Four Letter Nerd

Better Call Saul Season One Recap

Six days from today, “Better Call Saul,” the “Breaking Bad” spinoff that debuted last year on AMC, will premiere its second season. And I have decided to take on the task of recapping and analyzing each of season two’s ten episodes. But before doing that, let’s take a look at the major storylines of last season and how they set up the major players of the “Breaking Bad” prequel for the upcoming season.

(Spoiler alert: I mean, duh. It’s a season recap, so of course information is coming that would spoil the show if you haven’t seen it. But if you missed season one, you can head over to Netflix and catch up before coming back for my analysis).

Jimmy McGill, the Public Defender

Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) in court defending “The Morgue Head Trio.”

Before Saul Goodman became the attorney of drug dealers and top authority on the subject of money laundering in the greater Albuquerque area, he was Jimmy McGill, a struggling underpaid public defender whose office was the in backroom of a nail saloon forced to take on hopeless defendants, including “The Morgue Head Trio”: three teenagers who went into a morgue, cut the head off a dead body, and proceeded to do unspeakable things to the head (and I think that’s all I need to say about that).

But Jimmy gained a new confidence as an attorney after a life and death negotiation with Tuco, the drug supplier Walt and Jessie had dealings with in Season 1 and 2 of “Breaking Bad,” and a couple of brainless skateboarders. The two idiots were in a scam with Jimmy trying to blackmail Betsy Kettlemen (more on her later) into hiring Jimmy as her attorney. But they got the wrong car. Instead, they got Tuco’s grandmother. The genius skateboarders tried to get money from Tuco after his grandma committed a hit and run. But knowing what we know about Tuco, that horrible idea played out just as we expected it to: with the Lindholms tied up and facing death. But Jimmy, through negotiations, convinces Tuco to go light on the boys: just break their legs instead of killing them.


Jimmy convincing Tuco (Raymond Cruz) to spare the lives of Lars and Carl Lindholm (Stephen and Daniel Spencer Levine).

That very graphic bit of lawyer work inspired Jimmy to become the hardest working public defender in New Mexico. Constantly negotiating with the district attorney (in hallways, parking lots, bathrooms), Jimmy takes pride in working for those who can’t afford representation. And that pride increases his boldness in a longstanding fued Jimmy’s been fighting for years.

Howard Hamlin

Howard Hamlin(Patrick Fabian), left, and Kim Drexler(Rhea Seehorn), right, at the offices of Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill.

When Jimmy first passed the bar exam, he was working in the mailroom at his brother’s law firm, Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill. But Howard informed Jimmy that the firm would not be hiring him on as an attorney.

Jimmy’s bitterness (which we will discover later was directed at the wrong person) towards Hamlin spills out in various situations, but none more hilariously than Jimmy’s attempt to take on Howard’s image. Using money he received in a bribe from Betsy Kettlemen (once again, more on her in just a bit) Jimmy bought a billboard using Howard’s hair, suit, teeth(yes the exact same teeth) and HHM’s identical colors and font. Jimmy’s stunt forces Hamlin to take action that proves successful, forcing the billboard to come down.

The stunt Jimmy uses to get much needed publicity for his practice.

But it appears Jimmy expected that, hiring a man to fall off the billboard while working on it so Jimmy could swoop in and play the hero while he was conveniently filming there.

             This article brought Jimmy publicity and a string of potential clients.

The publicity Jimmy gained from the staged event opened up significant business for the one time struggling public defender. But one pair of clients remained elusive throughout the first season.

Craig and Betsy Kettleman

County Treasurer Craig Kettleman(Jeremy Shamos) and his wife Betsy(Julie Ann Emery), meet with Saul to discuss their legal situation.

Taking the prize for biggest morons Jimmy interacted with in Season One (and there was stiff competition for that prize to win considering the competition from “The Morgue Head Trio” and the Skateboard Con Artists who called Tuco’s grandmother a “bizznitch”) were the Kettleman’s. Craig was the County Treasurer under whose watch 1.6 million dollars disappeared. Now, it was obvious from their first appearance that Craig stole that money. But if he didn’t steal it, isn’t it worse to have 1.6 million dollars disappear when your whole job is to keep up with that 1.6 million dollars?

But Betsy is very clear with everyone she talks to that they are innocent and will only accept a lawyer who will fight for that “innocence” in court. After turning Jimmy down on two separate occasions (including once after bribing him to keep quiet about money he found on a “camping trip” the Kettlemans took a fair distance behind their backyard), they came crawling back when HHM attorney Kim Drexler (a very close friend of Jimmy’s) insisted their best deal was to plead guilty and return the money. Because of the leverage held over him for taking the bribe, Jimmy took the case. But out of loyalty to Kim, he found a way to get the Kettlemans to go back to HHM with the help of one of the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe’s best characters.

Mike Ehrmantraut

Mike Ehrmantraut(Jonathan Banks) manning his parking attendant job, the main location we see him for the first half of season one.

In my opinion, the best part of Season One was the backstory of Mike, the ex-cop from Philly who did lots of dirty work for Gus, Saul, and Walt on “Breaking Bad.” But as it turns out (though not unsurprising), Mike was a dirty cop in Philly, just like every other cop in his precinct. That is, every cop but his son, Matty. Because of Matty’s unwillingness to embrace the practices of the precinct, his two partners had him killed.

Knowing it was Matty’s partners who murdered him, Mike kills them before fleeing to New Mexico, where the series starts with him tormenting Saul over proper parking validation procedure. But Mike’s past caught up with him when two detectives from his former precinct show up to question him about the murders. Jimmy come to Mike’s aid as his lawyer and the seeds for an occasional partnership are sown.

In lieu of payment for his services, Mike assists Jimmy in stealing the Kettleman’s stolen money and using it to make them go back to Kim and accept the deal she negotiated for them.

While babysitting his granddaughter Kaylee, Mike begins to realize the struggles Matty’s widow is having financially. Through a vet where he gets a dog for Kaylee, Mike comes across a “business opportunity:” protecting a pharmacist named Price who stole prescription drugs and now wants to sell them on the black market. Price has never committed a crime and is clueless about the whole enterprise (and many other things I believe). So Mike is pivotal in walking him through the process. They meet with Nacho (levelheaded adviser to Tuco who I will have more to say about in the last section) and make the sale (a sale Nacho does not want Tuco to know about).

Mike and Nacho

Mike, Price(Mark Proksch), and Nacho(Michael Mando) meeting to discuss a deal.

Mike appears to have found his new “career” and I look forward to more of Mike on the job in season 2.

Sandpiper Crossing

Jimmy pointing out concerns about the bills the residents of Sandpiper Crossing are paying.

With the Kettleman’s settlement in the rearview mirror, Jimmy returned to elder law, the direction his practice took following the billboard stunt. While meeting with one of his clients, Jimmy noticed that Sandpiper Crossing, the company running her current residence, were overcharging.

When he returned to gather more information, Jimmy was greeted by a new policy prohibiting lawyers from soliciting business on the grounds of Sandpiper. And behind a locked door with the curtains pulled down, a woman is shredding documents (once again, the people Jimmy has the “privilege” of running into are complete buffoons. I mean, could you not pause the shredding of those documents until AFTER the lawyer sniffing around your corrupt company leaves?)

Jimmy does a little dumpster diving (which proved hilariously unnecessary since the shredded documents were in the paper recycling bin) and gathers the pieces back to his lawyer brother Chuck’s place. Chuck pieces them together and a meeting is called with Sandpiper’s lawyers. The evidence in the documents is enough for Chuck to lay down the gauntlet to Sandpiper: “pay $20 million dollars, or we will see you in court.”

Jimmy can finally envision himself as a real lawyer, handling high profile cases by the side of his brother. But Jimmy was completely unaware of a very powerful force that’s been working against him this whole time.


Chuck(Michael McKean) and Jimmy looking over the Sandpiper documents.

The major reveal of the first season was that Jimmy’s brother Chuck, the man Jimmy took care of as he struggled through his “illness,” has been the main reason Jimmy has found it so difficult to break into the legal profession. In fact, it appears Chuck is the main reason Jimmy will become Saul instead of a lawyer of solid reputation. If Chuck would have allowed HHM to hire Jimmy after he passed his bar or been ok with Jimmy helping his firm with the Sandpiper case, maybe Saul Goodman never airs a single commercial.

Chuck is Jimmy’s brother who claims to suffer from “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity.” He has a great reputation amongst the law community in Albuquerque and an exceptional knowledge of legal precedence. But Chuck’s law career grinds to a halt because of his unwillingness to expose himself to anything with electromagnet waves. He won’t leave the house nor have any electricity in his home or own a cellphone, making it pretty difficult to practice law.

Jimmy comes by regularly to take care of his brother, who bailed him out of a very dicey legal situation in Cicero, Illinois. And Jimmy receives council and advice from his brother throughout the season in his work as both a public defender and while practicing elder law. But the Sandpiper case seems to revive Chuck to a point where he can go outside for just a bit and avoid the freaking out he experiences in previous episodes. And the case becomes so huge that Jimmy thinks HHM is needed to be able to handle it. Of course, Jimmy assumed he would be a part of those proceedings. But HHM just wants the case, not Jimmy. One phone call from Chuck made sure of that.


Chuck sneaking out to make a phone call ensuring that Jimmy would not continue with the Sandpiper Case.

As it turns out, Chuck never respected Jimmy as a lawyer. He’s the reason HHM didn’t hire Jimmy when he passed the bar and made sure HHM would not include him once they took over the Sandpiper case. He doesn’t think Jimmy has worked hard enough to get where he (Chuck) is and still believes the lawyer version of Jimmy is no different than “Slippin’ Jimmy” from Cicero, Illinois.

You are not a real lawyer! University of American Samoa for Christ’s sake? An online course? What a joke! I worked my ass off to get where I am! And you take these short cuts and suddenly you’re my peer?! You do what I do because you’re funny and you can make people laugh?! I’ve committed my life to this! You don’t slide into it like a cheap pair of slippers and then reap all the rewards!

Chuck in episode 9, explaining why he never wanted Jimmy to become a lawyer.

Slippin’ Jimmy

Marco (Mel Rodriguez) and Jimmy reuniting during Jimmy’s return to Cicero.

Before moving to Albuquerque, Jimmy was a con artist who, with his friend Marco(You might recognize him as Todd from “Last Man on Earth”) scammed patrons of local bars. But Jimmy ran into some legal trouble when, while intoxicated, he performed a “Chicago Sunroof” (pooping through an open sunroof of a parked car) on the car of the man Jimmy’s wife cheated with and left him for. The problem was the man’s children were sitting in the backseat, opening up the possibility of Jimmy being charged as a sex offender. But while Chuck was able to get Jimmy out of those charges, “Slippin Jimmy” had to leave his old persona behind.

But after discovering his brother’s sabotage of Jimmy’s attempts to rebuild his life, he heads back to Cicero to see his old buddy. Jimmy and Marco get back into the con game and Jimmy agrees to relive one of their best cons from the glory days (the fake rolex scam from Episode 4). But Marco has a heart attack and dies during the con.

A grieving Jimmy comes home to a job offer from another law firm. But instead of accepting the offer, Jimmy recalls the $1.6 million in stolen money him and Mike took from the Kettleman’s, but didn’t keep. Inspired by his recent return to the con game, Jimmy turns down the law firm’s offer and ponders why he gave all that money back. His response: “Whatever stopped me from taking it is never stopping me again.”

Heading to Season 2…

-Jimmy ended Season 1 taking a giant step to becoming Saul. How much closer will he get in Season 2?

-Will more be said of the history of Jimmy and his close relationship with HHM attorney, Kim Drexler?

-Will Chuck return to the courtroom or stay locked up in his house? And will his relationship with Jimmy fray further this season?

-How many more adventures of the Mike and Price Show will we experience in Season 2? Will Mike upgrade to a better partner than the bumbling pharmacist before the end of the season?

-Season 1 featured “Breaking Bad” characters Tuco and two of his henchmen, No-Doze and Gonzo. One of my first observations was his level headed advisor, Nacho, never appeared in “Breaking Bad.” Will Nacho’s solo missions (the attempt to steal the Kettleman’s money and the drug deal previously mentioned) create a divide between him and Tuco?

-And will any other characters from “Breaking Bad” appear in cameo, recurring, or regular status this season?

Better Call Saul premieres Monday night on AMC. I’ll have recap of the season premiere up next Tuesday.


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Jeff Merrick

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