Written by Thomas Schnauz
Directed by Thomas Schnauz
The big question left after the last episode of Better Call Saul was exactly what Chuck dropping that box meant. Was he shocked to realize that his “illness” had gone away, and about to celebrate? Was he panicking at the realization that he had gone outside and now going to run inside? Was he going to go into a catatonic state and so leave Jimmy to handle a case that’s clearly too big for two men, let alone one, to handle the case alone.
That question was answered immediately in “Pimento,” seeing Jimmy and Chuck sitting on a bench near Chuck’s home. Chuck is clearly ill-at-ease, but he’s surviving. Jimmy is telling him to kick off his shoes and relax. It’s a simple scene that tells us what we need to know: Chuck isn’t about to get the power turned back on in his house, but he knows now that he has at least some capacity to go into the world of electricity.
But what this episode is really about is Jimmy discovering that Chuck is not in his legal corner. As I said earlier, it was Chuck, not Howard, who rejected Jimmy at HHM. And now that Jimmy has an enormous class action suit that requires a bigger firm to execute properly, it’s again not Howard who rejects him, even if he is willing to take the heat for Chuck’s decision. Jimmy’s hatred aimed at Howard all these years has actually been for Howard being a good friend to Chuck and accepting all the heat for Chuck’s own rejection of his brother. The asshole in charge of HHM who has created this feud with Jimmy is actually Chuck, not Howard, who now comes across as a truly decent guy for his willingness to help Chuck pull the wool over Jimmy’s eyes.
Early in the season, it felt like Michael McKean was wasted on this series in a role that didn’t require anything, but as the season has gone on he has become indispensable to the series’s success. The look he gives when returning to the firm–the look of a powerful feudal lord returning to his kingdom–belies just how much he loves his own position within the legal community and also his relationship with his brother. Then, his look watching Howard reject Jimmy makes it clear, even if you ignore all of the background we have, that he’s watching something he orchestrated. And Patrick Fabian, whose performance has generally been easy to ignore in the robotic Howard Hamlin, had to show a subtle level of discomfort, unable even to say, “I’ve decided,” because that would be a lie, and Howard isn’t really the bastard Jimmy thought he was. And then his ridiculous attempt to turn James Bond villain on Kim, saying, “I don’t care” is so clearly rehearsed and insincere that it adds even more to our sense of Howard.
But the heart of this episode lies in the dramatic Jimmy-Chuck confrontation wherein Chuck reveals himself to Jimmy, saying, “You’re not a real lawyer!” While his position would have been understandable back when Jimmy first passed the bar, at this point Jimmy has proven that he is at the very least a competent attorney with a great work ethic. But when he mentions Jimmy’s education, he reveals himself, not questioning the school’s accreditation or academic reputation but instead saying, “I worked my ass off,” suggesting that Jimmy didn’t put in the kind of work in law school that he did. Chuck isn’t really worried about Jimmy doing a bad job or even Jimmy ruining the reputation of HHM. He’s worried about maintaining his position as the successful brother. Like the brothers in Dream Theater’s rock opera, one is a success and the other a failure, and Chuck is not going to allow their positions to change.
All season, we have been wondering how the talented-but-unsuccessful Jimmy McGill would so soon become the hightly-sought-after criminal attorney Saul Goodman, and we may have just seen the turning point. Jimmy wasn’t going to change his name partly because he was so proud of his brother, but now that he’s out to burn that bridge, he has a reason to change his name. And he now has an infusion of cash coming from HHM that could pay for updating his office and advertising to recognize his new name. In the end, it’s not some falling from grace or sudden realization that all the money was in representing criminals that made him change–it was the discovery of his brother’s betrayal of him.
Meanwhile, Mike has completed his transformation from the comic relief he offered earlier in the season to the same world-weary streetwise badass he was on Breaking Bad. He disarmed and beat the crap out of an armed bodyguard-type without breaking a sweat and got a greenhorn criminal through a deal unscathed based on his own intelligence and willingness to do the work required to reduce the risk involved. And he did it with the kind of logic and quiet confidence that always controlled him in Breaking Bad.
- “Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun.” Wow, that’s a vicious line. And quite untrue–lawyers are under more scrutiny than most people, so really that’s a good place to put someone who is something of a reformed scam artist.
- Something that will probably interest very few: I don’t remember anymore how exactly, but I think we know that Chuck went to the University of New Mexico. That is a top-100 law school, so there is at least some reason for Chuck’s ego on the subject. However, I went to a top-100 law school (at the time that I went there), too–it’s not as impressive as he’d like to think.
- Why on earth did Howard tell Kim? Did it just prey on his conscience that much? Really? That seems weird.
- “Erin Brockovich and Ed Masry brought in heavy hitters from Los Angeles to bring that case home!” Was that a sly comment about the mediocre film?
- It’s “pimiento,” not “pimento.” It’s a pepper, not a cheese. I see that a pimiento sandwich is made of cheese, but pimiento itself is not the cheese.