Better Call Saul, Second Series (2016)
This series continues along its unlikely, grotesque and thoroughly entertaining path, wending ever deeper and darker into the abyss of forsaken conscience and fluid morality. Lawyer Jimmy McGill (and, indeed, his older brother, Charles, played with all stops out by Michael McKean) is like Tulkinghorn in Bleak House – “so long used to make his cramped nest in holes and corners of human nature that he has forgotten its broader and better range.”
Pop culture references abound in delightful ways. For example, when McGill’s appalling Elder Law advert screens, during a mid-morning episode of “Diagnosis: Murder,” it is followed by a pitch for the ‘Garden Weasel’, a product made notorious by Larry Sanders (with whose show Bob Odenkirk, starring here as Jimmy, was involved). When Jimmy leaves a message for Kim, trying to lure her away from her boring, sent-to-Siberia duties in document-review, and into his web of fantasy, he bizarrely sings, in a voice closer to Yoda or E.T. than Muriel Smith, “Bali h’ai” from South Pacific.
Odenkirk is a superb meld of hustler and sucker – he mostly keeps trying to live-up to brother Chuck’s impossible standards, the rest of the while breaching them. He’s Sammy Glick and yet, also, Forrest Gump. Real unethical chisellers are mostly less charming and caring in real life. The genuinely interesting characters, for us, are Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), Jimmy’s conscience, his buddy, his amanuensis, his teacher, his muse, his great love, whom he corrupts, amuses and disappoints in equal measure: and Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), the apparent villain of the piece, leading Poobah at law firm HHM, but actually little more than a marionette and beard for Jimmy’s brother. These guys are beautifully written and played. And then there’s Mike (Jonathan Banks), a real villain but with a heart of gold, who deals (day in, day out) with real villains, guys who are way beyond evidence-tampering and false pretences, who long ago graduated to guns, drugs and casual slaughter.
For those who came in late, James McGill becomes Saul Goodman (‘S all good, man!) who acts as fence, launderer, consigliere and co-conspirator to Walter White and crew in that seminal nasty epic, Breaking Bad. Before Saul, before James McGill, Attorney-at-Law, there was Jimmy McGill, ‘Charley Hustle’ of the mailroom at HHM…before that, there was Slippin’ Jimmy, cheap chancer from Cicero, Illinois. Jimmy is a slime-ball floating in a sea of pus, that any respectable lawyer would want disbarred with extreme prejudice, but we have to confess that Goodman’s trajectory is a high-class high-wire act…just try to stop tuning in! Series Three is already in the can…