It goes without saying that there are spoilers in this review, so don’t end up looking like one of Slippin’ Jimmy’s marks.
Episode two of the new season – Witness, written by Breaking Bad and Saul stalwart (and Twitter filthy gag superstar Thomas Schnauz) and directed again by co-creator Vince Gilligan feels much of a piece with last week. So if you were happy to have the measured drama and offbeat comedy of the show back, you’ll be happy. If you found it frustrating, we’ve got some bad news for you… Still, count us among the positive camp as this episode nudged the storyline along and delivered a few high points. Kicking off at the end, as Jimmy finally finds out that Chuck recorded his confession and storms over to his brother’s house to confront him. Coming just after a fine piece of physical comedy by Patrick Fabian’s Howard Hamlin as he attempts to arrive at Chuck’s place undetected, it was a real contrast in tones. As Chuck assures Howard that the private detective their law firm has placed in his home as a security guard is necessary because Jimmy will absolutely break into it at night, along comes the younger McGill kicking in the door and smashing the tape. This won’t end well for Jimmy, but given that we’re only on episode two of the new season, the ramifications will likely be felt down the line. But Kudos to Bob Odenkirk for showing Jimmy’s anger and hurt finally boil over into the confrontation.
In less fraught narrative territory, it’s good to see Jimmy and Mike interacting again, however briefly, as the latter assigns the former to scout out the place he has discovered during his careful tracking of the people who bugged his car.
By far the best part of the episode was the latest shift towards the world we known from its parent series. It’s been an open secret for a while that this season would be introducing (or rather, re-introducing… pre-introducing?) Giancarlo Esposito’s Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring, but the reveal of the Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant was still a fun one. And where some shows would be content to have Gus pop up behind the counter when Jimmy enters and orders, ready to watch for the arrival of the courier Mike has been tracking, Saul takes the subtle route of keeping him out of focus until it’s time to properly meet him. And what a delight to have Esposito back as Gus. The chipper, but clearly calculating character will bring a fresh new energy to the show, even if we realise he can’t have much interaction with Jimmy as he didn’t really know him back when Saul takes place.
Gus wasn’t the only character making a return, as we got to see the moment that Jimmy – and a more reluctant Kim (Rhea Seehorn) – hired Francesca, the secretary who would stick with him into his full-on Saul days.
Here, the character (played once again by Tina Parker) is more of a fresh-faced worker bee, who has recently decided to leave the Motor Vehicle Division and try her hand at being a legal secretary. And yes, this being Saul, there is of course a discussion of why New Mexico calls its motoring authority by a different name to other states! It’s fun to see who Francesca was in the days before she was sassier with the man who will be Saul, even if her return is slightly over shadowed by a certain Mr. Fring. Elsewhere, there was more gentle comedy as Jimmy’s slew of elderly clients kept him on his toes with tales of bottle cap collecting and reasons for him to lay on his legendary charm.
Seehorn also got her moment to shine after a meeting with HHM dosgbody Ernesto (Brandon K. Hampton), as she’s the one who lets Jimmy know about the tape. There is a fine undercurrent of worry and disappointment running through her entire scene with her wayward boyfriend.
As mentioned, Saul‘s tightly-woven storylines make each season feel like one long film story, and this certainly felt of a piece with last week’s premiere. But it also moved things along a lot more, opened new story avenues and gave the cast their latest chance to shine. Credit also to Gilligan (and director of photography Marshall Adams) for the typically beautiful cinematography, with glorious desert vistas and some of the most interesting shots on TV right now.
We may be creeping closer to Breaking Bad with every episode, but Saul remains as compelling as ever.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays on AMC in the US and is appearing weekly on Tuesdays via Netflix in the UK.