A review of tonight's “Better Call Saul” coming up just as soon as I leave the gun and take the pimento…
“You're not a real lawyer!” -Chuck
Among the many amazing aspects of the final scene of “Pimento” – as powerful in its own way as Mike's breakdown at the end of “Five-O” – is that it hit like a ton of bricks even though I had seen most of it coming. The episode doesn't really try to hide Chuck's role in screwing over Jimmy, first letting us see him making a clandestine call on Jimmy's cell phone(*), then making clear that something is up with Howard through his scene with Kim and her scene with Jimmy. And many of you were already speculating last week that it was Chuck, not Howard, who didn't want Jimmy working as an associate in the firm. (In hindsight, maybe Howard really is the good guy he keeps insisting he is?)
(*) Chekhov's Mailbox pays off!
But even though it's not a total surprise, the venom of Chuck's explanation is still shocking, and Jimmy's reaction is no less painful. In his introduction to “Breaking Bad,” Saul compares himself to Tom Hagen, but here he is somehow Fredo Corleone taking the moral high ground with Michael.
And here's the thing: both brothers are right in a way, even if the end result is very wrong. We understand exactly why Chuck is afraid of Slippin' Jimmy with a law degree, because we've seen in “Breaking Bad” exactly what can happen when Jimmy gives in to that hustler side of himself within the legal arena. But at the same time, “Better Call Saul” season 1 has offered ample evidence that at this stage of his life, Jimmy McGill is sincere in his desire to do things the right way, both to impress his brother and because it's the right thing to do. But we can add his own brother to the list of people in this world who have no interest in a good version of Jimmy McGill. The irony is, Chuck's fear of Slippin' Jimmy is what is likely to inspire the creation of Saul Goodman. Had he not placed that call to Howard, Jimmy might have spent a long, fruitful and honest career as a civil attorney. But whether it happens next week, or in some later season, we know Saul Goodman is coming, and we have now have a pretty good idea of what motivated his creation. If even Jimmy's brother – whom he has protected and cared for throughout his prolonged illness, and even come up with a way for Chuck to go back out into the world again – can't trust him enough to be good, then who can? And what's the point of trying?
In that respect, what happens here neatly sidesteps the question of how Jimmy's life changes whenever he gets his cut of the class action, even if it winds up being worth millions. Not only could a settlement be years away (even past the events of “Breaking Bad”), but this incident could so sour him to doing things the right way that the money he gets from this case is beside the point. He's going to become Saul Goodman no matter how much cash he has in the bank, just to live down to every cruel thing Chuck tells him in that final scene.
The Mike subplot, meanwhile, offers us a delightful glimpse of Mike Ehrmantraut at his most confident and unflappable – I laughed long and hard at the giant man running away from Mike after seeing what he did to the mustachioed gunslinger – and has him cross paths with a clearly impressed Nacho. But given what happens in the rest of the episode – and what this series as a whole is about – perhaps the most important part of it is the conversation he has at the end with the would-be drug dealer who hires him for protection.
When “Pryce” objects to the notion that he's a bad guy, Mike points out, “I didn't say you were a bad guy. I said you were a criminal.”
“What's the difference?” Pryce replies.
That, my friends, seems to be the big question of this series. Mike was once a good guy who, by taking bribes and kickbacks, was also a criminal. Jimmy's a former criminal trying not to be a bad guy, even though no one seems to believe him. Eventually, both of these men are going to become very serious criminals indeed; but will they become bad guys at the same time?
Some other thoughts:
* This one was written and directed by Tom Schnauz, longtime “Breaking Bad” writer and old friend of Vince Gilligan's (they worked together on “X-Files” and “Lone Gunmen”) who also wrote “Nacho” earlier this season. He's the one who gave Gilligan the idea for “Breaking Bad” in the first place when he told him about a news story involving a man who cooked meth in an RV.
* Mike points out that Nacho's real first name is Ignacio, which is the name a fearful Saul Goodman throws out when he's in danger in his very first “Breaking Bad” appearance. Hmm…
* How soon before some men's clothing store starts selling As Seen On TV suits with a space blanket lining for their more, um, eccentric customers?
* Also, I like that they dressed Mike's boss for the day very much like Walter White. Whether this particular business relationship continues or not, it's not hard to imagine Mike having a picture of “Pryce” in his head during his early encounters with Walt, thus driving him to underestimate this seeming fellow nebbish.
* I will say that even though the secret phone call was clearly dodgy, I still got a little choked up at the image of every lawyer at HHM coming out to give Chuck a standing ovation on his return to the office. Howard is an ass in many ways, but that was a nice gesture.
* This week's title sequence: a Saul matchbook in a urinal.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org