Better Call Saul season 2 premiere countdown: 9 days left!
Episode 1×02: In which Tuco wears an apron, Jimmy is the best lawyer ever, and Better Call Saul shows us it’s not afraid to get gritty.
(Warning: contains major spoilers for the Breaking Bad series, so if you haven’t seen the show, stop what you are doing and watch it because, honestly, what are you doing with your life?)
Episode 1×02: “Mijo” (written by Peter Gould; directed by Michelle MacLaren)
Before Better Call Saul premiered, there was a lot of speculation about what Breaking Bad characters the creators might bring back. I remember hoping it would be minor characters—people who played a part in the events of Breaking Bad but who we didn’t learn all that much about over the course of the series. Don’t get me wrong. I love Walt and Jesse as much as anyone but it felt not only way too soon for that, but also kind of wrong. We know Walt and Jesse. I wanted to explore someone else. So I crossed my fingers and let the Gilligang do their thing.
Of course, they nailed it. Tuco freakin’ Salamanca. We haven’t seen Tuco since Breaking Bad 2×02 (“Grilled”), when he took a bullet to the dome courtesy of DEA Agent Hank Schrader. (RIP Hank. Miss you, buddy.) When I think Tuco, I think maniacal laughter, meth being snorted off a bowie knife, someone being kicked to death… anything but what the teaser of “Mijo” gave me. It was something I never knew I needed in my life: domestic Tuco, wearing an apron, cooking salsa in his grandmother’s kitchen. (And since you didn’t ask: Yes, I would watch a reality TV cooking show hosted by Tuco Salamanca.)
Tuco (the “mijo” from the episode title) is cooking up a storm when his grandmother comes in the house with Lars and Cal, the twins who pulled their skateboard scam on the wrong car. Turns out not only was it the wrong car, it was the worst possible car, because now they have to deal with Tuco. The twins are threatening poor, frightened abuelita, and Tuco is clearly not happy about it, but he’s keeping his cool. Historically, Tuco Salamanca has zero chill, so this is something new and interesting to watch.
When Lars calls abuelita a “crazy old biznatch” I am legitimately afraid for him, but Tuco is still even keel. He just sizes up Cal’s leg situation (which I think he knows is complete BS because if anyone knows what a broken leg looks like, it’s Tuco) and continues trying to calm abuelita’s frazzled nerves. He tells her that he will handle everything, and to go upstairs and watch her show with the volume turned up loud. When she’s gone, he turns his attention back to Lars and Cal, who say they want money and threaten to get the police involved.
When Tuco asks, “Cops, they comin’?” I know the twins are digging themselves even deeper. This is Tuco we’re talking about, and you don’t come into the Salamanca house and use the c-word and get away with it. Then he says, “You called her biznatch?” and I know it’s game over for Lars and Cal. Nobody calls abuelita a biznatch. Tuco pretends to reach for abuelita’s purse but he snatches up her cane and beats the twins with it. When he’s done he twirls it around in his hand and yells, “Biznatch!” and now I see the Tuco I know and fear (sans his trademark grill).
The teaser ends and the theme song plays over a shot of Saul’s LWYRUP Cadillac cruising down the road.
Upstairs, abuelita is enjoying her telenovela. She’s got TV tray and a snack (including some salsa, which I like to think that Tuco made special for her, just the way she likes it, because that’s adorable and you will not convince me it’s not true). She’s trying to focus on her stories but she keeps hearing noise from downstairs. She goes to investigate and finds Tuco scrubbing what is obviously a bloodstain off the living room rug. He tells her that he just spilled some salsa, and that she should go back upstairs and let him clean it up.
Then abuelita tells him to make sure that he uses club soda on the stain, and who among us has not gotten the club soda lecture from their grandmother? Abuelita’s not wrong, either. Club soda fixes literally everything. Marinara sauce? Club soda. Red wine? Club soda. The blood of your enemies? Club soda.
When abuelita leaves Tuco to his stain removal, he makes a call and says, “bring No-Doze and tell Nacho to bring the van.” And now I’m more excited because No-Doze and Gonzo are coming out to play, too. They were both members of Tuco’s crew in Breaking Bad—that is until Tuco beat No-Doze to death for practically nothing and Gonzo bled out trying to hide the body. But hey, why dwell on the negative? They are alive and well in the Better Call Saul timeline, and Tuco needs them to deal with the twins.
And now we catch up to where “Uno” left off, with Jimmy knocking at the door and Tuco pulling him inside at gunpoint. Jimmy is terrified and he still doesn’t know that the twins pulled the scam on the wrong car. Tuco frisks him, and Jimmy tells him that he’s “not sure if this is a situation where I should or should not look you in the eye.” They sit down facing each other in the living room and Tuco points his gun at Jimmy’s chest.
Jimmy tries his best to keep it together as he tells Tuco that he’s a lawyer, and that he’s only there because his clients called him about a traffic accident, about which he knows absolutely nothing. He is interrupted by abuelita coming to the top of the stairs, and Tuco quickly hides his gun behind his back. Compared to how menacing he was just a moment earlier, Tuco looks like a choirboy telling abuelita that Jimmy is just a salesman and she should go back in her room.
But abuelita is having none of it, because she knows mijo didn’t use the club soda and that salsa stain is drying on her rug. She tells him the words we’ve all heard before:
Tuco’s relationship with abuelita is really very sweet, and everything about her is so perfectly grandmaternal, but I like to think that there’s something else going on here. My unsolicited abuelita headcanon: this woman is a matriarch in the Salamanca family. I’m sure she’s seen a lot of “salsa” stains in her life. I like to think she knows damn well that’s a bloodstain on her good rug. The Salamanca men have spilled far too much “salsa” in her lovely home over the years and she’s tired of cleaning up the menfolk’s messes. She just wants mijo to use the damn club soda so she can watch her stories in peace.
Or she could just be the world’s cutest granny. That works for me, too.
When abuelita leaves, Tuco turns back to Jimmy with the gun and says, “Talk.” And, boy does he talk. Jimmy is piss-your-pants terrified but he launches into his defense, pleading his case to Tuco who is his judge, jury, and executioner. He tells Tuco that his clients, “frick and frack,” were most likely in the wrong in some way, and that Tuco had justification for doing whatever it is that he did. And Jimmy knows that he did something, because he’s well aware of the bloodstain just inches from his seat. He says, “based on the salsa stain there, it could’ve gone a couple ways,” and then he pleads with Tuco not to kill the twins if they aren’t already dead. He promises that the three of them will disappear, and that neither Tuco nor his “lovely abuelita” will ever hear from them again. When Jimmy finishes, he waits for Tuco’s verdict. “Wow,” Tuco says. “You got a mouth on you.”
He takes Jimmy to the garage, where Lars and Cal are being held, and he gives Jimmy a knife to cut them loose. The second they are ungagged they start ratting Jimmy out, telling Tuco that the whole scam was his idea, and now Tuco turns his gun back on Jimmy. “Are you punking me?” he asks.
Nobody punks Tuco Salamanca, and Jimmy, Lars, and Cal end up bound and gagged in the desert. There’s a classic Breaking Bad-style desert wide shot (and thank you for that, because I missed those), which shows three other men with Tuco: No-Doze, Gonzo, and Nacho. Tuco interrogates Jimmy and we see more of the Tuco we all know. He has Nacho get his torture toolbox out of the van and he holds a pair of wire cutters to Jimmy’s pinky finger. “I smell pork,” he says. “We know you’re with the heat.” Tuco wants to know if he’s local police, FBI, or DEA, but Jimmy keeps telling him the truth: that he’s just a lawyer who was pulling a scam on a woman who stole $1.6 from the county treasury. He gives Tuco his “James M. McGill, A Lawyer You Can Trust” matchbook to prove it to him but Tuco chucks it away. Jimmy tells them he’ll answer almost any legal question…
Jimmy tells Tuco that he shouldn’t kill him because he’s “a known quantity” around Albuquerque but Tuco still doesn’t believe him. When he puts a bit of pressure on the wire cutters Jimmy panics and tells him he’s undercover FBI Agent Jeffrey Steele. (Every time I watch this part I think of The Office where Michael makes the self-insert fanfic film classic Threat Level Midnight and names himself Agent Michael Scarn, but I digress.)
Nacho isn’t buying Jimmy’s lie and he asks Tuco if he can talk to him. He seems like the brains of Tuco’s operation, like his job is to (respectfully) step in with logic and reason when Tuco’s running too hot. Nacho asks ”Agent Steele” what their crime is. Of course, Jimmy has no idea who they are, but he assumes that they are drug dealers. Then Nacho asks him what kind of drugs they sell, which he should know since he’s supposedly investigating them. Jimmy responds “Title 21, schedule 2 through schedule 5 including part B,” which is the actual U.S code for the kind of controlled substances he assumes (correctly) that they sell. I didn’t know that. I had to look it up, but it just goes to show that, even tied up in the desert with a bunch of violent criminals, Jimmy still knows his stuff.
Nacho busts out the wire cutters again and makes it clear to Jimmy that it’s truth time. Jimmy drops the act but he tells Nacho that he’s got “a bad case of face blindness” and that he won’t say a word if they just let him go. Nacho walks back to Tuco; he wants to cut him loose but Tuco’s not convinced. Nacho says that “croaking a lawyer for no reason is bad for business,” and he’s not wrong, but Tuco’s still heated.
Then Nacho appeals to him on a level he knows Tuco will understand. He reminds Tuco that Jimmy is “giving respect” and Tuco agrees to let him go. But Nacho wants to make it clear to Jimmy that he best keep his mouth shut. He shows Jimmy the matchbook and says, “I know how to find you, James McGill.”
Jimmy is free to go but the twins are still on the hook. They disrespected abuelita and Tuco’s code requires that they be punished for it. Jimmy almost leaves them to die in the desert, but he can’t bring himself to do it so he makes his case for the twins. He spins some yarn about how their mother is a widow who works “scrubbing the floors of rich people” so she can take care of her boys, who are all she has left in the world. But Tuco still wants to “skin them like javelinas,” so Jimmy switches gears. He tells Tuco, “you’re tough but you’re fair,” and he starts negotiating with him about a punishment to fit the crime.
Of course, Tuco’s idea of an appropriate punishment is different from Jimmy’s. Tuco suggests blinding them, cutting their tongues out, and giving them Columbian neckties. Jimmy counters with a black eye but Tuco just laughs. No-Doze points out that one of them already has a black eye, and Tuco tells him, “Stop helping”—a nice little nod to the scene in Breaking Bad 2×01 (“Seven Thirty-Seven”) where Tuco kills No-Doze for speaking for him. Jimmy is still working hard for his clients, and after a bit of back and forth over the merits of spraining versus breaking, and the appropriate number and type of limbs to injure, Tuco and Jimmy come to an agreement: one broken leg each. They shake on it, and then we get our first taste of how gritty Better Call Saul is willing to get.
Breaking Bad had its darkly comic moments, but overall it was a much nastier affair than Better Call Saul has been thus far. But here, as Jimmy watches Tuco gleefully breaking the twins’ bones, it gets ugly. There’s no real gore to speak of, but the combination of sounds—Tuco’s maniacal laughter, the twins screaming, and boot crushing bone—is reminiscent of some of those hard-to-watch scenes that made Breaking Bad so intense. It continues into the next scene, with Cal’s twisted leg pointing in a sickening direction as he is wheeled into the emergency room. Jimmy goes back to the car to get Lars, who tells him he’s the worst lawyer ever, but Jimmy knows that even though he got them into this mess, he also got them out of it. He tells Lars, “I just talked you down from a death sentence to six months probation. I’m the best lawyer ever.”
One might think that, after being held at gunpoint, tied up, taken to the desert, and nearly murdered, Jimmy might want to rest a bit, but no. Jimmy wants to get drunk. We see him at a bar with a woman (played by Jamie Luner, who I used to watch on Just the Ten of Us because I am ancient). There’s been some debate as to whether Jimmy is trying to pick her up at the bar, or whether he had a date planned all along. Personally, I think it’s a date, because the bar is kind of swanky and I don’t see that being the kind of place Jimmy would go to drown his PTSD. Regardless, Jimmy is really putting the moves on Mystery Woman. We can’t hear their conversation—the scene is set to music—but we can see that Jimmy is trying to impress her and she is eating it up.
[This scene with the original dialogue as filmed appears as a bonus feature on the Season 1 Blu-ray set. It’s called “What Were You Thirsty For?” and it’s a conversation about what kind of drink they craved as kids when they came home after playing outside. In case you were wondering, Jimmy’s was chocolate milk, which the McGills couldn’t always afford, and Mystery Woman’s was Tang.]
The date takes a turn when Jimmy notices a man across the bar, breaking breadsticks. He tries to focus on Mystery Woman (or rather, on her impressive rack) but all he really hears is the cracking sound, not unlike the sound of the twins’ bones breaking in the desert. Jimmy starts to panic and he has to excuse himself, and he rushes to the bar bathroom and pukes in the toilet.
I can’t imagine the rest of his evening went very well because Jimmy shows up at Chuck’s place completely hammered. Chuck asks, “Did you ground yourself?” and Jimmy just stumbles past him, leaving a trail of clothes, until he falls face first onto the couch. This clearly isn’t the first time Chuck has seen Jimmy totally blotto, and he tut-tuts him as he covers him with a blanket. But then Chuck clutches his arm and realizes that Jimmy has almost definitely broken the no-electronics rule. He gets a pair of tongs and shakes Jimmy’s pants until his cell phone falls out, and then he uses the tongs to pick up the phone and hurl it out onto the front lawn.
Chuck comes back inside and finds Lars’s hospital bill, which had fallen out of Jimmy’s pants, and he reads it with a weary look on his face. The whole thing reeks of Slippin’ Jimmy, and Chuck is disappointed but not surprised. When Jimmy wakes up, hungover and covered in his own drool, it’s clear he has no idea how he got there. Chuck is sitting across from him, wearing a space blanket, and offers Jimmy some coffee.
There’s a moment, when Jimmy asks if they have milk, where Chuck makes this face at him that basically says, “you have got to be kidding me.” I’m not quite sure if it’s Chuck blaming Jimmy for not replenishing the milk supply (since everything that comes in to the house is Jimmy’s responsibility) or if he’s just so offended that Jimmy would deign to ask for milk after the shenanigans he pulled. Maybe it’s both, but what I do know is that it’s just one of the many reasons I love the way Michael McKean plays Chuck.
Even in the smallest of gestures, McKean plays Chuck so smugly, but it’s never overkill—just a raise of the finger here and a sigh there that shows the audience that Chuck believes he’s still king of the castle. The fact that he literally could not survive without Jimmy’s help doesn’t change his attitude a bit. It’s as if Chuck believes that, however much Jimmy does for him, it will never be enough to atone for the sins of his past.
Jimmy starts to put the pieces together from the night before and remembers that the bartender wouldn’t let him drive home. He sees that Chuck is wearing his space blanket and he asks him why, and Chuck tells him it’s because he brought his cell phone into the house when he was drunk. Jimmy apologizes but he doesn’t seem convinced, and then he notices the hospital bill on the coffee table.
Chuck has obviously seen it and Jimmy knows he’s busted. He tells Chuck, “this represents a good thing,” and he swears to him, “I’m not backsliding. This isn’t Slippin’ Jimmy.” Jimmy tells him, “Take off the space blanket. I didn’t do anything wrong,” and now it’s clear where Jimmy really stands on Chuck’s illness. He believes it’s his fault—that he’s a trigger, and that Chuck gets sick when he’s done something bad. He keeps this to himself, of course, and Chuck finally does take off the space blanket, but there’s still major tension between the two. Chuck doesn’t believe for a moment that Jimmy isn’t up to something, and he’s not entirely wrong.
But Jimmy McGill is a good lawyer, dammit, and we see how earnestly he is trying to do right in an excellent courthouse montage. I love me a well-done montage, and editor Kelley Dixon always delivers. (Allow me to take this opportunity to thank Kelley for giving us the iconic “Crystal Blue Persuasion” cook montage from Breaking Bad 5×08, “Gliding Over All.”)
We see Jimmy psyching himself up in the mirror, throwing up some jazz hands and quoting a movie line from All That Jazz—“It’s showtime, folks!”—and then we launch into the montage. Jimmy is busting his ass at the courthouse and we get snippets of him with various clients (including a dude with a righteous face tattoo). We see him working that McGill magic on a prosecutor who won’t budge on a “petty with a prior” charge. We see Jimmy in the Esteem, battling it out with Mike over stickers (Jimmy obviously loses every time).
We also see the blonde woman from HHM come out of the courtroom and smile at Jimmy. But the best part by far is of Jimmy in court. We see him again as we saw him in “Uno,” doing his best for his clients. There are just bits and pieces of each trial mixed together, and the lines are hilarious and random thanks to Bob Odenkirk’s ad-libbing during filming.
[The full cut of the courtroom scenes is available as a Season 1 bonus feature on the Blu-ray and it’s well worth a watch. Odenkirk’s comedic talent is in full effect and at one point he has everyone on set cracking up.]
The montage ends and now we’re back at the nail salon. Jimmy wants to unwind after a hard day’s work and he snags a cup from the back, next to the cucumber water which salon-owner Mrs. Nguyen has informed him is “for customer only.” He heads into his hovel, which is so small that he has to rearrange all the furniture to open up his pullout couch. When he’s done, he pours himself straight vodka, or maybe gin—some variety of clear liquor—and gets in bed. Peace at last, or so he’d hoped.
Mrs. Nguyen knocks on the door and tells Jimmy he has a customer, and he rushes to get the place back in office mode. He doesn’t look up as the potential client enters, making the old “my office is being painted” excuse, but when he does he sees someone he never wanted to see again: Nacho. Nacho sizes up Jimmy’s office.
Jimmy is afraid but Nacho assures him that Tuco isn’t with him and doesn’t know that he’s there. The reason for Nacho’s secret visit: he wants to rip off the Kettlemans. Nacho tells Jimmy, “I like ripping off thieves because they can’t go to the cops. They have no recourse.” Nacho offers Jimmy a ten percent finder’s fee if he tells him where the money is hidden.
Jimmy can’t understand why Nacho could come to him for this and Nacho tells him it’s because he already tried to rip them off. Jimmy doesn’t see it this way, of course. He was only trying to get their legitimate business. He may have used some unorthodox and morally grey methods to try to get said business, but he never wanted to steal their payload. Jimmy says, “I’m a lawyer, not a criminal,” and Nacho is amused.
Nacho says, “you are shitting me,” and he isn’t wrong to think that Jimmy is being naïve. The whole skateboard scam wasn’t even remotely above board. Jimmy can tell himself he’s not backsliding into Slippin’ Jimmy territory but the fact remains that he’s willing to use some shady methods to build his business. Jimmy truly does want to go legit, but he feels that the ends justify his means.
But Nacho sees him differently. He sees the Saul inside Jimmy way before Jimmy discovers it himself. Nacho writes his number on the inside of one of Jimmy’s matchbooks and says, “For when you realize you’re in the game.” Jimmy watches him leave through the crystal curtain strands and we’re left wondering: when will Jimmy realize what Nacho already knows?
Overall, “Mijo” was a great follow-up to the series premiere. We got more Tuco, which is always a treat, and we met Nacho, who will presumably play a significant role in the series (actor Michael Mando is in the opening credits, after all). We saw Jimmy’s true potential as a lawyer, but we also saw him getting his hands dirty negotiating with the kind of drug dealers that will one day be Saul’s clientele. But to me, the best part of “Mijo” was that it showed us that there is danger lurking beneath the surface of the more lighthearted world of Better Call Saul. It’s dark dramedy, and it will likely get even darker, and I, for one, can’t wait.