Episode Three of Better Call Saul, “Nacho,” opens with a flashback to Saul/Jimmy’s younger days when he found himself in jail in Albuquerque (“Only two things I know about Albuquerque: Bugs Bunny should’ve taken a left turn there and give me a hundred tries I’ll never be able to spell it”) for a scam he calls a “simple Chicago sunroof.” We don’t know what that is (yet), but Chuck (Michael McKean) breaks the news Jimmy could be brought up on charges as a sex offender. Chuck’s reluctant to help him out, but relents when Jimmy begs and promises to straighten up and fly right from here on.
This is the second reference to Jimmy’s shady past. In the previous episode when Chuck grew suspicious of Jimmy’s behavior, Jimmy promised he wasn’t backsliding. In a way, Jimmy seems to be the opposite of Walter White. Walter on the surface was a decent man drawn to indecent actions out of desperation. The interesting thing about Breaking Bad was that Walter liked being bad and you begin to realize maybe it was in him all along just looking for an excuse to come out. Jimmy, on the other hand, is an already imperfect guy who is willing to skirt propriety in desperate times, but he doesn’t want to do REAL bad. Indeed, he spends the entire episode trying to keep the embezzling Kettlemans (Julie Ann Emery, Jeremy Shamos) from getting killed, all the while protecting his own skin from Nacho Vargo (Michael Mando).
Just like he could’ve left the skate punk twins to die in the desert at the hands of Tuco but saves them at the risk of his own life, Jimmy could just hand over the Kettlemans and wash his hands of the whole mess. Instead, he warns them anonymously they’re in danger and tried to convince Nacho to call off whatever his plans for them may be. When they disappear and Nacho gets hauled in for it (believing Jimmy has ratted him out), he spends the rest of the episode trying to find them so he can prove Nacho didn’t do it and Nacho won’t hurt him.
At one point in the episode, Jimmy says to himself “I’m no hero” as though he’s trying to talk himself out of doing the right thing… but then he goes ahead and does the right thing. Walter wouldn’t even have admitted he was no hero and he most certainly would not have risked his own neck to save anyone else except for maybe his own family.
Plot and character-wise, there were a couple of wrinkles in this episode. The first is the continued development of Jimmy’s past with Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), the beautiful blonde attorney at Chuck’s law firm. She has the opportunity to take second chair on the Kettleman case, yet she seems willing (however reluctantly) to help Jimmy out when she can.
The second is Mike (Jonathan Banks) who Jimmy still thinks is just a lowly parking lot attendant. When Mike gets a whiff of the 1.6 million dollars the Kettlemans are involved with, however, he’s interested and reveals to Jimmy his cop past (originally developed in Breaking Bad). We know that eventually they’re going to team up, but the show has so far just teased at their connection.
Which brings me to the last point (and I owe this one to Clarence who brought it up on the podcast): Because this is a prequel, we know where Jimmy/Saul/Mike end up – at least what we saw of them through the window of Breaking Bad and also Jimmy/Saul’s Cinnabon flash forward which opened the series. With Walt and Jesse, we were flying blind. Will Vince Gilligan et al. be able to create the same drama week in and week out and for how long?
It remains to be seen, but so far so good. They’ve done a terrific job of keeping the Breaking Bad flame alive without too obviously trying to repeat it, especially since Saul is a much different character than Walt.