Better Call Saul
To new beginnings, indeed. Howard and Chuck’s toast over Macallan ’66 was meant to signify life beyond sibling rivalry for the elder McGill, but could just as easily have commemorated Hector and Gus’s mutual efforts to disentangle from one another or Jimmy’s emancipation from his brother’s torment. Though with the benefit of a Breaking Bad viewer’s foresight, it’s fair to say that tonight’s most seminal fresh start was the first official appearance of slippery salesman Saul Goodman on KWBV’s airwaves.
Befitting Saul’s (or Gene’s, if you will) ultimately uncelebrated role in the saga of Walter White, his alter-ego origin story is absurdly pragmatic. It’s desperate, actually, a shift that suggests what kind of turn Jimmy is taking at this fork in the road presented by his year suspension from practicing law. The scrappy Jimmy of seasons past, whose guerilla marketing typified that Charlie Hustle “get up and go” Howard admired, has soured into self-parody. Mr. Show fans (present company included) will love seeing Bob Odenkirk “Karloff this thing” and transform into a bearded, barking proto–Saul Goodman soliciting clients for a cockamamie commercial-production venture that’ll help him float his share of his and Kim’s commercial rent (while rightly debating whether they favor Odenkirk in the guise of deadpan cock-ring pitchman). But those close to Jimmy, like Kim, have to wonder whether stubbornness has gotten the best of him, and if he’ll ever live for anything other than converting his harshest critics. It’s his most inescapable sunk cost.
Chuck isn’t exactly satisfied with the return on his investment in sabotaging Jimmy, either, however he may have pacified Howard. Alone in his study, he clutches the batteries from that telltale tape recorder and clenches down on his pain and panic, waiting for it to pass. He wraps himself up in space blankets and takes to the streets of Albuquerque, a theoretically courageous confrontation with his fears motivated by vengeance. He endures blurring lights, baffled stares, and searing currents, stumbling to a pay phone to speak with Dr. Cruz (Clea DuVall, who will presumably return as the show’s biggest EHS skeptic), less a humbled man in retreat than super-villain regaining strength.
Though not everyone is so sure who’s right and wrong. Rebecca interjects as a relatively objective voice in this incestuous feud, admonishing Jimmy and reminding him, “He’s mentally ill. What’s your excuse?” It’s a reasonable but not terribly persuasive line, even if it stings just enough to crash the high of sipping Champagne from his Davis & Main mug (who needs a company car?). Jimmy could just as easily have rebutted, “How could you have lived with him and divorced him without detecting that there were some underlying issues capable of manifesting themselves into a condition I sacrificed my own career trajectory to manage?”
This is hammered home earlier, when Kim makes her closing argument to the bar for punitive leniency. She cites his daily 5 a.m. wake-ups, long drives to the only newsstand that carried the Financial Times, and time and labor spent handcrafting his brother a space blanket. What comes through clearest in her plea is how much she admires and loves Jimmy, so much so that when she sees his ad as Saul, her curiosity is piqued but few red flags go up. It’s possible Rebecca merely sees that Jimmy and Chuck are incapable of either estrangement or reconciliation, and all she can do is appeal to Jimmy’s clear-headedness on behalf of her unwell ex to avoid a ruinous outcome — not that far afield from Kim’s rationale that keeping Jimmy from his elderly clients would be counterintuitive and extreme.
The flipside of all this occurs in Nacho’s world, where it’s all about black and white, good and evil, boss or bitch. When Nacho lets Krazy 8 walk out of El Michoacano with an ostensible extension to deliver his take, Hector needles him for being soft. Frustrated, if anything, by his lack of options in the situation (i.e. bear your boss’s haranguing or discipline through brutality), he catches Krazy 8 before he can head back to Tampico and does Hector’s bidding. That night, while working on upholstery at his father’s shop, Nacho stops just short of serious self-injury with a sewing-machine stylus. He’s frozen solid by the feeling that he’ll die thanklessly in service of his boss despite barely being able to live with himself. When Gus’s men pull a weapon on him at a subsequent product hand-off, Hector’s solution is to seize on Nacho’s father’s shop as a front for their operation. Nacho, like Chuck and everyone else, is at a crossroads, and the day is coming when — not unlike Jimmy — he’ll snap and cross a line that’s hard to erase.
If there’s anybody in Better Call Saul’s universe who can appreciate wanting to get out from under Hector and the cartel’s cavalier rule (or perhaps from Chuck and corporate law’s) and run a more refined, independent business, it would be Gus. It’s a thrill to see him lay eyes upon the dry-cleaning facility that would offer added cover for his drug distribution, now that Los Pollos Hermanos has drawn eyes. Or, more to the point, the space that would eventually serve as Walter White’s high-tech meth-making lab. Let alone when he gets into the passenger seat of an unknown driver’s luxury sedan (Gus almost always drives himself), and his ride is revealed to be none other than Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser), Breaking Bad’s shady Madrigal exec and Stevia enthusiast.
Glacial as Better Call Saul’s pace can often seem, each key player has made or inched toward the definitive decisions that propel them toward fated common ground with Walter White. All of the cameos this season seem to be incrementally building toward an inevitable brush with the unlikely suburban kingpin himself, or possibly Jesse Pinkman and his low-level cohort. Tragedy is foreshadowed wherever you look. Even that playground Mike agrees to help build is, it’s safe to assume, the same one where he last spends time with Kaylee shortly before his death. If only those carpet-store owners would have gone for Jimmy’s toe-in-the-water package.
Apart From All That
• While this Saul Goodman’s number is 505-842-5662, future Saul’s is actually 505-503-4455.
• With Chuck disowned and no other living relatives, who needs Jimmy anyway? After all, “It’s just a name.”
• Haven’t those UNM kids graduated by now?
• Jeez, Stacey, Mike was a young man when he built that carport.
• Chuck read my mind asking Howard if he was okay to drive.
• Timeline confusion: Just when I thought we were in 2003, they’re drinking a 35-year-old bottle of scotch from 1966.
• Oh, Francesca, Hawaii ain’t happening for at least several years.
• The local art house theater in New Mexico is showing Bunny Lake Is Missing — a movie about a person who never existed.
• First Chuck is a trailblazer for EHS discovery, now he’s Clarence Darrow. No wonder Jimmy hates him.