TV Review: Better Call Saul – Season 2 Episode 1 “Switch” (USA, 2016)

As we flow into the second season of Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul we continue to see parallels between the descent of constantly overwhelmed lawyer James McGill (Bob Odenkirk) into master manipulator Saul Goodman, and the transition from Walter White to Heisenberg. At it’s core, Better Call Saul is stripping away yet another good(ish) guy and slowly exploring the complexities and circumstances which lead to him ‘breaking bad’, and it seems to be doing it with the same depth and patience that made it’s predecessor such a hugely acclaimed critical and commercial success for all involved.

“Switch” picks up pretty much where we left McGill at the end of season 1, and thankfully it sticks with his very subtle move into what we know will eventually become Saul Goodman. We linger away from his sour relationship with brother Chuck (Michael McKean) and spend a bit more time just living in the moment with Jimmy, reiterating that this is a much more character focused drama than even Breaking Bad, with a smaller cast, and less relationships, but just as much attention to detail. Yes, patience is required to watch this show, especially now that we’re back in the earlier episodes of a season, but producers Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and Director Thomas Schnauz, work in plenty of hold our attention amongst incisive, playful dialogue which reveals how conflicted McGill is, without being too repetitive.

The whole show looks spectacular without the assistance of dramatic set pieces, rather bringing a wondrous touch to everyday imagery. The same technique was used in Breaking Bad to ground the plot in ways, bringing even more depth to the quieter, more tender scenes of which there are plenty in Better Call Saul’s season 2 premiere.

As mentioned above, there are less relationships with Jimmy in Better Call Saul, a big contrast to Breaking Bad. Jesse, Skyler, Walt Jr, Hank, and to a lesser degree, Marie, all represented sympathetic and well fleshed out (as the show progressed) characters which also doubled as mirrors for Walter White, reminding us of the very serious consequences his transition into Heisenberg had for those around him. With Better Call Saul, Jimmy, as of this episode, only really has Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and their playful relationship is on display here, building the chemistry between them with an exciting play where Jimmy swindles an obnoxious stockbroker at a bar. The scene also reminds us of Jimmy’s talent for manipulation and how it’s more seamless and natural than when we first checked in with him back in season 1. Yes, Jimmy is still down on his luck with a shoddy practice in the back room of an awkard Albuquerque nail salon, but things seem to go his way when he stops being the “nice guy” and starts getting aggressive with what he wants.

The other side of “Switch” catches us up with Mike (Jonathan Banks) and his role as an enforcer-for-hire, one which doesn’t mesh so well with dim-witted drug dealer Price (Mark Proksch) who makes the idiotic decision of leaving Mike behind in his dealings with the opportunistic Nacho (Michael Mando). Things start to get really interesting – and strangely hilarious – the more mistakes Price makes, leading to an obvious build up which will likely become an important thread in season 2.

While not much happens in “Switch”, Better Call Saul gives us a strong start to it’s sophomore season, quietly building – or deconstructing – Jimmy while giving us enough engaging material to balance entertainment with a necessary level of slow-burning detail that will undoubtedly be seeing shades of Goodman continue to spill out.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Better Call Saul premieres exclusively in Australia on Stan, Tuesday 16th February 2016. It will be fast tracked from the U.S weekly.