Better Call Saul: Jimmy McGill – Making Elder Law Interesting Since 2002!

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Better call saul
Photo Courtesy of AMC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

As is often noted, real life is messy.  It doesn’t tend to move in straight, uninterrupted lines.  That’s why, for as much people may complain about it, Hollywood does try to fit the stories that emerge from it into various formulas.  They’re cleaner and more easily understood by the masses.

For that reason, a very underrated element of Better Call Saul has been the amazing realism of the character arc of Jimmy McGill.  While the ultimate progression from Jimmy to Saul figures to parallel the Walter White-to-Heisenberg journey, this one has moved more in zigs and zags.  There have been a few times in this space this season where the definitive transition was asserted to be underway — only to have the story proceed to defy easy categorization and still remain very logical.  That is a true indicator of state-of-the-art storytelling.

As such, with the success that Peter Gould, Vince Gilligan and Company have had in keeping their cards close to the vest, it’s now officially futile – as well as not even a satisfying parlor game anymore – trying to guess what’s going to be Jimmy’s big transformative event.  Actually, the way that matters are playing out, maybe the Powers That Be are really going to defy TV’s well-established tropes and let a series of loosely-connected incidents serve as the collective tipping point.

So there will be absolutely no guesses here about the part that Episode 1.8, Rico, plays in the eventual journey.  It is interesting to note, however, that an interesting merger was on display: Jimmy’s earnest care advocacy married to the no-holds-barred legal warfare of Saul.  Those who enjoyed the confluence may well see more of it.

Rico unfolds with another Jimmy-flashback, the third episode to contain such a cold open so far.  This one shines a great deal more light on the origins of Jimmy’s hatred for HHM and Howard Hamlin in particular: while working a mailroom job there several years earlier, Jimmy took law classes unbeknownst to those around him and (eventually) passed the bar.  In terms of rewards, Meatloaf would have been proud of Jimmy, because two out of three wasn’t bad: an excited kiss from Kim and words of great respect from Chuck versus Howard’s rebuff of a legal job at the firm.  Actually, in considering Jimmy’s countenance after Howard’s kick in the gut, maybe Meatloaf’s philosophies on life aren’t really applicable to the Albuquerque legal scene.

As such, you had to admire Jimmy’s restraint in not reacting viscerally to seeing Howard’s smug mug on TV announcing the Kettleman plea bargain – but the man of the (old) people was busy gladhanding at the Sandpiper Crossing elderly facility en route to a visit with his client, Mrs. Landry.  An otherwise nondescript meeting ends with her inability to scrape up enough money to pay him, attributing her trouble to her meager “allowance.”  Upon further investigation, Jimmy learns that Mrs. Landry’s Social Security check and other funds are being dispersed directly to the home, with a tiny amount being allotted directly to her.  A brief canvassing of other elderly ladies and gents turns up additional such cases, but the facility takes note of his efforts.

When Jimmy visits Chuck, the older brother rails at him for the attempted manipulation of involving him in the casework, but his confirmation that Jimmy is on to something with Sandpiper demonstrates that Jimmy’s method is proving successful.  However, upon returning to the home, Jimmy is denied access to his clients and, hearing shredding underway, he scribbles a furious demand on toilet paper (!) that the home cease and desist all attempts to defraud his clients.  His later foraging through the Sandpiper dumpsters – a truly brave tactic at a place that surely must house countless incontinent patients – yields armfuls of shredded documents.  While he is conducting his search, he receives a phone call from a smarmy Sandpiper attorney who parries Jimmy’s accusations while offering veiled threats about the consequences of a frivolous lawsuit.  He takes the shreddings to Chuck, who is at first impatient with his behavior – but Chuck comes through when an exhausted Jimmy falls asleep, actually piecing together several actual papers from the scraps.

From there, Jimmy tries to redeem the Kettleman IOU with Kim, asking for her to research and make copies of a lot of legal records.  She counters that such a move would invariably get her in trouble, as everyone at the firm has a code for the copier and the work is not company business.  Chuck tells Jimmy to supply his code, which only makes Kim more nervous, since there’s no way that Howard would sit still for Chuck’s return to the legal arena being in the service of his still-wannabe younger brother.  But she acquiesces, setting the stage for quite a reaction by Howard down the road.

As soon as the brothers McGill have had a chance to assemble their declaration of war, it is faxed to the Sandpiper attorneys, resulting in a visit from them.  Admitting to some “accounting errors,” the lawyers offer a lowball settlement of $100,000 – whereupon Jimmy delivers a bravura performance, listing all of the wrongdoing suffered by the victims.  He tops off his rant with a note that the company is purchasing syringes from Nebraska – bringing the legal notions of interstate commerce and RICO potentially into play.  Jimmy mentions the term “treble damages,” which leads the Sandpiper hired guns to assume that the counter-offer is going to be in the six figures – whereupon Chuck, who has sat mute this entire time, blurts out a demand for $20,000,000, thus ending the meeting.  Jimmy is incredulous, but he agrees to follow Chuck’s gameplan, simply because he’s happy to have his brother back in the game.  A further sign of Chuck’s progress comes when he decides to retrieve a document from Jimmy’s car and simply goes out and gets it before realizing, with an incredulous Jimmy in the doorway, what he’d been able to do.  However, Chuck’s inscrutable expression, somewhere between joy and horror, delivers a wordless cliffhanger about the status of his psychological disease.

In terms of time spent, Mike’s story proved a minor subplot, but it was very important in establishing once and for all how the former cop became The Cleaner.  Upon learning of the financial difficulties of his daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Mike looks up the vet who treated him in Five-O and asked if the shady money-making opportunities were still available.  Here’s hoping that the vet hooks him up with Gus Fring sooner rather than later.

So with only two episodes left in the maiden season, the trajectory of Jimmy McGill remains anyone’s guess.  He immediately replaced the Kettleman case with Sandpiper and drew his brother back into action, setting up possible conflict with Howard.  His one-time and future co-worker Mike is now moving decisively into his action-packed future.  And Nacho is still out there in the wind, dissatisfied with Jimmy’s previous help.  It’s difficult to imagine how the disparate threads might all tie together at this point, but if they do, this season actually has a good chance to be rated by many as ahead of Breaking Bad through one campaign.  Who would have imagined that as recently as the beginning of February?

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