[Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 5, Episode 7, “JMM.”]
It was an episode title earlier in this season of “Better Call Saul,” but “The Guy for This” underlines something that’s only crystallized in the weeks since it aired. Through all the machinations of its characters (and the writers who guide them), Season 5 has been a fulfillment of the idea that the core people at the heart of “Better Call Saul” are the right ones for their job.
And it’s not just them. This week, it all starts in the courtroom. In a move befitting of the show’s sense of humor and the workmanlike nature of their marriage, the judge that oversees Jimmy and Kim’s humble civil ceremony brings the level of gravitas and poise that they profess to want from their wedding of convenience. (“Hm. No middle name” is a blissfully perfect deadpan delivery, filled with Nelson Bighetti levels of character indifference.)
Of course, in the world of “Better Call Saul,” few things are done just to tick a box off a checklist. However much Jimmy might insist to Huell that these nuptials are purely for legal purposes, the couple’s reactions during their quick vows suggest otherwise. In that moment, their regular roles are flipped. Jimmy is now the one who gets to synthesize a cocktail of emotions and muster his best try at optimism in a moment of uncertainty. And there’s Kim, with beaming eyes offering reassurance regardless of the potential consequences. It’s fitting that, at the point when they’re asked to become official partners in the eyes of the law, the show found a way for them to meet in the middle.
It’s fitting that “JMM” — written by Alison Tatlock and directed by Melissa Bernstein — picks the wedding to kick off an episode focused on pairings of many different kinds. Mike and Nacho’s quick convo is a season highlight for each of them — when they’re removed from all the other players, it shows how they each take different approaches to being footsoldiers. Mike has seemingly found his sweet spot by being at the heart of a power structure. He gets the purpose of marching orders, but still gets to roust people from the kind of stupor he recently found himself in.
Higher up on the organizational chart, there have been plenty of nods this season to the idea that Gus’ two sides are central to his appeal. It’s hard to square the ruthlessness and affable parts of Gus’ outward demeanor, especially when the show lingers on the moments when he switches between the two. (It’s a transformation we’ve seen plenty of times, but no matter the venue, Giancarlo Esposito manages to infuse that on-off flip with a fascinating amount of purpose.)
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
In “JMM,” Gus’ halves don’t so much do battle. In the presence of his mega-conglomerate investor, they merge. In bringing together Gus and Peter Schuler on screen for the first time, too, we see that promises of violence and intimidation are not Gus’ only tools of persuasion. Easy as it is to think of Gus as solely a boss, he’s caught in his own corporate web. The main difference between him and Mike or Nacho is that even in the dense corporate web of Madrigal, Gus is always at the top of his own decision tree.
The way he maintains that control emphasizes one of Gus’ strengths in this world. He’s able to outsmart the competition (and his corporate oversight) particularly because he doesn’t regard his profession as a game. Lydia tosses out the option of killing Lalo in prison like it was asking for an extra side of Ranch to go with those boardroom curly fries. He’s controlled, but never cool in the way Lalo is. When the younger Salamanca sits unfazed in the defendant’s chair, he’s at ease because his privilege earns him constant peace of mind — there isn’t a problem he’s faced that can’t be solved with a bullet or a bundle of cash.
While Lalo is forever advancing forward, Gus knows that sometimes the roots of triumph lay in retreat. After convincing Herr Schuler of his plan, Gus sets the groundwork for their Salamanca-aimed counterattack in a meticulous act of self-sabotage. With Nacho’s help, the pair deface and explode the Los Lunas franchise of Los Pollos Hermanos, culminating in a massive inferno brought on by the “frozen turkey in a deep fryer” consequences that firefighters have to warn us about every Thanksgiving. (As expected, Gus is someone who doesn’t look at explosions.)
For Jimmy and Kim, it comes down to stubbornness. The same forces that have kept each of them from being pulled apart from each other extend through to their professional lives, too. The latest in a recent series of Kim’s Columbo-like one more things when it comes to work meetings, she walks right back into Kevin Wachtell’s office to tell him that he deserves a good share of the blame for the Tucumcari debacle. Aligning with the principle that the best employees are the ones that don’t tell you what they think you want to hear, Kevin tells Kim and Schweikart that he’s retaining their services.
Across the lawyerly divide, Jimmy gets real comfy real quick with Lalo, particularly after Mike reaches into his Dave Clark file and gives Jimmy the bits and pieces he needs to spring his newest client. Rather than rebel against being handed a defense on a silver platter, Jimmy uses it as an opportunity to put his own spin on things. In his latest legal flourish, he hires a stand-in wife and kids to erase the possibility of Lalo being a flight risk. (Whether intentional or not, the placement of that water stain on the courtroom ceiling is such a wonderful touch. It only extends to one side of the gallery, resting over Lalo’s fake family while his victim’s relatives have relatively unblemished beige above them.)
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
When Jimmy delivers the bail Lalo was seeking — albeit with a pesky seven-figure price tag — the financial wheels begin to turn. As he and Kim window shop for mansions in those flowery-worded real estate listings, Kim doesn’t quite realize that it might not be so much a pipe dream for her new husband. Sure seems like the countdown clock has officially started to the point when Jimmy inevitably tries to convince Kim to skip town with some spare cartel cash and leave the world of copyright squabbles and plea deals in their rear view.
Things in the past don’t stay in the past on “Better Call Saul,” though. Just ask Howard Hamlin. When he approaches Jimmy in the courthouse hallway to ask about his job offer, the thrice-broken camel’s back gets another straw added to the pile. What starts out as a Jimmy tirade in the vein of George Bailey yelling at Mr. Potter becomes far more reminiscent of Jimmy’s joking “Network” reference in the show’s pilot.
Only now, it’s fury rather than bluster coming from him. Spurred on by the lingering pain of Chuck’s death, this is a vendetta that is clearly not going away anytime soon. Like Rhea Seehorn letting Kim’s happiness sneak through during the vows, Patrick Fabian has done such great work allowing some sympathy and shame — and in this case, pity — permeate the stuffed-suit exterior he’s maintained for the better part of the show’s run. If Lalo is paying Saul Goodman to be a shark, here’s an example of Jimmy taking some of that leeway
So, in an episode of commitments, of people finding some significant symbolic ways to make their allegiances official, there are few changes. It’s a credit to the show that the wedding and the arson and the confrontations and the trial all flow out of established precedent. Even though those paths are laid out (and some hands are definitely more forced than others), each person involved has to make a choice to follow them.
The pivotal decision now for Jimmy is which three word phrase to use to supplant the meaning of the monogram on his briefcase: “Justice Matters Most” or “Just Make Money.” Odds are good that he’s about to find out the cost of trying to have both.
“Better Call Saul” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.