One of the highlights of the past 10 weeks, for me, has been watching and recapping/reviewing the second season of “Better Call Saul.” And this season was just as excellent as the first season — and has gotten much darker, as well. While the tone has been much more lighter than it’s predecessor, “Breaking Bad,” toward the end of season two the show made no bones about where things are heading.
It was easy to get lost in “Saul” and not think about the show that spawned it. To that, I applaud the writers, cast and showrunners, because it can’t be easy to operate in the shadow of one of TV’s greatest programs.
In season one and the first half of season two, I was often not even thinking about Walter White and the road Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut are destined to go down. Sure, it was in the back of my mind, but I was sucked into this story pretty well. These characters in “Saul” stand on their own, are well rounded and are just as engaging as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were. There are times when I have enjoyed “Better Call Saul” more than “Breaking Bad.”
But “Saul” is paving the way for what we see six years later in Albuquerque, N.M. There has been a lot of winks and nudges toward “Breaking Bad” on this show, but for me the big realization of things to come was when we saw Hector Salamanca — pre-wheelchair — enter Mike’s world. My first thought was “does Mike put him in the wheelchair? If he is here, that means Gus Fring can’t be far behind!”
I actually started re-watching the first couple of seasons of “Breaking Bad” after I watched the episodes during the second season of “Saul,” and there are a lot of things mentioned that either happens in this prequel or are on the horizon.
For instance, Tuco Salamanca beat a prison stint after Mike changes his tune about the gun in this season of “Saul,” but he does go to prison for stabbing a Mexican national in 2003. This is mentioned by Hank during a meeting with other officers in “Breaking Bad.” Since the show takes place in 2002, that means Tuco doesn’t have a long street life — and this will hopefully be addressed in “Saul.” It is little things like that I picked up that made this season of “Saul” a lot of fun. Also the appearance of Domingo “Krazy-8” Molina was a nice touch — his stare down with Tuco showed that Tuco didn’t exactly trust him, and we know there is good reason for that later on.
So it is fun revisiting the world of Walter White as I am now invested in the world of Jimmy McGill, his future criminal lawyer.
It is inevitable that “Saul” makes more and more references to the darkness that looms in the future with “Breaking Bad.” And the tone in the show has drifted into darker areas and has shots that immediately are recognizable to what came before (the shot of The Cousins’ skull boots was just as creepy as the first time I saw it, and Jimmy and Kim at the Dog House really hit home that this is the same world as Jesse Pinkman). The cold open to episode eight felt like something straight out of “Breaking Bad,” with the pacing and shots of the smuggling.
But I’m finding the characters not in “Breaking Bad” to be the more interesting ones. I have alluded in many of my recaps this season that I thought Kim Wexler was the standout character. Her interactions with Jimmy, her desire to succeed at HH&M and her career on her own, her strange love of scamming people with Jimmy, everything was engaging. Her and Chuck are really the only ones who know, and call out, Jimmy’s BS. Again, I wish we would have gotten more of her story in the season finale.
I also like how they made Chuck a sympathetic villain. Chuck is out to destroy Jimmy’s law profession this whole season, wildly jealous of his brother’s ability to charm and win people over (the cold open with the flashback to Chuck and his wife having Jimmy over for dinner is a great example of this — especially when chuck tries, and fails, at telling a lawyer joke). Yet, when we see his panic attacks from his perspective, it gives him some humanity. It is downright terrifying what’s going on in Chuck’s head as the panic rises. We still do not know what caused this in him. Stress? He certainly has a lot of that with Jimmy.
The guy is not well mentally — the doctors keep wanting to have him institutionalized — but he is very smart. He cracks Jimmy’s “switch the address numbers” scheme right away. And even when he states the absolute truth of what Jimmy did, he still sounds insane.
There are times I sympathize with Chuck, and there are many, many times I realize his desire to destroy his brother comes from something deeper and more destructive than simply his disgust at how Jimmy is now combining the con-man ways of his past with the lawyer ways of his current life. This is years of anger, disappointment and jealousy toward Jimmy that drives Chuck to do what he does (stealing back Mesa Verde from Kim because she is working with Jimmy, telling Kim how Jimmy destroyed their father’s business just to cloud her feelings for Jimmy, holding Jimmy back at HH&M for years, even not telling Jimmy their mother called his name before she passed). Jimmy is no saint, but neither is Chuck. The difference is that Jimmy knows that, and Chuck refuses to acknowledge his faults.
We really saw Jimmy heading down the path to Saul Goodman as well. His suits have gotten more crazy, his commercial in the finale (“Gimme Jimmy!”) has shades of the commercials for Saul. He is even using the law to get his way, and screwing people over.
And the finale is setting up two (potential) wars for season three: Chuck and Jimmy, Mike and Hector. Chuck has Jimmy’s confession on tape about the address switch. How that plays out, I have no idea. As I mentioned in the finale review, Jimmy is practicing law six years later on “Breaking Bad,” though under a new name “Saul Goodman.” But it is still the same town, so it is not like he wouldn’t be recognized by any of his former colleagues.
Then we have the note Mike got right after he was going to pick off Hector with a sniper rifle, but the blast of his car’s horn prevented him from doing so. There is a hint as to whom it may be. If you take the first letter of each episode this season and rearrange them, it spells out FRINGS BACK. (Switch, Cobbler, Amarillo, Gloves Off, Rebecca, Bali Ha’i, Inflatable, Fifi, Nailed, Klick). Given that “Breaking Bad” used similar things with its episode titles in its second season, I’m guessing this is probably an Easter Egg as to who left the note on Mike’s car, Gus Fring.
I’m glad the show is pacing things slow. I am sure it was tempting to dive right into Saul Goodman and his sleazy business. But the way they have done this show has been great. We are getting to know this character that is doomed to living underground and working as a manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha, Neb. because he got in way over his head. Jimmy is a sympathetic character, certainly flawed, but so is Mike. It is pretty great that two side characters from “Breaking Bad” have been fleshed out to be this interesting.