This review contains spoilers.
“You’re the kind of lawyer guilty people hire,” Betsy Kettleman tells Jimmy McGill, matter-of-factly. It’s one of comparatively few instances in another very good episode of Better Call Saul where someone straightforwardly tells someone else the truth. Mostly, from the Kettlemans burbling about “human slavery” to Jimmy trying way too hard to convince his brother that nothing dodgy is afoot, it’s wall-to-wall bullshitting, with people lying to themselves and to each other left, right and centre.
What’s more, Jimmy knows that it’s true. You can see it in his eyes, and in what it spurs him on to do. His blustering and attempts to take umbrage at the very idea of someone offering him a bribe are half-hearted at best, but when Betsy drops that particular bomb – and let’s not beat around the bush, she’s hardly a model of moral behaviour herself – it stops Jimmy in his tracks. Deep down, despite his valiant, if haphazard, attempts to do the right thing and go at least vaguely steady, he knows that he’s still Slippin’ Jimmy at heart. A con man luring unsuspecting folk down dark alleys and taking them for whatever he can get, whether that’s “beer money” or high-paying clients. So what does Slippin’ Jimmy decide to do?
He decides to go pro.
Much of the fun of this episode, perhaps the most straightforwardly comedic instalment yet, is seeing Jimmy commit entirely to taking on HHM, from getting fitted for the exact same suit that Hamlin wears to the details on that fateful billboard. “He’s a free spirit,” says Kim, and a mischievous one at that – witness the childlike glee on Jimmy’s face when he asks her just “how pissed” Hamlin was when he saw the advertisement. It’s a fairly spectacular con with a lot of angles to it – from the outside, depending on who’s watching, it either looks like a brazen attempt by an upstart lawyer to filch some business from a big-shot competitor, or a bizarre and foolhardy exercise in one-upmanship and self-sabotage. In actual fact, it’s something of a perfect storm for Jimmy – not only is it a way for him to stick two fingers up at Hamlin for perceived slights, such as the rich lawyer’s unfair and demeaning suggestion that Jimmy not use his own surname in his legal ventures, but it also ultimately becomes a fairly nifty exercise in promoting his up-and-coming practice. Whether that will end up being a good thing for Jimmy remains to be seen, however…
To his credit – well, maybe not to his credit, exactly, but you really have to stretch to find good things to say about Jimmy without caveats in this episode – he does attempt to pursue his crooked schemes within the confines of semi-legality before finally deciding on a high-profile, high-stakes con. Attempting to get the press involved to embarrass HHM is still a dirty trick, definitely, but still… it’s kind of OK, I guess… I mean… like, Hamlin’s kind of a tool, and… and it was scored to Unsquare Dance by Dave Brubeck! That’s an unambiguously good thing! What a tune!
OK, I’m scrambling to justify Jimmy’s behaviour here, which is one of the most simultaneously entertaining and uncomfortable things about the show, as it forces both its characters and viewers into ever smaller, ever greyer cul-de-sacs, with less and less moral room to manoeuvre. These cul-de-sacs may not be as operatic or spiritually troubling as those of its parent show, but it’s grimy fun nonetheless, and with six episodes still to go of this season I imagine such manoeuvring has only just begun. Nacho certainly isn’t going anywhere (hey, Orphan Black viewers, how weird is it seeing Vic being all quiet and threatening and charismatic and stuff? Michael Mando really is very good indeed).
The show’s production values continue to impress. It’s so welcome to see the same care for composition and cinematography in Better Call Saul that characterised Breaking Bad – see, for example, the moody, gorgeously composed wide shot in the cold open showing Jimmy (using, for the first time this series, the Saul Goodman alias) and an old mark simply talking in the street. Is it a hugely meaningful moment? Not really, but it looks fabulous.
Also stylistically impressive – although wholly different – is the scene at the end in which Chuck has to battle his way across the street wrapped in his space blanket, in order to find a copy of the newspaper that Jimmy didn’t want him to see. The choppy editing, surreal angles and bizarre white noise on the soundtrack, while not exactly subtle, are a highly effective method of depicting his fragile mental state, and the scene certainly left me with plenty of questions. Is it all in his head? Is he actually suffering from a real physical ailment? It could be a bit of both. But it’s jarring in all the right ways, while also being blackly comic; the cut from Chuck’s fragmented POV to the still shot of the neighbour watching a man wrapped in a shiny blanket running awkwardly across the road is a sublime piece of silent comedy. Mike’s apperance earlier in the episode, brief as it is, also offers great comedy value – never has the line “Don’t mention it” sounded quite so literal.
That final scene with Chuck also demonstrates that while Jimmy may be willing to embrace the role of the lawyer who guilty people hire, and to pretend – even when no-one’s watching – that the bribe he’s taken represents legitimate lawyering expenses, the guilt and shame that define his character are still very much present, and represented quite literally in the form of his brother. Hiding the newspaper because he knows Chuck will immediately suss what’s happened, along with his far-from-convincing assurances that “the worm has turned”, show that Jimmy still craves his brother’s approval, and doesn’t want him to know that he’s slipping.
That’s the thing about slippery slopes, though. They’re slippery. And sometimes they cause people to “fall off” billboards as part of carefully orchestrated publicity stunts.
And sometimes people end up working for unstable meth cooks with delusions of grandeur.
Read Stefan’s review of the previous episode, Nacho, here.
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