A review of tonight's “Better Call Saul” coming up just as soon as I picture “The 25th Hour” starring Ned and Maude Flanders…
“What are you doing?” -Mike
“The right thing.” -Jimmy
The consensus on last week's episode was that it was easily the strongest hour of “Saul” to date, and a lot of you stated your desire to see the show pivot more into that direction, not only by giving Jonathan Banks more to do as Mike, but by returning to the dark emotional palette of “Breaking Bad” rather than the light comic antics of Jimmy McGill, elder care lawyer.
When I spoke with Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould (and editor Curtis Thurber) about the show's ever-changing opening title sequence, we also briefly discussed the response to “Five-O,” and Gilligan said that while they like having the ability to experiment – to do an episode where Mike is now the main character and Jimmy a minor supporting player, and where the tone is so different from the previous installments – they were enjoying the primary mode of the show too much to suddenly turn it into “Better Fear Mike,” and said of the rest of the season, “I would say people shouldn't expect too many more police officers to get murdered this season, but other than that, there's a lot of surprising, fun stuff coming out.”
I think that's as it should be. “Five-O” was fantastic on just about every level, but I don't know that I would want that every week, particularly because I'm finding so much pleasure in seeing Jimmy slowly but surely evolve into Saul.
“Bingo” passes the baton from Mike back to Jimmy, and sees our hero still viewing himself as exactly that: a modestly successful elder care attorney loved in the senior citizen community, and possibly rich enough (albeit with the help of the “retainer” the Kettlemans gave him a few weeks ago) to rent out a fancy new office that could lure Kim away from HHM. Life looks pretty damn sweet – and peaceful, for that matter – for Jimmy McGill early in “Bingo,” and for a few minutes it's hard to imagine how his life and career might turn him into Albuquerque's most popular storefront shyster.
Unfortunately, the original sin of the money from the Kettlemans tears his dream down around him. Where Betsy Kettleman's unrelenting awfulness could potentially have been the wedge needed to separate Kim from Howard Hamlin, Jimmy instead has to get involved because he took their money – and because, much as he wishes it weren't so, he feels compelled to do the right thing by Kim, and by the larger process. With a bit of help from Mike – and what a pleasure it was to see Mr. Ehrmantraut in action again inside the Albuquerque city limits – he pushes Craig to take the deal, but in the process mends things between Kim and Howard, while also giving away the money that would have helped him rent out that swanky new office.
But this season has been filled with examples of him doing the right thing and suffering awful consequences. As we see Jimmy howling on the floor of the corner office he hoped to give to Kim – for reasons both professional and personal – it's not a moment as gut-wrenching as Mike wailing, “I BROKE MY BOY!,” but it does light up a clear path from where Jimmy is now to where we know he's going. Doing the right thing brings him headaches and misery; being a criminal lawyer in every sense of the word seems just fun.
So, no, “Five-O” didn't signal a radical shift of what “Better Call Saul” is going to look like. But when the show's regular mode is this funny and slick and well put-together, I don't need – or even want – my heart to be torn out of my chest every week.
Some other thoughts:
* I loved the way director Larysa Kondracki (a newcomer to the “BB”/”BCS” universe) framed the opening scene with Mike sitting in front of the wanted posters, and always looking like a man who could and probably should be on one of them. (I also loved the Bingo-cam shot from the scene where Jimmy is at the senior center, working with a “Match Game”-style microphone.) That scene does suggest that Mike may have seen the last of his old friends from Philadelphia, but we'll see if the hot-headed younger detective can let this go.
* The return of Jimmy to center stage also brought the return of Chuck dealing with his health problems, and for the first time in a while trying to be proactive about it by building up a tolerance to electromagnetic energy. Since we know all of that is in his head, the more valuable thing may be Jimmy deliberately leaving case files in the house to trick Chuck into focusing on the law again.
* Certain aspects of Jimmy's past – including the exact nature of his prior relationship with Kim (dating? sex buddies?) and when it ended – have remained a mystery, but when he refers to the east wing of the HHM offices as “the cornfield” (referencing this iconic “Twilight Zone” episode), it's with the disdainful familiarity of someone who used to work in (or at least near) said cornfield. Did Chuck get his brother a job at his firm? And if so, did Jimmy lose that job before or after Chuck's health crisis?
* It took me a moment to figure out exactly what Mike was doing with the money, so for those of you who maybe didn't follow: he took some of the cash the Kettlemans had given to Jimmy and put it on one of the Kettleman kids' toys in the backyard, knowing Craig would find it and assume that the kids had somehow gotten into the stash (hence them seeming to scold the kids while Mike watched and ate his fruit). Because Mike had sprayed the money with a chemical, Craig's fingerprints showed up nice and bright under the UV light, and Mike could follow to where exactly he hid that cash – and all the rest of it – once the Kettleman clan was fast asleep.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org