“Uno” Season 1, Episode 1
Aired 8 February 2015
Director: Vince Gilligan
Writer: Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould
Seven years before Walt waltzed into Saul’s office, our favorite… criminal lawyer will continue to be portrayed by the gravelly Bob Odenkirk. But for this season and the greenlit second season we’ll be treat Saul pre-Saul despite the title (taken from the season 2 episode of the original Breaking Bad from off which this series spins). Better Call Saul was created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould.
First things first. The show is entitled Uno meaning one in Spanish. Uno is also a children’s card game.
In terms of the story arc, Uno probably refers to the split person of Jimmy and Saul. On screen Jimmy is constantly overtaken by his own shadow and reflected image. When Jimmy is on the edge of the shot, his shadow is in the center. Keep an eye out for this symbolism to recur as his reflection — Saul — finally consumes Jimmy by the end of the series.
We start the episode off in monochrome cluing into Saul’s new life after escaping Albuquerque at the end of Breaking Bad story arc. As promised, he’s working a dreary life at a Cinnabon in Nebraska.
As the monochrome continues we see our protagonist mixing and pouring himself a Rusty Nail Our displaced Saul is obscured behind the furniture, behind the blinds and behind a terrible mustache while he watches late-night television complete with the shaky-cam effect used on so much of Breaking Bad. Jimmy cycles through a blurb on a Renoir, a documentary on the African Pancake Tortoise and finally to a bleak weather report suggesting that the snow and likely the show is just getting started and to expect reduced visibility. Bad for Nebraska, but good for the viewers trying to force meaning out of every little line.
Saul’s been restricted to silence and squeaky furniture to speak for him until he digs out the VHS that finally places him for we the viewers: It’s a tape of his late-night infomercial for his Better Call Saul practice. His voice from the past is our first hint at the man who outlived Walt.
As color comes back we’re finding outselves in Jimmy McGill present day circa 2002. Sporting a better haircut (inexplicably) and a smarter suit (despite the questionable double-breast) he looks more respectable than his later Goodman persona who’s shirt colors were always a challenge to describe politely.
Defending losers, he loses his case and is more concerned about he low fee he receives for his hard work than to the outrageous crime just recounted in court.
If you hadn’t gotten the memo on the year we’re visiting, there are Beanie Babies. Beanie Babies in the background of one set. It must’ve been trouble for the prop department to agree on which twenty or so Babies would make the dressing, and I hope we’ll find Jimmy at the same window again and again.
We’re tricked into accepting that Jimmy owns a nice set of wheels when some nice editing brings us instead to a yellow Suzuki Esteem with a replacement orange back passenger door. Yellow, as you might recall from the Breaking Bad days, is the color associated with the meth trade. Jimmy’s not there yet, though, so let’s rein ourselves in from applying Breaking Bad conventions to Better Call Saul.
Jimmy is clearly the underdog here. Mike Ehrmantraut in Breaking Bad was a lackey of Saul’s, but here he’s literally physically higher up than Jimmy and as unruffled as ever, though I’m interested to see his disgraced-cop story arc play out. I’m able to suspend what I know will happen to all these fellas for the sheer enjoyment of the buildup along the way. I know how it’ll all end for them, so I can enjoy every little milestone.
I must say that the ladies clothes are spot on. Those pleated skirts were all the rage. I owned one, so obviously they were very popular. Right? Same with ladies’ polos.
The conversation that Jimmy has with these potential clients gives us more of a groundwork for the show’s plot.
“Innocent people get arrested everyday,” says Saul. The man who fled north gives us the viewer and them the clients a lesson on how to deal with the law when things all go south.
Jimmy is clearly not a power player. He talks big to himself but he loses his shots. He’s hidden behind a pen, behind yet-nameless near-clients in his huge corner booth.
On the drive back I’m already primed to be suspicious of longer cuts so I didn’t enjoy the shock of the introduction of the one – no, two lanky ginger brothers. Call it a lost opportunity to jar the audience. I’m more focused on the broken windshield, a favorite injury to Walter White. Maybe we’ll be introduced to the same windshield repair service that Walt was forced to frequent.
Jimmy scatters his pursuers and brings us to his office, the nail salon later used to tempt the Whites. Nods to his later set-up include the addition of the salon’s ornamental fish.
We’re treated to a cross-hatched overhead shot showing us the extent of Jimmy’s office for the first time. It recalls the last scene in Breaking Bad where Walter is underneath similar cross-like beams from the room.
Jimmy’s stack of mail serves to reinforce his situation and when we see him tear up a $26,000 check from a law firm called HHM we know we’ve finally hit a knot in the plot.
Now it’s time to explore that check’s origins. I notice that Jimmy finds himself the small man in each shot. From a dented trashcan, to the immovable desks and huge conference table, even Jimmy’s shadow looms larger than him the man and we finally start getting into the meat of the series’ symbolism.
At this point Jimmy has some power due to this Chuck fellow who shares a surname with Jimmy whose contribution to the firm daisy chains into a demand for $17 million.
Leaving the office we’re given an explanation to the dented trashcan as Jimmy kicks it down. He exits to the parking garage where he missed his chance to be in the spotlight. He steals a drag from a woman’s cigarette and sneaks a look at her rear end as she re-enters the building with little verbal validation. She begins to straighten the trashcan unsurprised to the abuse it suffered and we cut away before either of them can exit.
The next scene starts in the evening. Jimmy parks curbside instead of in the driveway of a large home and leaving his electronic belongings in the mailbox, Jimmy begins what appears to be a practiced routine of lighting a lamp and filling a cooler with ice and requested groceries.
Chuck’s house dark and was clearly built to be lit properly. We get some hints that the darkness is a newer development and must be strictly adhered to because the electricity appears to be a newfangled health hazard (in Zebrafish, at least). Chuck himself is well-dressed and clean-cut. We follow Chuck and Jimmy to Chuck’s houndstooth pillows for some exposition.
The camera follows Saul as he sits down. We still haven’t seen anything truly from Saul’s perspective. We’ve been over his shoulder and we’ve followed him, but it isn’t until later that we see through his spying eyes.
We still haven’t been given solid information on to Chuck’s condition or illness or why he’s all alone in such a large house. He lets us know that he’s not a recluse, but there are clearly some empty bedrooms upstairs.
To make sure we’ve got the Gentile angle down, Jimmy proclaims that James M. McGill is “my name. I was born with it.” when Chuck extends that Hamlin, one of the HHM partners wants Jimmy to stop using his surname in his advertising.
Chuck calls it “professional courtesy” which is often used as the punchline to any variation on the old joke of “Why don’t sharks attack lawyers?”
Chuck continues his defense with the classic call to adventure: “Jimmy, wouldn’t you rather build your own identity?”
The next time we see Jimmy, his shoes enter the scene and for the first time, Saul is in charge of the situation, looking down on his recent agitators. I was immediately distracted by the climbable utility pole in the background. I hope we get back to this skatepark and explore its surrounding a little more. Colored by yellow and blue dinosaur bone art, Jimmy explains the schtick and promises $2,000 for an organized fall where the boys could only make $630 tops on a good day.
We’re dumped back on to shaky cam and we’re given some progressive background music. Jimmy’s in charge and starting to sound more like Saul.
No touching me, he warns. And leave the hair alone.
We’re back in the crummy Esteem finding Jimmy rehearsing his self-assurance just like he had done while dawdling in the first court scene. He shakes when he calls the young men with their two minute warning. At least they’re wearing safety skater shoes, so buddy won’t break his… toes? Man, I am way too old to be hit by cars. I do not envy the stunt staff.
Things move quickly as the simple mark turns into a hit-and-run honeypot. As a viewer I know it won’t be a clean break or fix, so I’m more concerned that one of the young actors didn’t even strap up his helmets! Not safe, fella. May I recommend properly using safety equipment and not following strange women into their homes?
Jimmy follows along and pops out of his car so quickly he doesn’t even apply the handbrake. The cheap thing wobbles around and soon we get our last payoff of this, the first episode: Our terrifying old friend Tuco.