Screens: AMC

Better Sell Out Saul

Saul Goodman's supervillain origin story comes into clearer focus with a heartbreaking betrayal by someone close to Jimmy.

If the penultimate episode of Better Call Saul's first episode had a moral for the viewer to learn, it might be something like "Never stereotype anyone based on his physical circumstances." As Mike amply proves to his inexperienced pill merchant of a client -- and to the two hired thugs Mike shows are unnecessary backup for him -- just because someone is a senior citizen doesn't mean he automatically crosses over into twinkly Betty White territory; he can still be a fearsome and effective enforcer and enjoy a discount at the movies. And as Chuck proves to Jimmy, just because someone has a disability doesn't mean he's a saint. In fact, he can be a fucking scumbag.

When I suggested last week that flashback Howard might have refused Jimmy's request to join the firm after passing the bar at Chuck's behest, I didn't really want to believe it could be true. The proof of Jimmy's sincerity in trying to remake his life was evident in his having taken one of the most menial jobs at Chuck's firm, when surely there was easier and probably less humiliating money to be made in his various other kinds of slippin'. Jimmy's need to make Chuck proud of him, likewise, is evident in his having pursued a law degree as opposed to trying to enter any other field -- not just because he has a natural aptitude for talking his way out of trouble but because he admires Chuck so much and wants to impress him by following in his footsteps.

In the episode's present day, all indications are that Jimmy's ongoing attempts to go straight as a lawyer are working exactly as they should. Shilling for work writing wills by hanging around a nursing home is a little smarmy, but he's actually offering a service that elderly people need, for a reasonable price (and even, as we saw in the last episode, on a sliding scale!). He might have discovered Sandpiper's billing fraud by chance, but Chuck's reaction when Jimmy brought the case to him showed that both his moral and his legal instincts are on point. And if Jimmy resists the idea of partnering with HHM to give it a chance of ending well for his clients, the terms Howard proposes when the McGill boys meet the partners -- $20,000 cash now, and "20% of the common fund share of the settlement," if there is one -- make Jimmy reconsider his animosity toward Howard...until Jimmy mentions the office he assumes he's going to get on the premises and has to hear from Howard that it's never going to happen. Chuck is aghast!

2015-03-31-better-call-saul5

Jimmy is furious, and tells Howard, "I'm not giving you my case. I'm going to tell every one of those clients what a lying, miserable pigfucker you are. I will burn the whole thing to the ground before I give it to you"! Kim risks her position by going to Howard privately and advocating on Jimmy's behalf! But whatever he tells her, in confidence, sends her to Jimmy's "office" to beg him, tearfully, to take the deal. And while we don't hear what Howard tells Kim, by the time Chuck and Jimmy sit down at the end of the episode, it becomes heartbreakingly clear very quickly.

Chuck comes whistling downstairs and is setting up the ironing board (...does he have an old-timey pioneer one he plans to heat up on his grill or something, or is he now fully done being allergic to electricity?) when he glances into the living room and is surprised by the sight of Jimmy sitting there waiting for him. Chuck is in a great mood: though he sighs that he knows things didn't go their way with Howard, he felt great being back in the office, and he's ironing so that he's ready in case any more work comes along for him to do. Jimmy says he didn't sleep, but after thinking about it all night, he decided to take the deal. "Wish it could've worked out," says Chuck. "Imagine that, huh?" says Jimmy, as Chuck...chuckles. "Two McGill boys, side by side, storming the gates, righting wrongs, taking down the bad guys -- and making a boatload of money to boot. That would've been great, right?" "The very best," Chuck grins, adding, "I'll keep on Howard. Won't badger him, but maybe I can gradually wear him down, you know? Get him to come around?" "That's-- Thanks!" says Jimmy, Chuck apparently not noticing the tears standing in Jimmy's eyes. "Wow."

2015-03-31-better-call-saul6

And Jimmy has a way that Chuck could convince Howard to see things Chuck's way: he could threaten to quit! "If working with me is what you really want, RIGHT, CHUCK?!" But, of course, it's not.

Jimmy, defeated, tells Chuck he got him twenty pounds of ice, and a few days' worth of eggs and bacon: "After that, you're on your own. I am done." Jimmy stalks out of the house, ignoring Chuck as he calls out to him, and trusting that despite the gains Chuck has made with his reaction to the outdoors, Chuck won't follow him too far. And while none of us ever probably thought Howard "HamlIndigo" Hamlin would ever seem like less of an asshole than any other person in Jimmy McGill's life, Jimmy's betrayal by his beloved, idolized brother seems likely to end up the turning point that convinced Jimmy that trying to be a decent lawyer as opposed to a shrewd operator wasn't going to be worth the trouble. Live with that in your bunker, Chuck: the only person worse than the known pigfucker is the pigfucker who tells him what to do.

Almost all readers liked this episode
What did you think?

Discussion

Explore the Better Call Saul forum or add a comment below.