The first lesson of Better Call Saul! episode 2, “Mijo,” is that you do not call Tuco Salamanca’s grandma a “biznatch.” You do not. You can call the cops. You can demand dinero. But you do not. Call. Grandma. Biznatch.
For Breaking Bad fans, this goes without saying. For those of you new to Tuco and his business methods, this episode is all about where it lands you.
We backtrack a few moments from the conclusion of last night’s series premiere. With the twins towering behind her and everyone looking hard at Tuco, Abuelita whimpers with worry. Tuco sends her up to watch her program — turn it up nice and loud! — then knocks the mouthy intruders out cold with her cane. And when Abuelita comes back down the stairs, she finds her Mijo on his knees, scrubbing a “salsa” stain out of the white rug, twins nowhere to be found. It’s a decent-sized stain, but not necessarily one that indicates murder.
Tuco dispatches Grandma back upstairs — yes, he WILL use club soda on the stain — then grabs his phone. “Bring No-Doz and tell Nacho to bring his van,” he says. Then there’s another interruption. Officer of the Court at the door. And trying to peek through your filmy white curtains.
As we saw last week, Tuco yanks Jimmy inside and sits him down — no, grandma, he WILL NOT let the stain dry. Jimmy eyes the red blotch and begins to make his case. Long story short: Just let him collect the mopheads (if they still have heads) and Tuco will never hear from any of them again. When he comes up for air, Tuco speaks.
“Wow,” he says. “You got a mouth on you.”
“Thank you,” gulps Jimmy McGill. It is what’s gotten him this far.
“Get up,” says Tuco.
Tuco marches Jimmy out to the garage, where the twins are on the floor, bound and gagged with tape. Tuco hands Jimmy his blade and motions for him to … free them. Whew!
Jimmy isn’t the only one with a mouth on him. Instead of freeing his would-be clients’ hands and leaving the duct tape muzzles in place, just in case, he starts with the pie holes and is immediately punished for the lapse in judgement: “It was him. It was all his idea!” crows the cameraman twin.
It earns everyone a trip to the desert in Nacho’s van.
Again, Jimmy must ramble for his life. He explains that he was after the missus of the corrupt county treasurer — not Abuelita — to con his way into the high-profile case he needs. The plan went wrong; the joke’s on him. Simple as that. Tuco heads back to the van and fetches a toolbox, settling on a wire snip. Jimmy wants to know what for and an answer isn’t fast enough in coming.
“Use your words,” says Jimmy. Jimmy gets words.
Tuco obliges. “I smell pork,” he seethes, setting the cutter on Jimmy’s pinkie and demanding to know if he’s FBI or DEA or what. Neither, says Jimmy. Lawyer. Period. Check the matchbook in his pocket. “I’m a known quantity,” he howls.
No? Not buying it? OK, then he’s FBI agent Jeffrey A. Steele, chasing down a major drug kingpin. While Tuco celebrates being king, Nacho (Michael Mando, Orphan Black) takes a look at the guy in front of him. He quizzes the “agent” about what exactly he is after, realizes Jimmy is just what he says and tells Tuco to let them go. Nothing to be gained here.
Yes, says Tuco, there is. Justice for Abuelita, who is most certainly not a biznatch. Unh!
McGill is dispatched back to the car, without his charges. Tuco believes he might skin them.
Jimmy does what Jimmy does best — talks. He tells Tuco that the boys are the apple of their hardworking, cane-using mother’s eye. They might be idiots, but they’re her idiots and she loves them, just like Abuelita loves Tuco. You’re all about justice, he tells Tuco. Doing what’s right. Let the punishment fit the crime. All they did was trash talk. Give them a black eye or a sprained ankle and a lifetime’s worth of bad memories for their efforts.
If you didn’t know what a Columbian necktie is, you do now. But the mopheads are, thankfully, spared one. The price of calling Abuelita names is the broken leg one claimed to have in the first place. One for each. Crunch … and crunch.
Jimmy celebrates surviving the close call having drinks with a buxom babe in a low-cut shirt — but the sound of crunchy bread sticks snapping like bones is all our poor hero can hear. And he, literally, cannot stomach it.
Jimmy apparently spends the rest of his evening self-medicating that sound away and when he arrives at Chuck’s and his brother calls out “Did you ground yourself?” there is no response. There’s no grounding either. Jimmy drops trou and face-plants on the sofa, his cell phone spilling from his pants pocket. Chuck reacts like it’s a dead animal. Or a body part. Grabbing a pliers, he flings the phone out into the yard, then comes back inside where he also finds the bill for the boys’ broken legs. Nothing good has happened here.
When Jimmy comes to the next morning, he finds Chuck gazing at him, wrapped in a shiny silver space blanket. The best moments in the show thus far happen here in this house. The brothers discuss Jimmy’s missteps from the night before and the younger assures the elder that he is not backsliding into Slippin’ Jimmy’s ways. Speaking of backsliding. Take off the space blanket, Chuck. He can’t. It helps. Take the blanket off, Chuck. Chuck does. Jimmy looks relieved.
And when he goes to search the yard for his phone, Chuck pulls the blanket right back on.
Life goes back to normal. Cups of coffee. Oddball clients. Stabs at courtroom greatness. Not enough parking stickers to please Mr. Ehrmantraut. And then one day, when Jimmy gets back to his backroom office and preps himself for a little booze-fueled nap, a customer arrives. Or maybe not. It’s Nacho, thinking about what he heard in the desert regarding the Kettlemans and their unearned millions. He plans to relieve them of it, noting that he likes stealing from stealers because they don’t run to the cops. All Jimmy has to do is tell Nacho where to find the spoils and Nacho will cut him in — a ten percent finder’s fee. A cool hundred thou for a quick bit of info.
“Why would you come to me for that?” wonders Jimmy, looking genuinely wounded at the ding on his integrity. Because you already tried to rip them off, Nacho tells him. Just finishing what you started. Jimmy protests that he didn’t want the Kettleman’s money — he wanted their business. To earn their money, legit. Not to scam them out of it. And by the way, he has no idea where they’re stashing the siphoned cash.
Smart guy like you can figure it out, reasons Nacho.
“I’m a lawyer. Not a criminal,” says Jimmy. This may be the last time that’s true.
Nacho reminds Jimmy that he convinced Tuco to spare his life, and now the lawyer wants to trifle about the business at hand? Jimmy holds his ground. He’s grateful. If Nacho ever needs a lawyer, he’s his man. But no go on being party to the crime.
Nacho gets up and writes his digits on a matchbook, flicking it Jimmy’s way: “For when you figure out you’re in the game.”
I’ve heard complaints from Bad fans who have no patience for this wobbly journey to Saul-dom and want this series to get as down and dirty as the place we first met Goodman and quick. This episode hints that the journey is underway. But in the meantime, I’m relishing this struggling, noble Jimmy — determined to do what’s best for his brother and his clients and clearly longing to become a lawyer of Chuck’s stature. He’s every bit as fascinating as the shyster he will become. And I hope we take a long, long time to get there.
New episodes of Better Call Saul! premiere Mondays at 10/9CT on AMC.