Better Call Saul S1E2: “Mijo”

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“It’s showtime!”

Although I could’ve seen Saul as a half-hour show, the advantage of hour-long episodes is the sheer amount of storyline. “Mijo” is way more of a Breaking Bad comparison piece than “Uno” – we get lots of violent desert action, we get a long character-exposition montage, and most importantly, we get Tuco. But the key difference of the Saul experience is that we don’t have to jump from character to character. Everything that happens in this episode, happens solely to Jimmy McGill. I think for the viewer, that kind of focus is refreshing, and Bob Odenkirk is really carrying us all on his back.

Part II: “Mijo”

I didn’t enjoy “Mijo” quite as much as “Uno,” but I think that’s because I’m still kind of burned out on BB. I don’t think Tuco is compelling enough to revisit. For the first half of the episode, we spend a lot of time with the younger, less methy, equally insane version of him, and I kinda missed the ese I used to know. Raymond Cruz is a great actor, a very effective and fleshed-out villain, so it was interesting to see Tuco played a little gentler, a little heavier on the stupidity. Certainly I enjoyed watching him cower in front of his little abuelita.

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Enough harping. Can’t say I didn’t enjoy Tuco’s early scene with Jimmy, in which Jimmy tries to negotiate his way out of the abuelita’s house. Tuco gets what is possibly the best line of the episode: “Wow,” he rasps, after a 6-minute lawyerly diatribe. “You got a mouth on you.” No matter his issues, Tuco respects theatricality – and that’s something that apparently will never change.

Basically, for the first part of the episode, Saul gets to go on a vintage Walter White adventure. Tuco brings him and the two ne’er-do-well skateboarders out to the desert to exact justice. Everybody’s tied up and thrown in front of a sandy grave. At this point, we’ve got a few familiar faces – what’s up Gonzo and No-Doze! – as well as a new member of Albequerque’s meth underworld. Unfortunately, his name is Nacho.

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I think the overbearing and welcome-wearing-out presence of Tuco is very much mitigated by Nacho, who seems to be either his partner or colleague who’s a little higher up. Michael Mando is fantastic as the scene-stealing petty criminal Vic on Orphan Black, and he morphs nicely here into a calm, pragmatic mastermind.

I found the “Mijo” script a bit clunky (more on that later), but one scene that did stick out favorably. Mando, Cruz, and Odenkirk all got to shine in the hilariously dark and drawn-out desert sequence, in which Jimmy tries desperately to negotiate for his and his clients’ lives. What’s so notable about Jimmy McGill, pre-Saul, is his naive commitment to justice. He actually attempts to appeal to Tuco’s humane side by repeatedly telling the truth! This is such a far cry from the guy who “once convinced a woman I was Kevin Costner, and it worked because I believed it.” It’s only after Jimmy realizes he’s dealing with an unhinged ball of fury that he tries a last-ditch fib, which is identifying himself as an FBI agent. Couldn’t contain my snorts at “Special Agent Jeffrey Steele.”

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Jimmy’s performance in the desert scene is breathless, hilarious, and pure gold. Loved his passionate speech about the skateboarders’ mother and her sad life as a maid. Watching him parry with the moronic Tuco, asserting his professional wisdom while remaining subservient to a loose cannon with a gun, is a huge treat. This is so not the way Walt dealt with the same situation – in a lot of ways, it’s way better.

Jimmy: Ever hear of the code of Hammurabi? Let the punishment fit the crime. Eye for an eye.
Tuco: You want me to blind them.
Jimmy: No, no. All they did was trash talk.
Tuco: So I cut their tongues out!
Jimmy: Wait. See, I’m advising that you make the punishment fit the crime.
Tuco: Columbian neckties. I cut their throats, and then I pull their lying tongues through the slits!
Jimmy: Or you could sprain their ankles. They’re skateboarders, right? That that’s how they run their scam.
Tuco: I ain’t spraining nothing, bitch. I’m gonna break their arms, and I’m gonna break their legs.
Jimmy: Arms? When when When did we get on to arms? Let’s –
Tuco: I’m cutting their legs off.
Jimmy: We were talking about breaking. I think we’re heading in the wrong direction.

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And Jimmy’s actually successful! He manages to save everyone’s lives (the skateboarders escape with only one broken leg each) and kind of remains on a meth kingpin’s good side! His clients don’t quite see it that way, but getting sand-stomped by a crazy man will leave you bitter. “I just talked you down from a death sentence to six months probation,” Saul tells them. “I am the best lawyer ever.”

At this point, “Mijo” changes tone and transitions back into Jimmyworld. The experience with Tuco and Nacho has left Jimmy shaken and doubly determined to prove himself, inside and outside the courtroom. Even as he’s puking on a date (triggered by the shattering of a breadstick), Jimmy’s shining in front of every jury. Michelle MacLaren is one of the best TV directors ever, and she knows how to montage the shit of anything. The rapid progression of Jimmy’s defense speeches was cleverly edited, another highlight of the episode.

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It really is a lot of fun watching Jimmy come into his own. What’s fascinating about his current persona is that he exhibits a lot of Saul Goodman’s physical and verbal characteristics, but he’s using his powers for good. He doesn’t consider himself a deceptive or underhanded person, and certainly he sees his profession as something noble. We see that loud and clear when Jimmy’s approached later by Nacho, who thinks the two of them can pull off a heist with little risk. Jimmy rejects him, less out of fear than out of moral responsibility. “I’m not a criminal, I’m a lawyer,” he protests. It’s a line that Saul Goodman will pull out years later, but when Saul does it, it rings completely false. Jimmy actually believes it.

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It’s kind of bittersweet, since we all know how Jimmy’s gonna end up, but this is another reason I’m glad Better Call Saul exists. We knew Saul Goodman wasn’t evil, but calling him a bad man wasn’t a stretch. This guy Jimmy doesn’t have half of Saul’s powers, but he’s got a mouth on him, and he’s using it for good. That’s what she said.

We end the episode with another complicated coda – another insight into the relationship between the McGill brothers. At this point, it’s clear that Chuck is not only dying, but he also is likely a little bit OCD or schizophrenic. He has a fear of electricity and insists on wearing a space blanket. It’s this scene that caused my faith in the writing of “Mijo” to waver. The sheer number of times Jimmy repeats, “Take off the space blanket, Chuck” – it’s a repetitive, unfunny, and tonally strange scene that I guess is suppose to deepen the nuance of their brotherly bond. Obviously, Jimmy cares for his older brother and doesn’t like to see him mentally compromised. But I’d like for Michael McKean to have some better material, to elevate him from a sad burden kinda archetype.

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Although “Uno” was so much more successful for me than “Mijo,” I’m still wholly confident that Saul‘s off to a great start and has a lot of original, artistically viable, and narratively exciting tricks up his sleeve. There’s definitely enough elements here that aren’t BB fan service – Chuck and Nacho being chief among them – and I have faith in Gilligan and Gould that those elements will be used shrewdly.

And as always, the cinematography and production design is breathtaking. That’ll never change.

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Random addendums…

  • Mike is yet again shown onscreen, in a short but amazingly funny conflict with Jimmy. I like how they’re seeding him rather than introducing him with a one-two nostalgia punch.
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  • I still don’t buy that those kids are taking videos on their cell phones. This is 2002, remember?
  • Last night, I laid in bed thinking about whether they’re going to bring Jesse back in the present-day Saul timeline. It made me so excited and scared I had to take a melatonin.
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