so full of electronic appliances. A fainting fit later, and Chuck is out cold on the floor after striking his head on the counter – leaving Jimmy, who, until now, has been watching in the shadows (again the use of the shop’s neon light and the corridor’s shade) with a smile on his face. It’s a marvellously scripted moment, one that exemplifies Better Call Saul’s knack for conveying big arcs in small, personal moments – until now, the stakes for Jimmy’s slide down the moral ladder have been relatively small, but this cliff-hanger makes the choice as direct (and as fatal) as it gets: McGill can’t pretend that anyone damage here is unintended collateral.
In an hour stuffed with good speeches, Howard is the one who ends up with the best line, as he smiles politely at Chuck. “Everyone makes mistakes,” he insists. The problem is that in this universe, everyone must pay for them too. As Chuck lies on the ground and Jimmy seems to take a step forward to help, we cut to black. Will he? Won’t he? The truth is left unspoken: Jimmy’s damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.
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