Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Breaking Bad: "Better Call Saul"

TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

Remember back in Season 1, when selling meth seemed like the answer to all of life's problems?  Since then we've run down the catalog of all the bad things that can happen when you go into the drug business.  You have to kill people.  Your dealers get ripped off.  The established businessmen don't take too kindly to competition.  You became estranged from your family.  And lest you think you've hit rock bottom, tonight's episode reminds you that your employees might get busted and rat you out to the authorities.  Preventing that requires you to shell out most of the cash you've made thus far.  Back to square one — and time's running out before the big C executes you.

"Better Call Saul" features Bob Odenkirk as a shady lawyer — the kind with cheesy commercials, ads on the back of benches, and an inflatable Statue of Liberty on top of his strip-mall office.  And why do our heroes need a lawyer?  Why, because dimbulb Badger is smart enough to spot the vans that have police cameras pointed at him, but stupid enough to believe undercover cop Getz (DJ Qualls) when he repeats an old urban legend: If you ask an undercover cop if he's a cop, he has to say yes.  "It's in the Constitution," Getz asserts.  "Constitution of America?" Badger mulls.  You know what?  It's not.  The police can lie to you.  The Supreme Court has upheld their right to do so.  And predictably, after Badger asks, Getz swears, and the transaction goes down, the very vans he identified (flowers, locksmith) roll up and take him in.

It's not just one step from there to Saul Goodman for the defense, your honor.  Nope, first Saul has to mistake Badger for his public-masturbation client at the police station.  Then independently, Jesse has to introduce Walter to the seamier side of the bar.  When you're in the drug biz, Jesse explains, "you don't want a criminal lawyer.  You want a criminal lawyer."  After Walter loses the coin flip and has to endure the waiting room full of crying babies and whiplash cases, he gets another education: Badger will soon be free because the DEA is going to let him cop a plea in exchange for information about his suppliers.

This is bad.  Because Hank is in town trying to get his nerve back after the horrific end of his Juarez cartel task force.  He's got some serious PTSD, the kind that leaves you stuck in bed protesting to your friends and family that you're really fine.  But he walks into the office with that old swagger, and wouldn't you know it, a break in the blue-meth case has just fallen into his lap.  A dealer named Brandon Mayhew will certainly be persuaded to turn state's evidence with the prospect of felony jail time hanging over his head.


So what are the meth kingpins of Albequerque supposed to do?  Plan A: Bribe the lawyer to make sure he doesn't accept the plea.  BZZT!  Wrong answer.  "'Morally outraged,' he said," reports a mortified Walter to Jesse after the bribery attempt.  Plan B: Kidnap said lawyer and threaten his life if he doesn't prevent Badger from accepting the plea.  Uh, no — Saul's been around the block.  He's a weasal, but he knows the cutthroat drug trade better than the two ski-masked desperadoes who've driven him into the desert in a methy-smelling Winnebago.  Why kill him, when their problem could easily be solved by killing Badger?  "If a mosquito's buzzing around you, you don't go after the mosquito's attorney," he explains.

And herein lies the problem.  Walter and Jesse may be the baddest cooks and street-slingers in the business, but they aren't crazy enough or cold-hearted enough for this scene.  They can't kill their employees when they need to.  So resourceful Saul comes up with Plan C: Hire Jimmy In-And-Out, a man who's spent so much time in prison that he doesn't mind going there again for a hefty fee.  Eighty thousand large, to be exact, in rolled-up bills that Walter dumps onto Saul's desk with a resigned yet desperate air.  He was prepared to spend a little of the profit to spring Badger — cost of doing business — but this is more like the whole take.  Without the guts to have Badger shivved in the joint, though, they've got no choice.  So after a hilarious comedy of errors at the meeting where Badger is supposed to betray Heisenberg with a kiss, Jimmy, shaved head and all, takes the fall.


But Hank's not buying the "textbook bust" Getz brags about on his cell phone.  And Saul finds out who Walter is much, much too easily.  What can he do for Walter?  "What did Tommy Hagen do for Vito Corleone?" he asks rhetorically, but Walter's not a movie buff, apparently.  Translation: Saul wants to be a "small but silent partner."  Great — another split for the take, already diminished by the $50K Saul pocketed for "facilitating" the Jimmy deal.  And if Walter thought he was down in the gutter with Jesse, a softie who crumbles at the sight of his captor being squished by an ATM, he's descending into the real sewer by going into business with Saul.

The dream is dead, my friends.  Skylar's dolling herself up to work weekends — "end of the quarter," she explains breezily.  Hank's going to put it all together pretty soon, despite the stellar acting job Walter did while blocking Hank's view while the Badger charade was corrected.  And I'm not sure "fear is the real enemy," as Walter tells a cowering, impotent Hank.  The real enemy is this crazy drug business.  It can't be pursued rationally.  You can't get ahead.  It cannot end well.  It's the cause of more problems than it will ever solve.


Grade: A

Stray observations:

- What a great time for the series to break out of the old freaky-flash-forward opening gambit!  Badger's conversation with Getz on the park bench, which we gradually realize is being filmed by the surveillance van (the camera begins to jerk about slightly toward the end of the scene), is about as delightful as any cold open I've ever seen anywhere.


- Raise your hand if a chill went down your spine when Walter disagreed with Hank's statement "you and me don't have much of what you might call an experiential overlap."  It was only a moment, but it brought back the scene a few episodes back when he seemed about to spill the beans to the hospital psychiatrist.

- I didn't mention Jane in the recap above, because we just moved her story forward a tiny bit this week: She and Jesse got it on, Jesse's flatscreen finally acquired the satellite, and she's in recovery (eighteen months clean).  Sure, she's a bit of a stock character so far.  But I like what she brings out in Jesse.  As we see that he's just a screwup and a lowlife, not a dangerous or amoral person, we start to believe that he could love and maybe even be loved.


- "Seriously, a flower van?  You should use a garbage truck."



Share This Story