Better Call Saul Recap: Money in the Plank

Better Call Saul

Season 3 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****
Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring. Photo: Michele K. Short/AMC Network Entertainment LLC. and Sony Pictures Television Inc

There’s plenty of blame to go around in Better Call Saul — blame for Chuck’s condition and subsequent humiliation, for Jimmy’s rise and fall, for the rift between Kim and her former employer and school-loan creditor Howard, and for Chuck and Jimmy’s parents’ middle-class boom and bust, which clouds each of the brothers’ consciences. The cold-open flashback, which is shorter and sweeter than most of late, finally resolves the mystery of whether Jimmy was outright spiting his father into bankruptcy. Turns out, the kid merely siphoned nominally valuable coins and kept them in a Band-Aid box hidden in his house’s ceiling panels.

He and Marco break into the McGills’ childhood home, which could almost be mistaken for Chuck’s EHS bachelor pad in its sad darkness. Though on this occasion, the younger Jimmy kept his wits about him and forestalled police intervention. (Incidentally, Marco in the shadows bore an uncanny likeness to Chuck’s P.I. who helped sabotage Jimmy.) He kids Marco about how years of gratis Little Debbie bars led to the grocery store’s undoing. But he also coarsens while summing up in earnest that his dad “was never gonna do what he had to do.” And so, with his meager register savings, Jimmy set out to dupe a group of farm-equipment conventioneers and redeem his father’s ruin.

Back in present day, Mike wrests thousands of dollars from underneath the floorboards, and readies to make a deal with Gus Fring that would ensure his family’s long-term security (though, sadly, who knows how that shook out after both of their murders in Breaking Bad) but indebt him to the budding kingpin’s service. Odds are we’ve seen the last of his days manning a midnight tollbooth. But Mike knows the risks, and knows that at least now they’re all his. After metal-detecting the infamous Good Samaritan’s corpse (genius move by the way) and alerting local cops, and with his work for Wormald sewn up, every choice he makes from here is clear-eyed and relatively uncomplicated. Which probably answers the question of whether he’ll let himself become too intimate with Anita. (That would be a negative.)

Conversely, Chuck is giddy and game for reentering the workforce and society at large. He proudly shares journals of his depreciating pain levels with Dr. Cruz, who’s been getting him back on the good foot since that perilous payphone sojourn weeks earlier (good thing for Chuck it’s still 2003). She communicates caution that he pace himself, and listens patiently as he opens up about the pain of confronting his psychosomatic state. Both characters are at their gentlest, a reminder that the version of whomever we’re seeing at any given time serves a particular function. When Jimmy was Better Call Saul’s outright protagonist, Chuck was his foil. And in Dr. Cruz’s coldness toward Chuck, she supported our and Jimmy’s shared sense that he was at the mercy of this man’s mania.

But as season three rounds its final lap, Jimmy has darkened like the interiors of those rooms that bookend his adult life. It’s time to see Chuck in a new light. Not a halo, per se, but more like Rebecca views him, or as Kim began to understand him — an ill individual coping with a delayed neurological reaction to past trauma, who’s contending with the possibility that he’d displaced his anger and grief for decades. Whereas Jimmy is still hung up on settling scores and proving his worth to everyone but himself, Chuck appears genuinely dedicated to getting better and being whole.

That, of course, will be tested now that Howard fills him in on their malpractice-insurance issues, which they will both surely peg as Jimmy’s doing. Over the remaining two episodes, we’re almost certain to see Chuck’s anger get triggered and his antiquated coping techniques get weaponized. If only Jimmy had left well enough alone. Like Mike, he’s crossed a line that he likely can’t walk back, charting his irrevocable course toward the indignity of losing consciousness in a Cinnabon kitchen down the road.

The same could be said for Nacho, who follows through on his plan to swap out Hector’s nitroglycerin with harmless ibuprofen and watch him stroke out. The relief when Nacho steadies and unclenches his hands by the espresso is palpable, almost virtually real. Malfunctioning El Michoacano’s A/C to ensure Hector removes his blazer is brilliant strategy, but also a terrific way of authoring silent tension, from the cook wiping his brow to beads of sweat bubbling on Nacho’s temples. His nervous shuffling of dollar bills betrays a compulsive anxiety we’d sooner expect from Chuck. A preceding sequence of Nacho prepping the pills and practicing his subterfuge actually parallels Chuck’s pre-hearing rehearsal from two episodes prior. It also foreshadows Walter White’s tactical jitters first taking on some of these very same foes. Funny thing is, Nacho would have been just the kind of accomplice Walt was searching for when he stumbled on Jesse instead.

When Billy Gatwood of Gatwood Oil came to Kevin at Mesa Verde for help securing new legal counsel amid his interstate entanglement, he couldn’t fathom the web of conflict he’d be walking into. Kim is, as Kevin keeps attesting (and Howard, somewhat more snarkily, confirms), the best at what she does. But she’s also overwhelmed with Mesa files and eager to cut bait with work that’s in any way connected to her and Jimmy’s 1261/1216 switcheroo. À la Mike, she seeks a way forward without baggage. Unfortunately, there’s Jimmy laid out on an aching back, strumming a signed Ritchie Blackmore guitar he scammed off the ABQ Tune In twins after cornering them into buying more ads with Saul Goodman Productions. She sees Jimmy slipping, and before he can finish another run-through of “Smoke on the Water,” she’s assuring Mr. Gatwood she’s all his.

If any moment makes plain how our view of Jimmy is intended to change, it’s when he dresses down the dickhead community-service guy, threatening a lawsuit on behalf of another garbage picker, who then happily pays Jimmy $700 before ditching his court-appointed duty for a drug deal. It’s the straightest line we’ve seen from Jimmy McGill Esq. to crooked Saul Goodman, and it points our sympathies directly toward his supervisor, who was an intransigent bully not too long ago. But it’s evident by now that if “king douche nozzle” or anybody else were to observe how that little stunt could indirectly lead to some Albuquerque teen ODing, Jimmy might echo Kim and Howard and reply, “That’s on you.”

Apart From All That

• That was some solid mindfulness exercising from Chuck in the grocery store.

• New Mexico power lunchers really love their Moscow mules.

• All of Chuck’s anger, ironically, was probably intended for their dad.

• Paige is just about at her wit’s end.

• Oh, for law school to cost what it did in the ’90s.

• As we get closer to Jimmy’s complete metamorphosis, it’s even more thrilling to re-watch this.

Better Call Saul Recap: Money in the Plank