TV Review: Better Call Saul (1×02) – “Mijo”
Reprinted from The Young Folks as posted on February 10, 2015
Well it didn’t take too long for two-bit lawyer Jimmy McGill to get himself into a sticky spot. Not only that, but he happened to land in the clutches of everyone’s favorite psycho Mexican drug lord, Tuco Salamanca. It turns out that the old lady being scammed by Jimmy and the skateboarding duo is Tuco’s grandmother and Tuco quickly sees through the thin lies. Anybody who remembers Walter and Jesse’s encounters with Tuco on Breaking Bad knows that Tuco isn’t someone who is easily crossed, and he proves to be a difficult negotiator to work with for the flustered and out-of-his-depth Jimmy.
More than anything, Better Call Saul’s second episode “Mijo” finds director Michelle MacLaren and series creators, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, tightening their coil of suspense over the viewer. The great thing about a volatile character such as Tuco is that he’s a walking/talking suspense generator: unpredictable and often over-dramatic to such a degree that every second spent in his presence is one more second spent thinking about an exit strategy. One wrong sentence could set him off without notice and get a gun pulled on you (word to the wise: don’t call his (or anyone’s) grandmother a “biznatch”). The uncomfortable knots in your stomach practically tie themselves when he’s nearby.
Jimmy’s desperation is especially more evident in this predicament as star Bob Odenkirk dials away all traces of huckster slickness while retaining his way with words. Jimmy McGill is far away from the smooth operator Saul Goodman, but the raw materials are certainly already there to be honed with more experience. Jimmy is used to dealing with general low-lifes of a less violent caliber, as it’s clear that he most likely hasn’t dealt with men as dangerous as Tuco and his gang before. The encounter is enough to shake a man to his very core, and he manages to lower Tuco’s punishment of the skateboarders from murder to a little leg breaking. The would-be scam artists don’t even have a chance to appreciate that Jimmy really is the “best lawyer ever” as they scream in pain at the hospital.
“Mijo” is divided into two halves with distinctly different tones, and the shift can initially be jarring. MacLaren has so effectively sustained the tension for the first half that once the episode leaves the desert it can take a moment to readjust to normalcy. However, it’s anything but normal again for Jimmy. His attempt to decompress is fraught with unease as the sounds of snapping breadsticks too quickly recall memories of snapping legs, and the beautiful date sitting before him isn’t enough to distract from the horrors rushing back to his mind. The breadstick scene is a great example of Gilligan and Gould’s ability to push their comic sensibilities to some dark places, and MacLaren’s handle on the editing and sound design of this sequence creates a cruel combination of chuckles and disgust.
Things take a lighter turn as Jimmy finds the inspiration to get back into the swing of things with a montage of in-and-out court clients and dealings with Jimmy’s true nemesis: Mike the “troll” parking attendant. Mike was often the secret weapon of Breaking Bad; a man who could fly under the radar with ease and then just as easily stand out due to Jonathon Banks’ completely no-nonsense performance. His tired eyes conveyed years of world-weariness and an irritated resistance to the highfalutin bullshit of the fools surrounding him. Better Call Saul can’t get these two characters together soon enough, and judging by the promo for next week’s episode, it looks like we’ll be getting that sooner than later.