What we’ve come to forget is the fact that the journey is more important than the destination. Even if a storyteller is incapable of sticking the landing, none of it would matter had they failed to keep us captivated in the first place. It goes further than that, too; while we’re always loath to discuss spoilers at times, it’s very possible to be spoiled and still enjoy the ride. Better Call Saul, the prequel spin-off to AMC’s Breaking Bad, is the poster child for this idea. Our knowledge of these characters extends far into the future in a bizarre, almost oracular way. But this hardly ruins the experience. Indeed, it intensifies it. Better Call Saul: Season Two is a feast for drama fiends: it’s got unforgettable performances, top-notch writing, and a sense of unshakable confidence that hooks you from the start and does not let go.
Despite all the best, most honest efforts of James M. McGill, Esq. (Bob Odenkirk), the game is rigged. Despite spearheading the beginning of a class-action lawsuit against a retirement home, he is never going to be accepted into the fold at Hamlin, Hamlin, & McGill. The worst part of it? Almost all of it is due to the treachery of the "M" in HHM: Jimmy's ungrateful, egotistical brother Chuck (Michael McKean). But as quick as we are to judge Chuck for being terrible (and make no mistake, he is every bit the smug prick we believe him to be), he knows Jimmy better than we do; while the viewer shouldn't be inclined to forgive Chuck's despicable Season One act, Season Two helps the viewer understand why Chuck sees Jimmy the way he does. Of course, on the other hand, while we know Jimmy has a history of dishonesty and criminal activity, we also know that he is capable of great things. So all in all, it's just a really bad situation for the brothers McGill.
So with Chuck’s betrayal serving as the most obvious catalyst for Jimmy’s transformation into Saul Goodman, you might think that that transformation would be a great deal quicker than Walter White’s transformation into drug kingpin Heisenberg. Well, that might be the case, but Season Two takes it slow, treating that emotional confrontation near the end of the last season as a festering splinter. Jimmy's initial mistrust of (and overt hostility to) HHM partner Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) has turned out to be unfounded. Through a combination of Howard's business clout and the advocacy of sort-of-girlfriend / HHM litigator Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), Jimmy starts Season Two in a promising position: on the receiving end of a job offer from Davis & Main, a high-powered firm with an amazing office building and some real, tangible benefits. And since they’re being brought in to assist on the Sandpiper case, Jimmy has every reason in the world to give it his all. But lurking underneath the surface is a dangerous combination of the deeply-hurt but well-meaning upstart attorney and his con artist past self, Slippin’ Jimmy. Both are integral, undeniable parts of our hero, and neither can be fully contained anymore.
Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) is one of the most important and relatable characters from Breaking Bad. He’s a deeply intense family man, the consummate professional, and most notably, the one who calls out Walt on most of his bullsh*t. Every time the audience wants to tell Walt off, Mike is the only one who ever does so. His background as a dirty cop in Philadelphia was blown open in a brutally sad episode last season, and we have a better sense of the man’s motivations. As Gus Fring once said, "A man provides." Mike’s sole purpose in life is to provide for his son’s widow Stacey and her daughter Kaylee. And that means doing the jobs that he’s known to do. His continued business with the moronic, shortsighted pill pusher Daniel "Pryce" Wormald (Mark Proksch) leads to trouble, disillusionment, and a not-so-subtle push towards Ignacio "Nacho" Varga (Michael Mando) -- by proxy, the Juárez cartel and the Salamanca family…
Better Call Saul is often an intense, upsetting experience, and unlike its big brother show, it has little to do with the threat of horrible violence. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that we know where the two main leads ultimately end up. The near-total omniscience of the informed viewer (particularly those who watched all of Breaking Bad) helps foster a sense of inescapable dread. It’s this existential terror that has us constantly on the edge, waiting for the shoe to drop. We desperately, desperately want Jimmy and Mike to succeed, to earn their happy ending. But at the same time, we’ve already been shown that it just isn’t in the cards for either of them. And so all we can do is watch, hopelessly and helplessly.
The performances are superb across the board. Bob Odenkirk continues to show that he's the real deal: a comedian who happens to also have serious dramatic acting chops. Michael McKean is also in top form; his portrayal of Chuck brings to life a nuanced, complex, and oftentimes totally unreadable human being. Jonathan Banks continues to own as Mike; I've never seen a single performance from the man that I didn't adore. The supporting cast is perfection, quite simply. And yes, if the list of special features hasn't spoiled it for you already, major characters from Breaking Bad continue to show up; if you don't want to be spoiled, I advise that you hold off on reading the rest of this review and until you've seen it.
Let's talk special features. Regardless of which version you choose, you're guaranteed the requisite spread; cast and crew commentaries, gag reel, the table read for the premiere episode "Switch," an in-depth look at the often mesmerizing cinematography, and the original music. The Blu-ray version, however, contains loads of enrichment, and should be the obvious choice for people who are into the behind-the-scenes stuff. Supplementary materials include a look at the construction of the Davis & Main set, a conversation between Jonathan Banks and Mark Margolis (two titans of crime drama if there ever were), the making of a key late-season moment, the deconstruction of Jimmy and Kim's relationship, and the products of Davis & Main's ventures into television advertising. It's great stuff.
Better Call Saul: Season Two is fine television from start to finish, and if you're still clinging to physical media, it's loaded with those key incentives that make the offer ever more seductive. The road ahead for it Jimmy McGill is surely a painful one, but it's a journey we want to continue nonetheless. Vince and Peter, just keep doing what you're doing; I'm all in at this point.