The small-world connections of human existence possess both incredible romantic appeal and an air of caution. Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould (who wrote and directed this week's episode), and their team have cannily exploited that duality since day one of Breaking Bad, using chemistry as an apt metaphor for the volatile connections that exist between people. They're no less vigilant about ensuring Better Call Saul's characters are humbled when the slightest encounter looms. In turn, we viewers know we can't take any minor figure for granted, which heightens even the most innocuous interactions.
Though, who among us kept an eye on Lance the copy-shop guy (Elisha Yaffe), as if he'd figure into the crescendo of events in season two's penultimate episode? Yet, there he was: sharing what he knows about Jimmy with Ernie, then taking a few hundred bucks from Jimmy to deny everything when Chuck squeezes him for details, and finally, stonewalling Chuck and unwittingly short-circuiting his electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Now Chuck's knocked out on the shop's cold, undignified floor, having conked his head on a counter during a fainting spell. Jimmy, initially watching from across the street with zeal, freezes with concern when his brother collapses. He steps halfway out of the shadows as he once again confronts a defining ethical choice.
Over the course of "Nailed," both McGill siblings relish their presumed victory laps, only to be halted mid-stride. Chuck, ebullient in the wake of his strategic triumph over Kim and Jimmy, eagerly joins Howard, Kevin, and Paige in front of the New Mexico Banking Board to finalize an application procedure for Mesa Verde's new Scottsdale branch. Kevin assures the commissioner that, for nearly half a century, his company has prided itself "on personal service and attention to detail." You can imagine their horror — particularly Paige's — when the board notes a discrepancy in the forms HHM filed. A big one. In a season that's simmered with numerical symbolism, its only fitting that Chuck's fate hinged on the implications of 1261 versus 1216. It's a humiliation so unspeakable that it renders him speechless and — after concluding it was Jimmy's doing — leaves him consumed by rage. It's the kind of rage that expresses itself through counterproductive coping mechanisms, and can end with him in a state of pathetic unconsciousness.
Although Chuck may not have conspired to anger himself straight into the ER, his accident instantly curbs Jimmy's enthusiasm about leveling the playing field. The self-esteem he swelled with after Kim advocated on his behalf against Chuck (her "You're the one who made him this way" might be her "I'm the one who knocks") vanishes in an instant of guilt and obligation. Checkmate.
Alas, vengeance has a way of producing unintended consequences for everyone in "Nailed." Kim, Howard, Kevin, and Paige all suffer the collateral damage of Jimmy and Chuck's malevolent one-ups-manship, but Mike has to carry the heavier burden of an innocent man's life. Like Jimmy and Chuck at different points, Mike spends a chunk of the episode basking in his sabotage. His weaponized garden hose does the trick, destabilizing Hector's delivery truck and allowing him to blind and bind the driver while he gets away with $250,000. (No wonder he was so generous in meting out half his payoff from Tio to Nacho.) He makes moves on his diner waitress Fran, promising he may well take her up on the offer to "shovel my drive" (eww) in the event of desert snow. He even heads down to the local dive bar and buys everyone a round.
Mike's victory lap is something of a subdued analog to Jesse Pinkman's strip-club blowout in season three of Breaking Bad. Unfortunately, it's not the only echo of Saul's sister show. When Mike asks Nacho why his little heist didn't make the papers, Nacho breaks the bittersweet news: You got one over on the cartel, but a good Samaritan who spotted the delivery guy paid the price with his life. Mike returns to his car, sullen and crushed. It immediately calls to mind the devastating turning point in which Walt and Jesse watched Todd murder a kid who witnessed their great train robbery.
It's only natural that echoes of Breaking Bad would stir as Saul's season nears its end and Jimmy faces high-stakes compromises. Even more so in an episode Gould chose to write and direct himself. Viewers are entitled to feel antsy about seeing Jimmy's full transformation into Saul, but let's not forget: Walter White didn't become a homicidal kingpin overnight. There's still one episode left in season two, and I am dying to learn about other things. How will Hector survive whatever Mike has in store with his prescription meds? Will Chuck's blow to the cranium make Kim re-think the karmic repercussions of what she's doing? And where can I watch that documentary on Rupert Holmes?
Apart From All That:
- Best episode of the season so far.
- Jimmy's karmic payback for not flushing number two: Folks are ditching his matchbooks in urinals.
- As always, such terrifically terse writing (and readings), especially Chuck's "You and Mozart, huh? You both started young."
- Of course Jimmy made fake IDs in high school.
- The lighting contrasts in this season, along with the numerical motif, are among my favorite subtleties.
- Per the theme of major-minor characters, Josh Fadem (camera dude) and Julian Bonfiglio (sound dude) have to be thrilled.
- Kim wears Converses. Adorable.
- It's funny of Jimmy to suggest that "sometimes the good guys win" when he knows full well there are no such clear lines.
- I was so hoping Kim wouldn't ground herself.
- The 1840s, the Magna Carta, dying of consumption … someone's a history buff.
- Ladies and germs, Carnac the Magnificent!
- As Howard says, "Everyone makes mistakes." It may as well apply to the entire ensemble.