The first episode of Better Call Saul — “Uno” — opens in a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska.
At the end of Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) got a new identity and was in the process of moving to Nebraska. And this is where he ends up a few years down the road — working at a Cinnabon. It’s not the flashiest job. In fact, it’s depressingly mundane, which is only emphasized by the black-and-white nature of the scene and the dour look on Saul’s mustached face. Saul seemed relatively happy being a crooked lawyer and making lots of money, and now he’s been reduced to working in the service industry. And it’s sad. I was surprised by how much I felt for this character who’s been off our screens for about two years now.
Saul is also living in fear that someone will recognize him. Saul braces himself when he thinks a man sitting in the Cinnabon recognizes him, but it turns out he’s looking at someone else. But there’s no denying the look of fear (paranoia?) on Saul’s face.
After work, we see Saul pouring himself a drink and sitting down in front of the TV. He gives up looking for something interesting to watch, makes sure all the blinds are closed, and then fetches a VHS tape from a secret box. With the camera giving us a close-up of Saul’s face, Bob Odenkirk does a really good job conveying how emotional Saul becomes watching his old “Better Call Saul” commercials. I can’t help but feel for the poor guy.
In the world of Breaking Bad, the crooked lawyer was one of the “better” guys. And Saul was always likable.
After the opening credits, we finally get our prequel on — in color, of course. We open up on a courtroom with three young defendants silently waiting for Saul, known as Jimmy McGill, to show up. He’s in the bathroom rehearsing his closing statement, and when he finally enters the courtroom, he does a really good job delivering it in front of the jury.
But the prosecutor only has to show a video of the three defendants filming themselves trespassing in a morgue, fornicating with dead bodies, and cutting off a head. Yeah… That happened. It’s dark stuff — which is very appropriate to the world of Breaking Bad, by the way — and it’s clear Jimmy isn’t going to win this case.
Afterward, Jimmy is pissed that he only gets a measly $700 paycheck for working on the case. Being a public defender isn’t exactly lucrative.
When he receives a phone-call from a potential new client, he dons a fake British accent and drives his rusty old Suzuki Esteem to meet them. It’s clear that this version of Saul — Jimmy McGill — is down on his luck, and being a lawyer hasn’t been very profitable for him (yet). On his way out of the parking lot, he gets into a brief argument with Mike (Jonathan Banks) of all people, who’s working as the parking attendant.
Jimmy meets with his potential new clients for an interview at a diner. He tries to convince them that, even if they haven’t done anything wrong (even though the husband has done something wrong), they need a lawyer. Lawyers are like health insurance, Jimmy explains. But just when it looks like the husband is about to sign, the man’s wife convinces him to “sleep on it.”
Afterward, a skateboarder crashes into Jimmy’s car and he and his brother attempt to extort him for $500 but he sees through the lie. When he threatens to sue them for the damaged windshield, they run away.
We find out Jimmy’s office is located inside a nail salon, right next to the laundry room where there’s a very noisy washing machine. He has a bunch of notices and overdue bills. One envelope catches his eye, however. Inside is a check for $26,000, and shockingly enough, he rips it up.
He goes to the offices of HHM to visit the people who sent him the check, and he meets with Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) who’s in a meeting with other attorneys, including Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). Jimmy is representing Chuck McHill, his brother, who’s owed a huge settlement from the firm. But Howard explains that Chuck hasn’t been kicked out, and he will get a stipend every week until he’s ready to come back.
The meeting doesn’t go well and Jimmy does an impression from the movie Network before leaving. Howard goes after him and tries to reason with him (to drop the settlement), but Jimmy isn’t buying it. When he looks downstairs, he sees the couple who he had the interview with, and is disheartened to see that they’re going to HHM for representation. When he reaches the parking floor, he beats up a trashcan (that’s already been dented, presumably from all the previous times Jimmy has visited this building).
Kim is waiting on the other side and Jimmy takes a puff from her cigarette to calm him down. When she goes inside, she fixes the trashcan (symbolism?). Her relationship with Jimmy is a little ambiguous, but they clearly know each other very well. Maybe she’s a future ex-wife.
Jimmy’s brother Chuck (Michael McKean) is apparently sick. Cancer, maybe? They don’t explain what it is in the episode, but Chuck thinks he’s in danger from electromagnetism, so all cell phones and electronic devices are banned. There’s no electricity in Chuck’s house, either.
While Chuck has been off the grid, Jimmy has been providing for the both of them, apparently. He tries to convince Chuck that he needs to settle with HHM, but Chuck refuses — saying the firm would have to liquidate its assets and his clients would have nowhere else to go — and is quite adamant that he’ll “beat” his illness.
He also reveals that Howard visited Chuck and gave him a check for $26,000. And that he wants Jimmy McGill to go by a different name so people don’t get confused. Jimmy is pissed.
Later, he approaches the two skateboarders from earlier for a job. He wants them to crash into the client wife’s car and stage a scene where Jimmy just happens to pass by and offer his assistance. Of course, this plan doesn’t exactly go smoothly.
The skateboarder crashes into the car, but the driver leaves in a hit-and-run. They follow the car and call Jimmy to tell him what happened. He tells them to wait for him, but of course — they don’t. The person who gets out of the car isn’t the wife, however. It’s an elderly Hispanic woman.
Jimmy finds the car parked in front of a house. While rehearsing his salesman speech, he knocks on the door. In a shocking twist, guess who opens the doors? Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz)! He points a gun at Jimmy’s head and forces him inside the house.
I was not expecting that ending, but seeing Tuco was a very pleasant surprise. I didn’t think we would see elements of Breaking Bad crossing over so much this soon. But I’m very excited about what the writers have in store for us with this character. Tuco is a psychopath — that much I remember. I wonder what Better Call Saul‘s take on the character will be. The preview for the next episode shows Jimmy beings dragged to the desert.
Tonally, Better Call Saul is very similar to Breaking Bad. It had a very strong, solid beginning, too.
Are non-Breaking Bad fans going to be able to watch this? I would say yes. But the impact of seeing certain characters (Tuco, for example) and situations isn’t going to land on the non-Breaking Bad crowd, obviously.