And now for the thrilling conclusion of Better Call Saul‘s first episode.
Well, not really, but the first two hours of the Breaking Bad spin-off really do tell one story, an arc that could have probably been compressed into 42 minutes, but hey, what can ya do?
The back half of the story picks up some time before the cliffhanger from last night. Tuco is chopping… something… oh, God. It can’t be… No, it isn’t the pulpy remains of the redheaded twins. Damn. It’s just some salsa. We get a replay of the twins’ biz-natch-laden assault on Tuco and his abuelita from the drug lord’s point of view, instead of the ellipsis from the previous episode. The twins accuse Tuco’s abuelita of felony-ing them and claim that they’re going to call the cops if they don’t pay up. Good strategy, dudes. After sending abuelita upstairs, Tuco lays the twins out with her cane. The ruckus interrupts abuelita’s telenovelas, and when she goes to check it out, Tuco is cleaning a red “salsa” stain from the carpet. She instructs him to use club soda, which I’m only mentioning because she’s right. It works.
And finally we’ve caught up to the cliffhanger. Jimmy arrives too late to save the twins any pain, but perhaps he can save their lives. Tuco ushers him in at gunpoint and sits him down in the living room. Jimmy, understanding how grave the situation is, makes his pitch to get both him and the twins out of the house, presuming they’re alive. He claims that his clients called about a traffic accident without mentioning any specifics. Perhaps it was his clients’ fault, and perhaps they said something uncouth, based on the “salsa stain.” It’s moments like these when we can see the seeds of Saul beginning to bloom, but he has a ways to go.
“Wow, you’ve got a mouth on you,” Tuco says.
Impressed by Jimmy’s verbal and legal gymnastics, Tuco shows the lawyer to the garage, where he has the twins bound and gagged. Maybe things will be all right. Ha! As soon as Jimmy frees one of them with Tuco’s ludicrously large knife, the twins flip on Jimmy and explain to Tuco that it was all a scam dreamt up by the lawyer. Real cool, guys. Now Tuco thinks that all three were trying to punk his abuelita. There’s only one place such an offense takes you.
NEXT: Who’s up for a trip to the desert?[pagebreak]
How’s this for pickle? Tuco has Jimmy and the twins tied up in the New Mexico desert, seemingly with the intention of killing them right there. It’s interesting watching Jimmy flail and beg knowing how expertly he handles himself in a similar situation as Saul during his first appearance on Breaking Bad. He’s an old pro by the time Walt and Jesse get to him, and he doesn’t do so badly here. Jimmy starts by admitting that they were running a scam, just not on Tuco’s abuelita, and he gives a quick rundown on the Kettleman case. All of this doesn’t do much to appease Tuco, who suspects the trio is some form of law enforcement. Riffing off of that and hoping to avoid losing his fingers, Jimmy says that he’s Special Agent Jeffrey A. Steel, FBI, which is a pretty ace fake name to come up with on the spot. When Tuco’s right-hand man Nacho, correctly calls b.s. and asks what business the crew is in, Jeff Steel recants, shifting his story back to being a lawyer. He just wants to go home.
Nacho, possibly moved by Jimmy’s sincerity or just wanting to avoid trouble, suggests to Tuco that they let them live, because there’s no way they’re really FBI. “Croaking a lawyer for no reason is bad business,” he says. It doesn’t look like the twins are going to walk untouched, but James M. McGill is giving respect. (Lesson: Don’t call anyone a biz-natch ever. Politeness may save you.) Jimmy is let off with a warning, one that he takes seriously since they know where to find him.
(Props are due—especially for the stunning dolly shot that moves from Nacho freeing Jimmy to the still-bound twins—to future Wonder Woman and veteran Breaking Bad director Michelle MacLaren, who helmed this episode.)
The twins, however, aren’t looking so lucky, but instead of running free, Jimmy stops. His conscience is getting to him. “I don’t deserve to die, but they don’t either.” Jimmy spins a story about the twins’ cane-using, floor-scrubbing, widowed mother as a final bid to save them. Once he sees the wheels begin to turn in the drug lord’s head, Jimmy incepts Tuco with the ideas of justice and proportionality. Perhaps an eye-for-an-eye solution is better than total annihilation. Jimmy suggests ankle sprains. Tuco counters with broken arms and legs, but Jimmy works him back down to one leg each. “That’s tough, but that’s fair,” he says.
NEXT: Leg breaking via Tuco[pagebreak]
The resulting breakage is absolutely brutal, somehow feeling more graphic than most of what we saw on Breaking Bad, despite the violence taking place off screen. The brutality does get a nice coda, however, when Jimmy says in the parking lot of the hospital, “Hey, I just talked you down from a death sentence to six months probation. I’m the best lawyer ever.” The crunch is enough to make our stomachs churn almost as much as Jimmy’s does watching that guy at the bar break his bread sticks in half. That dreamy sequence of tropical drinks and carbs causes Jimmy to hit the bathroom for a puke and presumably many more drinks. Later that night, he arrives at Chuck’s place without grounding himself. Chuck doesn’t appreciate the cameo by Jimmy’s cell, so he responds accordingly by tossing it outside and wrapping himself in a space blanket.
Thanks to the new emergency room bill that Jimmy has from taking care of his fallen comrades, he reappears at the public defenders office, begging for some more work. And he gets some, in the form of a montage! There’s coffee, sketchy clients, stickers, and petty with a prior. Also: the nagging feeling that these two episodes could definitely have been one.
Back at the nail salon, there are still no messages, but there is a client. Nacho has come a-callin’ about the Kettlemans. He plans to rip them off because they’ll have no recourse once their stolen money is stolen. His offer of a 10 percent finder’s fee for Jimmy is met with a play on Saul’s “criminal lawyer” status on Breaking Bad. “I’m a lawyer, not a criminal,” he says. Nacho, not willing to take no for an answer, leaves his number and something to think about.
“For when you figure out you’re in the game.”
So far, Better Call Saul has been an ambiguously shaped character study that has no issue with taking its time. Jimmy’s conversation with Nacho was the first indication of a season-long arc, but it’s hard to say right now if that’s how things will play out. In two episodes, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have made a clear statement. Yes, this all looks familiar, but this ain’t Breaking Bad. And that’s fine, but right now, what larger shape the spin-off ends up taking still remains to be seen.