Better Call Saul Reviews: “Klick” (season 2, episode 10)

In many ways, I think the best way to review the final episode of season two is to refer back to my review of the final episode of season one.

Season one was, I felt, largely brilliant. It got off to a bit of a sputtering start, but it didn’t take long to carve out a distinct and rewarding identity of its own. Its supporting cast got their chances to shine, we developed Jimmy McGill as a character distinct from Saul Goodman and therefore one worthy of separate study, and it seemed less and less fair to view the show in the shadow of Breaking Bad.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was often great. And Rhea Seehorn, a relative newcomer, proved herself to be the most valuable member of a cast that included old pros like Bob Odenkirk, Michael McKean, and Ed Begley, Jr. In short, Better Call Saul had promise. That was no surprise. What was surprising was how quickly it fulfilled that promise.

Then came the final episode of the season, “Marco,” which wasn’t exactly the best thing the show could have done. Most disappointing was its ending, in which Jimmy turns down a position at Davis & Main so that he can hop into a phone booth and emerge moments later as Saul Goodman.

It was oddly graceless, and almost insulting to a viewer who would have spend the previous nine episodes and change invested in Jimmy’s story. “Anyway, I’m Saul now, so forget all that.”

The show deserved better. Here’s what I said about that in my review:

Jimmy checks his messages and finds that he has clients — actual people for whom he is doing actual good, and who pay him actual money — waiting for him, and it feels like a nice moment of awakening for the character. [Kim] tells him that he stands a good chance of being hired on at another law firm…and hands us a great setup for where season two can go.

But ah, the Sickle! Jimmy comes home, stands in a parking lot for a little bit, then says “Fuck it, I’ll be a bad guy!” It’s an unconvincing reversal, to say the least, and it again feels so effortful. It’s a forced conclusion that speeds us toward Jimmy’s eventual transition into Saul, which works against the quiet, tragic slowness we’ve known all season. […] With the high highs of the previous episodes still so strongly in mind, I find it hard to believe that that’s where we actually ended things.

[…] A far more intriguing end to season one would have been Jimmy getting hired on at [Davis & Main]. He could spend “Marco” doing largely the same things, coming to largely the same conclusion as he comes outside of that church. He decides that he can do this, and sets out to make a name for himself at a reputable firm.

…at which points he finds it extremely difficult, makes an ass out of himself, and despite his best efforts keeps getting beaten back to the man who will eventually give up and become Saul.

That could have been a great series of episodes. It would have proven to him that he couldn’t handle what he expected to handle. It would have given Chuck’s “chimp with a machine gun” concern some retroactive weight, as Jimmy fails to live up to the sacred practice of law.

I’m not saying that I know the direction of this show better than anyone else does, but I do know that Kim’s arrangement floods my mind with possible storylines, whereas “I’m Saul Goodman, and you’re not! G’night everyone!!” doesn’t.

Forgive the long quote, but its length is deliberate: doesn’t season two seem like it addressed that concern specifically?

Not that I suspect anyone involved with the show read my reviews, much less took my criticisms to heart when working on the next batch of episodes. But I do think that my concerns must have been shared by at least someone on the writing staff. Why else would season two have begun with Jimmy literally undoing the decision he made at the end of season one? It must be because Davis & Main floods the mind with possible storylines, whereas ditching all that for Goodmanism just gives us the same stuff we already saw on Breaking Bad.

Funnily enough, the first episode of season two even shares my metaphor of a light switch:

I’ll watch season two, unquestionably. But Jimmy deciding he’s going to be a crooked shit is too easy. We already know where he ends up, so this isn’t surprising. It should have been something more momentous than flipping a light switch, which is what he might as well have done.

But now I’m just bragging.

My point is, Better Call Saul was excellent, but it had some issues…mainly at the very beginning and at the very end. Season two deliberately set out to correct those issues, even going so far as to have Jimmy immediately reverse the very decision that season one led to. It was course correction for both the character and the show, and as a result season two deposits us in much more interesting territory than season one did.

Season one said, “Here’s that guy you like.”

Season two now says, “Here’s these characters you’re still getting to know. And they’re fucked.”

We can get Mike’s story out of the way easily enough: it ends with a beginning. Instead of assassinating Hector with a sniper rifle, our aging hitman finds his view blocked. Some time passes (in an impressively tense scene, considering we know full well he doesn’t kill Hector) and then there’s the sound of Mike’s car horn. Someone’s wedged a stick against the steering wheel to set it off, and they’ve left a simple note: DON’T.

For starters, that’s pretty similar to the “Go home, Walter” phone call from “Thirty-Eight Snub,” which stops Walt from killing Gus. (Well…stops him for the time being.) That’s nice.

But the larger development here is that…well, it’s Gus, isn’t it? Gus tailed Mike, I guess, for some reason, and stopped him from killing Hector, I guess, for some reason. And he waited a long time to wedge that stick, too; if Mike’s view hadn’t have been blocked by Nacho, Hector could have been shot dead 150 times over. So…whatever. I’m not really sure what happened here, but FRING’S BACK so we know it’ll be worth waiting around to find out.

It’s Jimmy and Chuck, though, who are really in an interesting spot as the season ends. Chuck tricks Jimmy into confessing his felony, and records him doing so.

Okay. So, no, that doesn’t sound like much when you just see it in print like that.

What’s interesting is how Chuck plays it. How villainously he plays it.

He resigns from Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. As in, actually resigns. Howard isn’t in on the deception, but Chuck knows that if he quits, Howard will call Jimmy for some insight. And once Jimmy finds out Chuck quit, he’ll rush over to check on him. And once Jimmy shows up, Chuck will act a little extra crazy, to disarm Jimmy and make him feel bad. And once Jimmy feels bad, he’ll come clean…and Chuck will have it all on tape.

And it plays out exactly that way. Of course it does. Chuck’s the one who pieced together every detail of Jimmy’s crime, in sequence. He knows how this stuff works.

His deception is clever, and in line with what we know and suspect about the character. Sure. But what really makes it sting is that Jimmy spends a huge portion of this episode the same way he spent a huge portion of season one, and much of season two: caring for Chuck. Sitting with Chuck. Refusing to leave Chuck. Doing whatever is in Chuck’s best interest to keep him safe and healthy.

This is what Chuck takes advantage of. He knows Jimmy will drop everything the moment Chuck needs him. Chuck abuses his brother’s good side in order to prove his bad side.

That’s the weight of twenty good episodes making that cliffhanger work as well as it does.

And it also gives us some great insight into who Jimmy is. We know he’s flawed. We know he’s unscrupulous. We know he’s easily led astray.

But now we also know that he’d willingly commit a felony just to help the woman he loves.

And he’d confess to that felony just to make his sick brother feel better.

This leaves us with a lot of possible storylines for season three. This is not closure that needs to be reversed. This is one story becoming, in an instant, another story entirely.

There’s fallout to anticipate. There will be consequences. And, eventually, Jimmy will lose both Kim and Chuck as a result.

As a direct result? Probably not; the show hopefully has a few good years left in it.

But as a result of being Jimmy? As a result of being who Jimmy is?


And that’s already a more interesting story than Saul Goodman’s would have been.

Roll on, season three.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Nailed” (season 2, episode 9)

I’ll stand by my comments about the previous episode, but I think it’s only fair to say that “Nailed” absolutely pays off “Fifi” to a degree I never anticipated. This is one of the best episodes the show has done, and the fact that it comes on the heels of one of the weaker chapters goes a long way toward justifying my faith in Better Call Saul.

Sometimes, sure, things seem to go off the rails a bit. But stick with it, and you’ll be rewarded.

Also reassuring is the way in which Jimmy’s plot and Mike’s plot comment thematically upon each other. Sure, they’re still conflicting protagonists in unrelated stories, but “Nailed” sees each of them going out of their way to interfere with somebody else’s business, turning an easy success for their rival into a failure, and claiming it for themselves.

In each case they’re even caught…except that there’s no evidence. Nothing can be proven. They’re guilty and everyone knows they’re guilty…but without proof, they get away with it.


In each case, there’s a price.

Mike learns that although his robbery of Hector’s driver netted him a quarter of a million dollars, it also resulted in an innocent death. While Mike hogtied the driver and got the loot without injuring anybody, Hector killed the “good Samaritan” who found the driver and freed him. No hard feelings…just couldn’t leave any witnesses. And, suddenly, Mike’s heist isn’t as clean as it should have been. He didn’t anticipate that consequence. A man doesn’t get to go home tonight…because of him.

And Jimmy…well…what does Jimmy learn? Almost nothing, aside from the fact that Chuck is a more tenacious adversary than he would have guessed. But he still pays a price…as he sees his brother become overwhelmed in the all-night copyshop and collapse…scoring himself what looks like a pretty awful headwound on the way down. He didn’t anticipate that consequence. His brother doesn’t get to go home tonight…because of him.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, maybe, but so much of “Nailed” comes down to its ending. (Or endings.) Like the great Breaking Bad episode “Dead Freight,” it’s not what happens during the story that matters. It’s what happens at the end, and how that recontextualizes what we’ve seen, and makes us question the value and wisdom of the choices that led the characters to that terminal tragedy.

In fact, I was actually reflecting a few days ago on how non-violent Better Call Saul is. For all of its resurrections of gangland characters we remember from Breaking Bad, we don’t get the weekly surges of violence. Of harrowing threats. Of the unexpected deaths of those we probably, at some point, assumed would be safe.

Better Call Saul has its moments of physical danger (“Mijo”) and outright battery (“Gloves Off”), but its tension comes primarily from something else. It comes from the tormented relationship between two brothers who love each other and yet would be slightly relieved if they found out the other had died peacefully in the night. It comes from Jimmy and Kim, and their extremely realistic, inevitably doomed feelings for each other. It comes from a natural con-man’s struggle to find a more professional, more respectful way forward.

In short, it comes from the characters. And, yes, I know, every human being who loves Breaking Bad can speak for hours on end about the development and exploration of its characters. Rightly so. But Breaking Bad also had a violent streak that kept its episodes thrilling. Sometimes disturbingly so. Yes, we wanted to see Walt and Jesse explore their relationship, but weren’t we also tuning in to see if either of them would make it out alive? Yes, we all adored Gus Fring and enjoyed spending time watching Giancarlo Esposito inhabit the character, but weren’t we also tuning in to see how our heroes would finally get him out of the way? Yes, we invested ourselves in the narrative spiral of a desperate man discovering that, at heart, he might be a villain…but if he retired from the drug trade three seasons from the show’s end and successfully cut all of those toxic associates out of his life, would we have kept watching?

What I’m trying to say is that the characters made Breaking Bad as great as it was, but they aren’t what made Breaking Bad. They are, by contrast, what makes Better Call Saul, which is why tonight’s brutal ending hits as hard as it does.

In Breaking Bad, a man hitting his head wouldn’t even register. (Unless it’s Ted…but I can’t imagine Chuck suffered a trauma as serious as that.) In Better Call Saul it’s enough to make you have to catch your breath. It’s terrifying.

And yet it wasn’t intentional violence.

There’s no threat of further violence to come.

It wasn’t gory.

It was just Chuck. Poor, conflicted, flustered Chuck…overwhelmed and frustrated by his brother’s treachery. Just Chuck. Chuck, who can’t take it anymore. And who is so overcome with anxiety that his knees buckle beneath him.

And he hits his head.

And it’s one of the most painful things I’ve ever seen on television.

It was brilliant, and it justified last week’s non-story entirely. Of course, I always have to complain about something, so I’ll just say that I do still feel that Jimmy’s alteration of the documents was a bit of a cheat. Yes, it halted the Mesa Verde proceedings and brought the client right back into Kim’s lap, but how did Jimmy know that would happen? Last week I figured the meddling would be spotted quickly (as it was) and dismissed as a clerical error (which it also was). The fact that it bumped Mesa Verde’s expansion back six weeks or so is fortunate for Jimmy, but it can’t have been something he should have banked on. It feels like a lucky break, and that was a lot of work for him to go through in the hopes that he might get lucky with the court being unable to grant the corrected request for expansion later the same day. Or the next day. Or even a few days later.

His gambit paid off, but I still don’t buy that it was a done deal the way Jimmy seemed to assume it would be a done deal.

Again, though, it led to “Nailed,” and that’s the important thing. Because “Nailed” had a great ending. And probably an even better middle…with a scene that was even more painful to watch than Chuck’s head injury.

It’s when Jimmy and Kim show up to Chuck’s house to pick up the Mesa Verde files. And Chuck tells Kim everything.

He figured it out. He knows exactly what Jimmy did, he knows when Jimmy did it, and he knows how Jimmy did it. He tells Kim every detail. And we know he’s right, because we watched it happen.

He lays it out for Kim. She listens. He interrupts Jimmy when he tries to deflect. He tells Kim exactly how dangerous a person Jimmy McGill is.

And after all that, after a long, dark, perfectly tense, impeccably acted, powerfully scripted scene like that…she dismisses him.

She tells Chuck he made a mistake and Jimmy had nothing to do with it. What’s more, she turns all of his disparaging remarks about Jimmy’s character back on him. Sure, Jimmy might be a conniving scumbag. But isn’t it Chuck who pressed him into that corner in the first place?

I actually made a few involuntary noises (which it’d be embarrassing to recount here) when she pushed back against Chuck. I was conflicted, and the show had done that to me masterfully. Chuck was right…but didn’t it feel good to see Kim lay into him? And the fact that she did so after Chuck made it clear that Jimmy did this as some kind of warped romantic gesture made it both more exciting and more heartbreaking. She was coming to Jimmy’s aid at precisely the wrong time. She was fighting for his innocence now that he was clearly, unquestionably guilty. She was acting as a character witness for the wrong McGill.

Then, of course, they get in the car and Kim punches Jimmy in the arm repeatedly. She didn’t believe Chuck at all.

She wanted to.

Of course she wanted to.

Why wouldn’t she want to?

But she didn’t. She knows better.

Jimmy is flawed. Jimmy is going to drag her down. Jimmy is going to be the reason all of this — however you’d like to define “this” — won’t work out.

But he’s Jimmy.

And on some level, against her better judgment, against the judgment of those she respects and admires, against her memories of how he’s held her back in the past, against all of the things she’s already witnessed him do

She loves him.

Kim loves him. I really believe that.

And I’d go to bat for Better Call Saul as having one of the most believably disarming love stories in TV history.

That’s what makes this such an effective show, at its core. And such a tragic one.

On Breaking Bad we always wondered who would die next. On Better Call Saul, we just follow this singular, sad, doomed relationship downward, toward its inevitable, unfortunate end.

In many ways, that’s actually scarier.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Fifi” (season 2, episode 8)

Intentional or not, I’d say that my break from Better Call Saul has helped the reviews. I don’t think I felt like I was tired of the show, or sick of writing about it, or anything like that, but coming back to it after a delay has given me more to talk about. Better ways with which to express my feelings. Larger questions to raise. In short, it turned out to be a good thing, and I believe my past few reviews are superior to the ones that came before.

Now there’s an episode like “Fifi.” And, man…how on Earth to talk about “Fifi”?

Is it bad? No.

Is it good? Eh.

Is it interesting? Getting warmer, I guess.

In the review for “Gloves Off” we talked about middle chapters. “Fifi” is another one, but instead of suggesting any forward momentum or decisive character moments, it’s just kind of there.

Frankly, I think “Fifi” is the result of the logistical constraints of serialized drama. When writing a sitcom, for instance, you’ll know that you have, say, 22 episodes to fill. So, of course, you dream up 22 stories to tell. I’m unquestionably simplifying things, but for drop-in/drop-out programming like that, all that really matters is that you’ve hit the requisite number of stories to fill your quota.

Serialized drama is different. Neither Breaking Bad nor Better Call Saul featured self-contained stories to any significant degree. One sitcom story lasts, for the most part, the length of one episode. One Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul story could last a season. Or more. And, hey, now that you mention it, how do we define stories on these shows anyway? Don’t they just sort of continue? Transform or ignite other stories? Resurface when we least expect them?

What I’m getting at here is that the hypothetical Slippin’ Jimmy & Friends sitcom would almost certainly feature entirely self-contained stories on a weekly basis. If it still gets 10 episodes per season, the writers need to write 10 self-contained stories. That’s easy. But writing Better Call Saul forces them to think in season-long arcs…and then where the characters will be left when it’s over, and whether or not that will be fruitful enough for another batch of episodes…and so on and so on. In addition, Better Call Saul has the unenviable task of tying everything eventually back into its parent series.

It’s no longer a 1:1 story:episode ratio. Jimmy McGill is in one place at the start of the season, and the writers want to get him to another place by the end. The episodes themselves, therefore, become steps rather than stories. Jimmy has milestones to hit along the way, and ideally we get some nice character interaction in there…maybe set some time aside to explore larger themes or to let Mike calmly dispense whoop-ass…but the season is the concern, not the individual episodes.

So we get a “Fifi,” now and then. An episode that only barely pushes anything forward. An episode so full of long, wordless stretches (the customs sequence, Mike’s stakeout, Jimmy monkeying around with the Mesa Verde files) that it wears its lack of urgency like a badge.

Reader Stephen Fletcher reminded me of something when I wondered about the significance of Rebecca in the episode that was named after her: he said that the first letter of each episode’s title creates an anagram. By now, I don’t think it’s worth redacting the spoiler; it spells FRING’S BACK. So that’s why that episode had to be named after Rebecca; we needed the R. Personally I think they could have called it “Regret” or “Reconsideration” or “Reprisal” or something that had a bit more to do with anything that happened in the episode, but so be it.

“Fifi” by that same logic might as well be called “Filler.”

But, hey, it’s not without merit. Better Call Saul has one of the wall-to-wall best casts on television right now, and it’s a pleasure to watch them go about their business, even if that business seems relatively light.

This time around, we even get to see another side of Chuck: we get to see him being an actual lawyer. His salvaging of the Mesa Verde account was both impressive and unexpected, and we get a sense of just why he’s still valuable to Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, despite his reclusive lifestyle. (We also get yet another indication that his “sickness” is all in his mind, as he’s able to make it through a long, important meeting with aplomb and only begins to falter once the client leaves.)

That much was nice. Even if he was single-handedly crippling Jimmy’s and Kim’s prospects as solo practitioners.

Yeah, if “Fifi” tugs any of the narrative threads along, it’s that one, forcing us to experience Kim’s emotional roller coaster right alongside her. She’s throwing her lot in with Jimmy, she retains Mesa Verda, she loses Mesa Verde. Apprehensive, empowered, crushed. It’s a nice little journey for the character, and part of me wishes it were joined to a more gripping episode in general.

We’re left knowing almost nothing more than we knew at the end of last week, as well. Wexler & McGill is still a blank slate.

Then there’s Mike, whose story barely advances…but does advance just enough to prove me wrong yet again. First I thought Hector might want to use Mike for muscle in the future. Then I thought Mike might be heading back to Hector to ask for more work. Now…who knows. Mike scopes out Hector’s operations and…that’s about it. It was a bit odd that he let Kaylee help him build whatever monstrous device he was working on in his kitchen, as I’d honestly think he’d want his granddaughter to have no part in his dealings whatsoever, but, again, that’s what you get from an episode like “Fifi.” It needs to tread water, and that’s what it forces the characters to do as well.

I’m also not sure what Jimmy was doing toward the end with the Mesa Verde files. He obviously switched an address on a few of the documents, but I’m not sure what his aim is. Is he trying to make Chuck look incompetent or something? Surely if Chuck fucks up an address he’ll be corrected, and then that’s that. Worst case scenario is that he compares his copies of the files to some other records and ascertains immediately that Jimmy meddled. I’m sure I’m wrong, but as of right now I have no clue how this is meant to impact Chuck at all. “Fifi” sure seems to think it’s important…I just wish it gave me reason enough to join it.

And, hey, as long as we’re wallowing in confusion…that customs sequence at the beginning. Was that a nod to the opening of Breaking Bad‘s “Kafkaesque,” when we see the Los Pollos Hermanos trucks transporting illicit substances along with their expected cargo? I assume so, but “Fifi” doesn’t tell us the significance of anything — almost literally anything — it shows us. It wasn’t a Los Pollos Hermanos truck, obviously, but I’m wondering if it ties into Fring’s return in any way, or if it’s just a neat, time-killing callback.

It would be nice if “Fifi” answered some questions, as I think it needed to be a far more engaging episode than it is.

But we still have two chapters left to go. It’s possible that “Fifi” set them up for a grand slam.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Inflatable” (season 2, episode 7)

Well, this one was certainly fun. That doesn’t necessarily translate to “good,” but as necessarily disappointing as “Inflatable” is, I enjoyed it, and I think it’s going to prove to be one of Better Call Saul‘s most memorable episodes.

I say disappointing not because I didn’t like it, but because it represents a likely hard stop for many aspects of the show. Yes, we all knew Jimmy’s employment at Davis & Main was a detour at best. He wasn’t going to be there for long. That’s no surprise. But aside from the daring commercial, its inevitable fallout, and, now, Jimmy’s bombastic farewell, the arc didn’t bear much fruit.

I think I’m disappointed because Davis & Main fulfilled its narrative necessity without digging too deeply into the possibilities it offered for characterization. Ed Begley Jr. is always a delight, but now that he’s out of the regular supporting cast it’s easy to see that he didn’t do — or contribute — much of anything to the show. Jimmy’s bristling at Erin’s constant supervision of him was also an interesting dynamic that is now doomed to remain almost entirely unexplored. And his awkward farewell to Omar — who genuinely seemed to like Jimmy if he didn’t necessarily respect him — suggests a fertile pairing that was over before it started.

In short, the job was exactly as disposable as Jimmy, Kim, and Chuck all suspected it was. I was holding out hope for it, and I think I’ll always wish we spent a little more time there. A handful of episodes isn’t enough to really explore Jimmy’s new surroundings, and now we’re already saying goodbye, heading back to the nail salon for the next phase of Jimmy’s career.

To be clear, I’m disappointed because this job could have offered the show so much more. We didn’t see much outside of Jimmy making a well-intentioned blunder, after which we sidelined his character for a few weeks and returned to see him angling to be fired. There should have been more to Davis & Main than that.

The positive aspect of this, however, is the fact that the episode’s cliffhanger isn’t the season’s cliffhanger. When we hear that Jimmy and Kim will (likely) strike out on their own, we don’t have to spend the between-seasons break wondering what that will look like. Potentially we have three episodes already lined up that will give us a taste. That may be worth truncating the Davis & Main stage of things. We’ll certainly find out.

So, yes, I was wrong about Jimmy’s restroom conversation in “Rebecca” suggesting that he decided not to throw away his job. I’m guessing now that the function was to make him look like even more of a dope in our eyes when he almost immediately turned around and did so anyway. But that’s fine! I like getting things wrong. I like thinking through a series of consequences only to find a well-written show present me with an entirely different series. It challenges me as a viewer and expands my horizons as an artist. I’m all for that.

As long as I’m confessing to idiocy, I was also wrong, apparently, about Hector thinking he could use Mike as muscle in the future. At the end of the episode, it seems like it might be the opposite: Mike thinks he can use Hector for work. My new prediction is that next week’s episode is about a surprise party Hector is throwing for the cousins. He hires Mike to wheel in the giant cake, which Gus Fring then pops out of and they fall in love. Callin’ it.

The biggest Breaking Bad connection comes with this week’s enormous piece of the Saul Goodman puzzle: his wardrobe. We learn of its origin here as an act of professional defiance…and man, if that’s not an absolutely perfect in-universe rationale I don’t know what is.

Of course, I think there’s more to it than Jimmy’s need to piss off Clifford; I do think he’s genuinely drawn to the gaudiness. After all, he keeps the suits after they’ve served their purpose, and he wears them all through his incarnation as Saul Goodman. What’s more, we’ve already seen him considering such “optical migraines” in “Hero.” I think this really is just Jimmy’s fashion sense — or some quarter of it — and it also happens to offer an easy out.

The title “Inflatable” refers to the flailing-arm tube-man that inspires Jimmy to reconsider his wardrobe…something which leads to both an incredible montage of the younger McGill purposefully tanking his prospects and to probably the single funniest episode of Better Call Saul yet. It’s easy to turn “Inflatable” comic once you realize you’re going to get Bob Odenkirk back in bright colors and let him honk on some bagpipes in the middle of a workday, but what surprises me is how effectively the comedy works.

Back in “Uno” and “Mijo,” the first two episodes of this show, I thought there was an intermittent problem of tone. That’s not to say that the show faltered in any significant way, but if there was an early weakness for Better Call Saul it was the cartooniness of some of the supporting characters. Odenkirk — to literally nobody’s surprise — understood perfectly and thoroughly the necessary balance between laughter and sincerity. He was a comic actor with the emphasis on “actor,” while some others around his periphery, such as the two young men he teams up with in an ill-fated bid that leads him instead to a crazed Tuco, obviously preferred to lean on the “comic.”

Since then the show’s been better at maintaining the right kind of comedy for its atmosphere. One that’s conducive to big laughs but also doesn’t rob the universe of its gravitas. In fact, “Inflatable” calls right back to those two episodes as Jimmy describes to Mike his encounter with Tuco…and it serves as a reminder — deliberate or not — of just how much better the show already is, by simple virtue of its more consistent tone.

In fact, the rampant comedy of that scene plays right into one of the most deflating moments we’ve seen yet. (Though it admittedly would have landed better if we’d spent more time with Clifford.)

JIMMY: Cliff…for what it’s worth, I think you’re a good guy.
CLIFF: For what it’s worth, I think you’re an asshole.

That’s the kind of thing you can only do when you let your characters matter.

But, yes, Jimmy gets fired, which means he keeps his signing bonus, which means he has some capital.

…which means he invites Kim to strike out with him at the lawfirm of Wexler-McGill. That’s a pretty loaded name…not just because Jimmy lists her first, but because Wexler-McGill is what Kim’s last name would be if she does indeed turn out to be one of Jimmy’s wives.

That’s pretty clever.

What’s more, she agrees with him!


It won’t be Wexler-McGill, though…it’ll be Wexler & McGill. They’ll share office space, they’ll collaborate…but they won’t be partners. They’ll be individual lawyers, operating not together but in close proximity. And I think we can all agree with Kim that this was the better move. Presumably Jimmy will accept her counter-offer; I don’t see a rational or compelling reason that he wouldn’t. But, either way, this could lead to some very interesting places…not least because Jimmy will be free enough to operate in whatever underhanded ways he sees fit, and Kim will be in near enough proximity to notice it.

Something is going to sink this relationship. And we may have just learned the venue for that showdown.

Of course, Jimmy wasn’t the only one courting Kim away from Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. Was she wise to sidle up to Jimmy while turning down an offer from an established, respectable firm with definite prospects for partnership? Maybe not…but I buy her decision. Easily. And I think it just comes down to one word she used in the interview when she was asked about why she left her hometown. She told them what she wanted: “More.”

Then they made a nice offer.

But we know she wants more.

Whatever that means, whatever it could mean, I believe it.

It’s worth also considering the flashback that opens “Inflatable.” It’s clearly a formative moment for Jimmy, what with being told to decide between identifying as a wolf or a sheep, but what’s more interesting to me is how deliberately it refuses to prove Chuck’s story from “Rebecca” either right or wrong.

Did Jimmy sink the family business? We do see him stealing from the till, but we also see Charles Sr. being so willing to hand over money to strangers that he’s earned an embarrassing reputation for it. So, yes, Jimmy pocketed cash and that’s certainly a terrible thing to do, especially to your own family…but it does seem like Charles Sr.’s habits, as of right now, are more likely to have resulted in the greater loss.

That also explains why Charles Sr. refused to believe Chuck; he himself knew how much he had given away. He refused to let Jimmy take the blame because even if they boy did steal…he couldn’t have stolen as much as Charles Sr. knew he was responsible for handing out.

Just some thoughts…the kind of thoughts you can only have in regards to a show that knows what it’s doing, even if it sometimes, here and there, seems like it might not.

A lesser show would have used the flashback to prove Chuck right or to definitively establish him as a liar. (Or at least as an unreliable source.) Better Call Saul keeps that particular ball in the air.

And I like that.

Because the McGill boys aren’t going to stop feuding any time soon, and I kind of love how often I’m invited to shit my allegiance.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Bali Ha’i” (season 2, episode 6)

The second half of a season of a heavily serialized show like Better Call Saul needs to suggest momentum toward some clear — though obviously temporary — terminal point. “Bali Ha’i” suggests that the show is fully aware of this, as it edges our three primary characters toward decisions they won’t be able to take back.

And that particular number of primary characters — drifting around, having independent arcs, setting out on rarely overlapping adventures of their own — can prove troublesome at such a time. No, it’s not difficult, narratively speaking, to push Jimmy, Mike, and Kim separately onto the next step of their developments. But as their paths seem to diverge more often than they converge, what does that mean for Better Call Saul? Doesn’t that make it less about how Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman and more like some shared-universe anthology series?

I’m speaking hypothetically here about the problem, and I don’t mean to suggest that Better Call Saul actually has that problem. But I do think, from the standpoint of artistic construction, that it’s a question worth considering. I’m willing to believe that Kim plays some very clear, very direct, very specific part in Jimmy’s transformation…but is that because of anything I’ve seen in Better Call Saul? Or is it because Breaking Bad already told me where he ends up, and as this is its prequel series I am obligated to assume that she must?

To put it another way, if Breaking Bad didn’t exist, would I watch Better Call Saul and conclude that Kim will become more important to Jimmy as the show progresses? Or less?

The same, of course, can be asked of Mike, but we already discussed that a bit in the last episode. He was off on his own journey, doing his own thing, not really relevant to or interested in whatever the heck Jimmy McGill was doing. That was obvious. Less obvious at the time was that we could have said the same thing about Kim.

“Bali Ha’i” brings the question to a head, pushing Kim right up to a further separation from the initial, core version of the show as she toys seriously with the idea of leaving Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. No, that wouldn’t necessarily remove her entirely from Jimmy’s orbit…but it would push them, in a logistical sense, a degree further apart.

Originally Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill was the connective tissue for Jimmy, Kim, Chuck, Howard, and indirectly Mike. It’s the one thing, the one setting, the one constant they all had in common. Then Jimmy relocated and joined a different law firm. Mike’s role as a courthouse parking attendant became sidelined to focus on his independent contracting for gang members. Now Kim considers leaving, too. And she might. I hope she will, if only to see what Better Call Saul does once nearly all of its characters have left the mothership.

Of course, as “Bali Ha’i” toys with Kim further splintering the narrative, Kim herself reaches back out to tie it together. She talks to Jimmy again. She invites him to relive the high of the season-opening “Switch” by swindling a vulnerable mark, which is a nice moment. A much nicer moment is the reveal that they don’t cash these checks; they hold onto them like trophies, which is almost adorable.

But the nicest moment is that both Jimmy and Kim — each on thin ice with their respective firms — walk out on their work obligations to do this. They each know that they’re abandoning their careers (again, temporarily) to pursue something that’s more important to them: each other. They’re individually in deep shit. They individually have to claw their way back out. They individually need to atone, professionally, for damaging lapses of judgment.

Goofing around together is important, though, too. And when Kim calls Jimmy to join her, it’s clear that now, at least, it’s more important. To both of them.

One very interesting revelation to me is that Kim also worked in the mail room at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. In fact, she did so for six years. I knew that Jimmy met and befriended her when he worked in the mail room — in fact, “Rebecca” tells us that they became close within his first week on the job — but I didn’t realize that she was a direct colleague. I figured she was an attorney of some kind who just happened to get chummy with someone who was a bit lower than her on the corporate ladder. That would gibe with just about everything I’d already concluded about Kim, so I was surprised to find out that they were sealing envelopes and fumbling around with the copier together.

This adds a bit of a wrinkle to my pet theme, which is that you are what you are, and if you try to be or become anything else, the universe will slap you right back down. Certainly that still applies to Jimmy, but now we find that Kim was granted an opportunity to advance. To grow. To develop into something more. Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill even fronted the money for her schooling.

But we don’t know the full picture. She went from the mail room to the conference room, but Jimmy didn’t. We know that. She had her tuition covered. Jimmy didn’t. We know that, too.

That’s all we really know, though. And while it may complicate the theme, I don’t feel compelled to abandon it just yet. Somebody, at some point, for some reason, was willing to nurture something in Kim. Was willing to take a chance. Was willing to elevate her. Whereas Jimmy was preterite. Passed over. Refused. No matter how hard he worked or what he accomplished, he would not be afforded the same chance that Kim was.

Perhaps Kim’s place in the universe has some degree of mobility factored into it. Granted, it’s mobility that comes with a high price (or at least two high prices: firm loyalty and debt), but it is mobility. And, hey, maybe Jimmy’s does, too. We know he doesn’t end up where we see him now. Part of the Better Call Saul experience might just be finding out first-hand exactly the lengths of everybody’s leash.

Then there’s Mike, who this week is in deep shit of his own. Yes, it’s great to see Action Grandpa doing his thing. That will never get old, and I’ll take scenes like his remote-control fakeout every week until the show decides to stop giving them to me. But I have to say that I didn’t expect to see the cousins from Breaking Bad turn up. And I felt the chill when they did.

The cousins menaced Walter White in everyone’s favorite parent show, and they were a very real, very legitimate, very scary threat there. I probably should have expected them to turn up at some point — what with Tuco, Gonzo, No-Doze, and Hector already here, leaving a pretty wide opening for them — but…yeah. That was probably the biggest surprise cameo I’ve experienced in this show yet.

But it made me wonder: how does a show like this handle tension when every viewer already knows who lives? Sure, they silently threaten Mike’s granddaughter Kaylee, and I think it’s fair to say that a drug cartel menacing a little girl is a scary thing by default. But we’ve seen Breaking Bad. We know that they never get to Kaylee. We know that they never get to her mother. Hell, we know that they never get to Mike. (And how great is it that Mike eventually kills one of them directly in “I See You”? He must have felt pretty good about that.)

In fact, the one character who seems to be the most dangerous — Hector — is the one we already know comes out badly. (Though, obviously, his eventual incapacitation may in no way be a result of this particular event.) The characters we like will be okay, and the characters we don’t like are going to suffer.

That should be reassuring rather than worrying.

So…where’s the tension?

To quote an earlier paragraph, I’m speaking hypothetically here about the problem, and I don’t mean to suggest that Better Call Saul actually has that problem. It’s just interesting to consider. If everyone watching already knows who lives and dies (unlike the artful, spiraling uncertainty of Breaking Bad), what do you do?

It’s hard to say, and “Bali Ha’i” doesn’t have the answer. Better Call Saul will have to find a way to make these foregone conclusions feel uncertain, and I know that it can succeed. After all, how much of Better Call Saul did you picture when you originally wondered what made Saul Goodman who he is?

Yeah, same here.

This show has the capacity and ability to surprise. If anything, it might be playing with us by reminding viewers of that certainty before throwing a curveball. But we’ll see.

One wrinkle worth remembering, though, is Nacho. The one character we know doesn’t make it to Breaking Bad. He can still die. He can still suffer. He can still be a victim.

And that can matter. I don’t know if many people watching the show at this point care about Nacho they way they cared about Walt or Jesse or Hank, but the fact is that there were stretches of Breaking Bad that made it difficult to care about Walt and Jesse and Hank. Each of them, and many other characters, shrugged off audience sympathy at various points. Sometimes they deserved to get their asses kicked…or worse. Which is what made it all the more harrowing when it inevitably came…after they became more sympathetic and we had stopped wishing it upon them.

There’s room to play with Nacho, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I look forward to seeing it happen, though.

Anyway, what’s Noiseless Chatter without some needless bitching about something I enjoyed? (Oh, yes, I enjoyed “Bali Ha’i” a great deal. Let me make that clear.)

My Complaint of the Week is that I’m not sure I buy Hector caving to Mike’s bluster. Hector rescinds his offer of $5,000…telling Mike that that time has passed; all he gets out of it now is an assurance of safety for himself and his family. So far, so good.

Then Mike demands $50,000 instead of…y’know…$0. And after much too little deliberation, Hector agrees.

Why? What does he get out of it?

I don’t know. I question that. It’s probably necessary from a narrative standpoint, but I can’t make sense of the character logic.

Maybe at this point in his life, Hector has something of a heart. Maybe he admires Mike. Maybe he sees this as an investment on working with him again in the future. (It’d sure give him something to lord over him if he ever needs a favor.)

Or maybe, more simply, he just doesn’t want to deal with the cleanup and investigation of three dead bodies, which is going to result in far more work for him than a few years scraped off of his nephew’s sentence is worth.

My point is that there are reasons he might acquiesce to Mike’s demand, and I can think of a bunch of them. But I didn’t feel them during that scene, and I’m willing to believe the show wasn’t sure what they were, either. Hector agreed because he had to agree in order to get to whatever the next plot point is.

And that’s a shame.

Because a reason, or even the ghost of one, would have told us a lot about who he is, where his mind is, and what he’s planning next.

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