Note: The e-mail exchange reviews between Josh and Shane will resume for next week’s season finale.
The tale of two shows continues. In the ninth and penultimate episode of Better Call Saul’s first season, the good, the bad, and the ugly persist, but we’re closer than ever to a jumping-off point. In other words, I can’t necessarily praise last night’s episode, but I feel more enthusiastic than ever that Vince Gilligan and his writers are on the verge of shedding their dead weight and honing in on the parts of the show that might compel us to watch in 2016. I have high hopes for the finale, and though it took a full season to get here, all I can say is, “better late than never.”
The big news, and the good news, is that Chuck McGill has been betraying his brother Jimmy from the start. It turns out that there’s a thick film of snobbery underlying Michael McKean’s character, and he’s fought singlehandedly to keep Slippin’ Jimmy from the rarefied ranks of “real lawyers.” Hamblin, despite his shiny veneer of arrogance, isn’t the main culprit—it’s the electro-phobe big brother who always seemed so kind.
I call this news “big” because it’s going to set Jimmy on the path to becoming Saul Goodman, which is all we’ve wanted to see from the start. I call it “good” because it hopefully means we’re finally getting away from Chuck, and Howard, and Kim, forever. Michael McKean is a tremendous actor, and from a performance standpoint I admired his speech at episode’s end. But he’s never been a compelling character, and that hasn’t changed. Despite his thespian chops, the revelation last night still seemed cheap—he supported Jimmy in all his ambitions, but beneath it all there was this elitist prick hiding? We never saw it coming, and not because it was a worthy twist.
My complaints on this front are well-documented, and I can honestly say I don’t care that we’re (hopefully) losing him. Ditto for Howard and Kim—one is a thin stereotype of a villain, and the other is boring. We don’t need them, just like we didn’t need the Kettlemans, or the old people, or any of it. We could have set up Jimmy’s betrayal, and the death of his hopes at legitimacy, in two or three episodes. In that sense, it’s not completely unfair to call the first season a waste of time.
HOWEVER—this is the point where the fan-boys can let their anger ebb away—these nine episodes have given us enough of the scrambling drama we loved in Breaking Bad to justify sticking around. We had Jimmy’s encounter with Tuco and the skateboarders in the desert, the quick courthouse thinking that got Nacho off the hook, and Mike’s entire flashback episode—a wonderful hour of origin story.
Last night wasn’t a complete cheat, either: Mike’s protection run was smart and entertaining from the start. We got some over-the-top-but-still-awesome combat when he stole the guns from the redneck, and a tense showdown with Nacho that benefited from all the research he had done. It served as a welcome reminder: Behind the silence, and the badass exterior, is a very smart man. Also, if you didn’t recognize the nerdy pill-seller, that was K-Strass the Yo-Yo Guy. If you have no idea what that means, click that link and prepare to laugh yourself insane.
One thing I’ve noticed about Better Call Saul, and that was true of Breaking Bad as well, is that the world is divided into those who talk and those who keep a stoic silence. Over and over last night, the dynamic emerged: Mike and the redneck, Mike and the criminal, Nacho and the criminal, Jimmy and Hamlin, Hamlin and Kim, Kim and Jimmy at night, and even Jimmy and Chuck at the end, when the roles reversed. (Jimmy and Mike didn’t interact in “Pimento,” but obviously that is the prototypical example.) It’s a neat trick, if a little overused, and it paid dividends in Mike’s scenes. That’s what this show needs—Saul and Mike in the shit. I’ve said it time and again, but it’s true enough that it bears repeating.
Season one, to this point, seems to have been the story of putting them in that shit. It took longer than it should have—maybe way longer—but the best thing I can say about BCS is that my optimism remains intact. Gilligan and co. need to ace the finale, but the ingredients are there. If next week is a success, we can forget the pedestrian tedium of season one and move on to the red meat. If things go as planned, none of this will matter—we’ll talk about the doldrums of season one the way we do with Parks & Recreation, and it won’t detract in the least from the excellence to come.