Midway through episode 4 of Better Call Saul “Hero” it hits: this show is definitely a winner, and running on its own steam after four short weeks, the full year of hype, and the juggernaut of Breaking Bad. We are deep in the shit with Jimmy McGill. We are watching him like the rising and falling tide. Seeing him for the first time in confident attack mode is a thing of beauty. Seeing him trick his ridiculous, if legitimately ill, brother by his small act of rebellion in hiding one of the many daily newspapers he brings him is childishly, guiltily gleeful. It’s here that this reviewer gave in fully and signed on for the duration, years and years, hopefully, of this beautiful mess.
Watching Jimmy in the daily act of saving his neck is a lot of fun, and so far, mostly a lot less dark than spending a tense hour in Walter White’s world was for the years of Breaking Bad. This was the gift of this character and where this new show makes a surprising, fun left turn (in a wreck of a car with one badly mismatched red rear door) away from the unrelenting bleakness of its predecessor. How often on TV (good, challenging, interesting, weird TV) do we laugh any more?
It’s upside down day on this week’s episode, as Jimmy has challenged all the systems, big dogs, and threats that he was facing last week. They aren’t resolved, maybe are not ultimately resolvable, but for a montage moment they’ve been repelled, cast aside as if by magic, and are no match for our Jim.
This week’s episode, Hero, gives us a satirical analysis of the idea of heroism that fits nicely into the click-bait, advertorial world of today. Just as Jimmy gives into what is clearly his God-given gift of small time grifts, slips and falls and short cons, he’s shown at his most marvelous and alive, what passes for heroic in this sad little world, and the payoff of the shopping trip behind Jimmy’s latest makeover is one of the best in recent years. Heroes get front page coverage in impossibly big type that cover half a page, heroes get on the news, heroes may even get to keep their name and get some legitimate business earned through dubious methods. They might get the girl. But heroes of today, well, they are just as likely to crash and burn and brood in whatever they have that passes for an underground lair, too. They may always linger, even as their own hairline recedes, in the shadow of the silver, crinkly cape of their older brother, even one who can’t leave his own cave.
But we’ll keep watching, and keep hoping against our better judgement that this hero’s costume, as good as it looks, as bespoke as it fits, is more than just our own projection of our own childish fantasies, and really does contain transformative powers.