Better Call Saul
It had to have rankled “Dedicado a Max” writer Heather Marion when Curb Your Enthusiasm beat Better Call Saul to the punch on the whole “side sitter” thing. Although, to be clear, where Larry David was preoccupied by couples who sit beside each other in an L formation at restaurants and cafes, Jimmy is more bemused by guys like Kevin Wachtel, who tilt their chairs at a discernibly differentiating angle from colleagues during business meetings. Despite Kevin’s own assurances to Kim that “I know a scam when I see one,” both Kim and Jimmy see right through the Mesa Verde boss’s bluster and know they’re up against a prideful but pedestrian adversary who’s long assumed an upper hand was his birthright. Jimmy just can’t help but laugh at Kevin’s most obvious tell.
What the duo didn’t count on, however, was the depths of Kevin’s pride. Even after Kim and Jimmy manipulated Mesa Verde into a comically futile cold war over Mr. Acker’s disputed property — going so far as to falsely accuse the demolition foreman of being a convicted felon and using spray paint and stencils to transform the house into a destination site for traveling miracle-seekers — Kevin would not budge. He’s the kind of guy for whom pondering “Why change horses midstream?” is a mantra passed down from generations of men with more moxy than equine metaphors. With Kim’s blessing, Jimmy has no choice to bring in the big guns for a bit of “oppo research” on Kevin.
Unfortunately, Mike isn’t really in a position to take Jimmy’s calls (more on that in a sec), which leads to Plan B, i.e., “Mr. X.” Or at least that’s how mouthy criminal-for-hire Sobchak (Steven Ogg, returning for the first time since season one) introduces himself to Kim. But they’re all operating under certain guises as they convene in the back of Mrs. Nguyen’s salon. Despite endeavoring on behalf of Mr. Acker, Jimmy’s dropped the Saul façade for this freelance investigation and returned to his hustling roots. And Kim — well, Mr. X can simply call her Giselle.
Mr. X, as was the case when Mike throttled him in a parking garage some time ago, is mostly comic relief. However, he does do his due diligence, breaking into Kevin’s home and snapping photos inside his palatial, seven-bedroom manor. Problem is, Kevin comes up squeaky-clean, “old school,” as Sobchak surmises. Sobchak offers to gather a group of his pals for a more invasive kidnapping kerfuffle, at which point he’s shown the “exit through the gift shop,” per Jimmy. Only when Jimmy begins to apologize for coming up empty, Kim looks up and smiles — not quite Cheshire-like but with subtle satisfaction. She’s got him. (Or, specifically, appears to have caught him in some kind of copyright infringement concerning Mesa Verde’s iconic man-on-steed silhouette.)
The question is, how close did she come to crossing streams with Gus’s genuinely terrifying underground network in the process? Jimmy doesn’t know how mixed up Mike’s gotten in the coming cartel wars, but he himself is in close-enough proximity where he’s jeopardizing Kim — or anyone from his life before Saul — by mixing business with friendship.
In that sense, Mike’s stabbing wound served as a bullet dodged for now. The most prideful man east of Tucson is convalescing in the small Mexican village Gus has morbidly reimagined as a living memorial to his fallen partner, Max. (It is the village, one assumes, where he and Max first started slinging Los Pollos plates and side samples of meth.) Dr. Barry Goodman (JB Blanc, back in the saddle) is there, buoyed by his first-class MRI machine and other perks of Mr. Fring’s patronage. The kids attend a local school and seem well outfitted with solid uniforms and sturdy backpacks. And after an ill-advised attempt to stagger for hours with open stitches to the nearest highway, Mike is persuaded to stay and avail himself of Señora Cortaza’s (Alejandra Flores) fine cooking and spare cell-phone chargers.
“The anonymous benefactor,” Mike sneers as he circles Gus, ever stoic beside the fountain that flows uninterrupted in Max’s memory, a symbol of Gus’s infinitely roiling rage. He is hell-bent on evening the score, and calls on Mike as a “soldier” in his clash with the Salamancas. “You have met them. You know what they are,” he beseeches Mike. “You understand revenge.” And to Gus’s point, it beats drunken self-loathing that leads nowhere but being left for dead on the street, ignobly pummeled by a bunch of Albuquerque punks.
We as BCS/Breaking Bad connoisseurs (certainly not as moral arbiters) know the long game leads to something even more anticlimactic, like getting your face blown off in a nursing home or fatally shot by a maniacal chemistry teacher with no one in sight for miles. We know what becomes of Jimmy as he jostles for position at the crossroads of wrong and right, but the wild card is whether Kim finds a middle ground between the futility of resistance and revenge, which is at best bittersweet.
Apart From All That:
• No one’s having more fun than Patrick Fabian as Zen master Howard.
• Paige might be one of the few thankless recurring roles on this show.
• Nothing like the sweet sounds of pan flute. Thanks, Dave Porter!
• I gotta say, Barry Corbin (Mr. Acker) may be Emmy-worthy here.
• More BCS fun with numbers! 1130 or 1240 Arroyo Vista? Potato, poh-tah-to.
• Always game for a Sgt. Slaughter reference.
• Prediction: Kim willingly works as a public defender, fulfilling Jimmy’s arc in reverse. They are ultimately mirror images.