TV Episode Review: “Better Call Saul” “Rico” (05.08, 2015)

Written by Gordon Smith

Directed by Colin Bucksey

While it is a series whose lead character is an attorney, Better Call Saul has been far from a legal thriller. Indeed, its antecedent Breaking Bad, with its crime-centered story arc, was closer to the “legal thriller” genre than Jimmy’s attempts to further his career and help his mentally ill brother. Until this episode, that is.

It’s still far from the traditional legal thriller embodied by Perry Mason and the like in that we have hardly seen the inside of a courtroom, but in that way the series is actually showing a level of realism that others in the genre sacrifice in the interest of drama–few attorneys spend much time in court, and even those who do spend significant time in court do the vast majority of their work elsewhere (and Jimmy’s current focus on elder law renders court appearances even less likely). But, here’s what actually happened in this episode: first, we saw Jimmy’s moment of triumph passing the bar exam, the culmination of years of work finishing his undergraduate degree and a correspondence law degree while subsisting based on earnings from working in the mail room at his brother’s firm. He was rejected for a position at the firm (for which he is definitely woefully under-qualified), which is why he is continuing as a solo practitioner to this day. Then, we saw current-day Jimmy uncover a case of fraud and elder abuse in an assisted living facility where a client of his is living and enlist the help of his brother in beginning a case against that company. That’s essentially all that happened,* and it’s all very legal in nature.

*There was a Mike subplot, but it was pretty simple and rather unnecessary to see: his daughter-in-law is willing to allow him to watch Kaylee but is in need of money, so he turns to the veterinarian who offered to find him (apparently illegal) work earlier.

It’s a fun, interesting plot that’s all rather straightforward, but here’s the biggest question with which I was left: Did Howard reject Jimmy or did Chuck? While Chuck undoubtedly appeared proud to see his brother’s efforts pay off, he also had a look of terror at the concept of hiring Jimmy as counsel, and his staggering response that it wasn’t his decision alone and that nobody could possibly reject “such drive” has a hollow clang that suggests that he was not at all interested in hiring Jimmy. I suspect that this all presages a future scene wherein Howard tells Jimmy, “I didn’t reject you. It was Chuck.” and Jimmy’s worldview completely falls apart.

And then Chuck drops the box. When he absentmindedly continues working on the case by walking out to the car to get what he needs himself, retrieving Jimmy’s keys and using them to unlock the car, it seems to be a moment of quiet triumph. It seems that the case has allowed Chuck to overcome his psychological issues. And then Jimmy walks out and he realizes what he’s doing and drops that box. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dropped box be quite so tense and dramatic.

Notes

  • The movie on at Sandpiper Crossing was Bell Book and Candle (Richard Quine, USA 1958). I honestly do not see a connection to the show, but I wondered and looked it up (plus I was curious how there was something with Jack Lemmon and James Stewart that looked completely unfamiliar to me), so there you go.
  • Kim’s office in the opening scenes makes it clear that she is seen as essentially equal to the mail room employees.
  • Look at the scene between Chuck and Jimmy when Jimmy passes the bar: finally we see why they brought in McKean in that role: that scene needed an actor capable of some real depth and subtlety.
  • I like that the details of everything Jimmy asks Kim to do for him on Westlaw make sense. I don’t know whether the actual law he’s asking for is accurate or even real, but everything else
  • “I heard about this” says the Sandpiper attorney about Chuck’s condition, with a smirk of mild indulgence. Chuck has become a joke within the legal community, and that’s probably a big part of Jimmy’s attitude with respect to Chuck’s professional position.
  • I saw the joke about the paper being in a separate trash can coming. I said allowed when he jumped into the dumpster, “Eventually, he’s going to find another trash can thirty feet away with all the paper.” Lo and behold!
  • I saw the interstate commerce argument coming–see, I really did pass the bar, albeit in Minnesota.
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