Season 2 of AMC's "Better Call Saul" opens in just about the exact same place as the "Breaking Bad" spinoff's debut season — in a Cinnabon. Yes, Feb. 15's premiere opens with another black and white prologue of a post-"Breaking Bad" Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) working in the mall pastry shop he manages after going into hiding. It would be in bad taste to spoil the whole sequence here, but at some point, the phrase "S. G. [Saul Goodman] was here" gets etched into a cement wall. Translation — this season will move steadily towards Jimmy McGill's predestined transformation into the sleazy Saul.
It is fitting that the show's sophomore run begins with a callback to the series opener. Fans expecting a Jimmy-to-Saul 180 after his vow to Mike (Jonathan Banks) in the Season 1 finale to no longer let "doing to right thing" get in the way of a pay day will be disappointed. In the season's early going, Jimmy's big emotional breakdown is channeled into more of a midlife crisis, then the Saul Goodman origin story. The journey to Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and a Constitution-covered office will be a windier rode than just a one season arc.
In fact, the Cinnabon callback is almost a reminder that fans already know this particular story's ending. The moment Jimmy becomes Saul Goodman, we are essentially nearing "Breaking Bad" territory, so, instead of jumping the gun, viewers should sit back and enjoy the ride.
There is something refreshing about that. In the latter half of 2015, reboots and anthology series seemed to dominate the water cooler conversations. Many of the most buzzed about shows of the year — "The Leftovers," "Fargo," "American Horror Story," "Halt and Catch Fire," — returned with radically different looking stories than in previous seasons. One would think that would be appealing to a show tasked with escaping the shadow of one of the most lauded series of all time.
Instead, after the Cinnabon prologue, "Better Call Saul" literally picks up in the same exact scene that ended the Season 1 finale. The cinematography maintains the same color pallet and texture as Season 1 and all of "Breaking Bad." The themes — drugs, money, the American Dream, double lives, personal transformation — are the same. The Cinnabon scene elicits a totally different reaction this time around. What was one jarring is now comfortable.
That is not to say that the show is playing it safe. While the environment has remained a constant, co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have dug much deeper into these characters. Chuck (Michael McKean) takes step towards a more normal life, despite his electromagnetic hypersensitivity, but only to stand further in Jimmy's way. Mike continues to be the show's tough guy, as well as its heart.
However, it is Kim who gets the biggest Season 2 upgrade. When Jimmy ditches his fancy job offer at Davis & Main for poolside cocktails and the occasional money scam at the bar, it is Kim who urges him to reconsider. The pair become a more formal couple in Season 2 and her affection for Jimmy in Rhea Seehorn's deftly restrained and naturalistic performance allows fans to see what Jimmy what will miss out on as Saul. Jimmy is at his most fun to watch when he is in over his head in an unethical mess or confidently running some scam, yet his relationship with Kim makes fans root against him doing just that! Ultimately, though, it is no real spoiler to say that at some point, the love affair is doomed — Saul, after all, was not married. What a tragedy (and great television)!
Of course, "Better Call Saul" lives and dies off with Bob Odenkirk, and, fresh off a Golden Globe nomination, the actor continues to exceed all expectations. In Season 2, Odenkirk paints Saul as a man caught, not between money and integrity — his new job offer means he can be rich and lead a straight and narrow life, should he chose — but between doing what is right and doing what he loves. It is the midlife crisis — Jimmy calls it "midlife clarity" — of an aging scam artist, still addicted to the hustle. The improv veteran brings the laughs of course, but the performance is equal parts funny and tragic.
That complexity has a surprising consequence. The more depth Odenkirk adds to Jimmy McGill, the more Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" feels like an act, a routine employed for business. That helps "Better Call Saul" grow into its own as its protagonist feels less like the star of a spinoff and more so its own, unique antihero character study, worthy of comparison to Walter White and Don Draper, even if it comes in a much less serious package.
Season 2 will likely not convert too many new fans to the show — as previously mentioned, it basically just picks up where Season 1 left off. However, there is no drop in quality, in fact, the show is better. When Vince Gilligan is at the wheel, staying the course is not such a bad idea and that should be enough to please the series' many loyal fans. Jimmy McGill, on the other hand, has some big changes ahead for him, though the timeline remains unclear. Watching him transform into Saul Goodman is one enjoyable ride.
"Better Call Saul" Season 2 premieres Feb. 15 on AMC. Watch the trailer below: