Better Call Saul
It’s hard to say what motivates Chuck. What would drive a successful man in his advanced years to be so vindictive and petty? He’d have to be a sociopath. In this case, he’s a bitter attorney and divorcee with extraordinary psychosomatic sickness stemming from thoroughly underappreciated big-sibling issues. “No wonder Rebecca left you,” Jimmy snarls, moments before prying open a desk drawer in Chuck’s study with a fireplace poker and destroying the tape of his confession. That unspooling polyester reel represented the last straw for Jimmy, and in turn his harsh words cemented Chuck’s grudge.
Unfortunately for Jimmy, Howard and Chuck’s wannabe cardsharp private investigator heard them too. Even worse, they were lying in wait until Jimmy thoroughly compromised himself before all but saying, “Gotcha!” It was a Candid Camera scene gone wrong, and it virtually delineates Jimmy’s transformation into the jaded criminal-defense performance artist known as Saul Goodman.
Everyone’s a little crooked in Better Call Saul, so it’s hard to blame Jimmy — who may never have been tough enough to compete with the alphas on their terms — for eventually breaking bad. Even the initialized wallpaper decal in the waiting area of Kim and Jimmy’s office is, as new receptionist Francesca notes, a bit askew. (And it was in a zigzag pattern to begin with.) Francesca is this episode’s breath of fresh air, taking some of the comic-relief burden off of Jimmy just in time for him to channel some serious rage. At Jimmy’s behest, the former New Mexico MVD (don’t you dare call it the DMV) toiler all but assaults elderly callers with banter about Cracker Barrel’s biscuits and balmy weather.
Mike, on the other hand, isn’t exactly armed with a charm offensive. After surviving first-day Francesca’s folksy screening (“this one really doesn’t want to talk about Cracker Barrel,” she cautions), Mike calls on Jimmy for a favor, explaining with characteristic heaviness the job at hand: Park at Los Pollos Hermanos at about 7:30 a.m., watch for a green Chevy Blazer to arrive, keep your eyes on the driver and — crucially — his mysterious knapsack. Whoever’s on the receiving end of whatever’s inside that bag has numerous sets of eyes on Mike, and he needs an inside man to even the odds. And it ain’t as if Caldera the creepy vet is up for any more odd-hour house calls.
At the end of Jimmy’s mission, which revealed little more than their perp’s breakfast preferences (“he went bold with the extra salsa”), he whines to Mike about wanting in on any ensuing reconnaissance. He cleared his morning, after all — a fact that no doubt thrills Kim back at the office. But he’s as yet demonstrably inept at staking out bad guys. In a prolonged and painfully funny sequence, Jimmy fumbles with sugar packets, conspicuously moves from table to table, and does a veritable dumpster dive inside the restaurant garbage can to retrieve any useful evidence. His bumbling Inspector Clouseau routine only serves to arouse a certain hovering manager’s hunch that this hapless customer came for more than a Pollos Classic and black coffee. (Is anyone really stopping in for the $24.99 per dozen breakfast-burrito special?)
It’s just as likely that Mike sent Jimmy on a fool’s errand as part of an elaborate cat and mouse with this cagey criminal he’ll soon get to know as cartel rival Gustavo Fring. That would make Jimmy no less a pawn in Mike’s stakeout than Ernesto was in Chuck’s plans to ensnare his brother. So far, that ruse is rounding out exactly as manipulated.
Ernie, as Kim calls him, isn’t ready to jeopardize his budding legal career and all the sweet perks that come with it. Admittedly, that blue Mitsubishi with a spoiler does outclass Jimmy’s two-tone Suzuki Esteem (not to mention makes for a stealthier product placement). Ernie tries to spit out what he heard on the cassette recorder at Chuck’s house, but he’s even more flustered than Jimmy was while playing detective. Also, Kim is arguably shorter on patience than Mike. (Those two would definitely share mutual respect.) Fortunately, Kim is naturally levelheaded. She calls up an old professor and concludes, similarly to Howard, that there’s little in the way of conventional courtroom recourse to substantiate the tape as proof of Jimmy’s wrongdoing. So long as Jimmy keeps cool and doesn’t trip on Chuck’s wires, this should blow over and up in his brother’s face. Jimmy assures Kim he’s collected, and carries on seeing Mr. Tiller and Mr. Witchell, indulging the former’s yarns about bottle caps and presumably trying not to stare in judgment at the latter’s ponytail.
As the workday winds down, he carries on affixing that initialized wall decal, rolling it off with opposing thumbs, exactly as Chuck would have instructed. Catching himself in that ultimate act of obedience, he finally snaps, barging into Chuck’s home not quite on cue, but — tragically — at precisely the wrong instant. Next we see Jimmy, he’ll probably be standing before a judge in his worst prison orange. As for Mike, who’s been left momentarily bested in what amounted to a crazy-making goose chase, his next steps may set all our characters on a path that’s far from all good, man.
Apart From All That
Pretty incredible suspense-release roller-coaster we were taken on with Gus.
• Welcome back, Jeremiah Bitsui, a.k.a. Victor!
• LWYRUP, indeed.
• Hard to gauge how, or whether, romantically involved Kim and Jimmy still are.
• Personally, I prefer a vintage bentwood rocking chair.
• Nice bit of physical comedy for Patrick Fabian, a.k.a. Howard.
• Etude blue over daydream harvest probably beats the artwork in his Davis & Main digs.
• FWIW, U.S. v. McKeever.