Episode one of the two night premiere of AMC’s Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul ended with a familiar face pointing a gun at Saul (Bob Odenkirk). Spoiler alert, it was unpredictable and violence-prone Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) who made such a strong impression over the course of four episodes in the original series. I admit (and if you read my review of the episode you already know) I was skeptical of what the folks behind the show were up to. While I still believe an over-reliance on elements from Breaking Bad would ultimately lead the new show to a dead end and I very much want Saul to live and breathe on its own, crossovers from one show to the other can work too as long as they’re handled judiciously and intelligently.
It turns out in the second episode, “Mijo,” that’s exactly what happened. It was fun having the crazy drug dealer around again and already knowing what he’s capable of added to the tension of the episode. Fittingly though, this is a slightly different version of the character we originally met 6 or 7 years later. He’s not yet addled by drugs so he’s a little less unpredictable and edgy. He’s still very dangerous – the skateboarders Lars and Cal (Steven Levine and Daniel Spenser Levine) can attest to that – but he’s a little more reasonable, and that’s a good thing for everyone involved because Saul manages to lawyer Tuco down from killing him and his partners. Sure, a couple of legs are broken, but as Saul points out, that’s like pleading a life sentence down to six months.
And that’s actually the most interesting part of this episode. When Saul explains that he was not trying to scam Tuco’s grandmother. but rather Kettleman the Country Treasurer who had embezzled a million dollars, he is given his freedom by Tuco and Tuco’s partner Nacho (Orphan Black’s Michael Mando) instead of being murdered in the desert. At this point, he could easily have abandoned Lars and Cal and just escaped with his life, but he sticks around and pleads their case to Tuco, never knowing if Tuco might change his mind and kill Saul after all. In Breaking Bad, Saul is mostly a shady character, but as Jimmy McGill, he still has a conscience.
What’s more, to pay the emergency room bill for Lars and Carl, he sets to work double time and it turns out he’s pretty good at his job. In a montage of court cases (Krazy-8 cameo alert for the BB nerds), he lawyers the scum of the earth, seeing to it they receive some measure of justice all the while keeping the wheels of the legal system greased. After nearly dying in the desert, it’s good to see Saul in his element.
With the skater scam broken up and with few prospects for the future beyond the $700 a case pro bono grind, Saul retires to his sad little office/closet in the back of a nail parlor in some strip mall for a drink and a nap. That’s when Nacho shows up inquiring about the million dollars in embezzled Kettleman money. Saul explains that he wasn’t really trying to scam the Kettlemans, merely to gain some leverage in convincing them to take him on as their attorney, but Nacho smells money and he’s not quite buying Saul’s honest guy shtick.
Even if he doesn’t end up helping Nacho get ahold of the Kettleman stash, Saul at this point is very likely to throw in with Nacho as a lawyer and he’ll be one step closer to becoming the Saul Goodman in the TV commercials.