Better Call Saul
There isn’t really much reason to spend several minutes of an already overstuffed episode wallowing along with Mike over his umpteenth pour of whiskey, or watching him pull a Mr. Miyagi on some degenerates during his stumble home. Except that between ordering his final drink and breaking a nameless lowlife’s arm, he stews over a postcard of the Sydney Opera House pinned up behind the bar — the very same opera house that Werner’s father masterminded, a source of tremendous pride and inspiration for Mike’s fallen friend.
As the wounded father of a slain son and (usually) doting pop-pop to his lone granddaughter, Mike is acutely aware of the reverberations of his crime. He hasn’t just taken a man’s life as the consequence of doing business. He’s clipped an entire legacy — played god (or at least god’s proxy) by snuffing out the Ziegler bloodline’s most reverential living inheritor. It’s no wonder he never aspired to make nice with Walter White. Yes, Walt was a raging narcissist, next to whom Werner was rich with virtue. But going forward, it was crystal clear that Mike ought to avoid getting too familiar with any potential work pals while W-2’d with Madrigal Electromotive. (It is all the more poetic, then, that he in fact met his end moments after parting with Jesse Pinkman, whom he let in like something closer to a second son.)
Kim’s ultimatum for grumpy old Mr. Acker — who won’t move off his leased plot of land as stipulated so Mesa Verde can construct an ephemeral call center in the middle of Tucumcari (i.e. nowhere) — doesn’t quite rise to the level of fatal assault on his family’s legacy. But to him, Schweikart & Cokley’s insistence is perverse and only hardens his principle, namely that the Ackers have made good on that acreage since they built a house there and hunkered down in 1974, and he’s not budging until the lease is up seven decades hence, by which time the next several generations of Ackers will have nurtured an association to that property all but priceless when placed side-by-side with some monument to corporate conquest.
Mr. Acker gets his licks, laying into Kim about her and her firm’s fancy suits and cars and such, a righteous slobs-versus-snobs screed that sends Kim seething back to her car. But Mr. Acker doesn’t know the half of what Kim went through as a child, growing up poor and itinerant and often reduced to roaming the streets barefoot and blue in her pajamas until she and her mom found the next landlord who would have them. He doesn’t realize that her personal history has compelled her to work pro bono on behalf of the less fortunate, a task she was pulled away from so she could give the devil his due and haggle with a rancorous old ranch hand over dollars and sense.
Turns out, he doesn’t actually care. Even when Kim returns that night, makes herself vulnerable, and even offers to help him move out of pocket, Mr. Acker is so coarsened by the firm’s machinations to that point that he questions her credibility to its core before beckoning her away from his door. In Mr. Acker’s world, morality makes no allowance for half-measures, no matter how convincingly Kim makes the case — to herself as much as him — that integrity can be had in compromise. Or as Rich reminded her, “You have to give a little to get a little.”
If Kim leans on the law as armor, Jimmy approaches it as both obstacle and tool. But “The Guy for This” is pretty plain about their mutual epiphany that, whether you’re heeding the call of Kevin Wachtell or Lalo Salamanca, “Once you’re in, you’re in.” Werner never quite appreciated the seriousness of who he’d committed his services to, but Jimmy is far less of a dreamer. He may talk a lot (“the mouth,” Lalo announces semi-affectionately upon their introduction) and move about the world as if safeguarded by smoke and mirrors, but he has calcified into a cavalier realist. When Nacho first scoops Jimmy up outside the courthouse, and that ice cream cone comes tumbling out onto the sidewalk, he’s anxious and on his toes. When Lalo hires him to pass along talking points to Krazy 8 in jail that, when shared with detectives, might sabotage Gus’s operation (not that Jimmy knows the end game, or wants to), he’s figuring out on the fly how to survive a situation in which there is no compromise — only profit. By the time Nacho drops him back outside the courthouse, he can only slouch and stare at that sad ice cream cone, melted and ravaged by a colony of ants, a microcosm of nature’s way. Jimmy felt emancipated from his identity as Chuck’s little brother by blossoming into Saul, but from here on out, Saul is whoever the cartel needs him to be.
Nacho, unfortunately, is not quite living up to his own father’s expectations. Manuel appears at his son’s swank bachelor pad, articulates his misgivings about his big, modern digs (the look on his face says enough), and describes an improbably generous offer he received for his shop. Nacho advises he accept. Manuel is not surprised. He realizes Nacho shadow-brokered the offer, in a bid to nudge his father out of town for his own safety. To form, Manuel will not be moved. He goes full Mr. Acker on Nacho, raging on about the quality of life he labored to create and hoped to pass on as his legacy.
Alas, Nacho is leaps and bounds beyond Jimmy or Kim or even Mike when it comes to having grasped the gravity of his tradeoffs. The best he can do is live long enough to elide either Lalo or Gus’s leery gaze, or the blunt end of their mistrust, so that he can eventually split under the cover of night and carve out a new path, not unlike what Jesse would later land on at the end of El Camino (though definitely distinct from what Saul had to settle for as Gene). In a clandestine debrief with Gus and Tyrus about Saul’s liaising with Krazy 8, Gus gives Nacho a narrow reprieve to carry on as his inside man. But with DEA agents Hank Schrader and Steven Gomez (they’re baaaaack) on the case, there’s only so long Nacho can function as a de facto double agent straddling both sides of a simmering cartel war before his time runs out.
Apart From All That:
• As always, I love how much this show loves numbers. To wit, Saul’s specific calculation of—and Lalo’s bemusement over—$7,925.
• Re: those ants, if you’ve never seen Microcosmos, I recommend.
• Speaking of back where we started, there’s nothing like watching Jimmy and Kim light up together, wondering what’s next.
• A great, possible sendoff episode for the old Esteem. And I’d be remiss not to refer you to my circa-2015 dossier on Jimmy’s jalopy.
• Love that Hank instantly IDs Saul’s name as fake. God, he’s good.