"You don't want a criminal lawyer. You want a criminal lawyer." -Jesse"Breaking Bad" is a show that's usually driven far more by character than plot, but every now and then we get an episode like "Better Call Saul" that moves the storyline dramatically forward. But what's great about it is how the plot is still motivated by what the characters want.
Badger, Jesse's knucklehead chief dealer, gets busted by an undercover cop (guest star DJ Qualls) -- after falling victim to the urban legend about cops having to identify themselves if asked -- and aspiring but largely clueless criminal masterminds Jesse and Walt have to turn to the city's most prominent sleazebag defense lawyer, the titular Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk, sporting a spectacularly ugly combover) to sort out the mess, which includes Hank trying to pressure Badger to flip on the mysterious Mr. Heisenberg.
When Walt and Jesse don ski masks and try to threaten Saul into getting Badger off without letting him rat on them, Saul asks the question anyone might ask of the drug lords these two claim to be: "Why don't you just kill Badger?"
In a traditional criminal enterprise of the scope that Walt wants to achieve, that'd be the simple answer: much less expensive than the scam Saul eventually puts together for them, and less complicated, too. And you can see Walt -- who, after all, has killed before, and who's been pushing the business expansion -- considering it, where Jesse -- who has yet to kill anyone, and who's been pushed into this by Walt -- will absolutely not have his friend killed, stupid or not. And because Walt needs Jesse -- and because he does, on some level, feel guilty for what he's done to the kid (specifically the Spooge incident), Walt yields, even though it wipes out virtually all of their profits to date.
But having helped them pull off this convoluted plan, Saul tries to insert himself as Tom Hagen to Walt's Vito Corleone, which could be either the best or worst thing to happen to Walt's criminal career to date. Saul knows how to get things done -- or at least gives the appearance that he does -- and could certainly point out all the mistakes we've all noticed Walt and Jesse making, in the same way that Maury Levy on "The Wire" was essentially the third leader of the Barksdale/Bell empire. But he also believes they're soft touches -- and has no idea that Walt killed Emilio and Krazy 8 -- and as Spooge's former lawyer he knows that Jesse's street rep is built on a lie. So he could view them as easy marks to bleed, in the same way (to continue "The Wire" comparison) Clay Davis swindled Stringer Bell.
And whether Saul turns out to be savior or scam artist, there's the larger matter of Hank. I was mistaken when I suggested last week that he would rise high in the El Paso office after surviving the exploding tortoise attack. Clearly, the survivors pointed out that Hank was having a freak-out right before the turtle shell blew, and so he's been sent back to the less dangerous -- but, for Hank, far more comfortable -- environs of Albuquerque. And even though he's still faking his way through the job (his psych-up routine in the elevator looked an awful lot like Jesse standing on Spooge's porch and rehearsing his threats), Hank's not stupid; he sees that something's all wrong with this Jimmy character being Heisenberg. Even if it's unfathomable to him that his goofy brother-in-law without the "experiential overlap" could be the drug lord he's looking for, I doubt he's going to stop looking, and unless Saul is as good as he claims, sooner or later Hank's going to cross Walt's path when Walt doesn't want him to, instead of vice versa.
Some other thoughts on "Better Call Saul":
• The scene where Walt shows up to help talk Hank out of the bedroom was very nicely-played by both Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris (and scripted by Peter Gould). The show keeps doing these moments where it seems like Walt is on the verge of confessing his criminal life to someone (the shrink, Skyler, Hank), and instead he manages to find a version of the truth that somehow doesn't include crystal meth but proves applicable to the situation. Though he's inexperienced at the crime game, in some ways, Saul Goodman could learn a lot from Walt when it comes to BS.
• Another call I was wrong on: that Skank would in some way be able to implicate Jesse in Spooge's murder. Instead, Saul calls it an open and shut case, so either she was so high she forgot "Diesel" was even there at all, or the cops decided it was so obvious she killed him that they didn't much care about her alternate theory of the crime.
• We get a major piece of the Jane puzzle when she tosses Jesse her 18-month sobriety chip. That both explains her initial reticence and her eventual attraction: she knows Jesse is bad for her, but her willpower only goes so far.
• I loved the return of the coin flip as the ultimate decider in any Walt/Jesse dispute. One of my favorite comic scenes from season one was Jesse ranting about the sanctity of the coin flip when they were arguing over who had to kill Krazy 8 and who had to dispose of Emilio.
• Skyler's largely off-screen this week, other than a glimpse of her showing off a lot of pregnant cleavage while preparing for a weekend business meeting with new/old boss Ted. I know there was some speculation last week that the thing with Ted was less sexual harassment than mutual flirtation (if not a full-blown affair); does that outfit send any kind of signal, or would it be logistically challenging for a woman in Skyler's condition to not put the girls on display a little?
• If you haven't already seen it, last week the LA Times had a story about the fake narcocorrido music video that opened "Negro Y Azul."
• James Poniewozik argued that "Breaking Bad" consistently has the best pre-credits sequence of any show on television right now, and I'd have to agree. The undercover sting on Badger was more low-key than things like the narcocorrido song, or all our glimpses of the burned teddy bear, but I admired how, in typical "Breaking Bad" fashion, it took its sweet time getting to the punchline, lingering forever (in a single shot) on Badger letting himself get outsmarted by the cop.
What did everybody else think?