A review of tonight’s Better Call Saul coming up just as soon as I’m hit with a bag of sandwiches…
“You do your thing, I’ll do mine.” -Jimmy
Jimmy‘s legal suspension began midway through Season Three, which means we have now been through more than an entire season’s worth of Saul episodes without our main character being able to practice his chosen profession. That is a lot, even for a series that’s happiest when it’s moving slowly, and which has only covered two months of that suspension prior to this week’s episode, “Something Stupid.”
A time jump had to happen sooner or later, or else the show risked our hero not becoming Saul until Bob Odenkirk needed a walker to get around. That jump finally occurs in the brilliant opening montage of “Something Stupid,” as we follow Jimmy and Kim through roughly nine months where they keep moving further apart, even as they always seem to be side by side. This idea is conveyed in an elegantly simple yet unmistakable way: from the moment the image of the couple brushing their teeth together splits into two images of them doing it on different days, there is a thick black line running vertically down the middle of the screen, whether we are watching them separately or together. Occasionally, one of them crosses this artificial divide — Jimmy to pour Kim some wine with dinner, Kim to throw her leg over Jimmy’s body while they sleep — but for the most part it literalizes the respectful barrier they have created between one another.
They are friends, and roommates, and presumably still lovers, but they are going in different directions — even when they appear to match, like when the stress ball she uses to strengthen her hand is the same color as the track suit Jimmy is wearing that day. She’s kicking ass and taking names in her new job at S&C (and in doing PD work when she’s not busy unpacking trophies from each new Mesa Verde branch), while he and Huell have a thriving (and mostly legal) operation going selling burners to the greater ABQ criminal community. He is now using Saul Goodman as an ongoing work name — which helps explain why he’ll use it as a lawyer, since it’s how so many potential clients will know him (rather than previous theories that it had something to do with his relationship with Chuck) — and there are moments where the Jimmy McGill part of him barely seems present(*).
(*) In my note-taking process for shows where characters go by multiple names/identities, I tend to switch to whatever name they’re either using in a particular scene, or that represents how they’re acting. This week, my notes are a jumble of “Jimmy” and “Saul,” sometimes toggling back and forth within the same scene. Emotionally, I’m not looking forward to the day when it’s all “Saul”s, even if that’s simpler to do.
When the montage begins, they are positioned either shoulder to shoulder or directly facing one another. As it moves along, more and more they are presented facing opposite directions. The montage ends with her joining him in bed on the same evening (you can see his half of the bed covers move as she climbs in), but the lighting casts some doubt on whether it’s the same time, or just two people in very different states of reality.
The whole thing is spectacular, maybe even better than the “Street Life” montage from “Quite a Ride” (which, like this episode, was edited by Skip MacDonald). It advances plot and theme, even as it’s enormously entertaining to watch, and it sets us up for an hour where Jimmy and Kim seem on the verge of having the split we’ve all feared was coming. (Or maybe hoped for, since we wouldn’t wish a life with Saul Goodman on Kim.)
With the cast off her arm, Kim can finally tie her trademark Power Ponytail again, and her powers and grounding in Albuquerque’s legitimate legal community seem at their strongest. When Jimmy comes to her late in the hour with a complicated, very Saul Goodman strategy for discrediting the plainclothes cop who arrested Huell for assault, Rhea Seehorn has this marvelous look on her face like Kim is listening to a foreign language she can’t even identify, let alone translate. It’s not just that their careers are on such divergent trajectories, but that their philosophies are.
Earlier in the show’s run, there were moments where their styles overlapped just enough that they made sense as quasi-partners. Now? Now Jimmy’s the guy who makes a scene at Kim’s work party — talking up a much more lavish company retreat than Rich Schweikart is interested in paying for, just because Jimmy’s bored and resentful of this place for stealing away his partner — that she has to endure with a forced smile on her face. And their relationship is now so tentative that she no longer cares enough to really scold him about it, simply griping, “Well, that was something” before allowing him to turn on the car radio for the awkward drive home. Nor does she raise much of a fuss when he tells her about the burner business while asking her to defend Huell’s assault case, though she’s obviously thrown by the news he’s been doing this for months without telling her.
But it’s not until Kim tries to negotiate a lighter plea deal with the DA that the reality of who and what her boyfriend has become really hits home, as her opposing counsel describes Jimmy as a “scumbag disbarred lawyer who peddles drop phones to criminals.” It’s an overstatement (at least, Jimmy is suspended, not disbarred), but largely accurate, and the cold hard slap of reality that Kim may need to realize it’s time for them to part ways personally, as well as professionally.
Or is it? Jimmy seems on the verge of pulling some kind of Saul Goodman stunt to prevent Huell (who has no interest in doing even a brief prison stretch) from turning fugitive. But Kim, rather than a futile attempt to change the bodyguard’s mind, takes a U-turn towards an office supply store, where she loads her shopping cart with enough markers and pens to make an entire 3rd grade class art show. What’s her plan? That will come next week, but at minimum it suggests the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that made Kim and Jimmy such a good match in the first place, before the war with Chuck and its fatal aftermath started pushing them apart.
All she says, before the credits roll, is, “I have a better way.” That applies to whatever her scheme is regarding Huell, but it also sounds like a phrase Kim should be applying to Jimmy’s life and career in general. We know where the Saul Goodman way leads, and we unfortunately know that he’s going to follow it. But it’s nice to imagine, for however long Jimmy and Kim are still together — or, for that matter, for however long Jimmy McGill as we know him continues to exist — the timeline diverging, and Jimmy coming to understand that Kim really does have the better way, and that if he can follow it, the barrier between them over the last nine months will fall right away.
Some other thoughts:
* The time jump also allows Hector to make small progress in his recovery from the stroke. Here, we see Gus as inwardly sadistic and outwardly benevolent as he can be, as he quietly revels in the discovery that Hector’s mind is intact, then sends Dr. Bruckner on her way so that his nemesis will remain a prisoner of his own body. Gus’s barely-concealed smile is one of Giancarlo Esposito’s best moments since his return to the role.
* Super Lab construction, meanwhile, has progressed a lot more than Hector, but not as much as Mike, Werner or the frustrated crew members like Kai would have hoped by now. Even with the time jump, we’re still several years away from Walt’s cancer diagnosis (The show began about five years before that event, and I’m told about 20 months have passed since we met Jimmy in the pilot), and thus from the Lab being fully operational. So delays will have to be baked into the process.
* One regular we have yet to catch up with is Nacho, whose absence from the past several episodes feels particularly glaring because of how hopeless his situation seemed when we last saw him with his father. There are only so many characters the show can service in any one hour (we also have no idea yet whether Howard has been able to pull HHM out of its death spiral since Jimmy’s pep talk). But this season’s early episodes did a really effective job at showing how suffocating Nacho’s position was. To leave him by the wayside for weeks in a row — and at a moment when the entire story moves forward nearly a year — feels like a miscalculation.
* Some of the episode’s songs are familiar recordings, like Burl Ives’ “Big Rock Candy Mountain” playing as Werner and his men head out for work at the laundromat (which is now an active business to explain away the trucks and equipment that keep coming and going). But the version of the episode’s title tune (best known as a Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet) playing during that opening montage is an original cover by the band Lola Marsh, commissioned by Saul music supervisor Thomas Golubic.
* This was director Deborah Chow’s first episode of Saul, and I sure hope it won’t be her last. Beyond the work she did with Skip MacDonald on the different montages, she had a number of impressive flourishes (giving us a tour of Jimmy’s potential new law office from Huell’s POV, the vending machine quarter slot POV, etc) on top of simply getting strong work from the actors, like Dennis Boutsikaris playing Rich’s slow burn as Jimmy’s proposals grow more extravagant. For that matter, I hope this also isn’t the last script that Alison Tatlock (In Treatment, Halt and Catch Fire) writes for the show. Nice debuts from a pair of newcomers to the series.
* A few months ago, I moderated a Saul panel discussion featuring Vince Gilligan, Rhea Seehorn and a bunch of notable crew members, including the show’s new production designer, Judy Rhee. When I asked Rhee and some of the other department heads how much latitude they have to tweak things we already saw on Breaking Bad, Gilligan alluded to one familiar set in particular that Rhee had brilliantly made her own. This week, we get to see what I assume he was alluding to: the excavated skeleton of the Super Lab, which has the right shape and rough details (the catwalk and stairwell are laid out the same, though not with the final materials), even as it’s clear how much work Werner’s team still has to complete. On the other hand, Gus’s house looks almost exactly as it did when he invited Walter White over for dinner, because it would be out of character for him to frequently redecorate the place. (It’s also a real house as opposed to a set on a stage, which limits the changes a fair amount.)
What did everybody else think?
Previously: Batting Practice