Better Call Saul
Howard’s End, indeed. The title of Clara’s pick for, well, every major 1993 Oscar (it did win a couple, though Unforgiven snagged the big prize) could just as well headline the story of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill come 2003. Howard Hamlin, Jimmy’s inherent adversary-turned-feeble insomniac, continues sharing too much, confiding in Jimmy that desks are empty around HHM because of what the consultants call “right-sizing.” He hasn’t slept in God knows how long, the thickness of his stubble is — as Jimmy cruelly observes — threatening to overshadow the fine hair atop his head, and a combination of the firm’s stained reputation and financial burdens triggered by Chuck’s death have left him a shell. “Get your shit together,” Jimmy admonishes, echoing his unsolicited dressing down of Mr. Niff.
But Jimmy knows Howard’s been beaten down enough, just like he knew Mr. Niff didn’t deserve to be humiliated and debased. Jimmy’s using others as mirrors and rebuking what he sees: some potential, sad-sack version of his future self if he keeps playing by the rules and getting rolled. That’s why he hires Huell and an accomplice (the actor David Mattey in a role dubbed Man Mountain) to help spook the three teens who jacked his burner-phone cash. The scheme — involving a pre-calculated foot race, two giants in ski masks wielding baseball bats, some duct tape and a warehouse full of piñatas — is elaborate (and arguably Killer Klowns–inspired) but fool-proof. Jimmy had marked his territory for selling 350-minute cells (paid for, poignantly, with his perfunctory share of Chuck’s estate) till his heart’s contentment, and no one would get in his way.
Kim has a slightly different plan, one that doesn’t actually involve Jimmy, though it does provide him with that final push into a life outside the law (professionally and otherwise). It’s hard to tell what’s on her mind when she sees Jimmy’s memo-pad doodlings of Wexler-McGill 2.0 logos. It could be affection, pity, or guilt — as with most mixed emotions, probably a touch of each. But she’s resolved to pursue her passion for helping others by dedicating as much time as she can to pro bono work, which means offloading Mesa Verde to Schweikart & Cokley. Or as it turns out, making a space for herself there as partner and head of their new banking division, overseeing countless assistants to help her wade through the particulars of horse-stature aesthetics while she frees up hours to make sure lost souls like teen vandal David Estrada stay free.
It’s fair to assume Kim will commit herself entirely to advocacy work down the line, and that she and Jimmy will — regardless of Jimmy’s fantasies of what can happen in ten months to salvage their collaborative coupling — be entangled with criminal law in very different functions. Jimmy is plainly relishing his emancipation from constantly walking a fine line. Thus far, the only thing he’s really lied to Kim about when pressed is whether he supports what’s best for her, but the truth is there’s distance between them. There may never be a real rift (when Saul urges Francesca to tell an unnamed attorney in “Quite a Ride” that “Jimmy sent ya,” there’s every chance he’s referring her to Kim). She honestly doesn’t judge him for ditching the idea of therapy, and may not judge him if and when she discovers the depths of his transgressions (who knows what’s gotten him to this point better than she?), but she may have started loving him less.
If only we could all have Gus’s unyielding patience for bearing with the ups and downs of nurturing weakened lucuma trees. Even at 7 years old, a then-impoverished Gus Fring, living with his brothers in a makeshift shack that smelled of hay in the rain, developed his taste for control. The fruit borne from his property’s lucuma tree, he tells Hector — who’s still comatose and battling off his latest severe infection — couldn’t have been sweeter. And he loved sharing it with his siblings and selling it to the villagers. But what consumed him completely was vying for dominance with a coyote that had been plundering his lucuma tree. Gus speechifies about the homemade trap he used to break the coyote’s leg, how he waited out the night until the coyote’s appetite became insatiable and finally brawled the animal to its death. The metaphor is clear (and, frankly, the monologuing a bit cliché, especially as Hector lay there expressionless). Gus is revealing himself as, essentially, psychotic and obsessed. His violence is instinctual, and only slightly less terrifying than his practical need for survival (whether or not it’s Emma Thompson–level “pragmatic” is up to the individual).
Mike knows this. It’s probably why he doesn’t bother putting Anita in harm’s way by calling and apologizing and starting fresh. (As for Kaylee, she’s the only thing keeping him from total isolation.) He’s also been around the block a few more times than Jimmy. Mike understands there’s no way any of this ends well or with a way out. His resignation rivals Jimmy’s restlessness, but other peoples’ choices aren’t his problem. Right now, his main concern is Kai, one of Werner’s German workers. He’s the only one who takes the crew’s generous lodgings — big TV, recliners, a full bar and basketball court, etc. — as an invitation to flout entitlement and test the limits of Mike’s patience. Good thing Mike’s got a trailer across from their warehouse with security cameras and two human attendants keeping eyes at all times, ensuring not a minute of Gus’s time, money, and goodwill is ill-spent in the six months (estimated) it takes Werner to get the job done. This, for at least the next five years, is the essence of how Mike survives. And at an even more basic level — one that lines up with the show’s themes of chasing freedom and independence — “Piñata” reminds us that when creating compelling characters, as Mike would say, “We can’t just keep ’em alive, we gotta keep ’em from climbing the walls.”
Apart From All That
• R.I.P. Mrs. Strauss.
• New spin-off idea: Go Tell Tyrus.
• Three more weeks and Kim’s fully armed again!
• U.S. v. United Foods was a thing.
• Mrs. Nguyen’s not wrong….
• That is one incredible Sergio Tacchini tracksuit. (I preferred the lighter, windbreaker-like ones myself.)
• Fun cameo from Chuck, and if only Jimmy never walked into that library.