***Spoiler Warning: The following contains details about the season 2 premiere of Better Call Saul.***
How did we get here?
That’s the obvious question that looms over every scene of Better Call Saul. The cold opener of the 2nd season premiere, “Switch,” revisits the disenfranchised shell of a man that fans of Breaking Bad came to know as Saul Goodman.
He’s in poor disguise, going through the motions of his self-exiled management job at a Cinnabon. The Willie Nelson-penned “Funny How Time Slips Away,” performed by Billy Walker, narrates the scene as Jimmy McGill finds himself locked out of the business. When someone finally opens the door we see the rough etching “SG was here” on the wall behind him.
Saul Goodman was here…
“Switch” makes it patently clear there will be no shortcuts in the telling of how Slippin’ Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman. It’s a layered, slow burn because that’s how most of our stories go. Walter White’s dissent was spectacular and fevered, fueled by what he believed to be a terminal cancer diagnosis. He understood his clock was ticking. As for Jimmy, he’s not operating within that same pressure cooker, at least not yet.
So, how did we get here?
The simple answer would be, “Choices.” But, just as the visage of latter-day Jimmy is filmed in the oft mislabeled “black and white” format, the more accurate description for McGill’s choices would be variations of grey. Did Jimmy McGill ever really have a choice but to become Saul Goodman? Hasn’t he always been Slippin’ Jimmy?
In the defining moment of the first season, Jimmy’s North Star, his brother Chuck, lowers the cold-steel hammer:
“I know what you were, what you are. People don’t change. You’re Slippin’ Jimmy. And Slippin’ Jimmy I can handle just fine but Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun.”
Are the decisions we find McGill making coming from a place of inevitability? Are his choices freely made, or are they just the result of who he’s always been? It’s these questions that fuel the fascinating story of Jimmy McGill, the man who will transform into Albuquerque’s official billboard attorney.
While we don’t know exactly how this transformation will take place, “Switch” highlights how the people in Jimmy’s life will play a significant role. First there’s the romantic relationship with fellow attorney Kim Wexler. Jimmy and Kim have the ability to remove each other’s masks and a deep chemistry flows from that connection.
Jimmy explains to Kim that he’s in no mid-life crisis after initially rejecting an offer to take a promising job with a law firm. Instead, he’s achieved what he calls “mid-life clarity.” When Kim can’t relate, he invites her along for a scam that she’s more than willing to participate in. The adrenaline of the score sends the pair into an impassioned kiss and embrace. Jimmy reveals to Kim the huckster art of Slippin’ Jimmy and she very much likes what she sees, at least in the throes of the moment.
And then there’s the indomitable Mike Ehrmantraut. While he’s on the same trajectory as Jimmy, he appears to be fully aware of the consequences of his actions. He needs money to help his son’s widow and his grandchild and he’s accepted that being a criminal is an efficient means to this end. Mike’s calmness, informed by decades of experience as a police officer, while wading in the world of people so bad at crime, is always an entertaining and fascinating dichotomy.
Well, how did we get here?
A prequel about the jive-talking attorney who follows Heisenberg straight down to hell always had to be about that one simple question. It turns out the answers aren’t easy to come by. It’s a complicated path to a destination, a journey defined by the crux of choices made within the tempest of who our true selves are, laid against a backdrop of how we’re perceived by those closest to us.
In the telling of this falling down, Better Call Saul has become the best drama on TV.