I dig “Better Call Saul’s” wavelength. It’s got this kind of loose, jangly sense of narrative propulsion that creates a space that makes the viewer just as excited to see a man make two killer poop jokes in a row as to see that man be seriously threatened with brutal murder later on. It’s a slightly heightened reality, to be sure–one where the grandmother of a notorious drug lord happens to drive the exact same car as the wife of an embezzling county treasurer–but it’s all believable because it all still plays according to the rules the show has established for its universe (in a mere three episodes, I might add).
But first we have to deal with a god damned flashback.
I wish I didn’t mind flashbacks as much as I do–call it “Lost” Syndrome–and any chance for Michael McKean’s Chuck McGill to put the fire to his TV brother’s feet is at least gonna be watchable. But come on, show, we get it already. Lest you already forget the story of Slippin’ Jimmy from the first episode, we already know beyond any reasonable doubt[ref]Lawyer humor![/ref] that The Man Who Would Be Saul is a serial fuckup. Did you really have to hit us over the head with a scene where a jailed, pre-law-school Jimmy has to beg his big-shot lawyer brother to get him out of a jam? Can’t you leave something to the subtext?
More importantly, you’re already telling the story of how Jimmy became Saul. In flashback form. If you wanted to give us insight into Jimmy’s mistakes, you could have just, I dunno, started the series right there–no need to flashback double-dip.
Personally, I prefer not knowing everything. The look on Chuck’s face last episode when Jimmy, sporting a giant medical bill for the two skater idiots and a bitchin’ hangover, swore he wasn’t backsliding, was perfect as it was, no explanation required. But that’s just me, and it’s neither here nor there. Either way, coulda done without this first scene. ONWARD.
Back to the present, which is the past, because the future is actually the present. See that bullshit that I just had to type? Fuck flashbacks.
Anyway, after Nacho left at the end of last episode, Jimmy apparently proceeded to get TwaüghtHammëred on cheap rum and cucumber water, so now it’s 2 a.m. and he’s looking at Nacho’s number in the pale moonlight because he could probably use a cut of the embezzling Kettlemans’ embezzled Kettlebucks.
But instead, Jimmy decides to booty call some lady. I think it’s this lady from the first episode but I don’t really remember ’cause she was only in like one scene and I’m pretty sure she only had one line and smoked a cigarette in the dark. That also sounds like the beginning of a Raymond Chandler novel, so maybe I’m just remembering that fucked-up dream I had the night I fell asleep while watching “The Big Sleep” right after watching “The Matrix”[ref]”Tell me, Mr. Anderson, what good is putting your lips together when you’re unable to blow?” Yeah, it was real weird.[/ref]. This lady’s name is Kim, and she’s completely not into 2 a.m. drunken dirty talk (this is where you have to suspend your disbelief for the purpose of narrative direction, bros, because we all know that waking a woman up at an ungodly hour of the night with an inebriated proposition is the only acceptable form of romance these days), but instead of just hanging up and rubbing one out in his office / bedroom / boiler room, Jimmy’s gotta double down and bring up the Kettlemans.
This Kim lady apparently is a lawyer for Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, and the Kettlemans are her newest client. So when Saul kinda sorta lets slip that because of allllllll that money they probably stole, there might be a badass dude with a crew of mean motherfuckers that could possibly be about to take their cash and cause them bodily harm, maybe, it utterly fails to increase the overall sexiness of the phone call and in fact kind of freaks Kim out a little bit. Jimmy tries to play it off as drunken fun, Kim does that TV thing where something that in real life that would have been left alone as just your average weird thing somebody with a crush on you says to you to in a failed attempt to impress you suddenly Takes On Significance, and the phone call ends.
Saul tries to go to sleep after that, but he just can’t with the Kettlemans on his mind, and this brings us to another gimmick reminiscent of “Breaking Bad.” On the old show, every once in a while it’d show Walt grabbing seemingly random objects and slowly putting them together without ever explicitly telling the viewer what they’d be used for until it was time to spring into action (this gimmick was also used to fantastic effect in “No Country for Old Men.”) Except, of course, while oh-so-smart-and-bad motherfucker Walt was turning car parts and levers into a self-oscillating machine gun designed to completely shred a house full of white supremacist tweakers, Jimmy is turning a paper towel tube, a tissue and a rubber band into a crude voice modulator[ref]Kim, later on: Oh god you didn’t do the Sex Robot Voice did you?[/ref] so he can call up the Kettlemans anonymously from a payphone and warn them about the danger they’re in. Some days you need MacGyver, some days you need MacGruber.
The call kinda weirds the Kettlemans out, but they go from weirded out to freaked out when they look out the front window to see a van containing naught but a darkly silhouetted Nacho. Ominous!
Cut to the next day, when Kim calls Jimmy in the courthouse bathroom[ref]Three episodes in, this bathroom has gotten more screen time than all of the non-Saul principle cast members combined. Not that the bathroom’s an awful actor or anything, but I keep scanning the credits to see if the bathroom’s dad is listed as an executive producer or something.[/ref] and flips out on him because oh my god the Kettlemans and their two kids are missing and their house has been ransacked. Jimmy’s gotta jet from the courthouse, but standing in his way, as always, is Mike Ehrmantraut, the world’s most lethal parking lot attendant. The long-simmering tensions of the first two episodes reach a boiling point when Jimmy, in a hurry and unable, yet again, to pay his parking fee, reaches into the booth, pops the gate open and peels out with a hearty “Screw you, geezer!” before Mike can react. He doesn’t see Mike Get That Look on his face as he’s speeding off. We know this because if he had, he’d have gone into hiding WAY before he ever met Walter White.
Jimmy meets with Kim at the scene of the crime just so she can flip out on him again in person, and then he drives to the nearest payphone[ref]Two payphones in two different locations this episode. I have $20 that says the production crew had to order and install those themselves because they don’t actually exist in Albuquerque anymore[/ref] and finally gives Nacho a call[ref]One of my favorite little touches in this episode is the difference between the answering machine messages of Nacho and the Kettlemans. The latter is set to overly enthusaistic Sousa music and goes, “You’ve reached TEAM KETTLEMAN! Please leave a message for Craig! Betsy! Warren! and JoJo! after the beep!” while the former comprises the words, “NACHO. LEAVE IT.”[/ref] and leaves a message saying, as vaguely as possible, that he really wishes that Nacho had not kidnapped and probably murdered a family of people and stolen their money. Then he leaves another, slightly more strident one, saying that he hasn’t ratted to anybody. And then he leaves like five more. And then waits by the payphone for a while and generally loses his shit. This is a good thing; the show, to this point, has never been better than when it’s giving Bob Odenkirk leave to go a little nuts.
And finally; a phone call! No one on the other end, though. And then a dial tone. And then two hard-looking dudes start coming at Jimmy from opposite ends of the street he’s on. So Jimmy, fearing Nacho-fied retribution, dodges into an alley and starts running for his life. The two heavies go in after him, but they’re pretty slow, and he’s almost out the other side when he nearly gets run over by a cop car. The cops get out of the car and do a textbook takedown on Jimmy wait WHAT. Yeah, the heavies are detectives in the Kettleman kidnapping case, and they’ve been monitoring Nacho’s cell phone. Why? Because they already arrested Nacho for being suspicious as fuck outside the Kettlemans’ house two nights in a row. And it also turns out that Nacho has decided that Jimmy is his lawyer. So I guess as an apology for clotheslining and handcuffing Jimmy, they give him a ride to where Nacho is being held on suspicion of kidnapping, robbery, murder and other fun things probably.
This sets up a pretty good scene between Jimmy and Nacho in a police interrogation room, where Jimmy tries to get Nacho to play ball and give up the location of the Kettlemans or their most likely insanely slain bodies[ref]”I feel very good about knocking your sentence down to the minimum. Eighteen years!”[/ref], while Nacho gets increasingly upset at Jimmy for selling him down the river and handing his smash-and-grab job to another crew. Yeah, that’s right, Nacho was gonna do it but didn’t get the chance. They were gone before he could pull the job. Nacho leaves Jimmy with some friendly advice: “You get me out of here. Today. Or you’re a dead man.”
Jimmy, now knowing what he knows, goes outside to find Kim and the two asshole detectives waiting around for a confession and a location for the missing family, but Jimmy’s sure Nacho isn’t guilty (of this particular crime, anyway) and doesn’t have any pertinent information to give. So Kim convinces the detectives to take Jimmy to the crime scene, ostensibly so he can come up with an alternate theory on their kidnapping but actually so that Jimmy can be so overcome with guilt that he’ll spill the beans. Since he is fresh out of beans, he instead realizes what the audience figured out 45 minutes ago: The Kettlemans kidnapped themselves. That’s how you get away with stealing more than a million dollars. You become the victim.
The detectives don’t believe him, though, and neither does Kim. All the Kettlemans’ cars are still in the driveway, and they didn’t leave Albuquerque by plane, train or bus. But Jimmy is determined, and he has to think of a way to at least get his not-girlfriend on his side. For this, he comes up with yet another ingenious plan: He tells her the truth.
How goddamn refreshing was that, right? How many fucking TV dramas these days[ref]Hint: One of them rhymes with “Snaking Plaid”[/ref] hinge completely on one character who is otherwise an intelligent, well-rounded individual telling a dumb goddamn lie to someone he cares about when the truth would have been so much easier and less painful for everyone? Saul just spills it: Nacho said he was gonna rob the place, so Jimmy called Kim, and then he called the Kettlemans to warn them, and then the Kettlemans were gone. There, was that so tough? Christ. Take a lesson from this, TV writers. Don’t make your characters temporarily idiots just for the sake of plot.
This is great because now Kim sorta believes him, but it’s not great because the detectives still don’t and Nacho is no closer to getting out of jail and not turning Jimmy into, in his own words, a “meat piñata.” So Jimmy’s gotta drive back to jail and make Nacho see reason, which means…
Oh yes. It’s time for Ehrmantraut’s Revenge. Jimmy goes to punch for a parking ticket, but one won’t come out. Mike’s all, “I think you should find somewhere else to park,” but Jimmy ain’t having it and just gets out of his car right in front of the entry gate. Mike’s all, “I don’t think you wanna do that,” and Jimmy, who for some reason still isn’t aware of how much murder lies in Mike’s turbulent heart, walks over and puts a finger in Mike’s chest, which gives Mike free rein to just completely drop Jimmy in a hardcore MMA takedown.
Not your day, Jimmy. Again.
So we cut to the detectives negotiating a frankly ridiculous deal with Ehrmantraut. They need Jimmy to give up Nacho, and for that they need a little leverage. One of the detectives actually puts a hand on Mike’s shoulder, and this is the second time we see him Get That Look. Jimmy’s pokin’ finger technically constitutes assault, but the detectives have convinced Mike to drop the charge if Jimmy changes his tune about Nacho being innocent and the Kettlemans having kidnapped themselves. Except Jimmy can’t change his tune because it’s the truth, and so he throws up his hands. “Do your worst, guys,” he says to the detectives as they start to haul him off to booking. “Perfect end to a perfect day.”
Except! “I changed my mind. I don’t wanna press charges,” Mike says. The detectives are pretty upset with this and they call him “buddy” condescendingly and Mike ain’t having any of it. “So you got a chance to do the right thing and you puss out?” one of them asks. “Yeah, I guess I did,” Mike says.
So the cops gotta let Jimmy go, and Jimmy leaves them with, “When you guys realize how wrong you are, I’ll take an Edible Arrangement as a sorry, heavy on the pineapple,” as he follows Mike into a stairwell.
This, finally, is the beginning of a beautiful relationship. “I know why you left me off the hook back there,” Jimmy says. “It’s because you believe me!” Mike responds with, “Yeah, I believe you” because it sounds better than “I fucking hate cops,” but he backs it up with some interesting corroborating evidence. Jimmy gives Mike back a devil’s advocate: How could they get out of Albuquerque if they didn’t take their cars? Mike responds with, “Odds are, they didn’t get out of the neighborhood.” Good detectin’, there, Mike!
So Jimmy heads back, once again, to the scene of the crime, and looks for clues. He finds one on the back of their station wagon: A four-stick-figure family heading into a tent. THE KETTLEMANS HAVE GONE KAMPING.
So Jimmy walks out their back gate and wanders around the great outdoors until he hears a far-too-chipper rendition of “Bingo Was His Name-O.” He calls up Kim: “You hear that? I found your dumbass client.” And then he jumps into their tent[ref]This episode’s movie reference: “Heeeeeeeeere’s JOHNNY!”[/ref] and tells them that they’re marching their asses back to civilization, either under their own power or with help from the cops, and then starts grabbing their stuff to help them pack. Except Betsy Kettleman, finally letting that WASPy brittleness shatter into a screaming fury, won’t let go of a certain bag. A certain bag that rips open and deposits north of a million dollars onto the floor of the tent.
I dunno why this was the stinger to the episode, honestly. It’s not like we weren’t all pretty goddamn certain at this point that the Kettlemans had embezzled the money. I mean, the entire point of the past three episodes would have been rendered completely moot if it turned out they weren’t thieving assholes, right? Maybe it’s supposed to be surprising that they were dumb enough to keep it all in cash and carry it with them? I dunno.
Anyway, not a great beginning, and not a great end, but the middle was solid, and like I said up top, what this show lacks in narrative drive, it more than makes up for by being a quirky, laid back place to hang out for an hour a week.
That’s why I’m giving this week’s episode a ranking of…