Better Call Saul Reviews: “JMM” (season 5, episode 7)

Last week I alluded to the fact that if they did indeed get married, Kim would be Saul’s first wife. Only, y’know, that wasn’t a fact at all.

Commenter Meister Eder referred me back to a scene in season one’s “Marco,” in which Jimmy rants about a number of things during his bingo-night meltdown. One of those things is an ex-wife.

Watching the clip he provided in isolation was a strange experience. I’d seen that episode, obviously, and if you had asked me about that scene I’d have told you I remembered it pretty well. But while I was paying attention to one thing — Jimmy, overcome with frustration, gradually losing control — I missed another.

It’s sort of like that video of the basketball players. You watch it and try to count the number of times they pass the basketball to each other. Afterward you watch the same video again and you see a man walk across the scene in a gorilla suit — even pausing to pose for the camera — which you didn’t notice the first time because you were focused on something else.

In short, Better Call Saul did in an early episode what I thought it hadn’t done yet as the show nears its end. The existence of multiple ex-wives for Saul was one of the few bits of history Breaking Bad gave us about the character, and Better Call Saul has more or less gone down the list of everything we knew about the man, proving each of them true in turn. (For a shyster, that Saul Goodman sure was honest!)

None of that is to say that Better Call Saul would have done anything wrong by giving Saul his first wife this late in the game, but it would have been a rather puzzling choice; it would mean the show would either need to cram several wives in as it neared its conclusion, or it would have had to leave space between this show and Breaking Bad for more wives to come and go.

To be clear, I was wrong that we hadn’t heard tell of a previous marriage. Period. But even if I had been right, “JMM” does something the show always had every right to do: It shuffles an ex-wife into the deck.

While Kim and Jimmy are applying for a marriage license, Jimmy is asked to provide documentation of his “two previous dissolutions.” I missed the first ex-wife, but I think this is the first we’re hearing of a second one. This makes Kim number three, and she could well be his last. We’ve hit an appropriate number of ex-wives for Saul Goodman.

Which, of course, is this episode’s biggest development by far. (It also provides the episode’s biggest laugh, as Jimmy pays for their marriage license as though he’s paying for dinner.)

Elsewhere, “JMM” doesn’t do much other than shift some pieces around. Eduardo is in jail, but by the end of the episode every party involved has an interest in getting him out. Nacho confronts Mike about helping him get out of the business, but it’s not time yet. Gus learns that the Salamancas want to burn down one of his restaurants, so he does it for them. Things happen, but only two of them feel like serious developments. One is toward the episode’s beginning, and one is toward the end.

The one toward the end happens during Eduardo’s hearing. Jimmy has some of his trademark theatrics up his sleeve, bringing along a fake family to earn sympathy for Eduardo from the judge. Also in the courtroom, though, is the actual, grieving family of Eduardo’s murder victim.

Jimmy dwells silently on them both during and after the hearing, and he’s at a kind of ethical crossroads. Yes, he has to defend his client…but what next? He could continue down this path — becoming a friend of the cartel — or he could pull back a little bit and help the people who are suffering rather than those who make them suffer. It’s a dilemma explored in silence…until Howard shows up.

All of Jimmy’s internal frustrations come out again, in a setting even more inappropriate than bingo night, and he unloads mercilessly into Howard…the living embodiment of a better path forward. We know that Jimmy’s choice is between HHM and an office in a strip mall, and we know which decision he ultimately makes. But he doesn’t make that decision with a clear head; he makes that decision because he’s angry and frustrated, at least partially because he’s facing this dilemma at all.

Why would the cartel offer him “Ranch in Montana kind of money”? Don’t they know that that makes it much more difficult for him to do the right thing?

Why would Howard offer him a huge step forward professionally? Doesn’t he know that that makes it much more difficult for him to do the wrong thing?

Why does he have to make a choice? Why does he have to be responsible for his actions? Can’t he just do what he does and not have to be aware that things could have gone a different way?

He berates the one man attempting to help him make the right choice. He leans into his own unjustifiable behavior. You’re damn right I smashed your car with bowling balls; that’s who I am and you can fuck off.

Early in the episode, Huell asks Jimmy if Kim will be McGill or Goodman. He replies simply and clearly that she’ll be Wexler.

Late in the episode, Howard asks Jimmy if he will be McGill or Goodman. His reply is by no means simple, but it’s every bit as clear.

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