TV Review: "Better Call Saul": Season 1, Episode 3: "Nacho"
In An Intriguing & Satisfying Departure, Episode 3 Finds Golden-Hearted Jimmy Come Face To Face With His Future Hired Help
Jimmy's at it again, folks. Same ol' schick? Sorta, but not really. This is Odenkirk's Goodman really finding his stride and making some charitable but ill-conceived moves to land himself deeper and deeper in the pit of trouble. We find our anti-hero in a wicked interesting flashback sequence that sees his brother Chuck have to bail him out of jail prior to him establishing his law office. Goodman, doing his best to not screw the pooch further by bringing up his parents and apologizing to Chuck for being a real shit-heel of a brother, he pleads for his brother's amnesty even though he really doesn't deserve it. But, with Goodman's bulging eyes and desperate mugging, Chuck caves (or so we think). Flash back to the present, and he gives his lawyer lady-friend Kim (who is still fairly underdeveloped and barely seen at this point), a late night/early morning call to chat to extract information about a high-profile case. Kim adamantly refuses but is ultimately won over a bit by Goodman's smarmy charm. He warns her that her clients, The Kettleman family, are in grave danger because someone is coming after them since they extorted over a million dollars and stashed it about their house. Oh, this hasn't even scratched the surface of getting real (by Gilligan's standards) but it's a pretty incredible set-up and the rest of the episode moves fluidly and provocatively.
The single greatest element of this episode is certainly the much-anticipated re-introduction of Mike Ehrmentraut, played delightfully well by Jonathan Banks, who, up until this point, has only had casual but abrasive run-ins with Goodman as a parking lot ticket-taker. The running bit throughout the show so far has been Goodman's forgetfulness to acquire the right amount of parking stickers and/or money to pass through the gate as he leaves work. This has afforded the show a series of very witty confrontations that ably demonstrates the two character's early dynamic. Keep this in mind though, these gags have not been for naught but as this episode reveals, proves to be extremely important in the grand scheme of things. So, off Goodman goes to do some unlikely investigative work surrounding the Kettlemans' in order to help out Kim against her best wishes. He shows up at their house bizarrely unannounced and Kim is, of course, unnerved by his appearance there. This is surely not just a guy-needs-to-impress-chick-to-get laid scenario, is it? Of course not, that would be TOO cheap for a show like this. And, thankfully, the ol'Counselor is genuinely interested in helping her out. Believe it or not, he gets far enough because the covering lead detectives, at Kim's insistence, decide to have him help by having Goodman assist in re-canvassing the house. But, OH NO! The cops think he is totally nutty because he brings up a highly implausible (to them) theory: the Kettlemans' intentionally ransacked their own house and staged an elaborate kidnapping to remove guilt on their part and to place blame on a non-existent third-party to make off scot-free with the loot. Oh, gosh darn it, you guys are a clever, clever, bunch. Or are you?
I truly loved all the pieces coming together here. The show is taking on some attributes of a case-of-the-week procedural done art-house style at this point. While not necessarily a bad thing, it could become problematic if the show starts to lean too formulaic and most of the payoffs are if Jimmy or the other law-abiding characters solve their cases. We don't need another show like that on the air and if "Better Call Saul" is to really standout from the pack, it'll stay on the mark of being a character-focused show that is heavy on the dark humor and grit and play to everyone's best strengths. Kim, right now, is the only character now who doesn't have a clear motivation other than to be great at her job, have ballsy sex appeal, and to presumably help Goodman out whenever he is in a tough spot that he can't figure out himself. She hasn't proved particularly three-dimensional in this episode either, but her screen-time was brief and I am sure the writers' will utilize her later.
Fast forward more and drug kingpin-to-be Tuco's even-tempered right-hand man Nacho is getting pissed because he's been blamed and suspected by the feds since his van's license plate was obtained from the crime scene. In his case, pressure leads to folding which leads to stupid mistakes even from a character who has proven effective for Tuco thus far. Boss man isn't gonna be happy that's for sure. Plus, earlier he accused Goodman of being a dirty rat by selling out information he knows on Tuco and his crew to another rival gang. Goodman's life, especially toward the end of the episode, definitely hangs in the balance. Believe it or not, Goodman's one-time enemy turns out to be his most trusted ally here as Mike helps to throw a wrench into the cop's suspicions (for the moment) by believing Goodman's theory and giving him critical advice that the Kettlemens' who, as Goodman notes, aren't the sharpest tools in the shed, haven't traveled too far from home. In fact, the weirdly WASP-y family is found playing patty-cake in a tent in the middle of the night making a ruckus that is loud enough for Goodman to hear them as he takes a walk past their house and into the desolate woods. After a really hilarious tug-of-war between Goodman and Mrs. Kettleman, the bag of loot bursts open revealing the whole stash. See ya, guys! Seeing that fat wad makes you think of the scenes where Walter White is hoarding his many millions especially in Breaking Bad's later seasons. The whole thing plays out in taut fashion and relies on Odenkirk's portrayal of Goodman as a person of real humanity and heroism. Of course, if it weren't for Mike, this whole thing could have played out quite differently.
"Nacho" really expands on the show's early strengths in all the right ways but this episode depicted a tonal change-up that was slow to arrive and get going compared to many of the more unforgettable moments like Tuco's psychopathic desert torment in last week's showstopper. I am eagerly awaiting just how far "Better Call Saul" is willing to challenge us week in and week out and hope that it keeps the trajectory.