The TV/movie lawyers that surround themselves with the slimiest sort of criminal clientele are always good for a few laughs, and it’s part of the reason that a character like Saul Goodman would get his own spin-off series. Call them recidivists, repeat offenders, or career criminals, but whatever the case may be, folks like these need cheap, reliable legal assistance — and, by the time he shows up in Breaking Bad, Saul seems to be pretty damn good at his job.
So how does an idealistic yet desperate young lawyer turn into the sort of attorney that local drug dealers have on speed-dial? The second episode of Better Call Saul explains precisely how Jimmy / Saul headed down this particular career path: it’s because he did something stupid, which snowballed into something dangerous, which caught the attention of some intimidating drug merchants, which leads to a proposition. But let’s start at the beginning.
“Mijo” runs just under 47 minutes, and it contains precisely five wonderful sequences:
The Trial — Jimmy and his two idiotic cohorts have scammed the wrong person. They were supposed to hit up an alleged embezzler, but have instead crossed paths with a little old lady who has a very dangerous grandson: a man called Tuco who plans to kill all three of the pests and dump their bodies in the desert. Here’s where Jimmy’s talents really start to shine: director Michelle MacLaren builds the tension for almost 25 minutes. No cutaways, no subplots; just a few angry crooks, two weeping stooges, and one clever guy who never stops pulling beautiful bullshit out of thin air. If episode 1 was about setting the stage for “Saul” and his early days as a lawyer, then episode 2 is about showing us that he’s really damn good at it.
The Meal — Jimmy tries to entertain a receptive young lady, but finds himself constantly distracted by a diner who keeps cracking his damn bread sticks in half. At first it’s slightly confusing, but then the message hits home in rather clever fashion: Jimmy has had his first real taste of “the dark side” of criminal law, and he finds it more than a little terrifying.
The Morning After — Another excellent collection of moments between Jimmy and his slightly demented brother, Chuck. We get a little more insight into Chuck’s mental state, but if you’re looking for more of the story behind what went down with his (former?) employers, we’ll have to wait for future episodes. As in episode 1, Bob Odenkirk does some of his best work opposite Michael McKean, and while this sequence feels like little more than a strong place-holder, one suspects that the Jimmy / Chuck story will quickly evolve into something special.
The Courtroom — A blissfully beautiful montage of Jimmy’s daily grind as a low-level public defender. When the episode was over, I scanned back and watched this whole thing a second time. Funny, energetic, lovely stuff.
The Client — Remember how Jimmy talked himself (and those two skateboarding idiots) out of a death sentence at the hands of Tuco and his cousin Nacho? Aside from a few broken bones and a little PTSD, case closed! Right? Nope. Think again. Turns out that Nacho is a rather astute young criminal mastermind, and he has a plan: he wants those embezzlers Jimmy was trying to scam in the first place.
And that’s sort of how a well-intentioned but plainly unlucky young lawyer takes his first steps towards becoming an Albuquerque criminal’s first (and only) phone call. Yes, we know what sort of guy Saul Goodman will become later on, god love him, but so far it’s simply fascinating to see how he got that way.
If you thought “Uno” was a solid enough introduction to the series, but now you’re ready to dig a little deeper into Jimmy’s mythology, there’s no way you won’t love the smooth, streamlined, and unexpectedly suspenseful “Mijo.” I hope every episode is a five-act masterpiece just like this one.
(Better Call Saul is available online on most of the planet; Americans can watch it right here.) (And obviously they should.)