Better Call Saul: Season Two (2016) Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould
Blu-ray + UltraViolet
Sony Pictures (10 episodes, 7:39 total)
Last year I reviewed Better Call Saul: Season One (2015), noting that the show was far better than it had to be and maybe even the best show on television. Nothing I saw in the show’s second season causes me to change my opinion. In fact, I’m even more convinced.
As I mentioned in my first season review, it’s not necessary to have seen Breaking Bad to enjoy Better Call Saul, but your viewing experience will be much richer if you have. The events of Better Call Saul: Season One take place six years before Saul Goodman meets Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Here, the two-bit lawyer Jimmy McGill (played impeccably by Bob Odenkirk) has yet to create his moniker Saul Goodman and is attempting to make a name for himself in the landscape of Albuquerque attorneys, all the while trying to monitor the strange behavior of his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), a high-profile partner in a major law firm. Again, you can read my review of the first season without many spoilers, but if you haven’t seen that first season, stop reading now.
As was the case with Season One, Better Call Saul: Season Two moves at a much slower pace than Breaking Bad, but the slower pace does not translate into a lack of intensity. In fact, the slower burn of Better Call Saul creates even more tension stretched out over a longer period of time, yet it is tension that never feels artificial or manipulative. The payoffs may be delayed, but they’re there. (Boy, are they there!) If instant gratification is what you need in your television viewing, you’re not likely to get it with Better Call Saul, but if you’ve read this far and have seen the first season, you already know that.
Season Two spends a significant amount of time exploring an aspect that didn’t get an awful lot of attention in the first season: Jimmy’s relationship with fellow lawyer Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). We’ve previously seen Kim act as something of a leveling force, a “voice of reason” in Jimmy’s life and that continues here, but we also get a closer look into their lives together, both professionally and personally. Seehorn carries much of the burden of these early episodes on her shoulders and does so admirably, mostly with an incredible amount of restraint. She’s the exact opposite of Jimmy in many ways: calm rather than hyper, a deliberate planner rather than a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type. Season Two probably contains less comedy than Season One (although the comedy is unmistakably present) and more drama, much of it dealing with the concepts of trust and deception in various relationships. While these characters are exploring these levels of trust, we’re privy to their thoughts, actions, and motivations, wondering all the while exactly what type of machinations are going on.
With so much of the show’s time spent on fixer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), you could almost rename the show Better Not Piss Off Mike. We learn much more about Mike than we did in the show’s first season, primarily his motivation, background, and more about his manner. We’ve always known he was a badass, but we learn just how badass he can be.
Without giving too much away, Mike becomes involved with Nacho Varga (Michael Mando), the right-hand man of drug lord Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz). These confrontations are played with expert pacing and excruciating tension and the performances are absolutely riveting. (The absence of music in many of these scenes ratchets up the tension to an unbelievable level. Don’t watch this show while drinking coffee. I warned you.)
Everyone on the show is dealing on some level in deception, some small-scale, some large-scale. The sibling rivalry between Jimmy and Chuck is explored in more depth and some of those situations and revelations will just about undo you as a viewer. (In fact, one scene in the penultimate episode recalls a terrifying moment from Breaking Bad with an uncomfortableness that might just give you nightmares.)
Caught in the middle of this sibling rivalry is Kim, who’s faced with partial knowledge of a situation of Jimmy’s own making that could ruin all their lives. “You never believed in him,” she tells Chuck, “you never wanted him to succeed.” Is she right? Again, there are multiple levels of deception going on and part of the pleasure of watching is in trying to figure out who’s out-deceiving who.
The dual plots of Jimmy vs. Chuck and Mike vs. Tuco (and by association, Nacho) are really parallel stories with more in common than you might think. These stories of deception are different from those in Breaking Bad in that with Better Call Saul there are few (if any) innocent parties. Walter White was – at least in the beginning – trying to do the right thing for his family, who were largely innocent characters. Not so here. Deception is present in every character, but there’s also a longing for intimacy and acceptance among many of the characters in Better Call Saul. The lack of any completely innocent parties in the show probably makes it even harder to write than Breaking Bad, but it doesn’t matter; Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and the other writers are simply killing it.
Better Call Saul is an exceptional show, one that hooks you once you’ve started. It defies and surpasses expectations and delivers a different experience from that of Breaking Bad, yet just as compelling. Again, Better Call Saul is way better than it has to be. It’s a real gem. Don’t let it pass you by.
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