A review of this week’s Better Call Saul, “Wiedersehen,” coming up just as soon as I credit my views to the University of American Samoa (go Land Crabs!)…
“Jimmy, you are always down.” -Kim
Jimmy makes two mistakes at his bar reinstatement hearing. The more obvious one, which Kim calls him out for, is that he never once mentions Chuck. The three lawyers hearing his case very clearly want him to say something kind about his late, professionally great brother, and it never even occurs to Jimmy to do it. When Kim brings up Chuck during their argument on the parking garage roof, he’s surprised by the very idea. He argues, rightly, that citing his sibling as an inspiration would have been the height of insincerity, given how their relationship wound up, and would have only lived down to the panel’s assumptions about him.
The more important mistake, to me, comes a few moments earlier in the interview. One of the panelists asks what the law means to Jimmy, and it’s clear from the look on his face and the long pause before he begins fully answering that this has never occurred to him, either. This is him failing to invoke Chuck in spirit as much as name. Chuck, for all his many flaws, wouldn’t have had to pause a second to answer this question, because it was the one that defined his life. To him, the law meant everything. Was everything. He saw a beauty in the law, a fundamental value in it. Jimmy never has. He began studying as a means to an end: to impress his brother and the woman he liked. He eventually came to see the power of his new profession: that he could use his way with people to help them, rather than swindle them, and that this felt good. But even as he was building up his eldercare practice, there was still this sense that he viewed the law as (to paraphrase another AMC drama) not as the thing, but the thing that would get him to the next thing. He wanted that shared office with Kim. He wanted respect from Chuck — and, when that proved impossible, he wanted to become rich and famous enough to fill up that particular emotional hole. He’s a lawyer because there were lawyers in his life that he cared about, but the law itself doesn’t hold the weight for him that it did for his brother, or that it still mostly does for Kim. So Jimmy improvises, which he’s always been great at. He spins the tale of his embarrassing correspondence school and his struggles to enter the profession. And he even, in a roundabout way, sings the praises of the law by talking about the people he’s helped, which does matter to him on some level. But the speech, while eloquent, doesn’t really answer the panelist’s question, and Jimmy’s surprise at it in the first place speaks as much to why the group rejected him for reinstatement as his non-mention of Chuck.
Chuck was a smug ass, but he was also right about his brother and the law. We know from Breaking Bad all the terrible things that Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree can accomplish. Chuck takes some blame in this, obviously, as without his constant mistrust and schemes, Jimmy might have spent the rest of his life as a happy eldercare lawyer. But there’s also something fundamentally broken and dishonest within Jimmy that made him forge the Mesa Verde documents, that made him film Daniel Wormald doing a crybaby squat, that encouraged him to take all the legal and ethical shortcuts he’s been taking since the series began. Even the purest possible version of Jimmy McGill is at best on the morally sketchy end of the profession. And that’s a Jimmy who hasn’t pled guilty to the crimes he committed busting into Chuck’s house to destroy the cassette tape. An indignant, infuriated Jimmy tells Kim that he “did everything right,” and that he can’t believe the board wouldn’t reinstate him. But knowing what we know about Jimmy’s past, let alone Saul’s future, are they being unfair to do it? Or do they recognize a slightly more rational version of what Chuck saw: a charming guy whom their professional is nonetheless probably safer without, given his past misdeeds?
“Wiedersehen” makes the board’s case even before Jimmy inadvertently does. We open up with Kim and Jimmy pulling off another caper, this time to swap out the plans for Mesa Verde’s Lubbock branch with the slightly larger version Kevin now wants to build. It’s a vintage Slippin’ Jimmy grift with props (crutches, a bottle of milk) and backstory (Kim claims to be a single mom, with Jimmy as her idiot brother-turned-nanny Bill) designed to make her more sympathetic to Shirley the records clerk, and to keep Shirley suitably distracted when it’s time for Kim to get the revised plans stamped and officially logged in the archives. This is not the kind of stunt any lawyer should be pulling, and especially a prominent and respected one like Kim Wexler. But just being around Jimmy and running lower-stakes schemes with him has made her excited to play his games.
After leaving Lubbock, the partners get to talking again, and the show eases back a bit on the idea of Kim permanently breaking bad. “I think we should only use our powers for good,” she says, in a tone suggesting she doesn’t plan to make a habit of these schemes. But as Jimmy points out, getting this larger branch built doesn’t really qualify, especially since Kim successfully talked Kevin off that ledge in last week’s episode. There was no reason to do it, except that Kim wanted to. She’s just not ready to replace Marco as Jimmy’s full-time partner in crime.
And it’s her reluctance to be his partner in any official way outside the bedroom that turns their post-hearing discussion from uncomfortable to downright nasty. As she tries to look for a way to undo the damage done by that interview, Jimmy decides that Kim will, like his brother, always see him as Slippin’ Jimmy, and vents, “That’s why we don’t have an office!” Kim rightly calls him out on this silliness, listing the many, many, many times when she has risked her reputation and more to help him, but he’s too worked up to consider this. “You get a little bored with your life, come down and roll around in the dirty with Slippin’ Jimmy,” he sneers.
That the fight gets this heated is, in a way, a healthy sign for their relationship. Earlier in the season, they were so distant that Kim didn’t even bother scolding him about the scene he made at the office party. Now, they’re invested enough again in one another that they can get this angry, and say these cruel things. And sure enough, after he silently packs to move out, he instead makes peace by admitting how badly he messed up, and that he still wants to be a lawyer.
“Well, we can start with that,” Kim says, her voice sadly cracking as she recognizes how tenuous this all is — romantically and professionally both — and how their lives could fall apart at any moment because Jimmy can’t stop being Jimmy.
Jimmy still wants to be a lawyer. Should he be? Based on what we know is coming, certainly not. But the world around him is also conspiring to encourage him to give into his worst instincts, whether it’s from fights (first with Chuck, now with the legal establishment as a whole) or Kim’s periodic desire to play Giselle. Already, Jimmy was considering how to deal with a client base who knows him as Saul Goodman — “That’s just details,” Kim argued — but a smooth reinstatement could have set him back on the path to being a criminal lawyer, but not a criminal lawyer. His back is against the wall again, and Slippin’ Jimmy is one potential way out. It’s not hard to imagine him getting reinstated, but feeling so bitter about the whole experience — and/or so smug about how he and Kim manage to outwit these stuffed shirts — that any desire to impress or even appease the legal community vanishes like Werner into the New Mexico desert.
We know Jimmy will get his law license back, and sooner rather than later. God help everyone around him when he does.
Some other thoughts:
* The Super Lab story still has the unfortunate air of filler, albeit exceptionally well-executed filler. Moment-to-moment — Werner struggling to keep it together while checking the faulty demolition fuse, Mike gently but firmly turning down Werner’s request for a long weekend with his wife, Mike realizing Werner has outsmarted him and busted out of this fancy prison — it can be very effective. And maybe it’ll ultimately make an important point in the finale about Mike’s emotional journey towards being the guy Jesse and Walt met. (Will Werner get a half-measure or a full one when Mike catches up to him?) But the construction of the Lab has never felt like an important enough idea to deserve this much time, and this season’s more interesting Mike material came in the first half, before Gus asked him to oversee this project.
* Lalo giving Hector his iconic hotel bell — a souvenir from a business Don Hector burned to the ground at the height of his powers — is also answering a question I don’t think many Breaking Bad fans were that invested in. (Sometimes, a bell is just a bell!) But I have to admit to feeling a chill when he took it out of the box and tied it to the wheelchair armrest. It helps that we haven’t been spending nearly as much time on it as we have the Super Lab construction. But it’s also that Lalo feels like an interesting enough antagonist to keep in play for however long it takes this series to bridge the time gap to Saul’s first appearance on the parent show. He’s a very different kind of Salamanca so far: patient, clever, even charming, where the other members of the family we’ve met are either crazy, single-minded brutes, or both. Gus can tell this will be a more difficult foe to dispatch, and he’s clearly not happy about it.
* Vince Gilligan, as you may have heard, took a step back from the series this season to focus on developing other projects. He helped Peter Gould and company broadly outline this season’s stories, but his direction of this episode (from Gennifer Hutchison’s script) was his most hands-on involvement. This is only his fifth directorial credit for Saul (matching the number of Breaking Bad episodes he directed), and it remains a pleasure to watch the ones where he’s behind the camera. Werner’s meltdown during the demolition scene crackled with tension. Hector’s receipt of the bell had all the mythical import the scene demanded. And the rooftop argument between Jimmy and Kim was as raw and ugly as any encounter these two have had. Even a sequence as low-key as Jimmy packing to move out looks stunning, with the way Gilligan and director of photography Marshall Adams use the doorway and the bedroom mirror to keep Jimmy and Kim together in the frame while they’re in separate rooms. Hoping that whatever he winds up doing next, Gilligan’s available to direct at least one episode a year for as long as Saul is around.
* Lubbock clerk Shirley was played by Marceline Hugot. Her speaking voice still startles me a little, because I’m so used to associating her with two nearly-silent roles: the childlike Kathy Geiss on 30 Rock and Guilty Remnant martyr Gladys on The Leftovers.
* A nice touch in the retirement home scene: an elderly woman grabs her purse and clutches it tight when Nacho is standing nearby to eavesdrop on Lalo and Hector’s conversation, assuming this intense Latinx man must be a criminal. He is, as we know — just not the kind who would snatch an old lady’s purse.
* The finale is next week (time flies when you’re having fun with a 10-episode season). Look for both my finale recap and, hopefully, a conversation with Peter Gould in this space next Monday night.
What did everybody else think?
Previously: Let’s Do It Again