Better Call Saul
Last week’s “Slip” teemed with tension, but “Fall” is full of dread. Notwithstanding Better Call Saul’s typically deliberate pace, the season’s penultimate episode unfolds like a slow-motion car crash before culminating in an actual, inevitable wreck. Kim’s cycle of all-nighters punctuated by five-minute catnaps in her Mitsubishi finally catches up with her on the way to a meeting between Billy Gatwood (perfectly cast as Chris Cooper look-alike and Twin Peaks alum Chris Mulkey) and the New Mexico rights holders keeping him over a barrel. Everything that happens up until that point well foreshadows her near-death experience, starting with her tire getting caught in a minor rut and concluding with her totaled front end after she nods off and veers into rocky roadside brush. The severe, possibly disfiguring burns inflicted by her airbag are a kind of collateral damage that perfectly sum up the secondhand stress of supporting Jimmy all these years.
Howard isn’t exactly right when he accused Jimmy of being greedy. Toxic might be more apt at this point. When he slips, someone else tends to take the fall. Chuck was publicly and professionally degraded on account of Huell’s cell-phone swap; Kim buckled under the above-discussed pressure of floating their joint practice while Jimmy was out hustling drug dealers in his community-service cohort and manipulating elderly women for quick cash and innocent Saul Goodman Productions clients like Duke City Recliners — rather than the fat cats Viktor and Giselle used to sucker — who have overextended themselves for a measly 30 seconds during Murder, She Wrote.
And then there’s poor Irene Landry, the class representative in Sandpiper residents’ suit against their assisted-living home’s parent company. Helplessly watching Jimmy turn Irene’s friends against her until she caves and accepts the $1,160,000 settlement is an excruciating kind of forced rubbernecking. The rush of seeing Nacho outwit Hector and move one step closer to eliminating his top don is upended by the harsh, gravitational reality of Irene and Kim’s rock bottom. It’s only fitting that Jimmy is nearly as exacting as Nacho while rigging Sandpiper’s Bingo balls so Irene would win in a straight flush, only to lose whatever remaining social capital she has left. All that’s missing is a bucket of pig’s blood on her head.
Nevertheless, Jimmy gets his 20 percent in what he can only rationalize as a relatively victimless crime (in lieu of Howard not giving him the luxury of moral high ground) and plunks some coin down on a celebratory bottle of Zafiro. Kim demurs, as she’s making haste to that fateful Gatwood rendezvous, but Francesca indulges Jimmy and toasts to his success. It’s hard to overlook here that Zafiro Añejo is also Gus’s fatal offering to Don Eladio years later. So while Kim may have been better off in the short term to stay back and have a drink, the decision to abstain may ultimately keep her out of Walter White and the cartel’s crosshairs come decade’s end. Francesca, on the other hand, has all but doomed herself to one day shredding papers and helping Saul Goodman get off the grid.
That’s the crux of “Fall,” really: Should you opt to fast-track your needs at others’ gradually more burdensome expense, or let situations play out naturally and hold out for more than diminishing returns? We certainly know how Hector feels about the latter. As does Nacho. When the elder Salamanca all but spits in cartel leadership’s eye at the pronouncement that his plan to piggyback on Gus’s route has worked a little too well, Nacho hurries to his father’s house to warn that Hector will be making a hostile visit soon. It’s a heartbreaking moment for Nacho, and fans of Nacho, when his father more or less disowns him. (Even more so when Nacho pours out one last glass of milk before leaving.) But Nacho made his choice to work for Hector, and understands that slipping up now means his blood has to take the fall.
When Mike signs on the dotted line as a “security consultant” with Madrigal, he likewise accepts his choice, even if the outcome isn’t determined. Breaking Bad viewers will appreciate (and spoiler-averse folks who’ve yet to binge on BB, stop here) how crucial this encounter truly is. Mike could hardly predict that he’d eventually break into Lydia’s home and stop just shy of killing her. Nor could Lydia ever imagine that this man whom she thinks underestimates Gus would outlive the kingpin and conspire with a former chemistry teacher who spikes her tea with a lethal dose of ricin. Still, it’s hard to say whether either of them would have pumped the brakes if a crystal ball foretold that their partnership with Mr. Fring would indirectly result in the horrific murder of a young boy beneath the desert train tracks. Maybe Jimmy might have eased up on Irene were he privy to the irony that, almost 15 years hence, he’d be a humbled mall employee rather than hustling mall-walker. Perhaps it’s best to classify such consequences as human rounding errors.
Apart From All That
• Howard wants Chuck to retire, Chuck sues them instead, Chuck’s feigning that he’s fine, but he’s not. We’ll see where this goes.
• Tip of the hat to Patrick Fabian for fine work this season.
• Kudos to Better Call Saul for giving a company of qualified elderly actors high-billing work in an important episode.
• Yep, that’s Bonnie Bartlett, a.k.a. Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mom in Twins, as Helen.
• That had to have been TV’s best sneaker-peddling Jimmy since this guy.
• PS that same Seinfeld episode also featured this guy.
• How could we ever forget do-gooder Erin?
• Is the finale gonna follow up on Mike, Anita, and that playground?
• Odds on Nacho escaping this season alive?
• A chair yoga how-to for you.
• That black-and-white flick is Charles Laughton’s excellent The Night of the Hunter. One supposes Jimmy would be the Robert Mitchum character here, and the Sandpiper commission his bounty.