Better Call Saul, Bob Odenkirk, Breaking Bad, Chuck McGill, Comedy, Drama, Giancarlo Esposito, Gustavo Fring, Hector Salamanca, HHM, Jimmy McGill, Jonathan Banks, Mark Margolis, Michael McKean, Mike Ehrmantraut, No Half Measures, Review, Rhea Seehorn, Saul Goodman, Television, Television Review, TV, TV Review, Vince Gilligan
This review contains spoilers for the second season of “Better Call Saul”.
This season of “Better Call Saul” has been a little bit disappointing. Whilst the performances of Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean as Jimmy and Chuck were great, the season itself lacked considerably in entertainment. You can only review a season of television based on its merits, so despite the fact that I firmly believe that this season of “Better Call Saul” will eventually play a part in a brilliant series, I don’t think that it was good in itself. I have a lot of issues with it, and I can’t pretend that I actually enjoyed any one episode in its entirety, so my overriding feeling is one of frustration.
In my opinion, the best moments of the season all came from Mike’s storyline, and I still think that a series based around his character with the title – “No Half Measures” – would’ve been a way better prequel to “Breaking Bad” than “Better Call Saul” has been so far. One of the main reasons that this show appealed to me in the first place was that there was a chance of seeing other key players in the “Breaking Bad” universe again, so the fact that this is now happening on a regular basis as a result of Mike’s story gives me every reason to carry on watching the show.
Mike is the character who’s connecting this series to “Breaking Bad”, and that’s obviously a big reason why his scenes have been more exciting than Jimmy’s, but another reason is that the stakes are so much higher when he’s on screen. He’s up against powerful people, and he’s fighting for something much more noble than Jimmy is – his family. He’s a compelling and layered character who constantly holds your attention, and seeing him face off against Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) this season has been fascinating. If I had to review his scenes in isolation then I’d be giving this season at least a 9/10, which shows just how much better I think it has been when he’s been on screen.
This promises to continue into the next season following this year’s finale, which left Mike in the desert holding an ominous note. We don’t yet know who left the note, but things do point to “Breaking Bad’s” most memorable villain – Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) – or at least someone working for him. This would make a great deal of sense given that both men hate Hector, and that in “Breaking Bad” Mike was working for Gus and seemed to have a great respect for him. Mike hates the way that Hector goes about his business, a hate which Gus shares, so it’s only a matter of time before their partnership is born.
Still, whilst I’ve enjoyed Mike’s story this year and look forward to its continuation, I have to say that from my perspective Jimmy’s has stalled horribly. I had my doubts about his arc from the moment that the first episode finished, and things have only gone downhill from there. At the end of last season the feeling was that Jimmy was on the verge of becoming the man that we saw in “Breaking Bad”. The man who he saw as a symbol of what he could be, his own brother, turned out to be a villain in his life; he admitted that he had never believed in Jimmy and that he thought that he was and would always be better than him. All the hope that Jimmy had held for his own transformation should’ve died in that moment, and it would’ve been completely understandable if his moral compass had been destroyed forever.
Alas, the very first episode of this season destroyed that notion and since then Jimmy has barely evolved at all. The only dynamic that has actually moved forward over the course of season two is the one between Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy, who have finally got together. Kim obviously had a role to play this season, because she was the reason that Jimmy sabotaged HHM’s relationship with Mesa Verde and eventually implicated himself in a significant crime, but this process could’ve been streamlined quite a bit.
I like Kim, and I’m glad that she’s developed as a character this season, but I don’t think that her role in the story is one that anyone can become fully invested in. We know that Jimmy isn’t going to end up with her – the pair aren’t going to run off into the sunset together because Jimmy becomes Saul and loses everything when “Breaking Bad” ends. So, to become invested in her character we have to believe that Jimmy’s losing her will cause his transition to Saul Goodman, something I just don’t buy.
Jimmy cares about Kim and she is capable of making him happy, but at the end of the day Chuck matters more to him than she does – it’s sad but it’s true. Kim is simply a device to move the plot forward, rather than a catalyst to change the direction of Jimmy’s life. It’s Chuck who really matters in this story, so every moment spent with Kim feels like a moment wasted for me; maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I feel.
Jimmy’s relationship with Kim could’ve been furthered this season without spending so much time on the pair, and again I can’t pretend that I actually enjoyed watching their relationship develop. This has been a symptomatic problem of the series so far, as character development has been drawn out unnecessarily when things have already been established. The whole season has felt exactly like its predecessor, and in fact nothing has happened that didn’t happen last season in a different way.
Another issue that I’ve had with “Better Call Saul” this time around is that Jimmy hasn’t really offered much in the way of comedy. For much of the first season Jimmy was the comic relief on his own show, and this gave the season a light-hearted tone which offset the evolution that was happening with the character. This in turn made moments like Chuck’s rejection of Jimmy’s efforts to become a legitimate lawyer more impactful than they should’ve been, and gave the season a resonance that it simply hasn’t had this year.
Finally, I should say that the season finale was also noticeably lacking in drama. Mike’s scenes were good, but they didn’t result in any immediate pay-off, and Jimmy’s scenes were just boring. Whilst the final scene – in which it was revealed that Chuck had tricked Jimmy into admitting that he had doctored legal documents – was a surprise, I can’t pretend that I really cared. I think that the writers wanted this moment to be one which caused a gasp in the audience; a ‘how could Chuck do this?’ kind of moment leaving everyone desperate to see how he’d use the confession against Jimmy in season three. However, it just wasn’t interesting enough to generate this reaction because Jimmy said what he said to appease his brother, and it’s well known that Jimmy likes to talk his way in and out of bad situations. His confession could easily be framed as a lie told to mollify an increasingly unstable sibling, rather than as a genuine admission of guilt, so as a cliffhanger it felt incredibly lacklustre.
I haven’t enjoyed this season of television. It’s hard to say that it’s been bad, because a lot of the individual components of the show are good, but I personally expected a lot more to happen over the course of the season and I don’t feel that I’ve learned anything new about Jimmy, Mike, or Chuck. I still believe that Vince Gilligan and his team are setting up a series that will turn out to be great, but they’re taking far too long to do so – “Better Call Saul” has had two seasons now and yet within those seasons there have only been three or four brilliant episodes, which simply isn’t good enough. Hopefully there are better things on the horizon, but it remains to be seen.