Better Call Saul Shows Us The Grubby Moment Jimmy Met Gus
Now here are a couple of guys who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.
Breaking Bad is -- spoiler alert -- a show that had occasion to kill a lot of its most important, most memorable characters. That Better Call Saul is a prequel means it has the opportunity to revive them -- indeed, it started by bringing Mike Ehrmantraut back to life -- and while stories claiming that Bryan Cranston either will or won't play Walter White on the show this season hit the entertainment press all the time, I submit that the resurrection fans wanted to see more was Gus Fring's. Or maybe I just think that because it's the resurrection I wanted to see more. And by that I mean the resurrection I wanted to see most. Maybe it's the only one I've really cared to see at all.
FINE, that hyperbole is unfair to Mike. His arc on Saul has been fascinating and heartbreaking to watch, adding depth and colour to character notes Breaking Bad didn't have the space to develop. But what Breaking Bad did give Mike was a good death -- of course it was hard to watch, but it felt like a capper even Mike would agree was the right one for his story. And, okay, there are arguments to be made that Gus's death was just as inevitable and well-timed -- not to mention really fucking metal.
But I could have watched Gus forever. I know he was a bad man. He made money selling vulnerable people the means of their own destruction; he murdered his own underlings to protect his interests. Did he even go so far as to threaten to kill an infant? Yes. But he didn't actually do it!
Even a Gus superfan like me could be let down by him in those moments of unhinged fury, because what made him so irresistible to me was his elegant self-control.
It's part of what makes his Better Call Saul début so satisfying. The whole sequence, in fact, is a textbook example of using dramatic irony effectively. When Mike turns his car tracker around on the people who've been watching him and then calls Jimmy to ask if he's free for breakfast the next day, we know what it means when the camera pulls back to show us Mike's just pulled a U-turn in front of a particular fast food location.
But Mike doesn't, really, and Jimmy knows even less when Mike sends him in to watch what happens when a particular patron enters with a knapsack. Because we know what could happen as Jimmy keeps eyes on Mike's mark without being conspicuous, the surveillance sequence is deliciously tense. And when he ends up essentially climbing into the garbage can to make sure Knapsack Man didn't drop anything in there that Mike needs to know about, there's the thrill of knowing who's going to be forced to intervene.
Thinking quickly (and reaching back through his own personal history to make use of a reliable prop), Slippin' Jimmy smoothly covers with a story that rests on his willingness to make himself look like a loser: his cheap watch band failed! This decorous store manager certainly does not judge.
Unlocking the cabinet and donning gloves, Gus cheerfully digs into the trash and produces the watch. As if that wasn't service enough, he offers to clean it with an alcohol wipe before he hands it back. ("No, it's been in worse places." - Jimmy. Hee.) When Jimmy thanks him, Gus beams, "No problem! It's my pleasure!" I know it's just an expression, but I also believe providing his guests with a superlative experience in every respect literally is Gus's pleasure. Yes, of course, Los Pollos Hermanos is primarily a front for Gus's drug business. But if the man's going to manage a restaurant, he's going to do it to the very best of his ability.
He's going to dominate his enemies to the very best of his ability too. The man just takes all his work very seriously!
After reporting to Mike on the nothing he saw, Jimmy implores Mike to use him in whatever case it is he's trying to crack: "Hey, who's got your back? Me, that's who!" And, indeed, Mike would probably be proud of the calm, masterful way Jimmy handled himself when Gus startled him at the garbage can. By the end of the episode, Jimmy's proven he doesn't quite exhibit that kind of sangfroid in every situation, as he steps into Chuck's trap.
Chuck has the power to unsettle Jimmy, making him act against his own interest, thanks to years of careful study and a depthless need to destroy him. Gus may not have as much time as Chuck has to learn what Jimmy's about, but we may assume he's going to use all the resources available to him to catch up as much as he can, and then to bend Jimmy to his will just as ruthlessly.