8.8

Better Call Saul: “Hero”

Season 1, Episode 4

TV Reviews better call saul
Better Call Saul: “Hero”

Paste writer Shane Ryan and editor-in-chief Josh Jackson review each week of Better Call Saul wearing pinstripe suits, just like Howard’s.

Josh,

As far as our worries that Better Call Saul lost some momentum last week? S’all good, man.

We know the origin!!! Not how it comes about or why, mind you, but we can see the genesis of the name itself, and for some reason that gives me a little thrill.

Now, down to brass tacks—I was entertained by “Hero,” in a way that didn’t happen last week, but I still feel like the different iterations of McGill/Goodman are confusing and uneven. On one hand, we’ve got Slippin’ Jimmy, who will pull a Chicago Sunroof and run a complicated Rolex scam, and really seems to have no moral grounding. Then, we’ve got James McGill, the lawyer who seems a little sloppy and disorganized, yet is really reluctant to do anything immoral and has to be convinced even to take a bribe from a family with no negotiating power. It’s not that he holds back—he finally takes the money, and he erects the billboard, and he stages the savior act, which was hilarious—but there’s some inconsistency between Slippin’ Jimmy and James McGill, and it’s hard to pinpoint why things changed. It might be a wait-and-see thing, as in maybe there’s a come-to-Jesus moment in between that we’re building toward, but in my head, it feels more like the writers haven’t answered the question for themselves.

There are other issues, too. As much as I enjoy Michael McKean, I don’t really get the need for his character, except as a sort of moral touchstone who McGill will eventually disappoint as he compromises his character to greater and greater degrees. But again, he already seems to have lost his brother’s trust down the line, so the stakes don’t seem very high—do any of us really care if the older brother approves of who Saul Goodman is becoming? And McKean’s fear of electricity feels more and more like a tacked-on detail, weird for its own sake, with no real relevance to the story. The other secondary characters feel equally lifeless—I don’t care about McGill’s friend at the law firm, or the douchey guy running things, or, really, anyone else besides Mike. (In fact, I had to look up their names, Kim and Howard, as neither one came readily to mind.)

When this show is at its best, McGill is scrambling amid the criminals. We need to see him in the underworld, because that’s where the fun in this show lies. The other stuff—the scams he pulled off when he was younger, his brother, his friends and nemeses at the law firm—are incidental, and not very compelling. We need more Mike, more Nacho and Nacho-type characters, and less of everything else.

That, Josh, is my opinion—I thought last night was a winner, but the kind of winner that reveals two potential futures. Here’s hoping they choose the right one.

—Shane

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Shane,

I agree with just about everything except your assessment of Chuck McGill. Yes, his fear of electricity is weird, but I find myself glad every time I see Jimmy putting his watch and cellphone in that mailbox because I know we’re about to get more Michael McKean. I care about what Chuck thinks of Jimmy because Jimmy does, and it’s really his only faint point on a moral compass. I liked seeing him wrestle with how to tell his brother that he successfully launched his business through “showmanship.” He accomplished something fairly incredible with the news stunt—something he worked his ass off to do—but he can’t be too proud of himself because he knows he’s building his foundation on a bribe and a lie. Chuck is that reminder.

Yes, the journey from ‘S All Good Man to James McGill Esq. back to the Saul Goodman we came to know and love in Breaking Bad is less a simple tale of either redemption or corruption and more the bumpy ride of a man who’d like to live on the high ground but is just so much more at home down with the snakes. He may look and act really different in those different timelines, but I suspect he’s got an angel and devil on each shoulder throughout. Even Slippin’ Jimmy is hustling the kinds of people who’d steal a drunk man’s Rolex. (What do they do when the thief would rather have the easy cash, though?)

Back to the events of last, though, what made it so fun was to see McGill’s true gift come to life. To realize he’s in on it when he takes the drunk guy’s watch was mildly entertaining. But to realize he’s in on it when worker falls from the billboard was a real delight. For most of the night, he just seemed like kind of a schmuck who was lost trying to play with the big boys, pointlessly trying to get away with mimicking the logo of Howard’s firm. And then he became the genius behind the long con. That’s the Saul I want to watch.

The other moment that gave me hope for secondary characters was seeing Jimmy in the chair about to get his hair bleached. His relationship with the ladies of the salon could be compelling if developed well.

—Josh

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Josh,

Definitely agreed on your last point—I want all the salon ladies I can get. (I probably could have phrased that a little better, though.) Saul is at his best when he’s moving among the fringe of society, and while salons are not exactly the criminal underworld, it’s always fun to see him interacting with social groups that seem to be outside his milieu. That’s where the magic of this character flows.

We’ll have to agree to disagree on Chuck. Like you said, I have no problem watching Michael McKean do his thing, but I can’t really see where this is heading—I feel like he’s either going to be left behind when his brother goes off the S’all Good deep end, or something super dramatic is going to happen to him (death, maybe?) that convinces McGill that morality is a lie and he may as well just make as much money as he can before his number comes up. Which may work, in the end, but for now the relationship just isn’t clicking for me.

The billboard stunt was truly fantastic, and what I really loved about it was how Saul adjusted his plan to incorporate the local university when all the news stations turned him down. Again, what makes McGill such a survivor is his way of using everything around him, and not closing himself off based on status or snobbery or whatever. When it comes to making a profit, or running a stunt, it’s all about getting the job done. A college film crew, a couple of dumb skateboarders, and a nail salon fit right into his world, even if they don’t seem to fit in at all.

I’m still excited for this show, with a dash of concern for good measure. What I really hope, Josh, is that they embrace the fun and don’t worry about the big themes that might have suited a show like Breaking Bad. We want to see Saul hustle, and we want to see him sweat.

Last question for you: I can’t see Saul living out his days working at a Cinnabon in Nebraska. This may be looking too far ahead, but do you think the show will truly end with the emergence of Walter White, or is there room for a prequel to become a sequel?

—Shane

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Shane,

I really hope we get to see more of future Saul, but I also hope that’s a few seasons down the road when we’ve learned a little more about the pre-Breaking Bad version. As it stands, the man who’s career was ruined by the hubris of Walter White is just a nostalgic shell with nothing to chase and no one in his life. I don’t want that to be the end of the story either, but I’m content to get to know the Jimmy McGill first. He’s starting to seem like McGyver; he can get out of every desperate situation. He doesn’t even need a paper clip or duct tape—just his mouth and a lot of hustle.

Stay gold, Saul.
—Josh

You can follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.

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