Double Switch Of The Con Man

Saul Goodman AKA Jimmy McGill is back, in the season 2 opener of Better Call Saul, called ‘Switch’. And a switch it is. And then it is not.

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Locked In
Like ‘Uno’, Saul’s pilot episode, ‘Switch’ starts with a black and white montage of what we can only assume is a flash-post-Breaking-Bad-forward. Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould haven’t forgotten about Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) Heisenberg-absent future. It’s a grey one. Jimmy’s working at a mall, takes out the trash after closing hours (accompanied by the song ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’ by Billy Walker), but accidentally locks himself up in the dumpster basement. There’s one way out: an exit door, with a sign that says: ‘Notice: Emergency Exit Only! If you exit this door you will activate the alarm, and the police will be notified. If you must exit and the’ – that’s as far as it goes. It’s possible that the warning’s just a precaution and no (silent) alarm will be tripped. However, it’s clear Jimmy doesn’t want to run the risk of encountering police. So he stays put. It’s a quarter past nine. It’s only until a quarter to midnight that he’s released by the cleaning guy. By that time, he’s engraved his initials in the wall. ’S.G. was here’. Or is it ‘J.G. was here’? It’s nice to get a look into the future, but I’m afraid that’s all it is. Nice. Better Call Saul is, above all else, a prequel story.

Out
Jimmy’s been offered the job at law firm Davis & Maine. A huge opportunity to break into the serious lawyer business, but he wavers. It’s not exactly clear why. I guess it’s because he just loves conning people too much. He also wonders if Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is part of the equation. Are they finally going to happen, now that he’s about to play in the big league? She assures him those are two completely separate issues. The clever thing to say. However, that’s just what Jimmy needed to hear to decline the offer. He’s out. No more law. No more lawyer. Just fun pretending to be somebody else, taking people’s money and taking them for fools.

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Clarity
This means drifting like an 80 year old in the pool and being served on, apparently. He’s done everything that was expected of him. Played by the rules. Now, what does he have to show for it? I’d say a job at a prestigious law firm, but that seems to be a minor detail. Jimmy just wants to live, by… sitting on his ass, drinking cocktails. It’s not long before Kim shows up to ask him what the hell is going on. A midlife crisis? More like midlife clarity, he says.

Perfect Recipe
To show her what he means – because he can’t quite explain it – he cons some stock broker at the bar, and lets Kim play the part of his sister. She’s reluctant at first, but gets into the groove after a while. Free food, not to mention the free (very expensive) tequila – stock man Ken (Kyle Bornheimer, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Agent Carter) insists on paying the cheque -, can do that. Jimmy and Kim exit the bar drunk and exhilarated; the perfect recipe for romance. They end up in bed together. We just get to see the morning after, though.

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Switch #2
Has it been the spur of the moment? Have Jimmy’s feelings finally been returned? My guess is they haven’t. No matter how great it was to brush their teeth together. As Kim leaves to go to work, Jimmy leaves to float around some more in the pool. That’s when it hits him. Cocktails aren’t everything either. He saddles back up, switches again, contacts David & Maine, is not too late, and settles into his new (proper) office.

PLAYUH
There’s not a whole lot of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) in the episode, but there is of Daniel Warmolt (Mark Proksch), the guy who’s been hiring him. Daniel’s gotten a bit too sure of himself and thinks he can do the exchanges with Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) by himself. Sure, he can, even without Mike as his backup. But you still don’t want to get too friendly with Nacho, especially with your new PLAYUH licence plate and the car to match it, and your full name in the glove compartment. Before he knows it, Daniel’s house is trashed and his baseball cards are gone. His secret stash, too, most likely. It’s a great role, and we haven’t seen the last of him yet. Check out Talking Saul for more inside information and a sneak peek of next week’s episode.

Better Call Saul: Marco

Maybe it’s because last week’s Pimento felt like the season finale, maybe not, but Marco – which does put a lid on the first season of the Breaking Bad spinoff – feels a lot like an, albeit nice, filler episode.

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The B
As we know, Jimmy’s cut ties with his brother Chuck and their case against the elderly home. Except for the money he’ll get when it’s all over, of course. He does, however, stay on as Bingo Caller. Still upset by his brother’s betrayal – and having to call out only B numbers, the B of Betrayal and Brother – he reveals why he had to go to jail, all those years ago, before getting saved by Chuck and the mailroom at HHM. It involved two cub scouts, a car and Jimmy defecating on it because its owner had slept with his (now ex-)wife.
It might be the least thought through scene of the whole season. Why is the letter B getting to him? Why tell that specific story? If he wanted to tell the bingo players anything, it’d be about his brother calling him a chimp with a machine gun, wouldn’t it? The story about his jail time needed to be told, but this felt a bit to contrived.

The Bar of Broken Dreams
Jimmy’s got nowhere to go, basically, after leaving everything behind. He winds up back in a bar in Chicago, to visit his old friend/ex-partner-in-scams Marco. Before he knows it, they’re back in the game, conning people for money and sex. You’ve got to give credit to the writers, for coming up with really nice scamming tactics. It’s so well written (and acted), it’s totally believable someone would fall for it. It’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Trees Lounge.
After a week of fooling people, Jimmy has to get back to Albuquerque. His former clients are all over his voicemail; he’s needed elsewhere. Marco convinces him to stay, for one last ‘heist’. In the world of drama, that means trouble – and trouble they get, but in true Saul fashion, in quite a different way than you’d expect. During their Drunk Guy With A Rolex Passed Out In The Alley routine, Marco suffers a heart attack – and dies.

The Best News of his Life
During Marco’s funeral, Jimmy gets a call from Kim. The case is even bigger than they thought, so another law firm has been brought on board. Davis & Main has set its eyes on Jimmy, mainly because the people in the elderly home keep asking for him (and because Kim and Howard put in a good word). Finally. A real firm. A real job. It’s the best news he could ever receive.
Jimmy returns to Albuquerque, only to have a change of heart at the last minute. He touches Marco’s ring, thinks back to how much fun they’ve had and how good they were at it. Also the job he did with Mike Ehrmantraut comes to mind. They had it all, but decided to do ‘the right thing’. Exit Jimmy McGill who’s ‘building something’. Enter Slipping Jimmy, on his way to becoming the scheming Saul Goodman.

Better Call Saul: Pimento

To quote one of Vince Gilligan’s former shows: The truth is out there. In Jimmy’s case, the truth has been slumbering right under his nose. In the penultimate episode of the first season, a heartbreaking reality is revealed.

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Empty Parking Garage
It looks like Mike Ehrmantraut has definitely left his parking lot booth, at least in terms of his storyline. He gets a phone call. The person on the other side of the line – could it be the friendly vet? – has a job for him. The writers of Saul (Pimento was officially written by Thomas Schnauz) have mastered the art of creating a scene where the comedy doesn’t bite the drama; it’s a dramedy at its absolute best. One of the finest examples is when Ehrmantraut meets the other two guys of the ‘three man job’ in an empty parking garage. It’s both scary and funny, but never does it get goofy. Long story short: Ehrmantraut is the coolest guy in television history. He ends up doing the three man job by himself.

Blessing and Curse
Jimmy’s case is getting so big, it’s impossible to do it without help. There’s only one option: take it to HHM. Why HHM and not another law firm? Probably because of his brother Chuck, who’s still a partner at HHM – although he’s allowed to assist Jimmy. By the end of the episode it becomes abundantly clear why.
Jimmy puts all his resentment against Howard Hamlin aside and goes over there. Chuck, doing better everyday, joins him, thanks to his suit with a ‘space blanket lining’. The offices of HHM go into a complete electrical lockdown. Every phone has to be handed in, even the alarm system gets shut down. Chuck enters and gets a standing ovation from every employee. Jimmy’s left holding the bag – or file boxes, in this case.

Take the Deal
It’s smooth sailing. The meeting couldn’t have gone better. Jimmy will be compensated for his ‘leg work’, and will also receive 20% of the amount HHM will eventually get when they win the case. But then it becomes clear Hamlin – wearing his extraordinary knit tie – doesn’t want Jimmy involved any longer. He doesn’t say why, other than ‘the partners decided on it’. He doesn’t budge. Kim does get him to talk, later, behind closed doors. Whatever he said makes her go see Jimmy, to strongly advice him to take the deal.
And he will take the deal, because he needs the money to build his practice. A well oiled Saul Goodman office is where we’re ultimately headed; at some point Better Call Saul has to seamlessly flow into the world of Breaking Bad.

Chimp with a Machine Gun
By now, it’s clear Chuck’s got something to do with it. Early in the episode, he challenged his electrical phobia to make a call, in the middle of the night, on Jimmy’s cell phone. It could have only been Hamlin, nothing else makes sense. Because he forgot to turn it off, the battery’s dead by morning. This has been nagging at Jimmy, who always turns it off, until the point where he calls the phone company. Hamlin was called and he knows enough. In true Gilligan style, he confronts Chuck, who finally reveals his true feelings about Jimmy and his career in particular: ‘You’re not a real lawyer!’
As expected, Chuck never took his brother serious, because ‘people don’t change’. He’s been looking out for his little brother, Slipping Jimmy, because his law degree made him a ‘chimp with a machine gun’. Jimmy stoically tells Chuck he’s on his own now and leaves the house. It actually could’ve been a fitting season finale, but luckily we’ve got one more episode coming.

Better Call Saul: Rico

The 8th chapter of Saul feels like a standalone episode, only to turn into a whole new beginning for Jimmy as a lawyer, backed by his brother Chuck, who’s getting better and better in every sense of the word.

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Comedy
Remember when Better Call Saul used to be somewhat of a comedy series? Well, the show’s completely shaken off that image by now. It’s transformed into a very good drama series, albeit hanging on to a sort of silly leader, not to mention the name. A better title would’ve been Pleading Bad, although that might be a bit too much trying to be funny as well.

Silenced
The episode starts off with a flashback to the time Jimmy worked as a mailman at HHM. In his spare time he managed to pass the bar – third time’s the charm – and celebrates it with his colleagues, including Kim. Howard Hamlin comes in and spoils the party. The door closes and we can see through the glass what happens, but we can’t hear anything. A nice cinematic tactic, or trick, or however you want to call it. Hamlin comes out and says they’ll reassess in 6 months. What are they going to reassess? It must be something other than his mailroom job, otherwise there would’ve been no need to silence their voices, would there?

Shredded
Present day, at the retirement home, Jimmy stumbles upon something of a case. The residents are being overcharged. He’s overheard by the woman who works there, so when he comes back the next day, they’re busy shredding documents – evidence, most likely – and he’s thrown out the door.
That night, he finds the bags of shredded material and together with Chuck, he literately puts the pieces back together. The brothers are working together now. Chuck’s officially still with HHM, so that might become a problem.

Rico
The McGills meet with the lawyers of the retirement home and tell them they want 20 million dollars. Their biggest threat is a word a lot of TV shows like to use, probably because it sounds good: Rico – hence the title. A Rico case isn’t some famous case from ages ago that every lawyer’s familiar with; it stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
A so-called racket is a ‘service that is fraudulently offered to solve a problem, such as for a problem that does not actually exist, that will not be put into effect, or that would not otherwise exist if the racket did not exist’ (Wikipedia).

Chuck
He’s been a bit of a couch potato, but now Chuck is getting better – and even tends to forget he has an electromagnetic condition – the character gets more interesting every week. You constantly expect him to trip, fall, screw up, say the wrong thing, burn important files on a whim, etcetera. He’s quite unstable, barely keeping it together, which makes him a liability to everyone around him, which makes him a fun character – also brilliantly played by veteran actor Michael McKean (Alias, The X-Files, The Unit, Happy Endings, and of course This Is Spinal Tap).

Better Call Saul: Bingo

Episode 7 of Saul ties up the loose threads of the Cuckooland Couple with the money and Jimmy’s retainer, as well as the aftermath of the coffee spill/stolen notepad predicament. All’s well that ends well. You’d think.

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New Office
Jimmy’s got himself a new office. Actually, an empty space with plenty of room for multiple offices. He’s thinking big, obviously. So big, in fact, that even when it’s furnished, it won’t look anything like the shabby one he had on Breaking Bad. Furthermore, Kim also – for as far as we know, at least – isn’t in Jimmy’s life when Walter White comes knocking (he’s the one who knocks, let’s not forget). So despite the fact that everything seems to be on the up and up, there’s always this realization hanging above the show that there’s no reason for hope. Jimmy’s only going to get into more trouble, and as we’ve seen in the first scene of the first episode, he’ll end up in a depressing grey area.
That doesn’t mean every supporting character of the show will die at some point, because they weren’t visible in Breaking Bad, of course. Chuck, for example, is making progress with his ‘tolerance to electromagnetism’. He has three more episodes to undo himself from the mental block he’s imposed on himself and leave Albuquerque alive.

Cuckooland
The camping couple – the representatives of Cuckooland – is back. The sloppy criminals have done such a poor job covering their tracks, that there’s only one way out. Kim strongly advises them to plead guilty, pay back the money and the husband goes to jail for 1,5 years.
They walk out on her, which makes Howard Hamlin send her to ‘the corn field’, apparently a special wing of the building where the lawyer firm puts its underachievers. The couple goes back to Jimmy and blackmails him. The retainer they gave him is part of the stolen money, so if they decide to pay it back, pay it all back, he’s in the same boat as them. I’m not sure if that’s legally waterproof, lawyer-client confidentiality and all that, but let’s assume it is.

Kim
Jimmy goes looking for a loophole, but can’t find any. It’s clear cut; they will be found guilty, the money will be discovered and his role will be exposed. The only way out of it is to do the right thing.
He has Mike break into their house, who finds the money in a sort of Out of Sight/Ocean’s Thirteen kind of montage, including a very cool late nineties heist soundtrack, and saves the day. For some reason, Jimmy puts his fingerprints on the stolen money before sending it to the District Attorney.

Partner
The couple goes back to Kim to accept the deal. There’s no alternative. Jimmy wanted Kim to come work for/with him in his new spacey office, but now he’s rescued her from the corn field, there’s no way she’ll reconsider; in 2 years she’ll make partner at HHM.

Mike
Last week’s disappearance of Detective Abbasi’s notebook is explained – Jimmy: ‘I just found it on the floor’ – but his partner, Detective Sanders basically tells Mike in a private conversation to kill Abbasi. He’s a good kid, he says, but some rocks you just don’t turn over. The thread continues.

Better Call Saul: Five-O

Episode six of Saul is a Mike-centered one. Where has Mike Ehrmantraut run away from, why is the Philadelphia police department after him, and who’s the woman he’s been checking up on from his car across the street? We’re getting all the answers in a tour de force by Jonathan Banks.

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Novelistic
One of the reasons Breaking Bad was so good is also one of the reasons Better Call Saul is constantly reaching new heights, and that’s the novelistic approach to visual storytelling. Short and long scenes, much and no dialogue, non-chronology, putting a supporting character center stage, Vince Gilligan and his team take a story, tear it apart and put it back together like a jigsaw puzzle. In a world where television drama is often written by producers who go from one cliffhanger to the next, Gilligan’s work, albeit slower paced, is a breath of fresh air.

The Avenger
Up to this point, Mike Ehrmantraut has served as comic relief, but with ‘Five-O’ Jonathan Banks takes his chance to shine. He’s got a shotgun wound just below his collar bone, and from there on his backstory unravels. It turns out he used to have a son in the Philadelphia police department who was murdered. Even though Mike had tried, there’s not much he could’ve done to prevent it; two of his colleagues, crooked cops, would’ve killed him anyway. Mike took it upon himself to avenge his son’s death, getting himself shot in the process.
One of the cops is – once again – Lane Garrison (Prison Break, The Messengers). Apparently he’s the first one they call if they need an officer of the law.

The Vet
So where do you go with a bullet wound? The vet, of course. As Theodore ’T-Bag’ Bagwell has taught us long ago, if you’re a criminal, the vet’s the place to go when you’re bleeding out (or wish to see your hand reattached).
We also get to know the mysterious woman Mike has been checking up on. It’s his son’s wife. In the greatest Better Call Saul scene to date, Mike tells her everything. What happened to her husband and his own role in it all. Here, Jonathan Banks showcases his acting brilliance. A truly heartfelt, strong, pitch perfect performance.

Jimmy
So what about Jimmy? Well, he’s called in as Mike’s lawyer, after Mike’s been picked up by the police – as we’ve seen at the end of ‘Alpine Shepherd Boy’. Actually just to spill coffee over one of the cops from Philadelphia, so Mike can pick his pocket. It’s his notebook he wants, in which there’s all the information the police has on him. This surely must come back to haunt him; the cop will miss it, know it’s stolen and realize Jimmy’s coffee spill wasn’t an accident.

Better Call Saul: Alpine Shepherd Boy

The fifth installment of The Adventures of Saul Goodman finally gives us some more information about his brother Chuck, and a glimpse of how elderly booth man Mike Ehrmantraut spends his days.

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Nutcases
The billboard scheme seems to pay off, more or less. Jimmy’s got bonafide (potential) clients. From a man who’s got a million dollars lying around – with his own picture on the bills – to the inventor of a talking toilet, most of them are complete nutcases. It does provide him with funny stories while painting the toe nails of Kim, though. I’m sure we’re going to get the answer very soon, but what’s up with that?
There are two options: either they were in a relationship in the past and it didn’t work out, so they’ve remained friends, or: they were never together and don’t want to be. I can understand the dirty talk over the phone thing (in a previous episode), in both scenarios, but painting her toe nails?

Chuck
From signing a non-disclosure agreement about Tony the Toilet Buddy to Jimmy’s brother; it’s a small step. Chuck’s dealing with the aftermath of stealing his neighbour’s paper.
Albuquerque police officers show up on his doorstep and because he doesn’t want to/can’t let them in, they kick down the door. He gets an allergic reaction to everything they have on them – phones, flash lights, tasers – and ends up in the hospital. There we finally get a clear explanation of what his condition is. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity. In other words: an allergy to electricity. In Jimmy’s words: it hurts.
When the nurse – a guest role of Clea DuVall (Carnivàle, Heroes, Argo, The Faculty, The Newsroom) – tricks him, we know Chuck’s condition’s essentially a symptom of something else. Probably the result of worrying over his little brother.

Will Business
Jimmy takes Chuck home and tries to reassure him. The billboard scheme was just a form of advertising, to get on the right track, and that’s where he is now. He’s found a niche: drawing up wills for old people. While explaining Chuck he can take care of himself, without breaking the law, something weird happens with the shadow on his face. Vince Gilligan series seldom have continuity issues, but this is one. The left side of his face is half dark in one shot, in the other they’ve put a light on it.

Mike
Just when you think Mike Ehrmantraut won’t show up, he does. In the show, or in front of your house. We get a glimpse of what his life outside the booth is like. Apart from sitting in a car across from someone’s house – most probably someone he looks out for, whether she likes it or not -, pretty boring. Until the doorbell rings.
‘Long way from home, are you?’ he asks the cops. To be continued.