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Better Call Saul: Season 2, Episode 1 – Switch Review

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★★★★★

It goes without saying that there are spoilers in this review, so don't end up looking like one of Slippin' Jimmy's marks.

Previously on... Before he was Saul Goodman, he was "Slippin'" Jimmy McGill, small-time shyster, con-artist and wannabe lawyer. The prequel to Breaking Bad follows the earlier days of Bob Odenkirk's hustler, the time before the confident, smug, fast-talking lawyer emerged to help the criminal masterminds of Albuquerque and to advise Bryan Cranston's Walter White. We're introduced to Jimmy, his various associates and the more twisted and tragic story of his older brother Chuck (Michael McKean), once the picture of success, now a shut-in suffering from (he claims) electromagnetic sensitivity. We see how Jimmy first crosses paths with the stoic fixer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and meet Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), the woman who inspires both love and lust in our main schlub. In the first season, Jimmy dabbled in helping criminals for the first time, including violent drug kingpin Nacho (Michael Mando) and, when given the opportunity, seems ready to drive off into the sunset and go back to his old life as a full-time con-man. Could the transformation into Saul be approaching quickly?

Switch, the first episode of season two, written and directed by Breaking veteran and Saul regular producer Thomas Schnauz, begins as season one did, with a tragicomic flash-forward to Saul's life post-Walter White et al. As the anonymous "Gene" slaving away in a Cinnabon, it's a monotone mini-movie of despair, and ends with Gene accidentally locking himself in with the rubbish bins at the mall, trapped because he can't risk using the emergency escape and summoning the police. So he spends hours overnight there, and when he emerges, he's carved the words "SG was here" into the wall... It's another beautifully judged opening, full of pathos, but also of punishment; Saul did this to himself with his criminal deeds, but we're not done learning how he got to that point.

Back in the "present" of the show, Jimmy has had a change of heart. He's suited and booted again, and seems interested in a job with a mainstream law firm called Davis & Main. But though they offer a compelling, bright future, he declines, still unsure about his place in life. Exiting the parking lot, he talks to Mike, working the barrier as always, and bemoans giving up the hefty sum of money they recovered during the last season.

Jimmy's clearly ready to make some changes, though. He heads back to the nail saloon whose back rooms serve as his office and living quarters, stopping as always (in a nice throwback to the first season) to drink from the cucumber water that the outraged manager keeps insisting is only for customers. When he reaches his office, he tears the cheap paper sign from the door.

Mike, on the other hand, has headed to his gig protecting the schlubby, somewhat dim but overconfident Price (Mark Proksch), who we met last season. The small-time rookie drug dealer (think Walter White, but with less sense) is enjoying the spoils of his illegal business and has invested in a flame-decorated yellow hummer. Disgusted by the showy vehicle, Mike declines to accompany Price on his latest meeting with Nacho the drug lord, and is summarily fired. If only Price had listened... Though the meeting with Nacho seems to go well, the smart criminal has used the chance of Price showing off his car to locate the identity documents, and now knows that "Price" is really Daniel Wormald... And knows where he lives. Pride is about to go before a very big fall, we fear.

As for Jimmy, he's enjoying his own spoils, living off the settlement he received after setting up a big class action lawsuit last season. He's floating away in a country club pool, enjoying drinks and eyeing up potential marks. Kim arrives and they discuss Jimmy's future: he doesn't think it lies in the law, but he's not sure where he might end up. Kim's naturally worried about him, but still puts her morals aside to join him in scamming a chatty, arrogant trader. In one of the more impressive deep cut references in a show known for them, the financial guru they bilk out of food and some very expensive tequila is Ken Wins (Kyle Bornheimer), who we originally stealing Walter White's parking space (and seeing his car blown up) in the Cancer Man episode from way back in Breaking Bad season one. Take a big gulp in your Breaking Bad references drinking game if you remembered him. And talking of drinking, the pricey tequila they're necking is also from the old show.

After their successful scam, Jimmy and Kim kiss and end up, as we find them the next morning, at her place. He wants her to help him con someone every night, and you can see Kim briefly consider it. But she has to work, and urges Jimmy to sort himself out too.

Price – sorry – Wormald, meanwhile, is suffering for his arrogance in thinking he didn't need Mike for backup. Nacho (or more likely his goons) have robbed him of priceless baseball cards and two police officers get suspicious when they notice that nothing else of value has been taken and the ransacked apartment has been left spotless near the couch. They discover a loose floorboard, with an empty compartment behind... which only raises their suspicions.

Jimmy's back at the pool again, spotting a potential whale of a mark – a bloated rich type whose beautiful wife/girlfriend is worried about his sunburn. He calls Kim to suggest a con, spinning an invite that takes on the metaphor of a watering hole. But then... He changes his mind again, and calls Davis & Main. Seems he's not quite ready to embrace the Slippin' Jimmy lifestyle just yet. Cut to the swanky law offices, and Jimmy's being given the tour as the new legal eagle. He reaches his office, and is offered the various perks - company car, food orders etc. Left alone to contemplate his new reality, he finds a switch in the wall with a taped-on warning to never turn it off. But he can't resist breaking the rules and flips the switch. Nothing happens. But it could be a harbinger of things to come.

Switch is a solid return to the world of Jimmy McGill, showing that the Better Call Saul team (which includes bosses Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould) are still figuring out quite how long it will take for Jimmy to morph into Saul. This is a quiet start to the season, and occasionally has scenes that seem to drag, but the show has always taken its time, as Breaking Bad did before it. And it's hard to complain when you have the quality of scripts, some beautiful camera work and the performances of people like Odenkirk, Banks and Seehorn. It's a complex dance of characters and the show has proved it can still keep the waltz playing.

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