Season Two Confirms It: ‘Better Call Saul’ Is The Most Unique And Artful Show On TV
Here's a (spoiler-free) guide on what to expect.
This is a review of the first two episodes of Better Call Saul‘s second season, but no spoilers are included.
Widely regarded as one of the best television series of all time, Better Call Saul’s predecessor Breaking Bad had a frustrating predilection for starting each season slower than a tortoise carrying the severed head of a drug runner. But season two of Better Call Saul comes out swinging from the get-go. Starting its sophomore season on Stan tonight, AMC drama Better Call Saul continues the origin story of the titular Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) with a quality of story, writing and performance that puts other prestige dramas to shame.
With creator Vince Gilligan learning his craft writing on The X-Files (include Gillian Anderson’s favourite episode ever) then creating and helming Breaking Bad for six years, it’s easy to understand why everything about Better Call Saul oozes confidence. It’s well deserved. From the writing to the thematic structure to the attention to detail in the shots, props, sets and performances, there is not a single wasted second in this gorgeous, smart and funny series.
The End Is The Beginning Is The End Of… The Beginning?
Season two opens in the same way as season one, with a flash-forward to Jimmy/Saul’s future. He’s back in the Omaha Cinnabon he’s destined for, working away in dreary black and white. There’s a calm rhythm to ticking off the tasks of closing time and they lull us into feeling he’s happy there — a friendly wave to the cleaner, a muted cheerfulness in getting his work done. It’s a feeling built up in minutes then unraveled in seconds when the door to the mall slams behind him and he’s left locked in the garbage disposal room. A perfect metaphor not just for his current situation but no doubt for the season coming: there’s a way out, but it’s an emergency exit — with a sign saying that anyone opening the door will bring the police. He’s Julian Assanged himself into his new life and he’s anything but happy with it, after all.
Exit signs abound in these first two episodes, dotting the scenes like doorways to other lives available to Jimmy McGill at every turn. There’s a heartbreaking edge of reality to his Sisyphean progress in his career and life that gives a wonderful weight in the ballast of Better Call Saul. Created by the audience’s foreknowledge of Jimmy’s fate, every win for him, whether it be material or personal, is tempered with the knowledge that he’s going to lose it in the end. Season two takes the show from being a dramedy in line with Louie, Six Feet Under and the criminally underrated United States of Tara and lifts it to the level of epic tragicomedy. Nods to Greek mythology and parables from the Bible pop up like intellectual Easter eggs throughout, and flag the path on which we find our man this season.
Who Is Jimmy McGill Now?
The first two episodes find Jimmy finally free of the dead weight of his manipulative older brother Chuck and having landed the Sandpiper case, Jimmy is a lawyer finally on his way up. Floating upside down into shot on an inflatable lounge chair with a cocktail in hand, you can see it’s not going to be a simple case of him following the partner track. “People tell me how they see me,” he tells his friend Kim (Rhea Seahorn). “It’s not as a lawyer.”
This season seems to explore him not just finding his place in the world, but also finding out who he is. Gilligan and co. are experts in exploring irony and power dynamics, and the distance between the underworld and legality as well as the gap between the law and lawlessness — also the way idiots get their balls caught on the fence. Episode two brings Jimmy closer to synthesis between his old fast-talking con artist self and his new life, and it’s a great joy to see Jimmy find his groove again using his gift of charming, chatty chicanery.
A Show In A Class Of Its Own
Bob Odenkirk brings such a deft touch to his performance that you feel his hope and his disappointment in equal measure — his face is a remarkable rendering of the masks of tragedy and comedy in delicate, measured turn. Every step forward by Jimmy in Better Call Saul feels like such a victory after the heartbreak of the first season and yet remains shadowed by the future we know is to come. It’s unique, artful television and there is nothing else like it on TV right now.
A great subplot about power, maturity and childishness also brings some very funny moments for Mike (Jonathan Banks) and explores the gap between confidence and power — only on this show can you see a drug dealer wearing shoes Ronald McDonald would be envious of. It’s delightful, but not inconsequential: every subplot informs the main story in a way I’ve only seen done this successfully in The Wire and Hannibal.
In this way, season two of Better Call Saul continues to explore the themes of belonging, maturity and capitalism with humour, heart and humanity. It’s about finding the cracks between wealth and the performance of wealth, class and the experience of class, power and the appearance of power, and it is done with a skill and nuance only six years writing a show like Breaking Bad can give.
Being released weekly by AMC (and locally, Stan), it’s one of the rare shows that benefit from the gap between weekly episodes — it’s a rich, dense and enjoyable meal that is well worth the time to digest. A show like Billions is done the same way and similarly, purports to be about power, capitalism and identity, but Billions is about those things in the same way eating dirty feathers is the same as dining on peking duck.
Better Call Saul is the real deal, and damn, it’s delicious.
Better Call Saul‘s second season premiere drops on Stan tonight and episodes will then be released weekly.
Courteney Hocking is a Melbourne writer and reformed comedian who has written for Good News Week, The Guardian, The Age and Crikey. You can find her general smart-arsery & Hannibal memes @courteneyh.