Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Rise of Giselle St. Clair, or Thoughts on Better Call Saul Season 2

From her first, unexplained appearance in Season 1 smoking a cigarette in Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill’s shadowy parking garage like a modern Edward Hopper painting, attorney Kim Drexler, played with exasperating perfection by Rhea Seehorn, has emerged as Jimmy’s primary motivation, after of course, his own self-interest.  Along with his brother Chuck, she’s the most interesting new character of the show, and the closest thing Jimmy has to an equal partner and confidante.
Kim’s Mesa Verde client phoning montage, to dig her out of the hole Jimmy created, shows her ambition and determination, two qualities that always win an audience over.  She’s savvy, smart and her only flaw is her friendship with Jimmy, though she’s just as aware as Chuck about his fondness for shortcuts and side-deals.
As for Jimmy, he was sidetracked for most of the season by his $7000 cocobolo desk and corner office at Davis & Main, a job he took to impress Kim.  His cause for termination montage with loud suits and even louder bagpipes and smelly bathrooms is just as amusing as Kim’s montage, but only because we as an audience enjoy seeing Jimmy act like Saul.
There’s a heartbreaking scene at the start of episode 7, “Inflatable”, where young Jimmy watches his father get scammed by another hard luck story.  Even with his insistence his father refuses to believe that a stranger would lie to him.  The flashback serves a dual purpose, it shows the viewers that young Jimmy McGill has always had a talent for grifting and taking advantage of human nature and it forms his worldview of wolves and sheep.
Chucks psychosomatic electrical allergy continues to wreak havoc on both the McGill brothers, but he has evolved into a formidable enemy for Jimmy.  Their sibling rivalry becomes almost biblical in the final episode as their mother calls for Jimmy on her deathbed, while Chuck sits with her.  Always the good son, the dutiful son, but everyone liked Jimmy more because he could make them laugh.  And it’s nice to see Clea Duvall in these hospital scenes getting some work and screen time in the tiny and thankless role of Chuck’s physician.
Better Call Saul circles around the process of becoming Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad, but it’s a much faster arc for Mike Ermentraut.  Mike and Jimmy have joined forces on occasion and have overlapping circles, maybe even travelling a parallel path, but they’re not exactly simpatico, as Jimmy would say.  Mike’s hard stare and soft heart, as demonstrated by his obvious affection for his daughter in-law and granddaughter, the reason he moved to New Mexico, is juxtaposed by his one-man war against Hector Salamanca.  He’s buying sniper rifles taking shady side-jobs to support his family and I suppose, out of boredom.  Nobody really wants to retire; you always need a project to occupy your day.  Why not keep your skill-set sharp and rob a cartel?
Season Two ends on a dual cliffhanger for Jimmy and Mike that is still emotionally satisfying because we trust the writers and they’ve told us a good story so far.  Jimmy still hasn’t made the transition to what Jesse so eloquently referred to as a “criminal lawyer” but he’s closer.  Also, knowing the ending, this being a prequel to Breaking Bad, allows us to relax and enjoy the journey until we reach that point where Badger gets arrested and Walter White shows up in Saul’s waiting room.