It all started with the ice-cream cone.
Last season’s second episode, “50% Off,” ended with Jimmy on his cell phone taking a massive influx of calls from new clients he’d ported over from his burner-phone scheme. During breaks in the conversation, he’s happily licking away at a mint-chocolate-chip cone, no doubt buoyed by his success in seeding the Saul Goodman business model. Then a car pulls up next to him on the sidewalk. Nacho more or less has him tossed in the back seat. And plop goes the cone. In the opening of the next episode, the melting ice cream attracts a swarm of red ants. This, as we say in the business, is symbolism.
Obviously, there have been many moments when Slippin’ Jimmy has made his way down the slope; his own brother said that giving him a law degree was “like a chimp with a machine gun.” Jimmy is responsible for the choices that eventually derail his life, but at that moment in “50% Off,” he’s literally hijacked into an area of defense law that he didn’t envision for himself. He will be Lalo Salamanca’s lawyer — and thus a cartel lawyer. That “speedy justice” model was supposed to align him more with Kim, who loved her pro bono work so much that she quit a high-paying gig at a premium firm in order to gobble up cases at a similar rate. They’re in a volume business, offering good representation to a poorer client base that the system is designed to alienate.
Lalo Salamanca is the ant at the top of that sugar cone. And in “Hit and Run,” the other ants are swarming in kind. Word has gotten around that Saul Goodman used some shady tactics to get one “Jorge de Guzman” out on $7 million bail despite the nonexistence of anyone of that name and the fake family that had filed into his court hearing. This makes Jimmy a pariah at the courthouse, where his considerable charms are lost on everyone who succumbed to them before, from the security guys at the metal detector to a clerk no longer swayed by stuffed animals and white-chocolate macadamia-nut cookies. On the other hand, every shady creep in Albuquerque has come to believe that they’ve found their lawyer — guys with names like Dante and Spooge. Jimmy will surely negotiate special rates for his criminal clientele, much as he did with Lalo (and Walter White in Breaking Bad), but he is past the point of no return. He’s a cartel lawyer now.
He’s also making more mischief. In last week’s episode, he and Kim deployed Huell for a valet-parking scheme to copy the keys (and electrical fob system) to Howard’s Jaguar. (Let us pause for a moment to appreciate how much time Better Call Saul is willing to devote to the details of this one piece of one step in a larger plan. At best, other shows would have covered the entire plot against Howard in a single episode.) Now Jimmy does his best Howard impersonation — the tailored pin-striped suit, the expensive haircut, the spray tan — and steals Howard’s car while he’s in session with a therapist.
Hunting for Breaking Bad Easter eggs is the worst justification for watching Better Call Saul, but it’s hard not to get excited about the appearance of Wendy (Julia Minesci), the Crossroads Motel prostitute and meth addict who tries to deliver poisoned food on Jesse Pinkman’s behalf in “Half Measures,” one of the show’s most memorable episodes. (The cold open, set to the Association’s “Windy,” was an instant classic.) She looks better here, more of a root-beer addict than a meth head at this point, and she’s willing to do some acting on Jimmy’s behalf, as they stage a street scene in which his fake Howard screeches his car in front of Cliff Main and tosses her out the passenger’s side. Cliff is outside lunching with Kim. He’s starting to buy the story they’re telling.
If there’s a lesson to “Saul Goodman,” it’s that sometimes you become the role that you play. And here, Kim Wexler fakes her way into something real. Her job in this scam is simply to arrange a lunch meeting outside with Cliff, arriving early enough to position him in clear view of the action. But the jibber-jabber that needs to happen before Howard’s car peels out around the corner leads to a tangible, potentially life-changing opportunity: Kim talks to Cliff about devoting an independent team of lawyers to work on pro bono cases like hers, appealing to his reputation for social consciousness and his connections in state government. And he appears to buy it, noting his son’s drug problems, which have presumably given him a view of the legal system’s failings. She might have backed her way into a backer.
“Hit and Run” has some intrigue about Lalo’s resurrection from the presumed dead, but it’s most important as the fork in the road where Jimmy and Kim’s paths diverge. They each get a glimpse of their future: Jimmy’s booming client base earns him an eviction from the nail salon and hastens his search for the strip-mall office that will become Saul Goodman’s all-American justice center. And now, Kim’s devotion to representing ordinary, less fortunate people could get the backing it needs to remain viable. One is a path to legitimacy, one to illegitimacy, even if they share a common starting point. Jimmy and Kim care about the type of clients that firms like Howard’s ignore despite Chuck McGill’s high-toned defense of legal norms. But the question remains: How long can their personal relationship survive their professional departure? When this elaborate plot on Howard is over, what will be left of their partnership?
Such questions are deferred for now. They’re hungry, and the Taco Cabeza is a short walk away.
• With Wendy making an appearance in this episode, it’s only natural to honor the cold open of “Half Measures” by setting this cold open to a pop song — this time, Dreamliners’ “Best Things in Life,” a much more obscure single from 1965. It’s a fun tease, with a cycling couple engaging in banal chatter about “tomato red” house paint as they’re walking into a home with armed men and a bank of surveillance cameras. Between his bulletproof vest and this entire security apparatus within a tunnel’s distance from his house, Gus is really into self-preservation. Which makes his ultimate fate all the crazier.
• Whatever that therapist is getting paid to listen to Howard talking about his dreams, it’s not enough.
• Kim isn’t the type to get rattled necessarily. She meets Mike in this episode because he believes she is “made of sterner stuff” than her husband, which is, of course, the right conclusion to gather after Mike overheard her confrontation with Lalo. But the news that Lalo is alive and might seek Jimmy out is unnerving for her to hear. She tolerates a lot of Jimmy’s quirks and flaws, but she’s not onboard with his adventures as a cartel lawyer.
• If Spooge looks familiar to you, he had a brief run on Breaking Bad’s second season: He and his wife held up Skinny Pete for an ounce of meth and attempted to pay him back later by drilling into an ATM he’d lifted from a convenience store. He met a memorably bad end.