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Better Call Saul 2.1 “Switch” Review

Better Call Saul

Spoilers ahead. Only read if you’ve seen the episode or don’t mind finding out what happens.

Spin-offs are so hard to get right. For every Frasier there are a million Joey’s waiting around the corner, desperate to ruin something you once loved. That is why there was some sense of trepidation heading into the first season of Better Call Saul. Thankfully the show proved to be every bit the worthy successor to the superlative Breaking Bad. So then, could the second season start out with the same high quality?

Just as was the case with the first ever episode, Switch started with a black and white flash forward to Saul’s life as it is following the events of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan stretches his considerable creative muscles as he crafts a scene with so much meaning and tension, yet so little dialogue and movement.

Whilst ending another day of drudgery Saul becomes trapped in the garbage area and faced with a dilemma; does he stay put and hope for someone to come along or does he use the emergency exit and risk a responding officer recognising him?

Of course, so scared of capture is he, Saul decides to risk a night with the rubbish than possibly being caught. The brilliance of this scene is not held within this telling moment though, but is rather encapsulated by him picking up a long screw. Would he decide to kill himself? Would he somehow manage to use some of that old ingenuity and break out, or would that persistent feeling that someone else was coming for him be proven valid?

If you ignored those choices and answered that he carved a small message into the wall then congratulations, you’re a winner. Yes, he settles for some insignificant note to the man he once was rather than anything quite as grand as fans might have been expecting. Looking back, it should have been obvious that none of the above thoughts would become reality as it simply wouldn’t have fit with the subdued nature of the scene and to kill the main character in the opening scene of the second season would be madness. Still though it served to get the audience onto the edge of their seats ready for the episode proper.

The ending to the last season lead fans to believe that Jimmy McGill was all set to make that giant leap over to the dark side and become Saul Goodman. Everyone seemed to be pretty convinced that this season would see him make the immediate jump into being a criminal lawyer. That, in hindsight, was an odd assumption since up until those last few scenes the man that had been shown throughout the entire season was almost a complete 180 from what he would one day become. This episode showed that the show runners know that too as Saul isn’t quite here yet and Jimmy’s journey is far from over.

At the beginning you see Jimmy turning down the offer put forth last time for him to join a large legal firm. It would have marked a significant step forwards in his personal and professional life but a combination of romantic and personal problems kept him from taking the leap. As such he switches back to his former ways of low level grifting to fill his time. This leads to one particularly enjoyable scene where he and Kim con a wannabe fat cat named Ken. As a side note to this you may have caught that Ken is the man who has his car destroyed by Walt in Breaking Bad. It is nice to see that sort of connectivity between the two shows as it helps with the idea that they both exist within the same setting, though at different times.

The bulk of the episode looks at Jimmy’s bucking of the rules but it has to be said that he only ever does so in petty, laughable ways. For instance, he responds to once again being told that the cucumber water is for customers only by drinking it like a dog. It’s small things like this that shows the viewer that he is not ready to enter the world of Saul just yet. He doesn’t have the false bravado needed and he hasn’t completely unshackled himself from the civilian element of society. The climax of the show serves only to confirm that as he makes the quite sudden decision to take the job offer after all.

That change in direction seems to happen at the drop of a coin. The precipitating events don’t quite ready the viewer for it. Sure, his drunken night with Kim may have led him to believe that the relationship he wanted was there for the taking and that working more closely with her and in a more respectable manner may have aided him in settling down but is that enough reason to turn back so soon? Not really, it feels like there’s a missing piece to the puzzle there somewhere and it leaves a bit of a hole in an otherwise exemplary season opener.

Not all of the story focuses on Jimmy’s journey though as Mike makes a very welcome appearance as does a small time drug dealer who should remind fans just a touch of a certain man who knocks. This low level pill pusher is clearly out of his depth in the drug game and it is evidenced by his foolish decision to buy a large customised Hummer. This leads to Mike giving him the sage advice to drop such braggadocios displays in favour of a lower profile approach. He refuses to heed his council and heads of to his meet alone. Fans might have expected him to be killed for being a liability but Nacho, Tuco’s buddy from season one, instead finds his address and robs his house. A subsequent call to the police to report said burglary results in him appearing on the cop’s radar for all the wrong reasons.

That side story is clearly put in the episode predominantly to serve as a look at what could have easily happened to Walt if he followed his path of buying flashy cars for his son as so on. It also means that, at some point, Nacho is probably going to need to call on a certain lawyer to get him out of a tricky situation.

All that is in the future though, for now the story will track Jimmy as he navigates his way through conventional law and more tragedy before finally becoming the man everyone knows and loves. It should be a fun ride getting there and this episode got things off to a good start, season two holds just as much promise as the first and the team haven’t missed a step.

 

Image from social-response.co.uk

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