Review: Better Call Saul – 1.3 – ‘Nacho’

Hail the cardiologist; the show has an irregular heartbeat. A tempered opening, followed by a brutal sequel has now been followed by a Zimmer-paced ‘Nacho’. Where’s it all going?

Week two, and my protest against the season not being released in one hasn’t subdued my appetite for it. Nevertheless, if ‘Nacho’ is a sign of things to come, you heard it hear first that AMC will do exactly what they did for the fifth season of Breaking Bad.

Cynical? Not really. Ask anyone if they’d like to watch Breaking Bad from start to finish or watch the best bits on YouTube and I’ll bet it’s the latter. BCS has moments of glory; total synchronisation of writing, style and the payoff of patience with beautiful characterisation that makes the rest seem a bit bland sometimes.

The opening of ‘Nacho is the former, offering an insight into Saul’s past that could be explosive if they take it further (and they always, eventually, tie up the loose ends). Is Saul some kind of sex-pest, a Peeping Tom or involved with a minor (something, as Prince Andrew will tell you, means different ages across the pond to here).

Vince Gilligan is an expert at constructing a villain from innuendos, and it would gladiatorial strike of iconoclasm to take someone as quirky, murky but ultimately harmless as Saul Goodman and deconstruct him as sexually perverse.

Would they do it? Probably not; sex crimes, unlike drug dealing and murder, is something that is wholly unpalatable to an anti-hero (The Comedian in Watchmen was a rapist, but an utter bastard used only to ignite the plot).

The episode then feels like the groundwork for something bigger. In the weeks to come, I would hazard a guess that the early episodes will be referred to as the ´pillow tossers´: the ones where Saul is bereft of sleep as he wrestles with his innate gifts for manipulation and opportunity versus with some semblance of a conscience.

On that note, particular praise must go to Bob Odenkirk. It would be a pleasure to meet him socially and see how deep his character immersion truly is. I wouldn´t call him a method actor, but he must surely be one of the most nimble actors on television. He is possessed of a rare gift for portraying stratified versions of Saul in different time periods (helped along nicely by the fact Odenkirk doesn’t age).

Jonathan Banks is also possessed of the same skill but I don’t think we fully saw it develop in Breaking Bad. Marvellous as he was there, but for occasional moments of cool and beautiful dialogue (‘no half-measures’ springs to mind) he was always a bit of a supporting character.

Here, Mike is visibly jaded and lethargic, even more so than normal. He doesn’t care. If Jimmy´s descent is an inevitability, Mike is something of a non-starter. We know something dubious happened that ended his police career, but how does that translate to a life of crime and drug lord enforcement? (Hot tip? Birth of his granddaughter and some painful scene of him not being able to afford health care or something similar lead him to search for monies beyond his pension)

Saul’s midnight call to his friend/former associate Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) was the most grating part of the episode. The combination of the crime scene, police tape, sidekick cliche and a last minute deus ex machina deduction is a direction I hope the show doesn’t make a habit of. Perhaps that’s my distaste for the tediousness of American legal dramas coming through.

Of the eponymous Nacho, it seems clear that he’s going to play a big part. Michael Mando is menacing, and if it wasn’t for the character’s tempter he’d be a knock-off Gus Fring and a scalpel to Tuco’s hammer. I have hopes this might be the big bad of the season.

Finally, the writing is crisp and superb. Odenkirk and the writers work in tandem. Saul is just comically brutal, locked in a moral wrestle that is funny, tragic, and dripped in pathos.

A fine third outing, let the addiction commence.

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