Never forget Saul Goodman.
If the first season of AMC’s Better Call Saul explained the “why” of con artist-turned-lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) transition to lawyer-for-criminals Saul Goodman, then Season 2 is looking to examine the “how.”
Full spoilers for the Season 2 premiere continue below.
It’s fitting, then, that the title of Better Call Saul’s Season 2 premiere is called “switch.” The episode picks up moments before the end of Season 1 as we see Jimmy grappling with the realization he doesn’t need to appease his lying older brother anymore and can be just as felonious as he desires. The viewer follows him as he shuts down the offer to join the new firm, and again sees him asking his rhetorical question to Mike (Jonathan Banks) about why they didn’t just keep the million dollars when they had it in their grasp.
But like many parts of Jimmy’s life, “Switch” revolves around his relationship and attachment to Kim (Rhea Seehorn) — and hers to him. After he declines his best opportunity to become a lawyer, he takes a mini-vacation at a nearby hotel and Kim follows him there. They have a wild night when he shows her how his smooth-talking charm can get them whatever they want for free by taking advantage of schmucks. Despite that whirlwind experience resulting in a night of passion for the pair, Kim flat out tells Jimmy that no one can sustain a life like this.
At first, it’s clear Jimmy doesn’t think so. This origin of the man who eventually becomes Saul Goodman shows that he thinks this lifestyle is sustainable, and he wants the freedom to pursue that to his own glee. His naivety perfectly parallels the journey of the bumbling drug dealer Pryce (Mark Proksch) — who we now know is named Daniel — who has no restraint when it comes to the showing off the success he’s having pill dealing to Nacho (Michael Mando). When he arrives to pick up Mike in a flashy yellow Hummer, they come to odds and Daniel decides he can go to a meet with Nacho without Mike as his support. As a result, he is too trusting to see how Nacho will take advantage of his innocence (or stupidity, depending upon how you look at it), and thus earns the suspicions of the police.
Of course, the literal reason this episode earned the title “Switch” was because of the final moments of the episode. After his and Kim’s wild night at the hotel, Jimmy decides to take Davis and Main’s deal to join their law firm. It turns out it’s everything he could have hoped for: corner office, company car, completely customizable job experience. But Jimmy can’t resist breaking the one quiet rule set for him: don’t turn off the light switch in his office for any reason. He does, and no one notices; the world keeps spinning as normal. It doesn’t have any obvious effect, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a difference; this is just reinforcing that Jimmy is the type of person who will actively try to work outside the constraints set for him, for better or worse.
While Jimmy is savvy in his trade, the audience knows the end of his story when he plays out of his league and ends up needing to retire the name Saul Goodman and fully leave the law practice he loves behind. The prologue of the premiere once again jumps to the black-and-white future of Gene, post-Saul Goodman. Like in the opening moments of the Season 1 premiere, the viewer watches Saul go through the motions closing up his Cinnabun. But when he accidentally locks himself in the trash room, he can’t bring himself to leave through the emergency exit and then need to confront the police.
Instead, he waits an indefinite period of time until the janitor eventually opens the door to let him out. It’s in these minutes or hours of confinement that Gene finds himself again faced with the undeniable truth of his existence: the name “Saul Goodman” might be retired, but that is who this character is at his core no matter what happens.
The return of Better Call Saul once again highlighted how Bob Odenkirk’s stellar performance as Jimmy/Saul/Gene is the heart of this series. As Season 1 became more and more tragic as we saw Jimmy try to resist the draw of unlawfulness that would eventually evolve him into Saul, Season 2 is off to an interesting start as we start to see these pieces come together to form the identity that would become Mr. Goodman. Perhaps because of how reliant Jimmy’s identity was on his older brother Chuck (Michael McKean) in Season 1, “Switch” had a much-needed respite from the manipulative older McGill after his big betrayal, thus setting up how Jimmy will change now that he’s out from his brother’s shadow.