Better Call Saul recap: Mr. McGill meets his new ‘Mijo’

“This is not Slippin’ Jimmy.”

How many aliases can one man have? Better Call Saul is testing that question, as it takes a man we once knew as Saul Goodman, will one day know as Gene the Cinnabon manager, currently know as Jimmy McGill, who once was infamous in Indiana as the scheming Slippin’ Jimmy.

Mr. McGill would have his brother Chuck believe that the days of Slippin’ Jimmy are gone. But we know better. Episode two of the Breaking Bad spinoff sees Jimmy slipping and sliding his way through a sticky situation with Tuco Salamanca, the world’s greatest known opponent of the chili-pepper, and a man so out of his mind as to extinguish cigarettes on his own tongue from time to time.

What is Tuco doing in the mix here, anyway? As it turns out, the reason is nothing more than a cruel cosmic joke. Rewind to the premiere: Jimmy hired two skateboarding siblings to pull one over on Betsy Kettleman, the wife of a county treasurer who stole $1.5 million from the state. Their mission was to skateboard into Betsy’s car, set up a situation where Saul can swoop in as her hero, and sweep her off her feet as his new prize client. The twins played their part perfectly, but they got the wrong car — the very, very wrong car.

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The car belongs to Tuco Salamanca’s grandmother — his “abuelita,” as he calls her — and when the brothers follow her home, Tuco finds nothing funny about the scam these two “biznatches” are trying to pull. He beats them down and ties them up, spilling some “salsa” on his carpet as a result. Before long, Jimmy McGill shows up at Tuco’s, and he’s one wrong sentence away from joining the bound-and-gagged brothers in Tuco’s basement.

It gets worse. Tuco, unhinged as ever, brings Jimmy and the twins out to the desert, fully intending to put bullets in their brains, if not worse. He even mistrusts Jimmy, thinking he’s a federal agent. Jimmy doesn’t help his case, creating yet another alias for himself as FBI agent Jeffrey A. Steel of “Operation Kingbreaker,” in a bid to stop Tuco from killing a lawman. The ruse fails, because as gullible as Tuco is, his right-hand man Nacho is no dummy. Nacho sees through Jimmy’s lies, and forces Jimmy to spill the beans about the scam, and about the Kettleman family’s stolen fortune.

Tuco reluctantly agrees to let Jimmy live, but the twins aren’t so lucky. Tuco prepares to kill them both, furious over their disrespect of his precious abuelita. For his part, Jimmy’s thrilled to still have his head on his shoulders, but when he sees what Tuco has planned for the boys, he feels obligated to step in.

What follows is an impromptu trial, with windswept sand and cacti replacing the court room, with Tuco serving as judge, jury and executioner. Jimmy appeals to Tuco’s ego — “You want justice, but you’re fair!” — and talks the psychopath down from giving the kids Colombian neck-ties to a lesser Hammurabian sentence: “One leg each,” they agree.

It’s a lucky break for everyone involved, even if the broken twins don’t immediately agree. Later, Jimmy goes on a date. It does not go well. Nearby diners crack into breadsticks, and the harmless act brings the sickening crunch of broken legs back to mind. From there, it’s a quick trip to the bathroom, an unhealthy amount of vomiting, and an even unhealthier amount of drinking.

Jimmy goes home to brother Chuck’s house, piss-drunk. He passes out on his couch, and wakes up to an awkward conversation: Chuck, wrapped in a space blanket, is concerned that his little brother is backsliding into his Slippin’ Jimmy ways.

Better Call Saul-003

“I’m not backsliding,” Jimmy insists. “This is not Slippin’ Jimmy.”

But the lie hangs heavy in the room; the little McGill isn’t fooling anybody. Chuck isn’t fooling anybody for that matter, either. Jimmy becomes Snarling Jimmy, as he stares at his brother with menace and repeatedly commands: “Take off the space blanket.” Chuck complies, but as soon as Jimmy leaves the house, the blanket comes right back on.

Life goes on. Jimmy tries again to find some semblance of normalcy, working small cases at the court house, doing anything he can to keep his head out of the desert, to drown out the sounds of splintered bones, to forget how close he came to suffering a similar or worse fate. But lying down in his cramped office/apartment, in the back of a Chinese beauty parlor, Jimmy can’t even catch more than a wink before the recent past comes back to haunt him.

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In comes the first walk-in Jimmy’s encountered in who knows how long, and it’s not who he wants to see: Nacho. Tuco’s savvy associate has tracked Jimmy down, and mercifully, he’s not here for a pair of broken legs. He wants to know more about the Kettlemans, because he plans to steal their stolen $1.5 million. But Jimmy wants nothing to do with it, even though Nacho offers a handsome 10-percent finder’s fee. Nacho, amused with Jimmy’s righteousness, leaves the office — and he makes it clear that if Jimmy squeals about the plan, the lawyer could earn a Colombian necktie after all.

But even after rejecting the offer, Jimmy stands in his doorway, watching Nacho leave. You can almost hear the word “Wait!” choking in his throat, the dollar-signs shining in Jimmy’s eyes. “This is not Slippin’ Jimmy.”

Take off the space blanket, guy. Righteous Jimmy isn’t fooling anyone.

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