Better Call Saul Is Looking At The Man In The Mirror
But only indirectly, as Mike brings his tradecraft to project management, Kim rebels, and Jimmy's entrepreneurship takes a hit in our EPIC OLD-SCHOOL RECAP of S04.E05.
Fade up on shredder-cam.
As the machine chews up critical evidence in Saul Goodman's office -- because that's where we are -- we see a collage of the aftermath of the beatdown Saul got from Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad S05.E11, "Confessions." (I think? As I've mentioned in previous recaps, it's five years since those episodes ran, and as a straight viewer of Better Call Saul, I tend to just enjoy the show in its own timeline and not care about cross-checking it against Breaking Bad eps. As a recapper, well, here I am, caring, but if my research doesn't line up, hit me in the comments.) Saul's multiple cell phones, an open safe, scales of justice and faux pillars and marketing matchbooks scattered about…the place is a mess, and Saul is grunting as he tries to shift a tile in the dropped ceiling. Eventually he succeeds, and a bowling bag full of cash drops into the office. Saul exults that "it's" all still there. "Meaning what, exactly?" a mid-shred Francesca asks. Saul lamely gabbles something about rodents nesting in it. Francesca makes her customary "k, weirdo" face.
Saul doesn't have time to care what she thinks; he's scrabbling around for an X-Acto knife with which to hack into the Constitution on the wall. He interrupts his incision into Article III (about judicial power) to confirm that Francesca has remembered all the shreddables -- the files under her desk, the Rolodex, everything. Yes, she blares impatiently. Saul punches through the drywall, finds the rubber-banded shoebox he wanted, glances at Francesca, and scampers over to a suitcase and drops the box in. I assume this is the shoebox holding the Kellerman money from Season 1, which we know Gene has with him in Omaha. Francesca eyes Saul skeptically and dumps a big bolus of shredded paper into a trash bag, mirroring Saul dumping a bunch of rolled cash into the suitcase. Francesca turns the shredder off and announces she's leaving, and he asks her to take the bags with her and drop them in dumpsters "at least" five miles away -- separate dumpsters.
At her "…uh huh?" face, he's like, right, and hands her a roll of bills.
The "uh…HUH?" face he gets after that is not negotiating, and he reluctantly hands over another roll and reminds her that when the cops come -- not if -- she's to tell them to talk to her attorney. He gives her a card and half-jokes, "Tell 'em Jimmy sent ya." Another "FOH" face from Francesca. Saul asks where she's going to be at 3 PM on November 12. She'll be there, she says, but if it doesn't ring right at three, she's outie. Speaking of three, this is the third reference of this kind in as many screentime minutes that I've tried to chase down, but this one isn't pinging anything for me even with Google's help, so if I missed something with that reference, let's hear it. Francesca's not so much hearing Saul's sweaty attempts to yearbookize their final moments together; Saul's "Quite a ride, huh?" (drink!) earns him a "shah" snort from Francesca, and when he extends his arms all "bring it in," she elects to gather up the shredding and take her leave without a hug. Saul gathers himself to make a phone call, specifically to the extractor. After getting the pick-up coordinates, he ends the call and breaks the phone, dropping it into his desk chair and panting with exertion.
After the credits, which this week feature Saul's ad bench from BB, we get a time-lapse account of the absolute zip going on at CC Mobile, accompanied by some lite-FM hits on the soundtrack. Finally, a truck pulls into the parking lot just outside. Jimmy puts some English on the truck…
…and, when it actually works, hustles behind the counter and opens a flip phone to feign a sales conversation with a "customer" about how very reliably private the CC Mobile product is. He says he "can do six -- see ya later!", signs off, and twist-breaks the phone as we just saw him do in the Saul timeline, but more performatively. This gets the real customer's attention as intended, and Jimmy asks how he can help the guy while just as performatively setting aside six boxed phones "ON HOLD, NOT FOR SALE." As he's doing that, he goes into a very smooth pitch about hiding the guy's cash payments on contracting jobs from the IRS, information hygiene this, "what they don't know can't hurt you" that, John-Munchian fantasiae of IRS surveillance the other thing. He hands the guy a box to peruse, asserting that it can't be traced or tracked, especially if he only uses it "once per." Once per what, the guy wants to know. Jimmy stays vague on that point, and on the actual price point, saying only that it's "cheaper than an audit, guaranteed." Contractor Guy bites on that, but of course Jimmy has already created an artificial scarcity, and he pulls the box out of Contractor Guy's hands and returns it to the stack, burbling that people "are gobbling these up like Tic-Tacs." Cut to…
…the stack, in a bag and going home with Contractor Guy. "Tell your friends!" Jimmy calls after him as he leaves. "Then break the phone you use to do it and come back for another stack," he does not add.
And now, a Mike-tradecraft interlude! A mustachioed guy gets off an airport shuttle in Denver and makes his way to an anonymous Chevy, fishing the key out of the wheel well. He also finds a phone in the center console, which immediately starts ringing. Mustache looks around for whomever is obviously watching him, and while I don't see Mike's car, he's evidently nearby, as he gruffs, "Welcome to the USA," and tells Mustache to use the prepaid parking stub in the cupholder to exit the airport, then get on I-70 westbound. Mike will call him in 20 minutes to talk him through the rest. Getting off a plane to find myself in a dead-drop/scavenger hunt scenario designed by Mike Ehrmantraut is literally my dream, you guys.
On a peaceful mountain road of the sort generally used to film luxury-car-commercial b-roll, Mustache eases the Chevy to a stop at the Mile 238 marker. He gets out and, when the phone rings, reports to Mike that he's arrived but he doesn't see anyone there. Mike in turn asks if he has to pee, because it's going to be his last chance for a while. "Suit yourself," Mike says, and runs down Mustache's next steps: pop the trunk, put on the hood he finds there, put his luggage next to him, and wait. "You want me to stand here, with the hood on my head?" "Those are the rules." Mustache looks nonplussed, but follows said rules, and in short order Mike pulls up in a white van; guides him inside; informs him there's a strap for him to hold during the stretch of rough road coming up; and offers him water. A time-lapse sequence follows of Mike and Mustache jouncing, and waiting at a railroad crossing, and negotiating city traffic, before finally crunching on some gravel. We switch to inside-the-hood-cam as Mike guides Mustache into their destination, and after the hood is removed, Mustache looks around at the industrial space full of lengths of venting and dented industrial machines. I'll just cut to the chase, which I have to tell you I wish the show had done instead of spending quite so much time in a subplot tributary that does almost nothing to advance any of the storylines: this is the future site of Gus Fring's super-lab, and Mustache is bidding the job of creating it to Gus's specs. I mean, I completely understand why it's here, because it lets Mike…Mike, and Mike Mike-ing is, as I mentioned in the previous graf, one of my favorite things about Better Call Saul. Without the super-lab scenes, neither Mike nor Gus has anything substantive to do in Episode 5, but this isn't substantive either, really. I can't say for sure whether I would even notice if I weren't recapping BCS this season, instead of watching it like a civilian as I usually do, and I really don't want to knock the pacing because generally speaking I enjoy that the show is more concerned with creating a world and investing us in its inhabitants than in plot-plot-plotzing for the sake of it, BUT most of the episodes in S4 have felt less focused than I'd like, and more interested in Breaking Bad…what's a reprise in a prequel? a "preprise"? Not to keep harping on this, but the mothership ended five years ago, so the window for remembering these Easter eggs has closed even for some TV critics, leaving aside the fact that BCS doesn't need them in the first place. Sure, light a fire under the timeline; I said in my premiere recap that I thought that probably wanted doing. But the way they're doing it so far this season reads like they know they should start doing that, but their version is to bring a bunch of BB bits back instead of pushing Jimmy forward.
…I don't know. I don't dislike the season, but the most compelling parts of the show really don't involve the Heisenberg side of things at all, and since that's where it has to end up, maybe that's the issue. And I wish I saw the "humdinger" the great Alan Sepinwall did in this episode. Some very good scenes, but now that the Mike LARP part is over, this isn't one of them, so here's the short form: Mustache measures the joint and makes notes in a chunky laptop. Mike frowns and asks if he can do it. Mustache confidently says he can, in seven months -- probably actually six but he doesn't want to overpromise. Mike dubiously confirms that Mustache and his team can drill 56 feet down, with no blasting, working only at night, and complete the build in seven months, and when Mustache smugs that they dug a tunnel nearly a kilometer in length under the border to El Paso, undetected, in just over four months, Mike -- off a call from, I assume, Gus listening in from nearby -- thanks Mustache for his time. Cut to Mustache, left at his rental car with a plane ticket in his jacket pocket, making WTF faces and presumably not getting the job because he failed to apprehend its true challenges.
We'll return to this later, alas. For now, let's join Kim, one-handedly struggling to get a necktie onto a brattish adolescent named David. She refreshes David on where to look when the judge is talking and how to address Her Honor, then dismisses him with instructions not to touch the tie and greets Bill Oakley in the hallway. We haven't seen the snotty DDA since early in the third season, but Oakley's in typical self-satisfied form, clocking Kim for pleading David not guilty when he threw a cinderblock through a jewelry-store window…in front of a witness. As David eavesdrops from around a corner, Kim says she wants six months' probation and time served. Oakley's like, and I want to hit a scratch-off "and breed Labradoodles," but Kim counters with her hole card: David wasn't properly Mirandized, and Oakley knew full well evidence based on the confession he gave before getting the Miranda warning was collected improperly. Oakley sputters that that's irrelevant, but Kim points out that he doesn't want her bringing this up on the record, earning Oakley an L on the case and a freshly ripped new asshole. Oakley counters with 10 months; Kim repeats that she wants six probation so David can "turn his life around" and not end up joining a gang in prison.
Oakley isn't having it, and as they wait for the judge, he's still grumbling about the standard sentencing as I note that Kim's modified injury pony is, while not back to its original geometrically perfect form, slowly trending back towards rigid competence.
After a silence -- awkward for Oakley, serene for Kim -- Oakley offers eight months in jail. Four months' probation, Kim counters. What happened to six?!, he objects. "You're annoying me," Kim croons. Hee. "You can't play chicken with me! I invented chicken," Oakley whisper-bitches. "Wow! Okay?" Kim says, not looking at him. Another counter is met with a wordless head-shake from Kim, which sets Oakley off on how he can't make four months fly and nobody got tiiiiime for this. Kim notes that her only other client is a bank: "I have all the time in the world." The judge bustles in, but Oakley doesn't blink until the case itself is called, agreeing to Kim's terms. Kim asks if she "may," and rises to note that she's happy to say she and the prosecution have reached an agreement. Oakley smiles through the bee he's just eaten.
Outside, David is about to walk off with the borrowed tie when Kim stops him to get it back, and after Viola prompts her that they have a meeting in fifteen minutes, David takes the opportunity to whine that he's going to have a probation officer "on [his] ass" for four months. Instead of leaning within an inch of his face and yelling "YEAH, YOU'RE WELCOME, YOU LITTLE SHITHEAD," Kim sighs and informs him that he's going to go to his grandfather's restaurant and beg him for a job, any job, and then do it, no matter how menial it gets. David is a teen bitch about it,
but Kim continues undaunted that he's to smile, be on time, say "please" and "thank you," and keep his nose clean. David folds his arms all "make me," and Kim's like, oh hayle no, and leans in to add that if he doesn't, he's going to "real grown-up jail." Picture it, she murmurs, "really picture it," because next time, Kim's "not going to do a damn thing about it." Does David get it? David, whose "I am TOO hard" bitchface has melted off in favor of a properly chastened mien, gets it.
Nice bit of business by Johnathan Nieves as David here.
At the KimUndJimmyhaus, Jimmy's browsing the channel guide and finds that Doctor Zhivago is about to start. Kim is tempted, but tells him to watch without her; she has a bunch of Mesa Verde crap to catch up on. I don't know Zhivago well enough in either of its forms to address the symbolism here, but you got your stymied soulmates separated by circumstances, you got your secret child, you got your Newland Archer-type dude chasing his long-lost lover through a train station and having a heart attack and dying without her ever knowing all this was going on ten yards behind her, you got your pathetic-fallacious winter of the soul…you get it. Jimmy asks if she can work with the TV on, and she notes that she has amazing powers of concentration, so Jimmy settles in with the film, and we settle in on Jimmy's face, working a bit as "Lara's Theme" comes up on the soundtrack. It's no doubt a coincidence, but one I enjoy under the circs: "Lara's Theme" figures into Ocean's 8, at the beginning of the heist proper. And it's not long after that when Jimmy, who's kept looking over at Kim working, says there's something he has to take care of down at CC Mobile. At nine PM? She chooses to believe his "it's my first week" explanation, though she does make a "…k" expression when he tells her not to wait up.
Down at CC Mobile, Jimmy's logging in a bunch of sales, and stacking the receipts on the counter. I understand what he's doing -- he's "buying" the phones and heading out to resell them -- but wouldn't the dummy receipts still have time stamps? Not that corporate would check if the drawer matches. Sorry to well-actually the retail scam here. Anyway, Jimmy takes a whole whack of phones out of the store, but his first pitch, to a trio of dicksmacky teens outside a laundromat, doesn't go well; they assume he's a "narc." As Randy Crawford's "Street Life" starts up, Jimmy peels out, fetching up at the nail salon, where he rummages through clothes he still has stored there to find a suitably un-narc-ish track suit. (And a more informally wavy toupee on Odenkirk, snick.) Thus kitted, he heads into a sales montage at all-night hot-dog joint The Dog House (a periodic location on this show and the mothership, where we occasionally saw Jesse dealing in the parking lot, and this reference to Breaking Bad feels organic). "Street Life"'s lyrics let us know that this is Jimmy in his element -- "you are who you think you are"; "you can run away from time" -- as he deals burner phones out of his trunk like the pants salesman in Diner. His clientele is all sorts, from punks to sex workers to Dog House counter ladies; under a nearby street light (heh), the dicksmacks from earlier sullenly watch him work.
Revving motors cause most of Jimmy's customers to melt away. Jimmy also hops in his car when he sees a biker gang pull into the lot, then gathers himself, grabs the last few phones, and heads over to make his pitch to the apparent leader. It's awkward until Jimmy guesses (well, almost) the prison of origin of the leader's tattoos; he smoothly notes that he used to be an attorney -- "emphasis on 'used to be'" and segues into pitching the privacy aspect of the phones (not to mention their ease-of-smuggling qualities) based on the priorities of his former clients. The leader hears him out, then grunts, "How much?"
Cut to Jimmy enjoying a celebratory tube steak as the biker gang peels out around him. "Keep the rubber side down!" he shouts cheerily, waving. He's unlocking his jalopy when The Dicksmack Gang converges on him. The bleach blond orders Jimmy to give them his money. He's like, right: I'm a narc, remember? He snarks on their "Junior Achievement project" but isn't having their bullshit, but unfortunately, they're not having his, and set upon him. A ground-level shot from the other side of the car shows him hitting the deck and getting kicked before the dicksmacks grab his money and run, leaving him gasping on the ground, his half-eaten victory dog beside him on the asphalt.
Kim awakens to the sound of water running. Jimmy's not next to her in bed; she finds him in the bathroom, where he says he got mugged. True, if lawyerishly incomplete. Kim fixes him an ice pack and checks to make sure his pupils are the same size. He waves off suggestions of visiting the ER or reporting the assault. She gets out hydrogen peroxide and cotton balls, and without speaking he reaches over to snap open the bottle she's just fished out of the cabinet -- another one of those relationshippy moments BCS does so well between these two. She dabs at a small cut on his cheekbone. He glances in the mirror and chuckles sadly, "Look at us; we're like a Mathew Brady photo."
Kim tries to question him "casually" about how he came to find himself at the Dog House at 1:30 in the morning, but he's nebulous, saying he parked too far away; he's also very obviously checking to see if she's buying it, which you'd think she'd see from literally three inches away. He sits down heavily. Kim sits beside him and says comfortingly that it sounds like a wrong-place-wrong-time kind of thing, and he grouses that, "back in the day," he would have spotted the Dicksmack Squad a mile away, and they would have "known not to roll" him. Kim, amused, asks how they would have known that, and he shrugs before conceding that he guesses he was "one of 'em." "Those days are over," Kim says in a tone that's more willing it to be so than stating it as fact. "Yeah," Jimmy whispers, also willing it to be so, then begins, "But, uh…" and says after a lengthy pause that maybe tomorrow he'll call "that shrink." Couldn't hurt, right?, he sighs. Couldn't hurt, Kim agrees.
The next day, Jimmy methodically removes the bugging-truther signage from the front window of CC Mobile.
Kim, meanwhile, is emerging from a cab at the house of her client, Denise, who is an hour late for her hearing. She cry-voices that she can't go; she's freaking out. She can't go to jail. Kim's like, well, I got the hearing pushed, but if you don't show up now, there will be jail. Later, they sit together on Denise's front stoop. The cab is still waiting as Kim admits she can't promise no jail time, but if she doesn't come with Kim now…"Denise, you can do this," Kim tells her, while silencing the buzzing phone in her back pocket. It's Denise's first offense, it wasn't a lot of drugs. "Trust me, I'm good at this," Kim says. Denise doesn't respond. Denise: she is good at this. Get your trifling ass up. Kim gets up, brushes off her pants, and suggests Denise change "into something nice. We'll do this together." Denise is not that dumb, and gets up to change. Kim should totally have a business Virgil-ing people to appointments they don't want to keep. "It's only one cavity; they do this every day. And you can have a cocktail afterward! Let's go. Wear something comfy." After sticking her head into the house to make sure Denise isn't skedaddling out the back door, Kim pulls her again-buzzing phone out and answers it, and predictably it's Paige at Mesa Verde, calling with a "huge problem." As she's wigging on about a paperwork error that went out to the branches in Denver and Flagstaff, Kim wriggles in her sling, annoyed, and says she's in the middle of something but she can see Paige at four. "I need you now!", Paige whines, but Kim's like, don't know what to tell you, I can't do it, and when Paige starts to object further, Kim snaps, "I'm sorry!" and hangs up on her. She allows herself a brief "I maaaaay have fucked up" eye-flick
before turning the phone off, stuffing it in her jacket, and yelling at Denise to get going. "You look great," she lies to Denise, who has barely upgraded from the previous leopard-print leggings rig she had on before and didn't bother combing her hair, and herds Denise to the cab with dogged cheer.
Hope it was worth it; Kim probably isn't so sure, as the next scene finds her pacing nervously in the Mesa Verde lobby, and when Paige appears, Kim barges up and pants that she's so sorry: "Let's get this fixed right now." "It's…fixed," Paige sighs, adding that they had to pull everyone off other things to redo the paperwork "because we didn't have the files," and Viola the keener didn't know where to find them. Kim wisely doesn't argue the point, just says she'd like to apologize to Kevin personally "if he's available." Paige says he's not, which I think is a lie, and I also think Paige tells said lie because Kevin looooooves Kim and will undermine her with ripping a strip off Kim, and takes a breath before saying she wants to be very clear: the error isn't the issue. But she does need to know Kim's "head is in this," reminding Kim that she promised Mesa Verde would be her "sole focus." Kim regards her with a somewhat inscrutable expression; it's not exactly the kid who's more sorry to get caught than genuinely regretful, and is just sitting through the lecture before going back to her coloring book? But, to go with the dominant imagery of the episode, this is what she's reflecting back...from David to Mesa Verde, if that makes sense. Paige snaps that "we're not a client you hang up on." Kim looks down, and seems to be trying not to laugh or roll her eyes, then gets control of her face to repeat that she's really sorry, and "it'll never happen again." Based on her blandly "sorry" mien, this could mean that it won't happen again because Kim is fixing to quit the account, but it's hard to say. Paige also seems a bit puzzled in addition to irritated, and says she hopes not before stalking away. Kim just stands in the lobby, body and face both motionless.
Take two of the top-secret van-anigans, but this time, Mike's passenger is groaning in German and English that he's about to barf. Upon arrival, Von Bralf takes forever to guzzle water, splash it on his face, and acclimate himself to his surroundings, and while it's amusing and well executed by Rainer Bock (who, trivia alert!, played a German intelligence officer in a 2015 episode of Homeland called "Better Call Saul"), it loses something in the translation. What you need to know is that Von Bralf is quite a bit more frumpy and analog than Mustache; he goes into exasperated detail about what the excavation will require, how long it will take, and how many cubic meters of dirt will need displacing, waterproofing, utility schematics, on and on…it's actually not uninteresting, but the idea is that the very construction of the super-lab was a massive and pricey undertaking, which, you get it. Von Bralf describes the secret nature of the project as "not…optimal?" and notes that "many many things can go wrong," and this un-glib realism, which Mike seems to respect, conjures Gus, who asks without preamble, "So: it's impossible?" "Dangerous; difficult; and very very expensive. Not quite impossible!" Gus extends a hand and introduces himself auf Deutsch, because of course he does.
Jimmy's at the courthouse, getting wanded by security. He heads into the men's to find Howard at the sink, splashing water on his face and looking like piping-hot hammered hungover shit.
"Everything okay?" Jimmy asks fakely. Howard nasals that he's fine, and asks after Jimmy, who's there for his probation check-in at the DA's office, so he's been better. He asks again if Howard's sure he's all right. Howard non-answers that he has court in 25 minutes. It's not a particularly big case, so Jimmy wonders what's up, then. Howard thinks about not answering, but is sufficiently desperate to connect with someone about the guilt he's feeling that he asks if Jimmy ever has insomnia. "Not really," Jimmy says, and while we've seen him unable to sleep, as far as feeling haunted by his past (mis)-deeds at night, it's credible that he…wouldn't be. Howard wouldn't wish it on his worst enemy. Jimmy asks dismissively if they don't have pills for that, and off Howard's rueful snort, says he's "gotta ask -- what's eatin' you?" The shot of the two men in the mirrors, um, mirrors the shot of Kim and Jimmy after his mugging,
I suppose to underline that part of Jimmy's timeline, or the scenes Jimmy finds himself in with these people, don't reflect who he really is…and/or that it's significant that nobody in either scene is necessarily facing the mirrors, just in front of them, reflected for us and not themselves. See also the many shots of mosaic bits of reflected activity in the puddles of the Dog House's parking lot, many of them rippled and distorted -- not a true picture, which a mirror reflection isn't either, strictly speaking; it's a reversed image.
What I don't think I get here is the purpose of having Jimmy taunt Howard in this way. The scene in the premiere in which he eagerly let Howard blame himself for Chuck's death sufficed as far as showing us Jimmy's true face on this matter; I don't see why this purposefully elicited cruelty is necessary for the development of either of these characters. Howard doesn't see any of the conversation's outlines initially, nearly lurching towards Jimmy in the hopes of unburdening himself. A few steps away, he draws himself up short and stiffs, "I think I've shared enough. More than enough. Let's leave it at that." Howard's gathering up his things when Jimmy says he gets it, then turns back to advise Howard to go talk to someone, hoping to pass off the number Kim gave him. Howard's already seeing a professional twice a week. Jimmy asks if he's "any good," which apparently he…isn't, at least not yet, but Howard says he is. "Good seeing you, Howard," Jimmy shrugs. "You too," Howard grunts, and leaves the men's. Jimmy meticulously tears the shrink's number into sixteenths and flushes it as though it's drugs. Interesting choice, which neither erases the number's existence, nor Jimmy's ostensible need for it, nor Kim's interest in his using it. Also an interesting choice...
…is the god's-eye tracking shot of the probation-department cube farm that comes to rest on Jimmy waiting for his PO to return with coffee. When he does, they review Jimmy's case status -- his community service is complete; his PPD fees are up to date; he has lawful employment, and will bring pay stubs to his next appointment -- and Jimmy confirms (after a tiny pause, hee) that he isn't associating with "known criminals." The PO wonders if he has any plans for after the probationary period is over. Oh yeah, Jimmy says, lost in thought, but the PO wasn't just making small talk: "…Such as?" Jimmy snarks that he'll keep showing up for these appointments "like clockwork," but in nine months and 24 days, he's getting his law license back, and he and Kim will get a new office "and it'll be like it was, but: bigger and better." He'll have more clients, he'll win bigger cases…he's drifted off again, not really talking to the PO, as he goes on, "I'll be a damn good lawyer, and people are gonna know about it --" "Okay," the PO interrupts, making a placating hand gesture. "So: lawyer!" "Yeah," Jimmy says, coming back to himself and setting his jaw. "Lawyer."