SoundTextVision

Month: March, 2015

Better Call Saul: “Bingo”

 

better-call-saul-episode-107-jimmy-odenkirk-935-4

From Left to Right: Jonathan Banks and Bob Odenkirk on “Better Call Saul.” Ursula Coyote/AMC

 

“The thing you folks need to know about me. I got nothing to lose.”

With the finale in sight, Vince Gilligan and his writers have begun to prune their storylines and character arcs in preparation for the season’s endgame. This due process is evident in the cold open to “Bingo”, where we find Mike and Jimmy back at the station, attempting to “return” Detective Abbasi’s stolen notepad. As expected, the conversation quickly escalates no thanks to a combination of Jimmy’s zinger-friendly vernacular, Mike’s barely-there livelihood and Abbasi’s fight-over-flight impulses. Cue Detective Sanders, who, with his thick-sleeved pragmatism, politely excuses Abbasi from the group so as to simmer things down. As Abbasi huffs off, Mike surprisingly follows suit, dismissing Jimmy in order to have a private conversation with his fellow old-timer.

As Mike sits and just listens, Sanders reveals his take on the Fensky-Hoffman case. “Fensky got what was coming to him. Hoffman too. That whole precinct was a sore…Some rocks you don’t turn over,” Sanders jadedly insists. With a telling look shot towards Mike’s direction, the entire case becomes cold before the audience can even realize it. Mike is a free man once again — cue the Better Call Saul title card.

“Hero” turns its focus back on Jimmy, who’s made investments in himself by way of his burgeoning elder law business. Suite 801, one of the top floors of a downtown high-rise, appears unfurnished and unfinished, and yet it stands as a tangible tribute to Jimmy’s seven episode long hustle. “It’s not some claustrophobic closet that smells like acetone,” Jimmy humbly quips while leading an impressed Kim throughout his new digs. In the corner office, Jimmy can’t help himself but engage in some friendly white collar enticement — suggesting to a gushing Kim that the office is hers to take.

Kim declines, revealing her commitment to HHM — citing the two years left on her partner track and her firm’s law school tuition program as reasons for her pragmatic loyalty. Right on cue, the Kettlemans enter into the scene back at HHM — functioning as the episode’s monkey wrench which the writer’s use to jam into Kim and Jimmy’s well-oiled plans.

“A deal. I hate that terminology. A deal is what they got OJ,” hisses Betsy Kettleman, rejecting Kim’s plea deal of 16 months in county for Craig, only on the condition that the embezzled funds are returned combined with an admission of guilt. Without the moxie and flair of her partner-in-crime, Kim is bulldozed by the grand delusions of Mother Bear Kettleman, who sneers at the bargain deal and declares, “There is no money.” Cornered, Kim is forced to pull out the big guns. “Decades,” she emphasizes, stressing the guaranteed time Craig would serve if they pushed their case to trial. Cut to the Kettleman’s angrily rushing out of the office as Howard plays middleman between the couple and an indifferent Kim.

Busy leading a bingo session for his valued clientele, Jimmy then receives the call, immediately viewed as the fail-safe option for Betsy and Craig. After some quick on-site sleuthing via phone call to Kim, Jimmy judiciously turns the two down, advising them to take Kim’s plea deal seeing that it is their best option. “…Retainer. That is what you called it. That was your specific terminology,” Betsy recalls, strategically reminiscing about their interaction at the end of “Nacho”, thereby forcing Jimmy’s hand to draw up a contract for them in the process.

With Kim exiled to the “cornfields” of the HHM office (“Best case scenario, my two year plan just became a ten year plan”), Jimmy is left to maneuver the legal minefield that are the Kettlemans, physically manifest in the form of nine case document storage boxes. Down in the basement garage, Jimmy and Kim, while melding minds and sharing smokes, realize the last card left in play for the Kettleman’s is their sack of 1.6 million in embezzled cash.

With some fluorescent spray, an AM/FM tuner radio, a few crabapples and a well-positioned stack of cash in the Kettleman’s backyard, Mike methodically pinpoints the location of the family’s illegal haul. As Mike drops the bag off, Jimmy painfully opts to do the right by pouring in the remaining $30,000 from a shoebox in the ceiling tiles. Here, Jimmy undergoes a cornucopia of emotions throughout this short yet telling scene; from abject disbelief to immoral reluctance then pained expression to utter defeat, all expertly acted by Bob Odenkirk in a record sixty seconds.

The next day, Jimmy shows his hand at the Kettleman’s residence; “Might I suggest that you go check on that money that you insist you didn’t take? In the upstairs bathroom, under the sink?” With the entirety of their cash already en route to the DA’s desk, the Kettleman’s finally realize that the jig is up, Jimmy’s played a full house. In a cathartic moment for the audience, Craig finally speaks up against his gladiator wife, conceding defeat so as to consider the plight of their two kids.

Ironically, it is Jimmy who ends up sustaining the heaviest losses in the end. With Craig taking a sixteen cushy months in county and Kim back on track with her two-year partner plan, we find Jimmy surviving by scraping the bottom of his barrel. Only this time, with his $30,000 resting at the DA’s office, that barrel is plucked away from him as well. Back at the high-rise office, Jimmy take one final, lonesome tour around the dream that just wasn’t meant to be; meaning no corner offices, no stainless steel kitchens and worst of all, no cocobolo desks.

Throughout Better Call Saul’s inaugural season, the concept of morality and justice has been framed with a stark realism that is both similar and distinct from its depictions in Breaking Bad. In this case, “Bingo” offers a balanced yet sobering illustration of these themes. Sometimes criminals pay the price and other times they get away. And yet, those who do good may end up taking the biggest hit of them all. In “Bingo”, it seems that the universe won’t allow for Jimmy to catch a break. Despite reviving Kim’s career aspirations and saving the Kettleman’s from exile in “cloud cookoo land”, it appears that Jimmy’s faith and good works have still gone unrewarded.

In the end, “Bingo” shows us that there is no karmic cycle in play within Jimmy’s world just yet. (Yet being the key word in this observation) As various narratives and character arcs are either closed off or brought full cycle, the theoretical rewards for Jimmy’s reaping have not sprung up still. Nevertheless, as a prequel, the audience knows that the harvest will eventually come. As for the time being, we are perfectly content with watching Jimmy try his abject best and then end up cathartically beating the shit out of a corner office door. “Law offices of James M. McGill, how may I direct your call?” asks Jimmy, in his spirit-crushed, faux-british accent in the episode’s closing scene.

So close and yet so far, as it’s always been for Jimmy — now it’s back to business as usual.

Bits and Pieces: 

1. Award for Most Heartwarming Scene goes to Jimmy and Chuck; with Jimmy playing the role of proud father as he finds Chuck’s standing outside, trying to build up a tolerance for electro-magnetism minute by minute. It’s a touching scene that subtly kicks off a new arc for Chuck’s character while assigning him some agency for these final three episodes (!).

2. The things that I would do for a prequel to the prequel featuring Detective Sanders and Mike in an 80s police procedural entitled Brotherly Beat.

3. Not even for a second did I sense any tension or foreboding as Mike went bloodhound at the Kettleman’s residence. The direction of that entire scene is a testament to just how well these writers know their characters and the manner in which they should be depicted.

4. The first thing I did when Jimmy mentioned cocobolo was, you guessed it, google it. But the second thing I did was go back and see if his desk in Breaking Bad was made of the same material — as it turns out, the writers aren’t oracles, just muses.

5. Mike-being-Mike Moment of the Week: The subtly sniveling look Mike shoots at Jimmy when he says, “Thanks for not heading to the Bahamas with this”.

6. “Can we, all three, parachute down from cloud cookoo land?”

7. “You and logic” *Whistles*

Better Call Saul: “Five-O”

 

better-call-saul-episode-106-mike-banks-935-6

Jonathan Banks on “Better Call Saul.” Ursula Coyote/AMC

“You know what happened. The question is, can you live with it?”

 

Throughout Walter White’s madcap, empire-building journey, Vince Gilligan and his writer’s room were able to routinely dole out two opposing ideals of storytelling devastation in some of Breaking Bad’s best episodes; the first, as seen in Season 4’s “Crawl Space“, is steeped in a concentrate that concatenates Walt’s boiled-over hysteria, deranged desperation and karmic comeuppance; the second, is a slow-brewed revelation underlined by sober realization, self-inflicting admission and unrequited repentance. This week’s “Five-O” is of the latter version, with the episode mournfully unraveling the mystery and the syndrome of what it means to be Mike Ehrmantraut.

First and foremost, It is difficult to not refer back to Breaking Bad while reviewing this week’s Mike-centric episode, “Five-O”. Inevitably, Better Call Saul, as a prequel series, was bound to have a few episodes heightened by a complete viewing of Walter’s saga. Such is the case for “Five-O”, which is formatted similar to LOST’s structure, with flashbacks cutting in and out against a present-day narrative focused on one designated character. Mike, first appearing in Breaking Bad’s season 2 finale, “ABQ”, has since captivated viewers as his “taciturn” and “strong and silent type” ways came into a head-on collision with Walter’s opposing hamartias. Nevertheless, Breaking Bad never had time to explore the basis of Mike’s moral complexities and basic motivations; made all the more disappointing because of how real and compelling his character had felt. However, this week, that curtain is finally pulled back.

The greatness of “Five-O” is that the episode feels like fan-service to previous viewers while maintaining its relevance in Better Call Saul’s expanding first season arc. The cold open begins with a flashback to Mike’s arrival in Albuquerque via train. There he reconnects with Stacy, who was spotted at the end of “Alpine Shepherd Boy” and is confirmed to be Mike’s daughter-in-law and Kailee’s mother. Between playing on a swing-set with his granddaughter and warily re-hashing Mattie, his son’s death with Stacy, Mike secures some make-shift treatment for his bullet-wound with a maxi pad and the local vet. Here, Gilligan’s trail of breadcrumbs begins, with the presumption that Mike’s injury somehow relates back to the tragic circumstances surrounding the untimely death of his son, Matthew “Mattie” Ehrmantraut.

Back in present day, Mike sits in an interrogation room with two detectives, Sanders and Abbasi, with whom he seems to have past repertoire with. “Lawyer,” Mike deadpans over and over again to their questions, eventually sliding Jimmy’s business card towards their direction. With a large coffee in tow, Albuquerque’s elder law wonder boy shows up at the station only to be utilized as a dark-roast splashing distraction in Mike’s pick-pocketing scheme. Back in Jimmy’s car, as Mike flips through Abbasi’s coffee-soaked notepad, Jimmy makes note, “They think you killed two cops.” Those two cops being Mattie’s Philly PD partners, Hoffman and Fensky. And to that accusation, Mike barely manages to heave out a breathy, all-telling, all-encapsulating “yeah”.

Back at Stacy’s house, Mike grovels with his daughter-in-law as the cracks beneath his reticent demeanor slowly begin to show through. As Stacy admits that she called the detectives out west, Mike becomes incensed at her for breaking the unspoken code of familial allegiance. However, even more presumptuous was the information that lured Sanders and Abbasi out to the Land of Enchantment; a reported five thousand in cash hidden in the lining of Mattie’s duffel bag. “Why didn’t you ask me, why didn’t you come to me?,” growls Mike in an escalating tone. So when Stacy begins to defend herself, letting off subtle misgivings concerning the state of Mattie’s character, Mike goes full-on thermonuclear; “Goddammit, get that through your head! My son wasn’t dirty!”

As Mike storms out of the house, we transition to “Five-O’s” final flashback, where find Mike back out on the mean streets of Philly, shoelace flossing his way into a nearby police vehicle by a bar. Afterward, as Mike guzzles his whiskey, he scoffingly spots Hoffman and Fensky posted up in a corner, warily acknowledging his presence. Brazenly, Mike stumbles over to them, gathering the two by his face with his wrapped-around arms, and menacingly whispers, “I know. I know it was you.” For viewers of Breaking Bad, this is more than just a drunk father’s powerless jab, it is a verbal death sentence communicated by a full-measures Mike Ehrmantraut.

However, Hoffman and Fensky don’t know what the audience knows, seeing as they pat-down, disarm, and assist a visibly intoxicated Mike into the back of their squad car. Then as they drive into an alleyway navigated by their murderous intentions, Mike quickly sobers up and slides out a pistol from under the seat. As Fensky draws Mike’s gun from the pat-down, it misfires due to an purposefully placed empty clip. Mike characteristically reassures them both, “It’s what I would’ve done if I were you.” Then, he plugs them both.

Back in the present day, the flashback also functions as a tell-all to Stacy, with whom Mike has sat back down with. While explaining the corroded dynamics of his and his son’s precinct (“You took a taste. So did everyone else”) and their cravenly convivial atmosphere (“It’s like killing Caesar, everyone is guilty”), Mike insistently upholds his son in a higher light, stating, “Matt wasn’t dirty, I was. Everyone was in that precinct.”

Then, the truth comes out: Mike’s son was incorruptible, a white knight who was cast as an Internal Affairs threat to his entire department. Therefore, the only way for Mattie to survive was by enacting a thorough display of moral compromise; he needed to accept the dirty money offered by his two partners, Fensky and Hoffman. SInce Mattie and Mike were seen to be “thick as thieves”, Mattie turned to his father for advice, and it was Mike who ultimately “broke him” of his convictions, influencing his son to accept the money and “do something good with it”. Two days later, Mattie was killed for his hesitance.

“Broke my boy. I broke my boy,” Mike laments, “And it was for nothing. I made him lesser. I made him like me. And the bastards killed him anyway.” Jonathan Banks plays this entire scene with heart-wrenching brilliance, casting depth and dimensions onto his character’s former haunts and canonical melancholy through the devastatingly remorseful anecdote. It is also at that moment where Mike’s revelations lend enlightening perspectives into his to-be father-son relationship with Jesse Pinkman and his come-to-pass wholehearted disgust for Walter and his corrupting influence. There hasn’t been a scene like it in a while, where such well-crafted, tweet-worthy storytelling earns its moment by depicting a brokenhearted father sitting down to simply tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Thus far in Better Call Saul’s inaugural season, “Five-O” seems to be its best installment to date. By not hiding behind the storytelling restrictions that come with a prequel series, Gilligan and his team rather seem to bask in the show’s revelatory moments, both large and small, that concurrently touch upon the past, present and future conditions of their characters. Scenes like these become fourth dimensional, emoting a more palpable, accessible character arc for all of the main players depicted. In this case, we got to see fan-favorite, Mike Ehrmantraut, and the desolating conditions that line his unbearable lightness of being. As Mike mourned, our hearts broke, and yet the show must go on.

Bits and Pieces: 

1. It really is something to see all the clues of the episodes’ final reveal laid down like a trail of breadcrumbs beforehand and still be taken aback by the episodes ending. Just one of many ways one can separate the great from the good.

2. “Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ever heard of it? Well that’s where I’m heading,” Mike declares drunkenly to the bartender back in Philly. Well, since Philly suddenly appears to be Detroit in the middle of winter, I’d probably do the same as well too.

3. That veterinarian seemed way too comfortable stitching up Mike’s bullet wound, offering a few pills on the house and then tempting our gruff outsider with some inconspicuous “work”. Here is my first half-serious, half-kidding prediction for Better Call Saul’s first season: The vet is how Mike eventually links up with Gus Fring.

4. More “Crooks In Cars Getting Coffee by Vince Gilligan” please. The animated repertoire that Bob Odenkirk has with a sneering, aloof Jonathan Banks is television gold.

5. “Pop pop is getting tired.”

Grimes: “REALiTi”

Seventy Six is the number of times I’ve listened to Grimes’ new song “REALiTI” in the past two days. That being said, there is an irresistibly effervescent draw to the fluidity of Boucher’s pixie-pitched voice and the song’s thumping electro-bass; all fortified by Boucher’s whimsy choral ennui that is wholly reminiscent of a vintage Sophia Coppola film. And to suss out that comparison even further, REALiTi’s music video, also directed by Boucher, blends visual tropes of a “stranger in a strange land” with her wistfully lyrical inquiry (“Where do you go?/Where do you stay?/I go back alone”), all faintly akin to Coppola’s 2003 film, Lost in Translation.

Listening to the song while watching the video is a cinematically chemical experience, especially as visuals of Asia’s hyper-neon techno-metropolises splice in and out alongside Boucher’s lines about death’s dynamism and her ever-striving existence. In there, the song seems to point towards a raw realness that underlies our bubbled existence in today’s world. “I want to peer over the edge and see in death/If we are always the same,” sings Boucher to her invisible, current lover as she, if just for a second, expresses a desire to slip beyond her present plane of serenity and peek into the future, forcing herself to come face to face with her inner doubts and fears.

Overall, there is a reminiscent mindfulness to “REALiTi” as it pokes and prods the general concept of one’s being in the past, present, and future, et al. And despite her pondering previous flights of fancy (“There was a time when the music would play”) and speculating future uncertainties (“Oh, I fear that no love will ever be like this again”), Boucher’s impulsive digressions collapse back into her present state as she coos, “Oh baby, there are mountains to climb/Taking all my time”. She’s simultaneously awoken from her dreams and nightmares, ready to face the present for what it is. It’s a battle-cry as she finishes the chorus: “Oh when I get up, this is what I see/Welcome to reality”. It’s an anthem that disregards notions of legend and grandeur by chasing after what just is.

Better Call Saul: “Alpine Shepherd Boy”

 

better-call-saul-episode-105-jimmy-odenkirk-935

Bob Odenkirk on “Better Call Saul.” Ursula Coyote/AMC

 

“Need a will? Call McGill.”

I visited the city of Austin, Texas last summer whilst on a road trip from Dallas. It was there where I first came across the city’s unofficial slogan, “Keep Austin Weird”; which seemed well-earned after I witnessed an impromptu gospel morning concert at a local breakfast burrito joint. Likewise, if its been one objective in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul that I had, have and will always support, it is Vince Gilligan’s intent and inclination towards always keeping Albuquerque weird.

Often times, it is the sublimely depicted desolation, with the infusion of its sepia-toned suburbia, that makes this city seem worlds apart from what most viewers would call home. However, “Alpine Shepherd Boy” chooses to shift that focus once again towards the human locale, inviting viewers to make the rounds with Jimmy McGill throughout Albuquerque as he starts to follow up on three of the seven voicemails left in reaction to his heroics in “Hero”. It is here, where the people who occupy the Albuquerque of Gilligan’s universe show us, the viewers, how wondrously weird and endearing this city can be.

Our first stop is Richard “Ricky” Sipes, a self-made American patriot with a Hemmingway-esque appetite for exotic hunting and hard liquor. As Ricky outlines his grand delusions of legal succession from his “beloved” country, he reveals the ultimate goal of transforming his 1,100 acres into “America’s Vatican City”. Jimmy, still frozen from a sheer mix of both awe and doubt, sputters a barely convincing “Ricky, I’m your man”. As it seems to good to be true for Jimmy when Ricky promises $500,000 upfront in cash; as Jimmy watches Ricky present the crisp stacks of cash on a silver platter, it is confirmed to be exact that once Jimmy flips through the bills and come across the Sipes version of a Schrute Buck.

The second stop is Albuquerque’s harmless, suburbanite, father of two, Roland Jaycocks. With his tarp-covered creation in the middle of the basement, Roland expresses his need for a lawyer with a specialized expertise in patent law. As the covers are pulled back, Tony the Toilet Buddy is revealed; just your everyday porcelain throne with a small voice box attached under the water tank. As Roland drops his son Chandler’s Duplo blocks into the empty bowl, he simulates Chandler’s potty time, triggering Tony to spout his voice recorded cheers and thereby revealing their overtly sexual euphemisms: “Oh, yeah, that’s the way!”, “Gosh you’re big, you’re so big! My goodness, look at you!”, “Fill me up, Chandler! Put it in me!”, and “Give it to me Chandler, I want it all! Mmm. Ah!”.

Thus far, no dice and no cash for Jimmy as he sits patiently in his chair, surrounded by Hummel figurines, all the while Mrs. Strauss takes a full minute and half to make her way downstairs via chair-lift. Here, it is important to make note of the triple sided intent in this prolonged scene. Plain and simple, the patience that Jimmy exhibits towards Mrs. Strauss is vital to his character development. This visit finally earns Jimmy that bit of coin due to his patience, awareness, and “moxie” towards Mrs. Strauss’ overly complex estate instructions (“Now the shepherd boy Hummel, that going to go to your nephew…as long as he finishes college, if he drops out it goes to my niece, Rayleine”). Furthermore, the restraint shown here by the writers, once again, indicates their willingness to take their bided time with the storytelling, earning each moment and a-ha! reveal as they organically come. Lastly, Mrs. Strauss’s scene reminds us, the audience, who are ever-so raring for a Breaking Bad easter egg or a To’hajiilee-like cliffhanger, that these quiet moments make those narrative climaxes feel that much more cathartic, purging out all the prior-built tension, character arcs, and thematic metaphors in one massive fell swoop.

As Jimmy amusingly recaps his day with Kim whilst painting her toes at the Day Spa and Nail, Kim receives a call from Howard Hamlin about Chuck’s incident depicted in the episode’s cold open. Regarding the stolen newspaper containing Jimmy’s front page article, Chuck inadvertently escalates his altercation with the police, trying to explain his condition over their aggressive demands, and ending up with his front door bashed in and two tasers shot his way. When Jimmy visits him in the hospital, Chuck is found incapacitated in a electro-magnetic hellscape of fluorescent lights and medical machinery. However, once Jimmy has managed to fish out all the devices and equipment in the room, Chuck recovers just in the nick of time to express his discontent at the doctor’s advice towards committing him for a month or so.

When Jimmy eventually assists Chuck back home, a unique dynamic within their relationship begins to spool forward as they discuss the billboard gag from “Hero”. While Jimmy preemptively mounts a stalwart defense against the unmentioned notion that “Slippin’ Jimmy” has returned, Chuck doesn’t seem all too concerned with the either/or’s in the situation. While Jimmy wants to talk about his one time spoof, Chuck, nonplussed, reiterates that he has “nothing to talk about”. While Jimmy is intent on promising to Chuck that it won’t happen again, Chuck dismissively expresses that he doesn’t want or need Jimmy’s blood oath.

Therefore, it seems that Jimmy persistently presses in on this issue, intent on disavowing Chuck from being his advocate in a way that is related to him enabling Chuck’s condition. A moral push and pull can be seen in the way Jimmy goes back and forth with his brother with his words, practically nagging him to sign up as his life accountability partner – still, Chuck won’t budge, rather focusing on cozying himself up in his space blanket and then deciding that coffee was more important than the future condition of his brother’s soul.

Subsequently, there is a strange dynamic present in the McGill brother’s relationship due to the guilt that Jimmy feels in regards to the reality of Chuck’s “ailment’. This keys the audience into Jimmy’s opinions and thoughts, that there may be an underlying element to his brother’s situation that is more psychological than physical. As a result, it is that revelation that manifests in Jimmy’s desire to position his brother not as a reckless proponent but rather as an impartial arbiter of moral legitimacy in his life. Sadly, it seems that Jimmy is experiencing the rare case of being related to the wrong person at the wrong time; he won’t be able to easily schlep his moral development onto the hypochondriac shoulders of his older brother, who is too focused in on himself to care about anything else. It’s apparent that this is Jimmy’s struggle to face alone, made all the more difficult by the clients that can undo him, Nacho, the Kettlemans, and now Mike, all lie waiting on the outer rim of the episode’s narrative screen, seeking to pull him downward when the chance presents itself.

Bits and Pieces: 

1. I much preferred the original title “Jello” as opposed to “Alpine Shepherd Boy”. Nevertheless, if they had kept this up then I assume the writers were staring down the gun-barrel of commitment not unlike Hannibal and its linguistically consistent episode titles. “Alpine Shepherd Boy” apparently was their abrupt out, enabling them to buck that trend.

2. The intro card’s location for “Alpine Shepherd Boy”, which varies from every episode, should be forever engrained in the memory of Breaking Bad’s viewership for this memorable cold open in Season 2, Episode 8’s “Better Call Saul”.

3. I’d say that “Alpine Shepherd Boy” was the weakest of the five episodes thus far, but still very good. The pacing of Jimmy’s rounds compared to Chuck’s hospitalization scene and the decision to end with Mike’s POV seemed a bit too jarring to be fluidly depicted within a single episode.

4. “Is that helping? Or enabling?” — This should have been the motto of Jimmy’s practice.

5. A bit haphazard of an ending, yet necessary in order to cause the fates of Mike Ehrmantraut and Jimmy McGill to begin to snarl into one another.

5. Next week, we get a Mike-centric episode, finally revealing a bullet-hole ray of light on the man of mystery that is Ehrmantraut. “Oh be still my heart.”

Better Call Saul: “Hero”

better-call-saul-episode-104-jimmy-odenkirk-4-935

Bob Odenkirk on “Better Call Saul.” Ursula Coyote/AMC

 

“Upon this rock, I will build my church”

In “Hero”, back at his headquarters, Jimmy quietly utters these words to himself with somber relief; the same words which were first bestowed onto Peter, son of John, by his teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, the dual contexts of this delivered remark could not be more disparate from one another. Rather than echoing the visual of two apostolic companions sharing a pensive moment on the mountains of Gethsemane, we now have Jimmy McGill, tier pricing away his newly got stack of cash, fresh from the teat of the Kettleman’s embezzled funds.

Bending but not broken, if “Nacho” was about puffing up Jimmy McGill as Albuquerque’s crusader for justice and truth, then “Hero” is about Jimmy doing this puffing up himself, albeit in his patent “slippery” ways. The tidal motion of Jimmy’s moral development in Better Call Saul seems deliberately paced and yet intriguing in its unpredictability. Here, “Hero” acts as the trough to the crest in last week’s “Nacho”.

We pick up where we last left off in “Nacho”, with one torn duffel bag, $1.5 million scattered across the Kettleman’s tent, and a breathy “yeah” accented with Jimmy’s worried sensibilities. Here, Jimmy begins to flex his moral spine to his financial advantage as Betsy Kettleman holds out a tantalizing wad of their illegally got cash for his promised silence. So Jimmy wrestles with himself, arguing that he “can’t take a bribe” but can instead “take a retainer”, unsuccessfully attempting to pry their business from Hamlin’s hands, forcing Betsy, in all her privileged, high-horse hypocrisy, to state, “I’m sorry, you’re just… You’re the kind of lawyer guilty people hire.”

So, Jimmy returns to the Day Spa and Nail Salon with his tail between his legs, and the cash bribe pulled closer in towards his face, and his hands measuring out and accounting for each dollar bill. “I’m thinking hourly here…elite tier pricing, 950 dollars an hour, $1000 for travel expenses, consulting fees $1500, research, five for filing fees, eight on the road, and storage fees, miscellaneous expenses.” However, all line items cast aside, we see what those broken cash straps really account for; a new super-wool, custom tailored suit, Spartacus-inspired hair ringlets, and a strategically positioned billboard, blatantly ripping off the likeness and logo of Howard Hamlin and his big man on campus law firm.

Inevitably, Jimmy gets served a cease and desist by Kim during their foot-bath session at the salon. While Kim tries to comprehend Jimmy’s choice to place his plagiarizing billboard on Hamlin’s work route, Jimmy echoes a Marlo Stanfield moment in defense (“My name is my name!”), contending that it is within his rights to advertise with his last name in any way he sees fit. That same argument is reiterated again in a court junction with Jimmy and Howard, both identically and amusingly clothed to a T. As expected, the judge orders in favor of Howard and his law firm, forcing Jimmy to tear down his billboard in 48 hours, and thereby triggers another line of dominoes to fall, only this time, each one deliberately set up by Jimmy himself.

With two college film majors filling in as an eleventh hour camera crew, Jimmy stages his own Frontline segment with his partially removed billboard befit as the background. As he invokes the “David vs Goliath” storyline in his monologue, the one man billboard removal crew suddenly tips over the scaffolding, with his harness suspending him far above the asphalt below. As Jimmy makes his way to the truck, up the ladder, and across the scaffolding, he successfully pulls the hovering man towards his safety. There they quickly exchange cash, indicating, alongside the seven new messages in his answering machine, that Slippin‘ Jimmy is officially back in business and more importantly, business is booming.   

In the final scenes of “Hero”, Jimmy, in front of Chuck’s house, sheepishly looks upon at his “Local Lawyer, Local Hero” article plastered across the front page of the Metro & New Mexico paper. He opts to hide it from his brother preemptively, and instead elects to feed him half-truths about his now blossoming career. Still, there is a tell-tale sign of apprehension in Chuck’s vocal inflection as he conducts a quick cross examination of his brother’s newfound success. Ultimately, Chuck accepts it as it is, only until he spots all adjacent driveways with the same daily newspaper that Jimmy deceptively told him was missing.

It is important to note that up until this point, I always personally saw Chuck’s illness as primarily psychological. This is due to the fact that I had never heard of electromagnetic sensitivity being a disease before. So, as Chuck braces himself for an outside run with his space blanket, sans tin foil hats; the ensuing POV as he barrels down the street for his neighbors paper, while sunlight and power lines bear down on him, is nothing short of absolutely terrifying. Furthermore, the decision to depict the disparity between Chuck’s perspective and ours, seen through a woman languidly witnessing her crazed neighbor steal her paper and dashing back home, is an excellent directorial and storytelling decision overall.

And so the episode concludes with Chuck opening the paper only to discover, to his rightfully presumed suspicions, the fraud underlying Jimmy’s overnight success. His reaction tells us everything we would need to know about the longstanding relationship between these two brothers. Therefore, while “Hero’, at face value, tells us the tale of a man using a bit of cash, his slippery charms, and an all-American hustle to craft himself as “the [legal] Rock” upon which others can believe in, its those that are closest to him who fearfully see Jimmy becoming who he truly is; a man now inching closer and closer to towards his foretold downfall, which we, as those who are watching closely, all know will come in due time.