‘Better Call Saul’ Breaks Bad: The Revenge of Tuco and An Homage to Walter White
The second episode of AMC’s spin-off series featured Walt and Jesse’s former nemesis, Tuco, as well as some serious Breaking Bad foreshadowing.
There are several rules you need to abide by if you want to make it out alive in Albuquerque meth country. Do not enter an imposing stranger’s home looking like a disheveled Wesleyan dropout and pitch a don’t tase me, bro!-esque fit in their living room. Do not mention “cops, or “la policia.” And by no means do you ever—EVER—refer to a Cartel-connected psychopath’s sweet, telenovela-binging grandmother as a “crazy old biznatch.”
The two idiotic skateboard-scammers of Better Call Saul, unfortunately, broke every damn rule in the book. And before you can say “abuelita,” the vicious Tuco Salamanca has grabbed his granny’s walker and knocked out the two knuckleheads.
Yes, when we last left ambulance-chasing attorney Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and his merry band of miscreants, they were in the midst of a confidence scam gone awry. The mission seemed simple enough. A skateboarder would bounce off the car windshield of Betsy Kettleman, while the other skateboarder would pretend to film it with a camcorder. Jimmy, client-less public defender that he is, would arrive on the scene and convince/blackmail the Kettlemans into representing them. You see, Betsy’s husband, Craig Kettleman, is the Treasurer of Bernalillo County and is about to be indicted on embezzlement charges after stealing $1.5 million. The case would be great press for Jimmy’s “A Law Corporation”—a dingy office housed in the back of an Asian nail salon.
Things don’t exactly go as planned. The skater-clowns choose the wrong vehicle and the driver takes off, with the brothers tracking the car down to a suburban home. After forcing their way inside, they discover that it’s the home of Tuco Salamanca—the primary antagonist of the first two seasons of Breaking Bad. Episode 2 of the spin-off series Saul, titled “Mijo,” opens with the “mopheads” being beaten, bound, and gagged. Then Jimmy enters the fray and has Tuco’s magnum trained on him. Fearing his cherished granny is being taken for a ride (“Are you punking my abuelita?”), he calls up his associates Nacho and No-Doze, and they take the trio of cons to the New Mexico desert.
“Mijo” is directed by Michelle MacLaren, who helmed some of the finest episodes of Breaking Bad (see: “To’hajiilee”), and has since been tapped to film the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. And the lensing in the desert is stunning, captured in pristine wide shots. One of the fascinating things about Vince Gilligan’s series has always been how, in a world of drab interiors and hiked-up khakis, the desert, with its seductive blue sky, is the most magnificent place and the most deadly.
So there Jimmy is, bound and gagged in the desert with Tuco’s wire cutter wrapped around his pinky. And it’s in this moment of desperation where we witness the first hints of the man who would be Saul. Since he’s been respectful and truthful to Tuco, his sharper associate Nacho convinces him to lay off Jimmy. But the skaters insulted his abuelita, so they must die. Off the hook and headed to safety, Jimmy’s moral compass kicks in. He spins around and heads back towards Tuco, painting a mile-a-minute sob story about how the two fellas are the children of a widow who (like his abuelita) walks around with a cane, and spends her days sponging the floors of the rich and loathsome. Tuco wants to give them Colombian Neckties (cutting their throats and pulling “their lying tongues through the slits”), but Jimmy offers a fair compromise.
“One [broken] leg each,” he tells Tuco. “A total of two legs. Now hey, look: They can’t skateboard for six months and they’re scared of you forever. You show everyone that you’re the man but that you’re fair. That you’re just.”
The Tuco abides, and gleefully breaks the fools’ legs.“I just talked you down from a death sentence to six months probation,” Jimmy tells one of the skateboarders afterwards. “I’m the best lawyer ever.”
This entire desert sequence is one big, riveting throwback to parent show Breaking Bad, from Tuco quietly confronting his compadre No-Doze for speaking out of turn (he eventually beats him to death for a similar offense) to Jimmy being bound and gagged and threatened with death in the desert.
During his debut “Better Call Saul,” otherwise known as Episode 8 of Breaking Bad’s second season, Saul Goodman gets caught in the crossfire between the DEA arresting Badger and meth cooks Walt and Jesse, with the latter donning ski masks, taking him out to a remote place in the desert, and threatening to kill him if he doesn’t give Badger “the best legal representation ever.” But Saul is cool—he has, apparently, been through this song-and-dance before—and not only recognizes that it’s Walt and Jesse, but ends up spinning the entire ordeal in his favor, serving as a consigliere to Walt and helping him launder his meth-made millions while keeping a nice cut for himself.
“You don’t want a criminal lawyer,” Jesse tells Walt, “you want a criminal lawyer.”
Of course, Jimmy isn’t Saul yet—he’s still a lowlife public defender who has to bribe the lady in the court office with beanie babies to bag cases, and is constantly harassed by the “troll” managing the parking lot, future co-conspirator Mike Ehrentrout, for not having enough time stamps on his validated tickets. He even needs to look himself in the bathroom mirror and quote Beetlejuice (“It’s showtime!”) to get his confidence up before entering the courtroom.
Other reveals in Episode 2 of Saul include his brother Chuck, a paranoid schizophrenic who’s deathly scared of modern technology, living like a hermit in a dark home without electricity. The former legal bigwig tosses Jimmy’s cellphone into his yard after he accidentally brings it into his Luddite den, before wrapping himself in a “space blanket” for protection against the radiation. We’re also treated to a highly stylized, dialogue-free sequence in which a shell-shocked-post-Tuco Jimmy is hitting on a buxom floozy at a restaurant/bar, only to have his concentration be interrupted by a symphony of cracked breadsticks. It’s a great scene that recalls the manic flair of Breaking Bad.
The amusing episode ends with Nacho tracking down Jimmy at his office and offering him a finder’s fee of 10 percent if he tells him where Craig Kettleman has stashed his $1.5 million. Jimmy seems tempted, but turns him down.
“I’m a lawyer, not a criminal,” he says, in a nod to the Jesse line.
Not yet. But Jimmy’s mojo is rising.