A sense of foreboding hangs over the most recent episode of Better Call Saul, “Nacho,” which it establishes right at the start. Although knowing the eventual futures of characters in prequels often dissipates suspense, in the right hands it can be used as a useful storytelling measure. There are no half measures here. “Nacho” opens with Chuck McGill visiting Jimmy in jail for several offenses that include a possible sex offense. At first I expected this to be another flash-forward for the show like those from the series it originated from, but the reality of it being a flashback actually makes it more interesting to ponder. We already know that Jimmy will turn into a *criminal* lawyer by the time he makes his first appearance on Breaking Bad as Saul Goodman, so the dilemma of will he/won’t he with Nacho and the Kettleman’s money is never in question (then again would it have been anyway?), but this flashback seems to shed some light on how the dynamic between the McGill brothers will play out over this season.
Present day Jimmy is a do-gooder, a down on his luck and desperate do-gooder, but nonetheless one to the core, and it looks like it stems from his promise to Chuck at the jail to clean up his act. His hesitance to become a *criminal* lawyer rather than simply a criminal lawyer last week is now put into a different light beyond simple morality. He doesn’t want to let his brother down, who has clearly done a lot to repeatedly get him out of trouble throughout his life, but we know that’s about to happen sometime in the foreseeable. The flashback establishes a cycle of bad behavior for our protagonist, a point that’s further driven home by Bob Odenkirk’s more animated performance that feels more Saul than Jimmy.
Our foreknowledge also extends to Mike the parking man, though to a much smaller degree. We get glimpses of Mike’s true nature when Jimmy pushes him to far and customarily gets his arm in a twist, and later there are references to his past as a cop that are used to show how he begrudgingly understands Jimmy’s skepticism about the Kettlemans’ actions. So far, Better Call Saul has managed to avoid the pitfalls of most prequels, with a forced joke/scene that plays as “insider sports” for Breaking Bad fans. There are callbacks, for sure, but episode writer Thomas Schnauz weaves them in such a way that newcomers won’t feel out of the loop. The story beats work internally without having to lean on outside knowledge like a crutch.
But those moments are really only a small portion of “Nacho,” which primarily concerns itself with the impending robbery of the Kettlemans by Tuco’s man Nacho and Jimmy’s attempts to sabotage and then remedy the situation. Driving this mini-mystery/thriller is the fractured history between Jimmy and Kim Wexler (after their connection was only mentioned in passing last week), and also Jimmy’s previously mentioned apprehensiveness about aiding and abetting a thief. These two threads are sometimes intertwined to humorous effect, such as when Jimmy uses a paper towel roll to muffle himself while warning the Kettlemans and then later Kim asks if he did the sex robot voice.
But while Jimmy may not have too bright a mind he certainly has an intuition about him, even if it’s one fueled by his frantic desire not to fail Nacho and die. Nacho claims that although he performed surveillance on the Kettleman home he never kidnapped them, and using that claim in connection with clues in the house Jimmy deduces that the Kettlemans staged their kidnapping. He and Kim are at odds with each other given that they each represent both sides of the situation, though through their interactions springs forth hints of a reluctant understanding of Jimmy’s story on Kim’s part.
If the episode makes any misstep it’s in the song choice of Bobby Bare’s “Find Out What’s Happening” as Jimmy makes his trek through the hot New Mexico area in search of the Kettleman’s hiding place. Gilligan is no stranger to making pointed song choices, but there’s a time when being on the nose becomes too much. The song turns prophetic when Jimmy eventually stumbles across the family’s tent in the woods and the episode ends on an “a-ha” moment when he inadvertently spills the stolen money all over the place. Nothing’s ever too simple in this world.
EPISODE RATING: 8/10