Better Call Saul: “Bingo”
“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*