Better Call Saul (Season 2) 2016

“It was me. It all went down exactly like you said. I mean, exactly. I doctored the copies, I paid the kid at the shop to lie for me. It is insane how you got every detail exactly right.”

Is Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) a morally good person? Creators Vince Gillian and Peter Gould take the second season of the spin-off Better Call Saul and further explore this character study. Certainly, he has the best intentions for those closest to him and will go to extreme lengths conceived to help them despite hurting his own reputation and career. That is one of the elements that make-up a good person, being selfless, and as a lawyer, Jimmy excels at putting others needs before his own. Jimmy would rather work out of a 100 square foot room in the back of a nail salon than be in a corner office at a prestigious law firm. At least he got to keep the cocobolo desk he required to get a good 8 hours of work in on.

Season 1 left off with Jimmy retiring the ‘Slippin’ con-artist persona to live life to the fullest as he sees fit, however, season 2 starts with Jimmy scamming people out of glitzy hotel rooms and 3-digit dollar tequila shots. Turning down a job offer, Jimmy regresses, like a turtle hiding inside his shell, due to the high expectations placed on his shoulders. He’s a good lawyer who wants to do things his way. On a job application, Jimmy would check the box ‘works better independently than in a team environment’.

If that means cutting corners then so be it. ‘Charlie Hustle’ was his nickname, gifted by Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) when working in the mailroom of Hamlin Hamlin McGill.

Speaking of HHM, season 2 tightens its grip on the relationship between Jimmy and his older brother Chuck (Michael McKean). Just as he did with Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan evolves a complex relationship / bond between the two men from season 1. Details of their past are shown but it’s the actions of the men in present day that go on to define who they are. On one hand, Chuck is written brilliantly to be bitter of all the good that falls into Jimmy’s lap. Maybe its jealousy or envy Chuck experiences when witnessing Jimmy’s transformation from criminal with a felony to respected lawyer but either way, as the narrative unfolds, resentment increases.

Michael McKean fascinatingly disappears into his supporting role, as does Odenkirk. After all, it’s through Jimmy’s eyes that we see how events play out. But still, the writing is at its best episode to episode when both Jimmy and Chuck’s points are well laid out, detailed and argued as lawyers. Jimmy’s entire life has been spent to make Chuck proud while all Chuck sees is their parents favorite, a criminal out to scheme his way to the top, including what Chuck holds most sacred – the New Mexico bar association.

Examining the character further, Jimmy is internally a good person, sometimes his eagerness to prove himself is his Achilles heel. Season 2 is spent continuing the struggle of morality and doing right by the oath taken as a lawyer while doing anything possible for the people he loves.

The season’s climactic moment that sends shock waves, affecting every major character confirms the lengths Jimmy will go to. Reading what Jimmy does out of context, on paper would be too farfetched – no one has that type of patience and can come up with a plan too quickly, but Gilligan makes the verisimilitude of Jimmy’s actions plausible to the world we’re engrossed in. The seeds of Saul Goodman take to the dirt, growing to what we know him to be when introduced in Breaking Bad. Unlike Walter who starts off selling drugs to give his family a better life, who then becomes the villain, Jimmy never loses his intention to help. His methods may be outrageously questionable, willing to commit atrocities against those who vowed to protect the law, but you can’t help but root for this underdog.

Odenkirk’s once again outstanding performance is blended with dark comedy, ambition and a shark-like mentality proving the necessity for his own spin-off. It’s with the comedy, that Odenkirk’s personality shines through, the writing of his character brings out the best in all who surround him.

Following the pattern that kicked off the series, episode 1, titled ‘Switch’ starts with a look at the future post Breaking Bad continuing the story of Gene, the Cinnabon manager at a mall in Omaha, Nebraska. Though it doesn’t last long, the black and white aesthetic shows the character’s progression in each chapter of his life. In its simplicity, Gilligan and Gould further demonstrate the characters morality.

Back in the present, supporting characters like Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), and Nacho (Michael Mando) all play a larger role. As complex as the relationship is between Jimmy and Chuck, Jimmy and Kim together are equally as fascinating to watch. Rhea Seehorn brings a stern sincerity to her character, keeping Jimmy on a straight and narrow, through kicking and screaming, Kim accepts Jimmy, flaws, and all. Seehorn and Odenkirk have a comfortable, dynamic chemistry together, one can’t go on without the other – Kim is still Jimmy’s soul, his true north.

Full of interesting subplots, whenever the main narrative takes a breather, it’s the ensemble that hold the weight when Jimmy is off screen. Once again Jonathan Banks is an unsung mvp as Mike. Michael Mando’s Nacho is more than just a thug, popping in here and there for jobs – the character is given some heft and Mando commands the screen with his presence.

Season 2 of Better Call Saul proves that the experiment of a spin-off of a supporting character from one of, if not the most polarizing series of all time is no fluke. Lightning has struck twice in the same place. Built on the backs of character, it’s the world building that expands on this dark corner of the Southwest United States with no signs of slowing down or getting stale. Seeing Jimmy begin to change remains the main draw to a series that is technically exceptional in all aspects.

Created By: Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould

Episodes Directed By:

Music By: David Porter

Cinematography: Arthur Albert, Marshall Adams & Paul Donachie

Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Michael McKean, Ed Begley Jr., Omar Maskati, Mark Margolis

Where to Watch: Netflix

Release Date: February 15, 2016

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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