Better Call Saul season 2 episode 9 review: Nailed

Better Call Saul season 2 delivers a series best episode in the masterfully plotted Nailed, which sets the stage for a spectacular finale...

This review contains spoilers.

2.9 Nailed

Getting what you want almost always comes with caveats. Part of this is down to the fact that real life scarcely goes how we imagine it, and there are unseen consequences lurking around every turn we choose to take, ramifications that we don’t consider until it’s far too late. In Nailed, Jimmy, Mike and Kim all get what they want, but there is a terrible cost in each case, a cost that will doubtless carry us into a finale I cannot wait to see.

I’ve seen a few complaints online that Jimmy and Mike’s divergent plots have been hurting each other this season, specifically in how the stakes are almost always higher over on Mike’s side of the show. Superficially this is true; Mike deals in a world of violence where any wrong step could kill him, while the risks are a lot less to Jimmy. However high stakes don’t always have to be life and death. A situation like Jimmy’s, one of personal betrayal and professional sabotage, feels almost more riveting than Mike’s to me because it’s so clear how much it all means to him. Jimmy’s choices here won’t get him shot (at least not yet), but it means Kim’s happiness, it means getting Chuck back, it means a personal satisfaction that his brother has always kept out of his grasp. The stakes here are higher than anything Saul Goodman ever dealt with because Jimmy has so much to lose, not least his soul. Saul had nothing but his miserable life. Jimmy is gambling with his own goodness and chance for a future, and he is doomed to lose horribly. It’s already started.

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Make no mistake; that horrible moment of Chuck’s fall and the sickening crack of his head against the bench is entirely Jimmy’s fault. It should have been clear the moment Chuck walked into what must have been an absolute nightmare for him that his tolerance was not going to last. The constant buzz of machinery in the background, the beeping, the bright lights; there was only so long that Chuck, for all his determination, could endure, especially as he was already on the back foot. Jimmy used his brother’s illness against him last week, and that dirty ploy led to this moment, the moment where Chuck’s illness coupled with Jimmy’s machinations may just have claimed his life.

I try to watch every episode twice before reviewing, but that scene was hard to watch again. Chuck isn’t a pleasant character, but I understand where he is coming from, and on top of that he had a huge disadvantage in his mental state. It was hard not to feel sorry for him at the end there, no matter what he has done. Chuck, on some level, is a tragic character, a once brilliant lawyer brought low by a humiliating illness, a brother he underestimated and potentially the loss of a marriage due at least in part to his own flaws, flaws he was never capable of recognising. If this is the end for him, it’s the end of a brilliant character.

And just what would it mean for Jimmy? I can’t decide how I felt about that conclusion, as Jimmy watches his fallen brother muttering over and over again “call 911” instead of rushing in to help. Should he have tried? Maybe, but what good will it do? Perhaps in the opening minutes of next week’s finale he will only to find it’s too late and he has exposed himself. Come to think of it, that would be pretty powerful; Jimmy McGill’s compassion undoing him in the middle of a scheme that blew up in his face. Whatever the case, Jimmy’s attempts to help Kim and undermine Chuck have taken the worst turn possible. He may have succeeded in his original goal, he may even have stopped the trail from leading back to him, but the cost was far from worth it.

Speaking of Kim, she got Mesa Verde back and her prospects have never been better, but it happened in the last way she could have wanted, and what’s more, she now knows it. In one of the best scenes the show has ever done, Chuck told Kim the truth about Jimmy’s actions, and she not only refuted it, she chose her side with a blistering attack on Chuck as a brother and a person. The amount of spite in her pronouncement of pity for him would have been so satisfying if it weren’t for the fact that everything Chuck said about Jimmy was right. And for the fact that Kim knows it. But this is the level of complexity this show deals in; Chuck’s spiteful exposing of Jimmy is completely true, but so is Kim’s defence of him. Both of them are right and wrong at the same time, and it stops an otherwise cathartic scene just short of being the kind of potent victory it could be. All season we’ve watched the battle of the McGills, a quiet battle played out behind closed doors and in acts of manipulation and subterfuge, but finally, the pyrrhic victory is decided by the woman who has to choose a side and may just have chosen the wrong one.

And then there’s Mike, whose attack on the Salamancas went off without a hitch, leaving him with plenty of money and a bigger smile on his face than we’ve ever seen. For a couple of brief moments we get to see what a victorious Mike looks like; buying a whole round of drinks for a bar, flirting with the waitress and considering the future he could have in the town that was always just a hideout for him, before it all comes crashing down. His meeting with Nacho confirms that Hector Salamanca doesn’t suspect him at all, that he is free to walk away from this. Except Mike’s play led to the death of a man whose only crime was trying to help someone he thought was in need. Once again, Mike’s half measures have backfired horribly, and now he will be forced to take action again. Not by circumstances, but by his own fundamentally decent nature. Because in the world Jimmy and Mike are playing in, there is no room for goodness. It’s full measures or nothing.

One of the most masterful things about Better Call Saul is just how organic the plotting is, how the writing disguises set ups as pay-offs in ways that mean we can never anticipate the turns the plot takes. Consider how Mike’s ploy against Tuco felt like the resolution to something, until it became clear that it had landed him in much deeper waters, or how Kim’s securing of Mesa Verde and subsequent rejection by Howard was merely the catalyst for her decision to leave HHM, until Mesa Verde became the prize that pitted everyone against each other here at the end. It’s the same sort of unpredictable yet logical plotting that powered Breaking Bad to its hallowed status, and it’s unlike anything else on television. Nailed, for me, is a series best, building everything to a climax that had to happen but was so well disguised we never could have foreseen it. And as Jimmy deals with what he has done to his brother and Mike figures out how to move forward with innocent blood on his hands, the stage is set for a spectacular conclusion that will drag both our heroes closer still to their grim fates at the hands of a monster far bigger than both of them. 

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Read Gabriel’s review of the previous episode, Fifi, here.