Better Call Saul
Victor’s a pretty efficient guy. He helped Gus confirm that Nacho was behind the attempted murder of their mutual nemesis, Hector Salamanca. And when it comes time to dispatch of hothead Arturo (so long, Vincent Fuentes), he’s right there to assist in binding him with zip ties and suffocating him to death with a plastic bag. This gives you an idea, then, of how desperate Gus had become by the time he slashed Victor’s throat to make a point at the outset of Breaking Bad’s fourth season.
For now, Gus is in the peak throes of his utter consumption with vengeance against anyone with the Salamanca surname, particularly its elder Hector, who lays post-comatose in a Lovelace Hospital bed with slim chances of survival after Nacho’s stunt. But contrary to what Gus’s personal physician seems to think, a near-death, vegetative state is still too good for this exceptional adversary. So Gus shuttles in a specialist from Johns Hopkins named Maureen Bruckner who plans to rewire Hector’s neural pathways and essentially Frankenstein him back to health, presumably so Gus can kill him in exactly the unsentimental way he intended. And, handily, she can speak reassuringly in Spanish to terrifying cousins Marco and Leonel.
The subsequent scene, in which the twins verbally implore Arturo and Nacho to whisper sweet nothings to Hector so he’s not exiled in a black hole of human communication — Arturo’s assurances about taking care of the “shit gang” on Lomas apparently didn’t suffice — is the most awkward TV-criminal ICU visit since Paulie and Vito paid begrudged tribute to Carmela and Tony in The Sopranos. It’s also a sign of how things are going for Jimmy that the episode’s lone real bit of black comedy comes via the cartel.
Not that Jimmy’s in a Nacho-sized pickle. He isn’t the essential property (yet) of Gus or any other criminal kingpin (and boy, did Nacho’s sentence of servitude bring back memories of Jesse Pinkman and BB’s neo-Nazis), but he’s running out of options for rebuilding his life after Chuck’s death. His little white lies to Kim about interviewing for management-level positions are mounting, and his patience for starting over as, for example, a low-level copier salesman for nitwits like Mr. Neff (shout-out to GLOW regular Andrew Friedman) is nil. It doesn’t help matters that Mr. Neff’s office shelves are populated with Hummel figurines, the very sort that Jimmy helped Mrs. Strauss estate-plan for back in season one, helping compel his decision to venture into elder law. No wonder Jimmy couldn’t bring himself to work for these “suckers,” as he puts it, pushovers all too eager to hire some schmuck off the street who could wow them with razzle-dazzle nonsense. If one of those guys is born every minute, Jimmy may as well be charging them by the hour.
As it happens, Jimmy and his old pal Mike — whom Jimmy hopes to rope in for what appears to be a plan to cop Mr. Neff’s Hummels and resell them for riches — aren’t so different. They both respect others who do their due diligence and don’t suffer fools. So parallel to Jimmy traversing the region and principally rejecting one sales-associate gig after another, Mike makes it plain to Lydia that he will make it to all eight Madrigal warehouses and whip them into shape. She ought to think of it as a perk of his employment, he insists. She sees things slightly different, but Breaking Bad audiences will also recall Lydia is a touch neurotic. Nothing wrong with that, per se, at least far as Gus is concerned. So long as she plays ball, gives Mike a badge and doesn’t get in his way, a secure phone line to voice her misgivings and be heard is always open.
Contrarily, Kim is rather effective at communicating to Howard that his access to her and Jimmy is severed. Despite still recovering from her injuries and getting around in a sling, she marches into HHM, undeterred by the gauche portrait of Chuck in the lobby, and acts as Jimmy’s proxy in settling Chuck’s estate. She and Rebecca make nice enough, but once the former Mrs. McGill is out the door, the gloves come off and Kim all but reduces Howard to a bedwetting 4-year-old, admonishing him for trying to put proverbial lipstick on the pig of Jimmy’s token inheritance. She even adds a few choice words about his transferring guilt onto Jimmy and burdening him with the notion that Chuck’s death was a case of self-immolation. There’s nothing he can do to make things better other than to not make them worse, she concludes, left with the terrible dilemma of whether to give Jimmy his brother’s final, “for your eyes only” letter.
How fitting for Jimmy, the former mailroom worker — a time in his life oft-referenced throughout “Breathe” — that the very fate of his relationship with Kim may be swayed by whether or not she relays that envelope. Jimmy’s been searching for excuses to be freed from the responsibility of rising to others’ expectations. Kim, more than she realizes, is all that’s keeping him from slipping into the persona of someone whose behavior would put that Chicago counterfeiter of his past to shame. Discovering that Kim’s withheld Chuck’s final message from the grave could provide Jimmy with an excuse to lash out at and alienate the only person left holding him to account. That is, if she doesn’t first tally his minor moral transgressions and come to resent how much she’s put on the line. The letter could simply be weaponized for spite, its contents concretizing Jimmy’s intent to obliterate anyone’s standards by removing James McGill from the public record entirely.
Not all of “Breathe” is as suspenseful as its final moments or cathartic as Kim eviscerating her old boss. Some of it is almost routine (you’ve been to one job interview, you’ve been to ’em all). But Arturo’s death, insignificant in the grand scheme as it may seem, underscores the ghosts that haunt Better Call Saul. We know Lydia, Gus, Victor, Tyrus, Mike, Hector, Marco, and Leonel all meet terrible, violent ends (to paraphrase Westworld). Their presence in this series, especially all in one episode, is unnerving and strange, and unites BCS with its post-dated predecessor Breaking Bad in ways that unsettle and get under your skin, which is far more rewarding than the surface titillation of worlds literally colliding. But collide they will, even if at a Gila monster’s persistent pace.
Apart From All That
• Well, at least Nacho’s dad’s off the hook.
• By Hector’s end in BB, he was sort of an anti-hero. Makes sense to plant seeds of sympathy for him here.
• Uh-oh, Jimmy’s hair is thinning. Fast track to Gene-ville.
• Jimmy has officially crossed over from sunk-cost phase to opportunity-cost phase. And time-is-a-wasting.
• Too bad we never got to meet Audrey in Neff HR.
• I’m with Dr. Diseth.
• Always Jaws 3-D. Always. (Though, yes, Jimmy’s seeing things ever more in black and white. Symbolism noted.)
• Hopefully that’s not Patrick Fabian’s curtain call. We love you, Howard!