Directed by Larysa Kondracki
After “Five-O” put Mike’s backstory into sharp relief, that entire plot thread basically got shut down in the first few minutes of “Bingo.” We already knew that Mike was going to get away with it from Breaking Bad, but it was still interesting how the series essentially shut it down immediately after opening it. His daughter-in-law isn’t going to say anything, and I think we all knew that beforehand, so saying, “If she doesn’t have anything to tell us, this basically ends here” is really a message to the audience: that episode was a one-off, and this storyline was just our way to show you that bit of Mike’s past. It’s over now. It was like the psychic dust in the “Amy’s Choice” episode of Doctor Who–a way of making that episode something outside of all that occurs around it. It’s an economical bet of storytelling, something that should always be rewarded.
What follows is a less economical but more satisfying wrapping up of a season-long plot thread in the story of the Kettlemans. They blackmail Jimmy into representing them. Jimmy turns them in and blackmails them into silence. Again, for all that he can’t get ahead, Jimmy is the smartest person here, and is always a step ahead of everyone around him. I think we are beginning to see the way this series is going to operate long-term, with the magician James McGill at its center as the smartest guy in the room.
One of the recurring themes of Breaking Bad was always the old adage that crime doesn’t pay. On Better Call Saul, we’re seeing the same theme play out. While the money that Jimmy gives back here was money that he has since earned appropriately, he after all got a lot of his current business from the exposure his billboard shenanigan brought him, a shenanigan financed by the Kettlemans’ original bribe. It’s fruit of the poison tree, and he cannot get ahead via that fruit, much like Walter White before him.
Visually, this episode was perhaps the strongest to date, the odd framing of Mike’s conversation with the Philadelphia detective aside. Kondracki and Arthur Albert put shadows to use in scene after scene. Look at the shadow between Craig and Betsy Kettleman when Kim is explaining the deal she has gotten to them–it emphasizes a difference between the two early on and slowly Craig moves more and more into the shadow until he is completely enveloped by it, showing (a) the fact that Betsy is the one that matters and (b) Craig is going away. The automatically dramatic lighting of Chuck’s dim apartment gets even stronger with the shafts of light and reflections filling the house. Kim’s appearance in shadow in her meetings with Jimmy is so perfectly out of Alan J. Pakula’s repertoire, emphasizing her feelings of loss and the underhanded mysteriousness of the entire situation. It’s a very film noire look, and the show pulls it off in a way that perhaps only Breaking Bad ever could have done before it.
- “Cocobolo” is a type of wood. I looked it up. It’s quite expensive and quite garish, so it’s right up Saul’s alley.
- While that framing of that scene with Mike was odd, was I the only one who thought it appeared that the bearded guy who walked past Mike in the restroom later was on that board? That would explain the weird framing.
- “They have reams of checks he wrote for false expenses . . . he wrote them to himself.” No wonder Betsy has the power in their relationship. She may be crazy, but he’s apparently a moron.
- One problem with the entire Kettleman story: How the hell did a county treasurer afford that house?! Apparently not with the stolen money, since they have that in a bag in the bathroom, so how? (Incidentally, the money all being in the bag means that the boat was not a sign of guilt, as Jimmy said.)
- Jimmy and Walter White’s stories have more parallels than one might have guessed from Breaking Bad–overqualified guys stuck in dead ends because of their own decisions (though Jimmy’s do not seem to be based entirely on ego) who decided to cheat a way to get ahead but never could get what they were after. That’s been an interesting revelation of this series.