Better Call Saul Recap: Cocobolo Dreams

Portrait of a man distressed. Photo: Lewis Jacobs/AMC
Better Call Saul
Episode Title
Editor’s Rating

After the soliloquies of last episode, almost anything is going to feel banal by comparison, a letdown into the everyday chess of plot. It makes sense to me that the episode is carried by the Kettlemans, characters who, like Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, were funny but out of tune with the show’s mood, flat in their arc and overly bright in their delivery — caricatures, paper dolls. Watching them nervously test their options is like watching lab mice figure out where they get the pellet and where they get the shock. If “Five-O” was about people, “Bingo” is about machines. 

Most of the episode is hitched to their case, handled by Kim at HHM, who has the unenviable job of explaining to the Kettlemans that even their best options involve jail time. Betsy plays her one note (righteous indignation) while Craig plays his (castrated worry), and Kim essentially walks her way into being fired. Fine by her, but now she has to tell Howard Hamlin she lost a client, and Hamlin, blindly interested in the bottom line, exiles her to the “east wing,” which Kim and Jimmy talk about as though it were Siberian.

From here, the episode settles into playing out its hitches and technicalities. The bribe that Jimmy rationalized away as a “retainer” a few episodes ago comes back to haunt him when the Kettlemans fire Kim and try to hire him; he, meanwhile, has to decide whether to take the Kettlemans’ case or figure out how to redirect it to Kim so she can get back in Hamlin’s good graces, a decision complicated further by his dream of expanding business and hiring Kim away from HHM entirely. As the Dude would say, lotta ins, lotta outs.

Jimmy doesn’t like the game, but he does know how to play it. He also now has the help of Mike, with whom he sets up a Looney Tunes scenario involving a remote-controlled car and one of those high-tech flashlights that can detect fingerprints. (How Jimmy knows that Mike would even be capable of the work is beyond me, and a missed opportunity on the part of the show to illustrate the development of Jimmy and Mike’s relationship.)

It all goes down like a line of dominoes, of course, and we end on a somewhat surprising image of Jimmy up in his yet-unrented new office, banging his fists against the wall, presumably for having turned the Kettlemans back to Kim, allowing her to stay in good standing at HHM instead of coming to work with him. Hard geometry figures throughout: the perfect shaft of light across Jimmy and Kim in the HHM parking garage; the grid of mug shots that opens the episode; the wild, corporate sculptures of HHM’s conference room; and, of course, the bare rectangle of Jimmy’s unrented office. About that last scene, I will only say that Bob Odenkirk looks very uncomfortable being at the edge of tears, like someone working through some bad fish. As it should be: We know without having to be told that his conscience sometimes makes him sick.

A lot of viewers seem to love the Kettlemans, or at least love the possibility of watching them be punished, which I don’t understand — after all, the entire show (and the show from which it spun off) treats justice as an inadequate system, an incomplete idea, an ideal you can only get a piece of. Trial or deal, “Bingo” promises that Craig will bear the brunt of the sentence for a crime that seems to be his wife’s idea. Justice isn’t a reality here, it’s an approximation; a boring and complicated system where gray things go in and black-and-white things come out.

I hope we’re done with the Kettlemans; the show is better than them.