Better Call Saul Episode 1.3 “Nacho”
Directed by Terry McDonough
Written Thomas Schnauz
Starring Bob Odenkirk, Michael McKean, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Michael Mando, Patrick Fabian AMC
Air Date: Monday, February 16, 2015, 10pm
We all know Saul Goodman, the criminal lawyer — not criminal lawyer, from AMC’s mega-hit Breaking Bad. He’s unscrupulous, he’s shady, he’s somewhat cheesy, and he’s got a lot of underground connections, schemes, and burner cell phones. He knows how to manipulate the law in just the right way to get what he wants and to get his absolutely guilty clients off, or at least get their sentences drastically reduced. A guy like this has obviously been running his cons and gambles for quite some time to be able to get away with what his does — and in plain sight, as his face is all over billboards, benches, and TV commercials. Yet, in AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel/spin-off Better Call Saul, we learn that Saul only six years prior had been Jimmy McGill, a struggling public defender who couldn’t even pay $3 to park his car at the county courthouse.
How did down-on-his-luck screw-up Jimmy McGill become the savvy lawyer Saul Goodman after only a few years? It’s three episodes into Better Call Saul and the breadcrumbs to the underworld have been laid out for Jimmy’s transition into Saul.
Episode 1.3, “Nacho,” opens up with a dark flashback from 1992, the only splash of color being the blood red Cook County jail jumpsuit a handcuffed Jimmy is wearing. The street hustling Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) has been arrested in Chicago, IL, and charged with property damage, assault, and public nuisance, and could be labeled a sex offender for his crimes if convicted. Jimmy’s older brother, Chuck (Michael McKean) — who at this time is a respectable lawyer not mentally crippled by a mystery illness — travels from Albuquerque, NM, to come to his younger sibling’s aid once again, but this time he’s fed up and wants Jimmy to make a change. Terrified of what will happen to his life, lawbreaker promises Chuck he’ll do anything in return for his help — but what will Chuck want his troublemaking brother to do? Clean his life up and stop getting into arrested, that’s for sure, but is this how Jimmy eventually makes his way to New Mexico and into the law profession?
The rest of the episode takes place in Jimmy’s present-day of 2002, where he’s still contemplating what to do about Nacho’s offer to team up with him to rob the Kettlemans of the $1.6 million they embezzled. He’s living a pathetic existence in his tiny office in the back of a nail salon; he is low on funds; and is barely earning a living as a public defender, a job he obviously doesn’t enjoy. His day consists of haggling down charges with an aloof ADA and getting no respect from his peers, while each work day ends with an altercation with the court’s hard-ass parking lot clerk (Jonathan Banks reprising his Breaking Bad Mike Ehrmantraut character), who Jimmy likens to a bridge troll who demands “stickers” — parking validation stickers, that is, the correct amount of which the lawyer is always lacking. That the solicitor can’t afford to a pay meager few dollars necessary to park his beat-up 1998 Suzuki Esteem in a lot for the day reveals a lot about his status, and explains why in Episode 1.2, he would conspire with two knuckheaded skaters to pull an accident scam. It’s also why now he would even considering working with a dangerous thug like Nacho to steal money from the Kettlemans.
“Nacho” has Jimmy wrestling with his conscience half the time, which segues into him having to find out on his own what happened to the Kettlemans. Whether he lands on the side of right or wrong doesn’t make a difference if the cops trace a crime back to Nacho, which would eventually lead them back to him — whether he participated or not. Even more frightening than the cops is what Nacho will do to him.
Watching Jimmy’s character development each week and learning more about his history is enough to hook the viewer in. This week we learned about Jimmy’s (not Saul’s) shady past, but his transgressions must not have been all that bad if he is too naive to notice that the parking lot “troll” is not just a grumpy old grandpa — this is a man you do not want to trifle with.
While Jimmy might not make the best decisions and he might find himself in precarious situations, there’s no doubt that he’s smart, quick-thinking, and can talk his way out of a paper bag. Bob Odenkirk is so captivating as Jimmy McGill that the writers don’t even need to give him a storyline, they can just show him ordering a pizza or something as equally mundane and that would be enough. But, instead, we get rich dialogue, interwoven storylines, and a lot of fun, interesting scenarios.
I watched Better Call Saul Episode 1.3 several times, one of which was along with AMC’s online “Story Sync” which has bonus features playing along with each episode’s first airing. I found this to be a lot of fun, since I love the Jimmy/Saul character and the show has had me hooked since the first few minutes of the series premiere. With a show like Saul subsequent viewings always reveal tidbits that you didn’t notice the first or second time. Aside from the various Breaking Bad Easter eggs and other hidden gems, Jimmy’s frequent quotes from popular films is a nice touch for the character.
I can’t get enough of Better Call Saul and look forward to learning more about Jimmy McGill and his (under)world. I only wish this first season could be more than just 10 episodes.