Better Call Saul: A Chimp With A Machine Gun

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Better call saul
Photo Courtesy of AMC


Warning: Spoiler Alert

The one constant in the initial season of Better Call Saul has been the notion that Jimmy McGill – who shares his brother’s essential decency, deep-down, but has had to live down his grifter “Slippin’ Jimmy” youth – will do the right thing when it really counts, saving life, limb and long jail sentences in a pinch.  But at every turn, you can see the seeds of Saul taking root in the cynicism of the realization that, sometimes, it really is true that no good deed goes unpunished.

And while Jimmy threw back quite a lot when he refunded the dirty money from the Kettlemans – the fancy office and the seed money for significant expansion – he has much more at stake with his play against Sandpiper Crossing now that Chuck upped the ante in the case to a $20 million ask.  More than any other case in his career, this opportunity – obtained almost by chance, but developed through the tireless if shady means of investigation – represents the game-changer that he’s been seeking all along.  The loss of this shot would be enough to permanently embitter a great many people, not just somebody whose future we know will come from the ashes of burned-out dreams like Jimmy’s.

In Episode 1.9, Pimento, the most likely cause of Jimmy’s slide into the moral abyss comes into view for the first time, as the puzzle pieces from cold opens throughout the season begin to fit together.  In this cold open, Jimmy and Chuck are sitting outside in the aftermath of the last episode in wonderment about Chuck “surviving the electromagnetic radiation” of the atmosphere.  Their discussion leads to Jimmy’s successful denial of the restraining order that the nursing home tries to put on him; however, as Chuck points out later on while sifting through the opposing law firm’s document dump, the other side can decimate them in a war of attrition due to their lack of manpower.  Jimmy needs, Chuck declares, his own big guns: HHM.

It’s interesting that a lot of Internet speculation after Episode 1.8 surrounded HHM somehow managing to steal this huge case from Jimmy and that development becoming the cause of his deviation from the path of good.  As such, it was a refreshing twist from the writers for Jimmy to accede, fairly readily, to doing business with “the devil,” as he characteristically refers to Howard.  As Jimmy mentions the chance of getting an office next to his brother, Chuck gives a bit of an odd look.  FORESHADOWING!  Later, wielding a space blanket, he secretly uses Jimmy’s phone to make a mysterious call.

The next day, at Jimmy’s suggestion, Chuck somehow wedges the space blanket under his suit for the meeting at HHM.  Before the brothers McGill arrive, Howard arranges for all cellphones to be gathered and put away, along with the killing of all electricity.  When Jimmy and his big brother walk in the lobby, they are greeted by a company-wide standing ovation for an obviously-moved Chuck.  The meeting itself with Howard and his key associates proceeds very smoothly – one might almost think TOO smoothly – when Howard agrees to provide Jimmy with 20% of the final settlement and a $20,000 of counsel payment in lieu of a finders fee.  But when Jimmy asks about the location of his office, Howard clears the room for a private conversation, trying gently to tell Jimmy that the firm is not taking on new associates, regardless of circumstances.  He nods apologetically to Chuck about the decision being made by the partners in his absence, a detail that proves vital to the episode’s devastating, climactic scene.  From there, acrimony rages, as Jimmy angrily tells Howard that HHM will never get his case.  Later, when Kim tries to plead his case to Howard, she gets nowhere and Howard actually becomes quite condescending with her.  But as she leaves, he asks her to stay and close the door, for purposes left unanswered at the time.

Whatever she’s told – and by the end of the episode, it seems quite clear – her viewpoint has changed by the time she catches up with Jimmy back at the nail salon.  For the shot at good, guaranteed money and the chance to get out of his brother’s shadow, she urges him to take the deal.  Feeling betrayed by one of the only people close to him, Jimmy erupts at her, sending her away.  But her advice stirs some thoughts in his head and by the time he starts to wonder about why his cellphone had all the juice run down, he’s beginning to put the pieces together.  Interestingly, again, much Internet speculation had Kim – who doesn’t seem to have quite the depth of feelings for Jimmy that he does for her – being the source of his downfall, perhaps in the form of betraying him to get ahead at HHM.  That would have been more of a conventional story to tell.  But this way, with her being the catalyst for him figuring out the awful truth, was infinitely better.

He then makes a visit to Chuck that seems no different from any of the rest, but devolves into something else altogether quickly.  He surprises his brother by indicating that Kim convinced him to take the deal, before revealing that he did some research and learned that Chuck used his phone to call Howard the night before the meeting.  Connecting dots from the flashback in the previous episode, Jimmy deduces that Howard was quick to throw cold water on the notion of hiring him years before because Chuck himself didn’t want him around.  Confronted with the truth, Chuck shockingly connects dots to earlier flashbacks, proclaiming that he knows that his younger brother is and always will be “Slippin’ Jimmy.”  He sneers at Jimmy’s distance learning law degree and exclaims that Jimmy becoming an attorney is like “a chimp with a machine gun.”  Chuck is both resentful that Jimmy thinks that having a law degree makes them peers in any way and protective of what he sees as the sanctity of the law, so the reveal that he has been the force standing in the way of Jimmy’s potential opportunities at HHM all along is quite devastating.  Quietly, Jimmy informs Chuck of the supplies that he has brought to him and indicates that they will be the last.  As Jimmy is making the agonizing departure from the home of the brother that he has relentlessly protected and been betrayed by, Chuck calls after him in vain.  Clearly, he does not want a rupture with his brother and also, knowing that he’s not fully “recovered,” he knows that Jimmy’s been his crucial lifeline.  But, you can’t really expect that to continue once you’ve kicked your brother’s nards clear up into his esophagus, so other means of survival are going to have to be arranged – quickly.

Jimmy’s digestion of this season’s most bitter pill coincides with Mike’s first work in the Albuquerque underground, dealing with literal pills.  Having obtained a puppy from the vet for his granddaughter – no doubt as a cover for future visits to the vet for job assignments – Mike is recruited as bodyguard for a nerdy, first-time pill peddler with a code name of “Price.”  It’s supposed to be a three-man job, but one would-be tough guy instigates a fight with Mike that, naturally, ends poorly for him and the other specimen – a real mountain of a man – flees Mike in the aftermath.  So it’s just Mike accompanying Price to the drop with a crew led by Nacho.  It’s all tying back together, kids!

[By the way, the episode title takes its name from Mike’s previously-identified love of pimento sandwiches.  The wannabe tough guy queries him about what he’s holding, whereupon Mike identifies the sandwich in lieu of weaponry.  When asked about what he’d use to shoot with, Mike reveals his willingness to take guns from the loudmouth and, when challenged, proceeds to brutally do just that.  Beware of the guy you so casually referred to as “Uncle Fester,” jerk!]

When Price counts the money, he finds that he’s been shorted by a mere $20 and he’s about to let it go, but Mike insists that every dime be paid to them.  Nacho readily agrees and they all depart peacefully after the transfer.  Price wonders about how Mike knew that Nacho would knuckle under and Mike reveals his massive research, including the tidbit about Nacho working this deal on the side from his crime associates.  He wanted the deal to go through, regardless, and he wanted it to proceed quietly and smoothly.  Such preparation, Mike indicates, is key to “the life.”  We know that Mike is only going to get deeper into it and the tie to Nacho will be the first step in what might be a long road leading to Gus Fring.  Based on the professorial nature of the conversation after the drug deal, Price might become a fixture on the scene as well.

So now Mike’s origin story is pretty well advanced and it seems that Jimmy’s is catching up rapidly.  For his whole life, he’s been subduing his baser instincts to pursue the respect of a brother who clearly has very little for him.  Throughout the initial season of Better Call Saul, Jimmy McGill has dealt with roadblocks, sidetracks and setbacks in his pursuit of a better life.  Now he deals with actual heartbreak, stemming from acute betrayal.  For the first time, we have a Jimmy McGill with nothing left to lose, because according to his own brother he doesn’t have a good name and he never will.  Essentially, the disabled Chuck has been revealed as the true Big Bad of Season 1, not the smarmy Howard, who may in fact be the decent guy that he’s portrayed himself as all along.  Now the acceleration of the negative feelings coursing through Jimmy will propel this show into what should be a very consequential and incredible first-season finale.


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