Better Call Saul Recap: "Uno"
Editor's Note: This article includes major spoilers for the pilot episode ("Uno") of Better Call Saul and minor spoilers if you haven't already seen Breaking Bad, though at this point you really should have. Oh, and bookmark this link so you can follow along all season.
So, there's this arcade game -- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You might've heard of it. Classic left-to-right side scroller where you fight your way through a bunch of dudes in purple pajamas to reach level bosses. After a quagillion levels and $37 in quarters you'll move from weird tertiary baddies (whaddup Baxter Stockman) to the classic ones (Rocksteady, Bebop, Krang, etc.). Now, when you get to said bosses -- which takes FOREVER -- here's what happens: you'll stab them repeatedly for 15 minutes and they'll eventually feverishly blink red and die, just like in real life. The turtles will then get in a van, yell "Cowabunga," and that's it. THAT'S IT. All that build up, and they JUST GET IN A VAN? Not until you reach the game's final bad dude (Shredder) do you get your badass payoff. Once you kill him, the ground starts to shake, the Technodrome EXPLODES, there's an epilogue, and some super-hot, jazz-y turtles music -- it's goddamn magical is what it is.
It's also EXACTLY what happens in episode one ("Uno") of Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul.
The pilot opens in a Cinnabon of all places, a smooth melody (The Ink Spots' "Address Unknown") from the 1930s provides the piano-y musical backdrop, everything's in black and white, everyone looks unfamiliar, and then, motherasshole, there's Saul. Or in this case, "Cinnabon manager Gene." He has a terrible mustache, less hair than you remember, and large, new, thinly rimmed glasses. It takes you all of half a second to realize this is Saul in witness-protection-like hiding, post-Breaking Bad. And it takes you all of another half-second to see a giant skinhead-looking dude in the corner of the 'Bon aggressively staring at Saul's (Gene's?) face. The guy abruptly stands up, Saul craps his pants, then (after 90 million thousand hundred heart palpitations) you (and Saul) realize the dude was looking just past him at some totally pleasant, non-skinhead-looking people in the middle of the mall. He goes over to talk to them, and Saul stands there, in his soiled pants, wishing Walt hadn't killed every asshole in New Mexico.
The entire episode (and I'm guessing to a large extent the show) is built on this foundation of stomach-punching tension that doesn't pay off, until it finally does. It's exhilarating. It's excruciating. It's that TMNT arcade game all over again, just minus the part where your little brother steals the full life pizza (thanks a lot, JOHNNY). It's what puts this series on par with Breaking Bad in just the first episode, but also the mechanism that could push it beyond it -- because eventually Jimmy is going to have to become Saul.
We move from the Cinnabon to Saul's Omaha apartment; he makes himself a sort of cheap version of a Rusty Nail (Dewar's, Drambuie, lemon juice squirt) and depressingly flips through QVC and a documentary on the "African Pancake Tortoise." He pauses, gets up, checks the window for anyone outside (there's suddenly dramatically building organ music), he walks over to some sort of closet, drops to his knees, and your head EXPLODES.
IS HE GOING TO PULL UP A FLOORBOARD HIDING INFINITY DOLLARS?? IS HE GOING TO OPEN A SECRET HATCH TO A METH LAB??? OH MY GOD IS JESSE DOWN THERE??????
We finally get a camera angle that puts us in the closet -- Saul rummages through some stuff and eventually pulls out a shoe box, filled with pictures, band-aids, what looks like a passport, and JESUS-MARY-AND-JOSEPH A CHUNK OF GUS FRING'S FACE!?!?!?
Wait no, it's just a VCR tape.
BUT IS IT A COPY OF JESSE'S CONFESSION TAPE????
Just his "Better Call Saul" promotional TV reel, which we get to see him watch, while sort of sadly quivering.
No super-hot jazz-y turtles music. Just sad, alone Cinnabon Manager Gene.
And that's the only glimpse we get into a post-Heisenbergpocalypse world. We're pretty quickly back in New Mexico, back in color, and the space time continuum has been rewound to a pre-Saul Goodman era, one starring a broke public defender named Jimmy McGill with a full head of hair, a sharp suit, and pockets full of foreshadowing.
Saul gives a pretty succinct "kids will be kids" closing argument to a court case ("Oh to be 19 again, do you remember 19?") before we find out that the three 19-year-olds he's representing sawed off the head of a mortuary corpse and face-sexed it.
Saul exits the courthouse, his clients now bound for prison, and we watch as he walks toward an old Caddy that -- after five seasons of Breaking Bad binging -- you just know he's going to get in, but nope, he doesn't. He walks past it -- skinhead in a Cinnabon style -- to a Suzuki Esteem with one off-colored back door. It's probably one step below the car your poorest college friend had freshman year. Saul hops in his car after a sort of weird exchange where he answers a potential client's call to his cell as what can only be described as a secretary version of Mrs. Doubtfire, drives to the ticket booth, and hands his ticket to the booth agent.
That's the parking attendant, except it's not the parking attendant, it's Mike Ehrmantraut, who, okay, is the parking attendant, but he's also MIKE EHRMANTRAUT. And this is where it dawns on you. Every single character Walt killed directly or indirectly in Breaking Bad -- 13 by my count -- is totally alive again. It's the single greatest moment of the entire pilot episode.
From here, the episode sort of lulls. He meets with the Kettlemans, who we don't give even one crap about at this point. Some skater kids try to scam him by fake-crashing into his windshield. He drops some hilarious Saul one-liners ("Only way that car is worth $500 is if there's a $300 hooker sitting in it..."). We find out his law firm is headquartered in a sort of storage closet in the back of a nail salon. We find out he has a brother Chuck (has to be his brother, right?), who either has some rare electromagnetic disease where he can't go near anything that emits electricity, or he's cray-cray. We find out that Chuck is a former lawyer and founding partner in Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill and that now that he's sick/probably-just-cray, and the firm is trying to shadily buy him off (Saul gets a check for Chuck for $26K, and later tells the main Hamlin dude that Chuck is owed $17mil). We find out that this all takes place in 2002 (it's on the letter accompanying the check). And we find out that Saul is from Cicero, IL, where everyone knew him as "Slippin' Jimmy," a sort of scam artist who'd slip and fall his way to 6-8 grand on occasion.
All of it culminates with Saul trying to swindle Betsy Kettleman into making him the Kettleman's counsel on a big money laundering case by having the skater kids pull the same scam on Betsy, only this time, Saul comes to the rescue. Except that's not what happens. Betsy's 1988 Mercury Sable Wagon hit-and-runs the skaters, they follow her, and the car we thought all along was Betsy's turns out to be an old Hispanic woman's. They enter her house, with her calling for her "Mijo" as she enters.
Saul finds the house with the hit-and-run'd car and the skateboards, he knocks, tries to peek in the house, knocks again, says he's there in the name of the court, that he's an officer of the law, the door opens, someone shoves a giant-ass gun in his face, and HOLY ASSHOLE-ING ASSHOLE ASSHOLE ASSHOLE CRAP IT'S TUCO.
Cue: exploding Technodrome.
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Grant Marek (@grant_marek) is a Senior Editor at Thrillist and kinda hated Skyler for all five seasons of Breaking Bad. Follow his Better Call Saul recaps here every Monday morning (and Tuesday this week, too, since it's a special two-night premiere!) and head to our bro site JackThreads to buy him (ugh, fine, or YOURSELF) lots of cool Better Call Saul stuff.