Reviews

Better Call Saul: Season 2, Episode 1 - "The Switch"

Sean Fennell

Jimmy's search for where he belongs comes into clearer focus in the season two premiere.


Better Call Saul

Airtime: Mondays, 10pm
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Michael Mando, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 1 - "The Switch"
Network: AMC
Air Date: 2016-02-15
Amazon

Saul, Slippin’ Jimmy, and now Viktor (with a “k”) are all names we know James McGill (Bob Odenkirk) slips easily in and out of like cheap suit, but they aren’t all necessarily aliases of a man looking to get one over on the world. Well, not entirely. Yes, Jimmy’s certainly a grifter, as we saw in glimpses last season and again tonight, but he’s also a begrudgingly loving brother, a hopeful lover, and a pretty decent lawyer. But most of all in “Switch”, the season two premiere, he’s utterly and completely lost.

Season one ended with Jimmy proclaiming that he will not be held back from his true self any longer, unwilling to play the good guy when all that seems to get him is failure, frustration, a shitty job, and a shittier car. Kim (Rhea Seehorn), Jimmy’s best and most trusted friend, doesn’t understand his change, especially considering he’s just been given his relative “dream job”. She accuses him of having a midlife crisis and, even behind his sneering exterior, I think he may he admit that this is a possibility.

Jimmy is just sick and tired of taking all that life has thrown at him without a fight. His method of fighting is mostly to revert back to “Slippin' Jimmy”, playing con man and drinking fancy cocktails at a lavish hotel on someone else’s dime. It’s not difficult to see the merits of such a decision. Who wouldn’t want to use their fast-talking skills in manipulation to make money immediately rather than spend years building a respectable law firm?

Even Kim has to admit the sheer joy received when screwing over a Class A sucker like the one they find in the hotel bar. The two take on new names, Viktor and Giselle, and pretend to be siblings looking to invest heavily in a stock market that they just can’t seem to understand. In steps the Bluetooth-wearing “money printing machine” -- the very same man who gets his car blown to smithereens by one Walter White (Bryan Cranston) a decade later – who’s all but willing to take these yokels for all they’ve got. It’s only after they run up a substantial bill, taking $50 tequila shots till the bottle is gone, that the siblings sign the agreement. An agreement as real as the fortune they pretend to have inherited.

Jimmy succeeds in his goal, Kim gets it. It’s sexy and fun and somehow righteous to screw this guy over, but she also knows that it isn’t a career choice. She says as much the morning after the two spend the night in her bed, and you can see in his eyes that Jimmy knows it to be true. He can’t be a con man forever, but he also doesn’t see himself as a lawyer. He spends the next day floating aimlessly in the same hotel pool, scouting out his next prey, before he comes to the realization that the law deserves another chance.

So what is he? A begrudging new lawyer at Davis & Main. Be that it was so simple. He seems satisfied, if not overjoyed, as he takes in his new office, which comes along with a helpful assistant and a company car. He appears to be ready to inhabit this new world, the world where Jimmy McGill Esq. plays by the rules, fights for his clients, and most likely comes out ahead. It isn’t until he makes his way over to his office window and flips on a switch clearly “Always Leave On!! Never Turn Off!!”, that we get a glimpse inside his still confused mind. The office is nice, the assistant is nice, the new car will definitely be nice, but Jimmy McGill is not someone who seems satisfied with things being merely nice. He’s a rule breaker at heart and, as roomy as his new office is, it seems to have no space for the kind of deception that made his night with Kim so goddamn satisfying.

The other protagonist of Better Call Saul, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), is unlike Jimmy in almost every way imaginable. He’s a man who knows exactly who is his and exactly what he wants. Which is why it’s so easy for him to let his new client, the bald, spectacled Daniel Warmolt (Mark Proksch), fire him purely because he doesn’t want to be seen in the gaudy monstrosity of a Hummer Daniel’s bought with his drug money. Daniel needs Mike far more than the reverse, even if he doesn’t know it yet. This predictability rears its head after Daniel’s meeting with Nacho (Michael Mando), the drug-dealing associate of Tuco Salamanca. The full extent of his screw up isn’t fully revealed in episode one, but I would take a guess that Mr. Warmolt is in for some serious trouble from the cops, the drug cartel, or both in the coming weeks.

An interesting dramatic foil that Vince Gilligan and team insert in the season opener is future Jimmy, now Gene, working at Cinnabon, and the newly minted lawyer at Davis & Main. The first, bald and paunchy and shown in a monotonous black and white, gets trapped in the dumpster room, the only means of escape being a door marked “emergency”, that threaten to alarm the police if activated. He chooses to wait for help instead, for obvious reasons, but what this is really doing is showing us how different this beaten down old man is from the young man who can’t help but flip the switch despite its clear warning. His better judgment may be the reason Jimmy takes the job at Davis & Main, and his better judgment is surely why he doesn’t want the police questioning him in Omaha, but one thing is clear, Jimmy McGill will always, in his heart, want to do precisely what he’s told he can’t. That’s who he truly is.

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