PREVIOUSLY: Review: ‘Better Call Saul’ Season 1 Episode 9, ‘Pimento’: A Very, Very Long Con
A flashback to Jimmy’s last day in Chicago, before his move to Albuquerque, brings back his old pal whose name we discover is Marco, and who very much doesn’t want his friend to go.
10 years later, Jimmy’s following through on his decision to turn the Sandpiper Crossing case over to Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, getting his $20,000 fee and making sure that Chuck’s shopping list gets taken care of. He even apologizes to Hamlin for calling him a “pig-fucker.” But after a breakdown during one of his promotional Bingo games, during which he reveals the crime that got him thrown in jail: A “Chicago sunroof,” which it turns out is taking a dump through an open sunroof.
Following his breakdown, Jimmy heads back to Chicago to reunite with Marco, a move which turns into a week-long scamming binge. Jimmy comes out of it realizing that he needs to go home; especially after getting a call from Kim that brings with it a perfect job opportunity: A partner-track position with another law firm. The only complication is when Marco dies halfway through one last con, and Jimmy realizes that he no longer feels obligated to prove himself to Chuck, or to anyone. “I know what stopped me, and it’s never stopping me again,” he says before driving off into a lawless future.
Opening Credits Extreme Close-Up
A “World’s Greatest Lawyer” coffee cup comes crashing down to Earth — and with it my ability to interpret what each of these moments has to say about each episode. Except, of course, for the most obvious interpretation.
The Least Legal Move
Jimmy and Marco’s conning bender might not have crossed into felony territory, but it certainly wasn’t the wisest move. Also, lying about being Kevin Costner isn’t cool. (No matter what the year might be. Kevin Costner’s appeal is timeless.)
Remembering What Hasn’t Happened Yet (The “Breaking Bad” Tie-In)
This episode (despite its name) has nothing to do with Marco Salamanca, one of “Breaking Bad’s” legendary murdering Cousins. Instead, the Marco in question — played by Mel Rodriguez, currently charming Betty Draper on “The Last Man on Earth” — is Saul’s crime scene buddy from Chicago, previously only known as “Alley Guy.” (Hey, if “Mad Men” can give Don a secretary named Dawn, two separate shows in the “Breaking Bad” universe can have Marcos.)
So really, this week the biggest tie-in is the fact that…
On The Journey From Jimmy to Saul
We’ve basically now arrived at the key turning point in Jimmy’s evolution into Albuquerque’s most exclusive strip mall attorney — or, as Chuck put it last week, a “chimp with a machine gun.” And ironically, it’s all Chuck’s fault for breaking Jimmy’s heart; Jimmy’s decision to abandon all his original ambitions and principles ultimately feels like a massive crisis of faith — one we know Jimmy will never really recover from.
Oh, That’s Right, It’s a Period Piece
Of all the details that most struck me as old-school, Marco reaching behind the bar to make “a local call” on the bar’s landline was particularly special.
The reason we’ve been tracking these elements is that there’s something very very interesting in looking at how just jumping back in time by a decade or so changes the subtleties in human communication. In the time before our magic pocket computers, connecting with the people in our lives was both a lot simpler and a lot trickier.
READ MORE: Will Audiences Keep Dialing In To ‘Better Call Saul’?
What’s Wrong With Chuck?
The problem with Chuck is now two-fold. Not only is he fully committed to his shut-in lifestyle, but while he’s clearly changed, he sees no potential for Jimmy to do the same. That dedication to avoiding change, to being willfully blind to both the reality of his situation and what he’s taken from his brother, is far worse a situation than a simple “allergy” to electricity.
$5.50 for two beers? Even in a Chicago dive, that’s a good deal. (Maybe this also belongs in the period piece section.)
“He’s my brother, he thinks I’m a scumbag… There’s nothing else to say.”
Sometimes, the best lines are the most honest. When Jimmy admits to the reality of his new situation, Kim compliments him on his Zen-like attitude. But what makes the line really heartbreaking is that it’s a lie. There’s so much for Jimmy to say, it just takes until the end of the episode for him to decant it.
“It’s From a Movie!”
“Ever seen ‘The Hills Have Eyes’? It’s a documentary!” is just one of the many slams Jimmy unleashes against New Mexico right before abandoning his Bingo customers. Timeline-wise, this raises some questions (the original 1977 film isn’t explicitly set in New Mexico; the 2006 film is, but “Better Call Saul” is set approximately in the year 2003…). But it’s still a fun reference.
In Conclusion, Your Honor
No explosions, no jaw-dropping twists, no unexpected deaths (Marco’s untimely passing was pretty well telegraphed in advance)… “Better Call Saul’s” first season ended as quietly as it began. For those with expectations drawn from loving five seasons of “Breaking Bad,” this might have been a disappointment. Heck, the biggest surprise of “Better Call Saul,” for viewers, was probably just in figuring out what kind of show it was. And that journey was pretty exciting, from a media critic’s viewpoint.
Was the season worth 10 hours of our time? I’d say yes, for the nuances that we got along the way: Jimmy’s search for identity, his delicate relationship with Kim (oh, and there’s clearly a lot more backstory there to mine), Chuck’s strange, sad and awful breakdown… Oh, and the incredible Jonathan Banks as Mike. Looking back on the season, there feel like two distinct peaks. One was Episode 6, “Five-O,” an episode which made Mike’s own journey to Albuquerque kinetic and captivating; the other was the ending of last week’s “Pimento,” which took the show’s core relationship, between Jimmy and Chuck, and detonated it.
If you take the wide view of things, the first season of “Better Call Saul” functions, ultimately, as the first act of Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill’s story. We get the full scope of his origins, discover his motivations, and then witness the character catapult himself into a new quest. We know the eventual direction that quest will take him, but there’s a long road to travel before we arrive in Omaha, and we know, that thanks to AMC’s early pick-up, there’s at least a season more coming.
Maybe that’s not much, in comparison to its sister show. But it’s also proof that the first season of “Better Call Saul” achieved its primary goal, as stated from the beginning: to reward fans of the original show, but find its own voice.
READ MORE: Watch ‘Breaking Bad’ Creator Vince Gilligan and Gina Gershon in the End Tag to Last Night’s ‘Community’
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