TV Review: "Better Call Saul" Season 1, Episode 2: "Mijo"
"Mijo" Finds The Series Charging Ahead Full Force By Building On The First EP And Concentrating On Razor-Sharp Character Development
Picking up just moments before Saul finds himself at gunpoint by the truly insane drug-kingpin-to-be Tuco, "Mijo" sees the repercussions of the Pilot episode in dynamic play. The red-headed twenty-something morons who agreed to Saul's hair-brained scheme become bound, gagged, and severely beaten, and, of course, in an absolute panic. Their feverish cries for help are completely in sync. They are twin brothers after all. In a delightful series of exchanges between Tuco and his abuelita (grandmother) who tries to cover up the brothers' blood stains by exclaiming that it's a "salsa stain," we see flashes of Tuco's nut-job criminal come into being even if he is much more restrained than he was when facing off against Walt in "Breaking Bad." We see a man who is sensitive and, dare I say, methodical and reasonable. Well, as reasonable as a drug lord can be. But the fun doesn't truly start until Saul enters the arena.
Saul gets very dramatic here, initially, with another embellished extended monologue saying that he is representing "law and order" and comes charging in only to find that his would-be heroics involve a gun pressed to his head by Tuco. Instead of Tuco merely shooting him on sight, like he might have in a typical episode of BB, he plops Saul down on an adjacent chair and allows him to explain the ordeal as he sees it. Despite Saul's best intentions, Tuco himself says he "smells lies" and, as the boys' try to pin the whole thing on Saul in order to save their skins, Saul takes a pragmatic approach that leaves all parties in a more favorable position than before. It is a wonderful scene and Saul's distinct wordplay that he's become noted for amps up the comedy-drama elements that we are all familiar with. Tuco isn't yet the truly hardened criminal that he becomes but in his early stages we see how menacing and rage-filled he is. For fans of BB, we all know it is these qualities that ultimately lead to his undoing.
Fast forward a bit and we have the highlight of the whole episode which takes place in the stifling heat of the New Mexico desert. An extreme closeup to Saul finds him tied up and trembling. His face wincing as he anticipates the worst to come. The boys' are still bound and gagged and they look more beaten than before. Tuco talks to his advisor in order to make a "justified" decision as to what to do with the three. Thankfully, his advisor is more sensible and level-headed and after much convincing which ends in the release of Saul, Tuco comes to a decision that isn't the best but also isn't the worst. As Saul ambles off he sees that Tuco is about to gut the boys' as Tuco comes up with a number of grizzly ends - "slicing their throats and pulling their tongues out of the slits," "cutting off their legs" and, so on. Saul, in all his backward lawyer-y glory talks Tuco down just breaking their legs - one of each. He makes a rather hilarious but totally appropriate comparison to Hammurabi's Code which dictates "an eye for an eye" or, in this case, the punishment must fit the crime. Saul insists, since they are skateboarders that not having the use of their legs for at least 6 months will have the boys' truly learn the error of their ways as well as never forgetting Tuco or this fateful day. Tuco agrees and has much fun enacting the leg breaking. This was a helluva scene as it was tightly scripted, well developed and just fun to see all the characters' do what they do best given the situation. Saul's gift of the gab for once is able to save lives and even though he is still unsure as to why he went to those ends, he nevertheless takes full responsibility for what went down.
"Mijo" is not only a brilliant episode but it really takes all that came before and spins it in an evocative fashion. We really begin to see Saul step into his own and even though he is still completely down on his luck - penniless, a ramshackle office at the back of a Chinese hair salon, and no concrete clients, he still holds his head high as he hopes that soon his fortunes will change. And, just as luck would have it, the end of the episode is extremely telling. Tuco's more down to Earth advisor pays Saul a surprise visit. He offers to cut him in on an extortion racket that he is engineering to get back the $1.5 million that was embezzled. Saul let it slip to Tuco earlier in an interrogation scene that involved Tuco using tweezers to break Saul's fingers that that was his motive for mistakenly running down his grandma. Tuco's right hand man pledges to cut him in to the tune of $100k. This amount would be the largest that Saul ever accepted for a job since it is, you know, illegal. Saul backs down and repeatedly makes the case that he is not a criminal and that, no matter how tempting, will never be. Of course, we all know he couldn't be more wrong. As Tuco's advisor walks out with Saul looking through the beads that conceal his office, the episode ends on a subtle cliffhanger and the tensions are boiling to the maximum degree.
Judging from the consistency of both back-to-back episodes, BB fans and converts alike are really in for a treat as "Better Call Saul" is, out of the gate, shaping up to be one of the most addicting and watchable shows of the year.