Better Call Saul episode 9 review: Pimento

Better Call Saul's excellent penultimate episode sees a bond irrevocably broken. Here's our review of Pimento...

This review contains spoilers.

1.9 Pimento

It seems so obvious now. So obvious that when Howard went to burst Jimmy’s bubble in last episode’s opening flashback, he was acting on Chuck’s say-so. But because I wanted to believe, like Jimmy, that Howard was the bad guy, the major asshole standing in his way, it never occurred to me. At worst, I thought Chuck was a coward who couldn’t bear to break the news to his brother, that he’d been overruled and was embarrassed about it. But now, after Chuck’s behind-the-scenes machinations, sabotaging Jimmy once again, and after the painfully harsh words spat during their final confrontation, it’s all so obvious.

That, to me, is a mark of great writing – that rather than pick up on what’s now so obvious, I preferred to believe what Jimmy believed, because I’m invested in his character, invested in the story.

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And, if all else fails, that’s pretty good cover for just not picking up on something.

So here we are, with one episode left, and Jimmy and Chuck are “done”. It’s a curious paradox that this first season has been a real slow-burner while also having comparatively few episodes – and it’s a testament to the pacing, and to the careful writing and flawless performances, that the end of this episode hits as hard as it does. It’s not apocalyptic, not like Breaking Bad was when the threads of Walter’s life really started unravelling; it’s a smaller, more intimate but nonetheless emotionally wounding story of two brothers, one of whom simply can’t do enough to earn the other’s approval. Chuck’s inability to see James McGill Esq as anything more than Slippin’ Jimmy can be understood – we know that Jimmy has let him down many, many more times than just those we’ve witnessed – but the snobbery that emerges during Pimento’s bravura final scene, the bitterness, and the manipulative cruelty behind his actions, secretly phoning ahead, using Howard as his useful bastard once again… it’s a betrayal of the highest magnitude, and Bob Odenkirk really makes us feel Jimmy’s pain.

If Five-O was Jonathan Banks’ Emmy episode, this is Odenkirk’s. Just watch the way things build before he finally lets on that he knows the truth, the way he keeps dealing out rope only for Chuck to keep retreating. In any other situation, it would be as though Jimmy is toying with his brother, but really he’s just desperate for him to admit what he’s done. And to make the pill that much more bitter, Chuck used Jimmy’s phone to make the fateful call to Howard, even though it “must have felt like a blowtorch”.

Speaking of Jonathan Banks, Mike’s B-plot in this episode reminds us, in case we needed reminding (we didn’t, but it’s great anyway), of why we love the character. He’s not flashy. He’s no trash talker. He doesn’t carry massive guns or say “yo” and “bitch”. What he is is calm, methodical, insightful and highly effective, and the ideal person to be giving lessons to pathetic, milquetoast would-be criminals who drive powerfully un-sexy cars (careful with that Mike, it might get you in trouble one day). His story also serves both as a reminder that Nacho is still out there, doing things without his boss’s permission – I can’t wait to see how that story re-intersects with Jimmy’s, and I just hope it won’t seem contrived – and as a sort of thematic counterpoint to the A-plot.

As far as Mike’s concerned, it doesn’t matter if you’re a criminal or not, you can choose to be a good person or a bad person. It’s down to your actions, how you conduct yourself, what your values are. To Chuck, no matter how diligently he sees Jimmy working, no matter what skills and knowledge he demonstrates in his quest to be a lawyer, no matter how much Jimmy may swear he’s turned over a new leaf, and – perhaps most painfully – no matter how compassionately and selflessly Jimmy looks after him, he will never see him as anything other than a petty criminal. A con-man. Now, it would be overly romantising things if I said that Jimmy is a shining paragon of morality, or that Chuck doesn’t have a few damn good reasons to think this way. We’ve seen Jimmy do some unethical things, we’ve seen him cut corners, we’ve seen him con people. But we’ve also seen how hard he’s tried to fulfill the promises he made to Chuck. We’ve seen him exhausted from working so hard. We’ve seen him literally rooting around in a bin to find the answers he needs. It would be a fundamental betrayal on the show’s part if they suddenly revealed that all of this had been a long con by Jimmy, because we’ve believed all of it, we’ve gone along with it. We’ve seen that he is capable of change, he is perfectly capable of being a fine lawyer, and a good man.

So it makes it that much crueller that the trust between the two brothers has now been broken, perhaps irrevocably. It makes it that much harder knowing that we won’t see the awesome McGill Brothers team-up hinted at in the previous episode. And it makes it that much more tragic, knowing that Jimmy is going to become Saul Goodman. Not because he was always destined to be a bad guy (or at least a very crooked guy), but because his brother, to whom he has always looked up, believes he was.

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Damn fine television, ladies and gentlemen. Damn fine television.

Read Stefan’s review of the previous episode, Rico, here.