There are times when I wish I could watch Better Call Saul with an ethicist. Every episode involves some sort of ethical or moral dilemma, where both sides have uniquely compelling arguments.
That's very different from its parent series, Breaking Bad, where the choices between right and wrong were very clearly delineated. We're only certain that Jimmy McGill is making the wrong choices on Better Call Saul because we know that someday he'll become ambulance chaser and drug lord consigliere Saul Goodman — a path that will end with him taking on an assumed identity to avoid prosecution and managing a Cinnabon in Omaha, seemingly lost in memories of the man he was.
But if I were to describe Better Call Saul in a pair of opposite terms, I wouldn't choose "right" and "wrong" — I'd choose "easy" and "hard." It's just easier for Saul to avoid the route that ends with him becoming a highly paid corporate lawyer.
He is, after all, a former con man, and some part of that old life will always hold sway. He's really, really good at bilking people out of their money. So why do things the hard way when it's easier to get rich by being duplicitous?
Whether you know it or not, Better Call Saul is baking these little predicaments into nearly every scene. And that's definitely true of "Switch," the show's season two premiere. Watching the episode, it's not so simple to tell which life is the hard one and which is the easy one — and both have their seductive allures. Here are five instances where "Switch" offered Saul's characters a choice between hard and easy.
1) The episode opens with a tough decision
What's neat about "Switch" is how it's bookended by two very small choices with huge implications. In the episode's opening sequence (just as in season one's opening sequence), we see the chastened Jimmy, long after he's moved to Omaha, closing up shop at the Cinnabon for the night. He takes the trash into a back room, but the door to the rest of the mall slams shut — and it's locked from the outside.
There is an exit, but it will set off an alarm that will alert the police. And since Jimmy is attempting to hide from prosecution for his role in the events of Breaking Bad, he's understandably wary of doing anything involving the police. So he sits and waits, for more than two hours, until a janitor opens the door and he can get out. But during his time sitting there, he scrawls the letters "SG WAS HERE" on the wall.
This whole sequence encapsulates Better Call Saul in a nutshell. Leaving via the door that will easily open could get him noticed by authorities and land him in hot water. It probably won't — after all, it's unlikely the Omaha police would suspect that a Cinnabon manager in a tight spot is also a wanted criminal. But they could. Meanwhile, the door that won't open so easily means sitting tight and hoping something will come along. And sometimes it just doesn't.
2) Jimmy mulls taking a job with a big law firm
Better Call Saul's first season ended with Jimmy seemingly deciding he wasn't going to join a big law firm in Santa Fe, humming "Smoke on the Water" (the anthem of his con man days) and driving off into Albuquerque.
"Switch" very, very quickly indicates that the series is going to reimagine that ending, as we see Jimmy politely turning down the job offer (where season one suggested he didn't even get that far) and disappointing Ed Begley Jr., who's playing the new boss Jimmy would answer to if he takes the job. You don't just cast an actor that recognizable for a minor, one-scene part.
And, indeed, the rest of the hour is about Jimmy trying to leave the law behind, in favor of returning to a life of grifting and living by the seat of his pants. He takes up residence in a glamorous hotel and floats around in the pool, chips and dip by his side. He tells Kim that for the first time ever, he's being himself.
But we also know that "being himself" generally involves backsliding toward the days when he got by via faking falls on the snowy streets of Chicago. The process of transforming himself into a lawyer might have been filled with pain and even regret, but it's ultimately the hard thing to do — even if it comes with a lot of perks that make it seem "easy" (including his very own company car).
By episode's end, Jimmy has joined Ed Begley Jr.'s firm, and he has his first real job in the law. Yet we know what's coming. We're just waiting for the sky to fall.
3) Kim decides to join Jimmy for an evening of light grifting
Rhea Seehorn — as Jimmy's friend (and possible love interest) Kim — wasn't always well-served by Better Call Saul's first season, which often seemed unsure of what to do with any characters who weren't Jimmy, Mike, or Jimmy's brother, Chuck (who doesn't appear in "Switch").
But the premiere makes up for that in a big way, as what might be its most significant moral choice plays out entirely on Seehorn's face. When Jimmy launches the small-scale con of a blowhard broker, intended to get the guy to buy them a whole bottle of very expensive tequila, indecision reigns in Kim's eyes. Is this something she wants to be a part of, even though Jimmy's inviting her? It sure seems fun. But walking away might be more prudent.
Yet she ultimately goes along with it. Something Better Call Saul knows better than a lot of other TV shows is that most people are simply looking for a path of least resistance. They simply want to go along to get along, and there are folks out in the world who will take advantage of that, should they spot it.
Kim enjoys herself, yes, and she and Jimmy sleep together after they make their escape. But you can also see the look in her eyes afterward. She knows she needs to get back to her "real" life, which doesn't at all match up to Jimmy's big, risky chances.
And in time, that leaves an impression on Jimmy, too, sending him on the path to his new job.
4) Mike walks away from a huge job because his boss isn't playing it safe
One intriguing aspect of Better Call Saul is that it doesn't code "hard" and "easy" as always moral or ethical. Criminals must adhere to their very own code, especially if they want to stay out of the clutches of law enforcement.
So it goes with Mike and the drug dealer who employs him as security detail (played with brilliantly nebbishy undertones by Mark Proksch). The boss — whose name is Daniel — doesn't take kindly to Mike telling him that his new bright yellow Hummer is exactly what he shouldn't be driving if he wants to stay under the radar. In fact, Mike has absolutely no desire to be involved with someone whose ride is so ostentatious.
The Hummer leads to several problems for Daniel — including his drug world contact, Nacho, digging into the glove box to find Daniel's home address; a robbery; and several questions from the police, who clearly don't entirely buy Daniel's story of having his baseball card collection ripped off (presumably after Nacho and company raid Daniel's home). Enjoying the spoils of corruption might seem like fun, but crime only pays when it's happening under the authorities' noses, and Daniel has yet to realize that fact.
5) Jimmy can't leave a light switch in his office well enough alone
The episode's final scene — one that director and writer Thomas Schnauz takes pains to visually rhyme with the opening — involves Jimmy settling into his new office, where he sees a light switch with a note taped over it. The switch is supposed to always remain on. Don't touch.
But whereas in the future, the former Saul Goodman ultimately makes the hard choice and doesn't open the door that will trigger the alarm, present-day Jimmy McGill can't resist the light switch. After just a few moments of staring at it, he rises to see what it does, his curiosity getting the better of him.
Nothing obvious happens, but we know this show well enough by now to realize that something has been triggered, even if Jimmy doesn't realize it yet.
Better Call Saul takes place in a universe where the smallest of actions can have huge consequences, where something as seemingly minor as a symbolic flip of a light switch might become a harbinger of doom.
Often, the difference between "hard" and "easy" is that when you contemplate the latter, you find yourself asking, "What harm could it do?" And maybe that harm is difficult to imagine. Maybe it's theoretical. But it's always there, and on Better Call Saul, it's always waiting to boomerang right back at you.