Better Call Saul: “Hero”
“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.