Better Call Saul
Just when ya think you know a guy. In an opening flashback, the brothers McGill sit vigil over their dying mother at what we presume to be a Chicago-area hospital. Jimmy steps out to get lunch, assuring Chuck he’ll bring back a roast-beef sandwich precisely the way he likes it: no tomato, Italian on the side. And as a commenter observed after last week’s episode, Jimmy rightly anticipated that Chuck would be too full of hubris to double-check his paperwork on Mesa Verde, thus enabling the scheme to switch out 1261 for 1216.
Quid pro quo, Chuck has sized up his baby bro pretty well. He intuits every twist and turn in each of his ne’er-do-well younger sibling’s cons with such precise pragmatism that even Jimmy tips his hat and cries uncle. But Jimmy had no idea that his closest living relative — who’d gathered such a storm of rage over several decades that he armed (and armored) himself with a crippling, psychosomatic coping mechanism — had something so malicious in mind for a coup de grâce.
After a lifetime of judicious adherence to professional code (even up through his initial inpatient stay, when he lectures Dr. Cruz on the Hippocratic Oath), Chuck does some slippin’ of his own, believably playing the part of a pathetic and senile failure ready to retire from his life’s work and live inside a self-fashioned Faraday cage. Turns out the one thing Jimmy never saw coming was Chuck stooping to his level. Consequently, he’s now unwittingly confessed — on tape — to altering HHM’s documents, all but closing the loop on his legitimate legal career. And Chuck, always a sucker for victory laps, can now revel in both righting perceived wrongs and supplanting Jimmy as the family’s most charismatic manipulator.
Deeper in the desert, Mike’s pretty sure he’s got his target lined up and prone, with no surprises in store. After a rendezvous with his black-market sniper-rifle man, Lawson (nice to see you again, Jim Beaver), our cantankerous vigilante settles in at a rocky perch overlooking one of Hector’s clandestine hideouts. His rifle ranges from one side to the next, zeroing in at different points on Arturo and the Salamanca cousins, but the real booby prize belongs to Tio, who committed the mortal sin of pissing Mike off. Funny, though, how Nacho keeps positioning himself as Hector’s human shield. Either the guy’s an especially vigilant bodyguard — one whom Chuck would likely take over Ernie in a heartbeat — or he caught a glimpse of Mike’s station wagon as they pulled up to the spot, and literally stood in his boss’s path. The honking horn inducing his retreat and anonymous “don’t” note left on his windshield strongly suggest the latter.
We’ll have to wait until next winter (in terms of broadcast schedule, that is — no shoveling Fran’s driveway for Mike just yet) to see how Mike’s quest for vengeance plays out. (Imagine how irrevocably altered Walter White’s fate may have been had Mike successfully slain Hector.) Ditto for whether Kim maintains her hold on Mesa Verde and overcomes the looming setback to her personal and professional relationships with Jimmy.
For now, and for better or worse, “Klick” is foremost preoccupied with the McGills’ escalating turf war. Across from the copy shop, Jimmy beams while watching his mentor/tormentor stagger with disbelief. But Chuck’s ensuing panic attack — a highly effective bit of weaponry in its own way, even if it’s no 168-grain bullet — instantly disarmed Jimmy, leaving him vulnerable to being exploited for his fundamental naïveté.
After Chuck wakes up from what Dr. Cruz characterizes as a self-induced catatonia — brought on by tests, pokes, and prods that would traumatize any patient, let alone one with delusions of electromagnetic sensitivity — he’s conscious in an entirely new way. Better Call Saul has largely been about Jimmy’s journey toward actualization, but it’s Chuck who emerges from this unwanted confrontation with the most volatile parts of his psyche more self-possessed. His ensuing act of deceit — i.e., the tape-recorder incident — is hard to stomach, but it’s also our introduction to Chuck as a clear-headed antagonist. His evolution has been slow and unsteady (and, by the showrunners’ own admission, not always mapped out), but has paid off with a push toward supervillainy that will, in turn, force Jimmy into some no-win situations sooner than later. This, for us, all but ensures good drama.
Still, “Klick” never quite pulls the trigger on its many opportunities to provide a shocking finale moment. Like Mike, episode director/co-writer Vince Gilligan (who shares script credit with Heather Marion, no stranger to psychodrama from her work as an assistant on United States of Tara) pulls back and takes a breath whenever there’s temptation to boil tensions over. “Klick” is a microcosm of how Saul has operated from day one, and a distillation of its most recurring themes: the space between free will and family ties; where the lines get drawn between good and bad, business and personal; how the tiniest inaction can reverberate with tremendous force; and how our minds and bodies do their best to save us from our own cruel intentions before doing us all in. And most important, how Jimmy really likes any excuse to shout “Bingo!”
Apart From All That:
- Mom’s surprise party sounded like a blast.
- Having Mrs. McGill utter “Jimmy … ” with her dying breaths maybe laid it on a bit thick.
- Jimmy drinks from a “2nd Best Lawyer” mug, while Saul — as we’re reminded in the opening title — is the definitive “Best.” It’s an aspirational tale, folks.
- Loved how Chuck’s ER nightmare was shot like an alien abduction.
- Dr. Cruz is pretty harsh.
- Soon Ernie won’t be the only who’ll wish he was back in the mail room.
- This week in Better Call Saul newspaper headlines: “Security Tight for Palestinian Meeting.”
- Enjoyed the addition of Chuck’s lovingly framed family photos, seemingly frozen from a happy time in early childhood.
- Chuck played basketball? Cray-cray.
- How many of the folks who responded to Jimmy’s ad also then ordered a Garden Weasel?
- Is it possible that Chuck drove Rebecca away with his illness?
- “Things get a little backed up” are choice words from a non-flusher.
- Also (and more pertinently) in the immortal words of Jimmy McGill/the future Saul Goodman, Esq.: “I’ll be the only McGill carrying the family name. We can’t have that.”
- Thanks for reading, commenting, and otherwise bearing with me this season. And remember: You can’t keep a Goodman down.