The Second Season of Better Call Saul is Worth Savoring

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This is a synopsis of Season 2 of Better Call Saul and contains spoilers from throughout the season. If you are caught up, read on. If not, proceed at your own peril.

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AMC’s Better Call Saul wrapped up an incredible second season on Monday night. The evolution of Jimmy McGill in 20 episodes of television so far has been as finely crafted as a Faberge Egg.

Series creator Vince Gilligan has assembled a creative team that has mastered simmering storytelling and layering each scene with so much information – both consciously and subconsciously – it would make auteur Wes Anderson jealous. For all of the callbacks and color palates, anagrams and foreshadowing, Better Call Saul is a seamless story about regular people with regular issues to sort through like job anxiety, sibling rivalry, love and jealousy. Every character on this show is just making it up as they go along (you know, like in real life), the one difference is that Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) doesn’t bother to hide it.

Saul’s storytelling is under-appreciated. Gilligan and his team have been doing it for so long so well that excellence is a such given that fans dive into the tricks and gimmicks because the core of the show – Jimmy and the relationships he has with the people in his orbit – is rock solid.

Chuck and Jimmy

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Siblings have been fighting since Cain and Abel, and Jimmy and Chuck (Michael McKean) are the latest in this long line. Like last year, the relationship between the freewheeling Jimmy and the perfectionist electrophobe Chuck is the baseline relationship of the show.

In a lot of ways, Jimmy is his own worst enemy with Chuck. The more Jimmy is able to get Chuck away from his power-free exile, the more Chuck is under foot, cramping Jimmy’s way of operating. The battle of wills spiraled into dark depths as the pair locked horns over Sandpiper, Chuck blaming Jimmy for running their father’s business and exploded over Jimmy’s scheme to win Mesa Verde back for Kim.

Despite his personal standards of perfection in all things and the moral superiority that comes from that, Chuck is far from innocent. He still goes to great lengths to keep Jimmy from sullying the law, the one thing left on this earth that Chuck truly loves. Also the downside of perfection is a desire to be proven right to an asshole-ish degree. What Chuck decides to do with the tape he made while preying on his brother’s soft heart will undoubtedly shape Season 3 to come.

Kim and Jimmy

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No character had a better arc this season than Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). In the first season, Kim was a rough sketch at worst and at best a bridge character that allowed Jimmy access to the HHM law firm and an object for Jimmy’s affections.

The show took great lengths to flush Kim’s character out this season as a Midwestern girl who escaped the life sentence that a small town can be. In a lot of ways, Kim is the perfect merging of Chuck and Jimmy, so it’s no wonder they are both drawn to her. Kim became a lawyer though unconventional means (worked her way up from the mailroom) and appreciates the thrill of a good grift to drink expensive tequila on the tab of a D-bag stockbroker. At her core, Kim is still a straight arrow. She is a stickler for rules and procedure. She takes her punishment when she screws up and knows hard work is the quickest way out of the doghouse.

Kim is nobody’s fool. She knows that joining hearts with Jimmy and going into business with Jimmy are two totally different animals. Practicality guided the decision to share office space rather than an entire law practice when Kim struck out on her own.

Seehorn gave an award-worthy performance this season, communicating when she had lines and perhaps more effectively when she didn’t.

Mike and Jimmy

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These two didn’t spend much time on screen together this season, but Mike’s secondary storyline was completely compelling on its own merit. Mike’s tale offered the most Breaking Bad callbacks per episode as he fell into the web of Hector Salamanca and his drug gang.

Mike (Jonathan Banks) continued to make wrong decisions for all the right reasons. His desire to give his daughter-in-law and beloved granddaughter a comfortable life is his most noble trait and great weakness. However, Mike’s brand of nobility requires resources beyond what a pension and parking lot attendant job can afford. He becomes a white knight surrounded by barbarians, yet refuses to stoop to their level of ruthlessness.

Jimmy briefly comes into the picture after Mike tries to help Nacho out without resorting to killing. Mike has to walk back a report to the police on Salamanca’s threats in order to minimize Tuco’s jail time, and Jimmy smooth-talks it over.

In the end, Mike is caught in quicksand. The more he struggles against these mobsters the deeper he gets with them. After his sniper mission is interrupted by a mystery person, Mike may be over his head and not realize it yet.

Saul and Jimmy

When is he going to become Saul? It’s the question that dominates the show and what makes this slow burn style effective. We know Jimmy’s path leads to a Cinnabon in Omaha; we just don’t know when he turns the corner onto the highway known as Saul Goodman.

It’s hard to tell how much closer we got to Saul this season. Jimmy broke out the garishly colorful suits and made his first flashy TV commercials. Those things felt like a means to an end, rather than something transformational.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Saul Goodman is not something Jimmy aspired to, but rather he settled for. Jimmy still has too much of a gooey center to truly be Saul.

The only rules Jimmy follows to the letter are the ones laid down by Chuck to eliminate all electromagnetic traces before he enters his brother’s home. Jimmy could be an ambulance chaser, but instead works representing elderly clients. Sure, there’s the possibility of another Sandpiper windfall out there, but Jimmy would rather stick it to the man while representing a neglected segment of the populous.

Of course his grandest gesture was doctoring those Mesa Verde documents to harmlessly stick it to the underhanded HHM and win the business for Kim, who did all the work in the first place. It helped Kim, but the fallout ruined Chuck’s delicate psyche.

The secret tape Chuck made is going to the first domino of betrayal that will fall on our path to Saul, and it’s going to be a dark, compelling journey.

Craig Wack

For a weekly discussion of comic book TV shows please join Craig Wack and Tatiana Torres for the Agents of GEEK podcast updated every Friday and now on iTunes

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