Better Call Saul 2×01 ‘Switch’: Fight the power

Better Call Saul 2x01 Cover

I used to love punk music, bands like Anti-Flag and The Offspring and Rise Against. I still do, to some degree, but I look at it with a sort of nostalgia, a one-sided smile at a simpler time in my life. Now, when I listen to it, I can’t help but see the cracks in the façade. Yeah, I think that the government abuses the poor and the marginalized, and I think that people are manipulated by messages of patriotism and nationalism, but where I used to be angry, now I can’t help but sigh. As you get older, the weight of the world’s injustice gets bigger and heavier to the point that fighting against it seems pointless. Better put on my suit and tie and go to work, clocking my hours for the good of the Company. But it’s tough to not lash out, to not steal a granola bar from the Company office’s cafeteria, just as a little f— you to the man. It makes us feel better, like we have an ounce of control in our small, insignificant lives. But do we really have any control?

Better Call Saul 2x01-1

Source: AMC

Better Call Saul operates off of the same thematic overtones as Breaking Bad, emphasizing not only the inevitability of revolution, but also the inevitability of that revolution failing. At some point, the fun has to end and reality has to set in. And the longer that we distance ourselves from that reality, the closer we get to the cliff’s edge, the point of no return where all we can do is plummet. Sure, we can pull somebody back from that edge in the process, like Walt managed to do to Jesse, but our revolutions against the large systems that control our lives inevitably crumble before us.

Better Call Saul 2x01-2

Source: AMC

The end of Better Call Saul’s first season seemed like the revolution of Jimmy, his moment to “break free” of the systems at work and attempt to strike out on his own, but “Switch” seems to put a stop to that. Jimmy declines the offer he received in “Marco”, an opportunity to work for a prestigious law firm, and decides to live life as the con-man that he was back before his days as a lawyer. Of course, these are days that he looks back on fondly, but he doesn’t seem to remember that those days ended with him taking a dump through somebody’s sunroof and going to jail. It wasn’t quite the carefree life he remembered. But he crafts this façade where it is, just as he did in “Marco”. He creates these microcosms of what he believes his past to be, emphasizing the good times and forgetting the bad.

Better Call Saul 2x01-3

Source: AMC

It’s what he does when he cons the investment adviser with Kim, playing up a good scheme just for the fun of it (all he really gets out of it is expensive tequila and food), having a great night where he finally sleeps with her. It’s essentially the same thing he did with Marco (minus the romance), seducing somebody to return to the good old life that he remembers, but here he isn’t energized enough to revolt. Here, after Kim goes back to work, Jimmy lays in the pool, isolated on his little floating island, no direction or purpose anymore. Sure, it’s fun to be in your twenties and aimless, but when you’re older and you’re thinking more intently about legacy, about life being wasted, then that aimless life becomes less appealing. Jimmy likes to life that way when he has somebody with him, somebody to validate that style of life, but being by himself takes away that validation. Really, Jimmy hasn’t suffered enough to break free from the life that was made for him. It took Walt until he had a death sentence in Breaking Bad. When Jimmy goes back to that office and takes that job, he’s giving in, unable to escape the life that his brother influenced, unable to figure out how to craft a life for himself.

Better Call Saul 2x01-4

Source: AMC

This ties into Mike’s separate story, where he warns Price (the ridiculous pharmaceutical dealer from last season) to quit being greedy and lazy, that it will cause him harm. This is after Price shows up in a ridiculous Hummer to take Mike to the meet with Nacho, something that Mike immediately balks at. Price is at the opposite end that Jimmy is, enamored by his ability to revolt against the pitiful life that he leads (which we don’t really get insight into, but judging from how frumpy he is and his job as a tech guy, it’s pretty clear that he’s looking for a way to revolt). Only that revolting exposes him to dangers that he’s completely unaware of. It’s his hubris that dooms him, being okay with letting Nacho into his car, being unaware of the very real protection that Mike gives him during the meets. Both of those lead to Nacho trashing Price’s house and stealing all of the drugs out from under him. But it’s even more than hubris. It’s the inability to self-reflect. Price can’t be honest with himself (the same way that Jimmy can’t), and that inability makes it impossible to see just how easy it is for petty revolutions to come crashing down.

Let’s go back to that intro, that black-and-white flash-forward. Jimmy locks himself in the garbage room, a locked door blocking his way. But there’s an emergency exit on the other side of the room, a way out, only opening it will alert the police. It’s an impossible decision: on one hand you have screaming and pounding and hoping that somebody hears you, and on the other you have risk and the potential for losing everything. We all have the ability to make that decision in our lives, and the vast majority of us sit there until somebody gets us, scrawling an “I am here” message on the wall, our pathetic way of asserting that we are here in the world.

Just as Jimmy flips the switch to no response at the end of the episode, our own personal revolutions are often voiceless, aimless, no one around to notice that we’re suffering. But we still revolt, hoping that one day our anger and our rage will mean something. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.

What did you think of the season premiere? Are you excited about the season’s direction so far? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • George Liapes

    I thought this was a great episode! Loved the continuation of the black and white flash forward that featured Saul in the future. Think they’ll continue showing these kinds of flash forwards every season premiere?

    However, while i loved the teaser and the juxtaposition that it provided, I think that the show would be better suited to leaving Saul’s final fate up to interpretation. I don’t really mind the references and character cameos in the show (Tuco and Ken Wins) since they at least contributed to some part of the story (Tuco to Nacho’s introduction and Ken to the con with Jimmy and Kim) but I’d like to see the show show less of them as it goes on to better establish itself as a standalone show.

    Can’t wait for next week and how Chuck factors into the story. Also, how Mike deals with the Nacho problem and how Jimmy toes the line between his safe firm job and illegal behavior (if his faking evidence from the promo is anything to go by).

    Also: the expensive tequila Ken was conned into buying was the same tequila Gus used in Salud back in Season 4.

    See you next week!

    • Michael St. Charles

      I really liked this episode too! I have a lot of hope for this season, and I think that it’ll go particularly well. It has such a strong grasp on its themes and it does such a great job explaining them (that opening scene was FANTASTIC).

      But yeah, I would also rather that Better Call Saul distanced itself from Breaking Bad a little more. It’s such a smart show and it does such a great job on its own.