Since the finale of Breaking Bad and the announcement that Bob Odenkirk's character Saul Goodman would lead his own spin-off, Better Call Saul, I've been tweaking... uh... I mean... eagerly awaiting my next fix of Vince Gilligan.
From the black and white flash-forward open, full of wide angle and POV shots, revealing Saul, now Gene, as the manager of a Cinnabon, and then jumping back in time to the stark, almost depressingly bland scenes of Albuquerque, New Mexico, it's clear we are back in Vince Gilligan's world.
For anyone who hasn't seen Breaking Bad– I'm assuming there has to be a few people left –the show revolves around Saul Goodman, for now, simply known by his given name, Jimmy McGill.
Better Call Saul takes place in 2002, and Jimmy is hard up for clients; he's a criminal attorney who, despite trying to make it big, ends up defending the worst of the worst at the public defender's office. Low on cash, taking care of a brother with a mysterious illness, and basically painting the picture of an everyman loser with big dreams, you can't help but feel for the guy.
Sound familiar? I can already feel this show setting me up for a Walter White type of heartbreak.
And I can't wait!
Before we go on, let me add in a quick disclaimer: The following review contains mature content. It's also very heavy on spoilers. You've been warned.
The pilot opens in black and white in an Omaha, Nebraska, Cinnabon. An old-timey piano melody (The Ink Spots - "Address Unknown") provides the backdrop as we catch up with Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), post-Breaking Bad. According to his nametag, we may now call him "Gene". Wearing glasses and sporting an awful pornstache, it's clear life isn't going too well for Saul. It's not long before a menacing looking man in the corner eyes Saul and we are hit with a feeling of dread. Have his past transgressions come back to haunt him? The dude stands up, heading his way, and Saul is visibly shaken, looking cornered and scared.
The dude passes by Saul without a second glance and heads on over to his friend, warmly greeting them, amid smiles and hugs.
My heart rate returns to normal. Have I mentioned how much I've missed Gilligan's style of storytelling?
Like Breaking Bad, the episode is built on this style, with mounting tension that doesn't pay off, glorious visuals, and superb sound design. The episode builds and builds and builds, you begin to wonder if anything will ever happen.... and then it does. And the episode ends, and you're left with a punch to the gut, and a hankering for much, much more.
Now, back to the story.
We move to Saul's apartment. His home life seems just as depressing as his work life; he makes himself a drink and flips through TV channels, finding nothing he likes. He gets up, and again the tension builds along with the music as he checks the windows for anyone outside. Closing the blinds and heading over to a closet, he pulls out a box and grabs a VCR tape. This whole process is achingly slow.
What's on the tape? Put the tape in the VCR! OMG, WHAT IS ON THE TAPE?
Remember what I said about tension building and not paying off? In the second glorious example of this episode, before the teaser has even ended, we learn what's on the tape:
His "Better Call Saul" ad reel.
The entire opening scene, not a word is uttered from Saul, and yet, we feel for him. He sadly watches the evidence of his glory days, pre-Walter White, and I feel for the guy. I really do.
Damn you, Vince Gilligan. I love you, Vince Gilligan.
The title card rolls and we're dropped into the present: New Mexico, circa 2002, now in glorious Technicolor.
A courtroom awaits a missing attorney, and I'll give you one guess as to who it could be. The judge sends the bailiff to find him and we follow her to the bathroom where Jimmy McGill (Saul), younger and wearing a sharp suit but clearly nervous, is trying to prepare his defense. The bailiff clears her throat and gives him the evil eye, summoning him to the courtroom.
Saul bursts into the next scene, all nervousness gone, and the Saul Goodman we know and love is in full form. He gives a pretty convincing "boys will be boys" argument and I find myself rooting for him and his defense table full of clean-cut teens, before we finally find out the charges by way of a very incriminating videotape shown to the jurors.
Turns out the kids lopped off the head of a corpse and ... ahem... made sweet, sweet love to it.
Damn you, Vince. I love you, Vince.
After bitching about the crappy pay he's getting for the public defender work, Saul exits the courthouse, and approaches a Cadillac that suits the Saul we all know and love from Breaking Bad. But this isn't that Saul, and instead he walks right past it and to a beat up Suzuki Esteem.
Jimmy takes a call from a potential client, and doing a terrible impression of a somewhat-British legal secretary, he arranges a meet at a local diner, claiming strong paint fumes at his office. Plans arranged, he drives off, complete with clouds of black exhaust and a glimpse of an off-colored door, driving home the point of just how broke and desperate Jimmy is.
He reaches the parking gate and...
OMFG! It's Mike! Mike Ehrmantraut! (Jonathan Banks – Breaking Bad, Community)
You know Mike: Former cop, hit man, P.I., fixer-upper of all things Breaking Bad, and nemesis to Walter White.
Actually, he's the parking attendant, and Jimmy (Saul) is short three bucks. Being broke, Jimmy refuses to pay and instead heads back to the courthouse for another validation sticker.
Moving on, and he meets with the Kettlemans, who are very obviously guilty, but who are claiming innocence of money laundering and looking for an attorney. Finally, some hope. Mr. Kettleman's pen is lingering above the dotted line and it looks like things might be looking up for Jimmy. After some painfully slow deliberating, Mrs. Kettleman steadies his hand and decides they should sleep on it.
Gah! Poor Jimmy.
Damn you, Vince.
Next up, Jimmy's driving and talking on a cell, when out of nowhere some skater dude flies into his windshield; he and his brother are trying to scam Jimmy with a faked crash. After some yelling and screaming, the skater dudes decide the only way they won't call the police is for the low, low price of five hundred dollars.
"Only way that car is worth $500 is if there's a $300 hooker sitting in it," Jimmy replies.
Cue me: laughing out loud.