Better Call Saul, Sn1 Ep1 “Uno,” Ep2 “Mijo”

Let me start by disclosing, I’ve never seen a single second of “Breaking Bad.” I have heard nothing but great things about it from people I respect hugely. I do plan on seeing it, I just haven’t yet. This places me at a disadvantage with watching “Better Call Saul,” as I will miss many of the Easter Eggs and the long term importance of certain events and/or people. That said, “Better Call Saul” is designed as a prequel show that details the evolution of James McGill into Saul Goodman and should stand on its own. It needs to be watchable by new viewers in order to attract a broader audience who may not find a story centered on the lawyer character to their liking, may not find the new show to their liking, or may find the loss of their former central characters too much of a distraction to get into. Since, it is a prequel show, ran by the same people who made “Breaking Bad” such a sensation, and garnered great accolades for the writing on that show I decided to check out “Better Call Saul” knowing I’d be at a disadvantage for many of the extra benefits.

The pilot episode, “Uno,” made me question my unfamiliarity with “Breaking Bad” immediately. I just didn’t get it. There were some moments that shone, but over-all I found the tone and story to be just drab. The main character James McGill (Bob Odenkirk) seemed to be a decent enough fellow who was on the edge of a precipice and just about to throw it all away. It is exceptionally hard for me to quantify the alienation I felt when watching the first episode. I didn’t find anything to latch onto. The characters that writers lined up for me were coarse and unsympathetic, they were immediately abrasive. I just didn’t like them. “Uno” detailed a man swimming against a strong current while people jumped on and off his back and he rarely gave me much to care about his plight. That is until we meet Chuck (Michael McKean) a shut-in suffering some disease eating away at his (nervous system?) body. These scenes between Odenkirk and McKean were the highlight of the episode and the ones I remembered most, next to the scenes between James McGill and the two skateboarders: Lars and Cal Lindholm (Steven and Daniel Spencer Levine respectively).

These scenes, the first where the Lindholms try to shakedown McGill, and then later when McGill confronts them again, are where the character of James McGill truly comes to life as the lawyer. While recounting the story of “Slipping Jimmy” and unveiling a plan to capture a client Odenkirk’s energy is remarkable. Once the plan is executed the episode bursts to life and I felt I was seeing something with tension, energy, and a bold tone. It paid off in the end for the closing moments, though highly telegraphed, were the best of the episode.

Whenever I approach a new program I have a rule: Watch at least three episodes before making up my mind to stick with it. If it is uneven I may stick with it longer to see if it evens out and finds its way. This rule had paid off more than once and I can say that the difference between “Uno” and “Mijo” was astronomical.

Episode 2, “Mijo,” aired the following day, on Monday, which will be “Better Call Saul’s” regular air time. “Mijo” picks right up where “Uno” left off when the Lindholm twins followed the driver of the car home and try to shake her down, unfortunately running into Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) who doesn’t take kindly to their disrespect. The Lindholms by themselves are barely interesting, pair their sniveling and whining with the slick-talking and fast machinations of James McGill and then something interesting happens, top that off with the powerful anger of Tuco and then it’s magic. Before you know it Tuco, his crew of toughs, and the three offenders are all out in an isolated desert and James McGill comes to life! I’m not going to say much more, but this scene is fantastic and as McGill says later “I’m the best lawyer in the world.” Watching him in this scene, filled with fear and working through it, I’d agree with that statement. The episode only gets better from there.

The desert is a great metaphor to use for awakening and has been used in many religions throughout the world. It feels like the writers mined that trope for “Better Call Saul,” for after the desert everything changes. Excellent use of editing brings a hyperkinetic sense of energy to the screen so much so that when it stops, the entire world of the episode falls silent and calm. It is a great pairing.

“Mijo” is exactly what I expected from “Better Call Saul,” but it seems that “Breaking Bad” fans were huge fans of “Uno” as well. I did not like “Uno” overall, feeling that the second half of the episode was much better than the first. If I knew nothing about “Breaking Bad,” knew nothing about its success and how powerful the team was behind it and came into the episode “Uno” I may not have kept watching. However, the combination of prior knowledge and my own rules for approaching new material kept me seated and watching and will keep me watching. “Mijo” made characters I felt distant and isolated from interesting and made me want to know more about them and their plight.

I do plan to watch “Breaking Bad,” it is saved in my Netflix queue. I’m not sure if I will watch it soon or later. Maybe this summer. I just ask if any “Breaking Bad” fans read this and comment, don’t spoil anything. No, “Well this guy is this guy later after he does this thing.” I knew going into “Better Call Saul” I’d be at this disadvantage, I trust this show to lead me down its path.


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