Better Call Saul’s “Uno” – Life Before Cinnabon

I know I said I’d do procedural dramas for the Pilot Project, but certain exceptions have to be made. Better Call Saul premiered last night, with another new episode tonight. So, fine, it’s not the typical formulaic cop show that I’m guilty of marathoning; but Saul Goodman’s a lawyer and he defends criminals so it fits in the cloud of procedurals. Right? Anyway, being a fan of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, I had high hopes and teeny, tiny reservations for this Saul-centric prequel. No matter the plot, I knew this show would be a visual adventure with its prosaic backdrop and depictions. It’s tough to imagine anyone else playing the TV lawyer, so I came in knowing Bob Odenkirk’s acting chops would surpass the expectations. Expect an Emmy nod in his direction.

While I knew the show had the makings of excellence, my only reservation was that I, admittedly, am not as enamoured by the character of Saul Goodman as most BrBa fans. Yeah, he’s hilarious and sleazy, which makes him sort of loveable. But my sick, twisted mind gravitated towards the brooding badasses who could commit murder with just one death glare – the Gus Frings and the Mike Ehrmantrauts. It is a preference though, and I do like Saul so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

Screenshot from enbouton.tumblr.com

But the hurt is apparent within the first few minutes. The episode begins with black and white scenes of a moustachioed Saul, working at a Cinnabon just as he promised Walter White. “If I’m lucky – month from now – best-case scenario, I’m managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.” The opening scenes are killing it with the cinematography. The way they portray the mundane and the melancholy of this new Saul is heartbreaking. Black and white continues as Saul pours himself a drink and watches old tapes of his Better Call Saul commercials. The colour from the TV reflects off his glasses.

The time jumps back to 2002, and the setting is a New Mexico courthouse. Saul, or Jimmy McGill according to his birth certificate, is working as a public defender for three 19 year-old knuckleheads. He rehearses his statement in the men’s washroom, and returns to the courtroom to undermine the trespassing charges. His argument is along the lines of ‘boys will be boys’. The district attorney silently drags the television forward and pops a tape in the VCR. The video shows the boys screwing a severed head. Jimmy shows no sadness or frustration over losing the case, but he becomes angry when he learns his payday for representing three clients comes down to a measly $700. He heads out to meet with a potentially big client, but has some trouble with his parking sticker. We hear the lot attendant give Jimmy some grief. I can hear you, Mike Ehrmantraut! I can see you, Mike Ehrmantraut! Have I mentioned that I love you, Mike Ehrmantraut?

Representing the potential clients, Craig and Betsy, turns out to be a bust. As Jimmy drives along a suburban road, he hits a skateboarder. However, he sees through the kid and his brother’s bullshit once they attempt to collect $500. Jimmy then drives off to the nail salon, which he tries to get Jesse Pinkman to buy in the future. These allusions to Breaking Bad are making me giddier than a schoolgirl in a One Direction concert. In his office, Jimmy goes through his bills and finds a cheque from Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill for $26,000. He heads down to the law firm, where we learn about Chuck. We’re also treated to a glimpse of that ballsy, over-the-top Saul Goodman goodness when he yells out, “And you will atone!”

Jimmy drives to a dark house and stores his keys and cell phone in a mailbox. He steps inside and we hear Chuck typing something that needs to be translated – a new identity for his younger brother, I can’t be sure. Jimmy tries to convince his older brother to cash out of the firm, but Chuck insists he’s going to beat this electromagnetism paranoia. We start to see the glaring differences between brothers. Although Chuck is now a recluse due to his supposed mental illness, he maintains to be a rather honourable lawyer (there’s such a thing?). He worries about his clients, his staff, and all the people who have no legal representation. Jimmy’s perspective is a little different. He’s tired of being paid pennies for his work as a public defender. “Money is not beside the point. Money is the point.”

Chuck tries to convince Jimmy to change his name and dissociate from the partner name. He brings up professional courtesy, but all Jimmy worries about is the fact that his brother’s broke and he doesn’t have the means to support Chuck’s strange, hermetic lifestyle. They continue to argue and Chuck finally asks his brother, “wouldn’t you rather build your own identity? Why ride on someone else’s coattails?”

Screenshot from frenchdad.tumblr.com

Jimmy is in the skate park and find the two boys from the day prior. He tells them the story of Cicero Illinois’ Slippin’ Jimmy, who collected up to eight grand from planned collisions. He arranges a hit with Betsy’s medium sandalwood (baby-poop brown) station wagon. It doesn’t go according to plan though when Betsy hits and runs. The skateboarders tail behind a truck and follow her car. They immediately drop Jimmy as their lawyer once they learn they’ve fallen into the honeypot, and now they stood to gain more money for the felony. Once the station wagon’s parked on a driveway, the skateboarders call out the driver. Instead of white, middle-aged, suburban Betsy, it’s a Hispanic older woman. “You felonied my brother!” But the woman no habla English, so they follow her inside.

The scene cuts back to Jimmy, who, after numerous attempts starting his $200 yellow relic ($300 hooker not included), has found Betsy’s car and the boys’ skateboards. He pounds on the door, and a man pulls it open. It’s Turtle, I mean, Tuco Salamanca! He has a gun to Jimmy’s face, he pulls him into the house, and we fade to black.

Better Call Saul is definitely going on the DVR list.