Two episodes were provided for review prior to broadcast
Returning next Monday, Season 2 of AMC’s Better Call Saul finds the series marking time, as only it can. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s delightfully droll follow-up/prequel to Breaking Bad does a lot of things the acclaimed nail-biter couldn’t. Better Call Saul relaxes and breathes. It basks in the freedom of being far removed from Breaking Bad chronologically, while still being to able synthesize much of that show’s cast, geography, and tragicomic spirit into something markedly different. Both shows are races against a ticking clock, but Better Call Saul moves to the steady, controlled rhythm of the big hand.
Flashback seven years to 2009: AMC’s scrappy crime farce starring the dad from Malcolm in the Middle has survived the writer’s strike, and opened its second season with a tantalizing promise of fire and mayhem to come. Rewind another seven years to 2002, and that’s where you’ll find Better Call Saul’s James McGill (Bob Odenkirk). Just like last season, Jimmy’s still in New Mexico, still struggling to be good in a world practically begging him to be bad, and still well away from earning his calling card as Albuquerque’s sleaziest attorney, Saul Goodman.
The new season of Better Call Saul picks up right where the last left off, with Slippin’ Jimmy having had his fill with life on the straight and narrow. Not that he’s ever been particularly good at keeping his nose clean, of course. Much of the fun of the first season came from watching Jimmy supplement his passable legal expertise with his greater resourcefulness as a con man.
That he often did so in the service of retirees, halfwit skateboarders, and suburban embezzlers allowed the returning Breaking Bad creatives to spend less time constructing high-stakes Rube Goldberg plots, and more on developing a refined tone and cast of characters. The backdrop is vast on Better Call Saul, but its underworld population is endearingly smalltime, so far.
Rather than just mirroring Walter White’s descent into ruthless ambition, Jimmy’s arc has proven to be funnier, and arguably more tragic, for being something of the opposite. Every time he seems done with trying to do the right thing, circumstances pull Jimmy back into his role as the Universe’s willing patsy. Jimmy begins the new season with a vow of self-interest that proves short-lived, even as it means getting back into business with Chuck (Michael McKean), the brother whose betrayal of Jimmy made for last season’s unexpected climax.