Better Call Saul
What a difference 17 miles makes. For James McGill, that distance means more than an escape from doing business in Day Spa & Nail and ditching his rusty hunk of Suzuki Esteem. It means writing your notes on real legal pads with fancy engraved ballpoint pens, as opposed to carving out chicken scratch on reams of toilet paper. It means dreaming of a new pad in Corrales with an open floor plan, and maybe a smoker outside for those Sunday barbecues with Kim, who suddenly seems to constitute one half of a “we” rather than the implicit lilt of a “what if?”
Still, something doesn’t quite fit. The cup holder in James’s (can we call him James?) new, company-bestowed Mercedes seems to know. As he fumbles to make it hold Kim’s novelty gift — a “World’s 2nd Best Lawyer” mug that complemented his Esteem not only in dimension but in off-yellow tone — it’s as if the universe is saying, “Dummy, you can’t take any of this with you.”
“Cobbler” has an eye on measurements of all kinds, whether they pertain to distance, height or time, metric or standard. What does it really matter, anyway, when you’re swimming out of your depth? Look no further than wormy Daniel, who doesn’t even see the absurdity in his Hummer nearly scraping against the municipal garage’s 14-foot, eight-inch ceiling, let alone make the connection that his pimp-mobile makes him a target for both criminals and law enforcement. All he can see is what’s two feet in front of him, or what was — i.e., his precious baseball cards, which Nacho stole as an eff-you salute after ransacking Daniel’s place for his pharmaceuticals.
Frankly, Mr. Wormald’s just lucky that this is Better Call Saul and not Breaking Bad, and thus, he’s dealing with Nacho (or Ignacio, as his dad prefers) rather than his psycho boss, Tuco. For that matter, as Mike makes clear during a confrontation at dad’s car-upholstery shop, Nacho is just as lucky that Tuco’s unaware of his little side game. Fortunately for them all, fate intervenes when Daniel rolls up to the garage with the police, but Mike happens to be on duty at the booth. He pulls Daniel aside in the nick of time — and in one of the episode’s best comedy bits, groans while reluctantly climbing aboard Wormald’s godforsaken beast of a vehicle — then dissuades him from talking to the cops.
Mike explains how that course of action would ostensibly deliver them both into the arms of duplicitous detectives, though quickly realizes — to paraphrase his later caution to Nacho — that he underestimated just how big an idiot he’s dealing with. All that’s going to satisfy this moron is the recovery of his card collection, the sentimentality of which Mike can almost appreciate. Saving the day like the weary fixer we know and love, he manages to broker a deal with Nacho, the terms of which are simple: Nacho returns the cards in exchange for Daniel’s ghastly gas-guzzler, which will turn a prompt profit of $60,000. For his services, Mike collects a cool $10,000, and everyone walks away alive.
One thing Nacho makes very clear to Daniel is that their business is done. It’s the same message that Daniel, in turn, tries to convey to the cops when they eventually gather around an investigation-room table. Only this time, he’s got Jimmy (definitely not James) by his side, a little favor Mike called in to tie up the loose ends in his and Mr. Wormald’s fleeting enterprise. This is where we see Jimmy/James at his best, slipping one by the gullible badge men with some Cicero panache, but oozing a confidence that invariably turns slimy by the time he flowers as Saul Goodman.
And about the “Hoboken Squat Cobbler.” One assumes he was punning off a semi-popular baked confection known as loquat cobbler, derived from the ovular Chinese fruit. More important, the scene of Bob Odenkirk rattling off alternate handles for this unique sex fetish (which he claims Daniel performs for an “art patron,” hence the “hidey-hole” in his wall) arouses its own sentiment for the innocent days of 2003. That is, when a shady attorney could walk into a precinct and bamboozle two cops with improvised nonsense about grown men taping themselves as they grind their clothed asses around in pie filling for the erotic pleasure of mysterious benefactors. And because the internet’s subcultures and niche interests were still relatively disconnected, said officers wouldn’t know where to begin authenticating this lawyer’s line. The truest course they could take is (gulp) watching one of the videos themselves.
Unlike the loquat, or the Mercedes’s fussy Germanic cup holder, the pies Jimmy buys to re-create this faux fetish are perfectly round, and their precisely square boxes nestle without issue in the backseat of his new ride. He and Kim sit atop his mattress. He’s in a white tee, and she, one of his American Samoa sweatshirts. They’ve apparently just slept together. It’s a safe space, safe enough for him to let his guard down and forget which Jimmy or James he’s supposed to be, and so he enthusiastically shares details of the ruse. Kim disapproves — always testing him, it seems — and he expresses his own misgivings about her selective judgment. After all, wasn’t she all too happy to get one over on Ken the stockbroker?
Thing is, if Jimmy wants to cross that line and play fast and loose with the law (while now on the fast track to partner as a dutiful servant of it), he won’t be able to take Kim with him. The spotlight around the two of them might get dimmer and dimmer, until it’s just Jimmy and a negative space for Saul to fill. And as Chuck begins to emerge from his own darkness, increasingly bitter and filled with rage over his brother’s resiliency, how much light will really be left? To invoke Cliff’s advice, Jimmy better find a way to decompress.
Apart From All That
- I keep forgetting Howard’s not such a bad guy.
- And oh, right, Davis & Main is working with HHM on Sandpiper.
- Allowance fees, allowance shmees.
- Rebecca Bois … Chuck’s ex-wife/widow, perhaps?
- This week in Better Call Saul high-end retail: the Maelzel Metronome.
- Per the internet-infancy theme, it’s too bad Chuck didn’t have YouTube tutorials.
- I wonder if Ernie loathes being called “Ernesto.”
- Were those opening titles our first glimpse of Saul’s LWYRUP Caddy?
- Good to get that background on the origins of Nacho’s ambitions.
- Fittingly, “Cobbler” director Terry McDonough also helmed this.
- And kudos to Breaking Bad executive story editor Gennifer Hutchison for terrific writing.