BETTER CALL SAUL: “Quite a Ride”

Well, we’re halfway through the season already.

If there’s one thing Jimmy McGill knows how to do, it’s read a room.

So I missed last week due to not seeing the episode until Wednesday morning (had a funeral and a couple particularly long days of work), but the funniest and most perfectly Jimmy idea came from it: as part of his new job at CC Mobile (in what appears to be the least frequented cell phone store in the world), Jimmy painted one of those big novelty signs on the glass front, one advertising piece of mind and privacy from the all-encroaching ears of “THE MAN,” a piece of conspiracy theory glossolalia we now know to be very much a thing post 9-11.

So predictably enough, Jimmy’s first scene tonight finds him entertaining his first catch: a nervous man with a buzz cut, pressed slacks and a giant truck, who says he’s in the “contracting” business, and is exactly the sort of oafish, Don’t Tread on Me dumbass that always fall for privacy scams. Sort of the dads of the Bitcoin generation, and the perfect mark for ol’ Slippin Jimmy. Sure enough, a showy fake phone call (complete with snapping the now disused pre-paid phone in half for emphasis) is all it takes for Jimmy to make his first sale.

Later on, after Kim comes home from an apparently refreshing day of public defending (the way she completely emasculates Jimmy’s old nemesis Bill Oakley was a nice touch), he attempts to woo her with a showing of Doctor Zhivago, but Kim is too busy with Mesa Verde. She’s finding love for her work again after being overwhelmed before. So Jimmy makes up an excuse to go back to work, puts his own money down to fake a bunch of purchases on pre-paids, and heads out into the ABQ night to sell to the customers he really wants: criminals and lowlifes. His people.

After being picked out as a narc by some wayward youths, Jimmy heads to his old office (which is somehow still being paid for), dons a spiffy tracksuit and heads back out to make some sales. After a stirring montage at local favorite the Dog House (which must be just about everyone’s favorite location to shoot), Jimmy braves approaching a gang of tough looking bikers, and he knows just what to say to get his biggest sale yet. Little does he know that those punk kids from before are waiting in the wings to stomp the shit out of him.

After making sure to change back into his work clothes, Jimmy stumbles home and lets Kim take care of him. After all, he doesn’t have to lie: he was at the Dog House and he did get mugged. She doesn’t need to know why. This bit was great, not just for the montage and the classic Breaking Bad location, but because it helps us further differentiate Jimmy from Walter White. Jimmy found almost instant success at this new, quasi-legal job, building a quick rapport with his client base and showing his almost supernatural ability to sell himself. Like Walt, he quickly gets bored with the simple approach and tries to scale things up. Like Walt, he gets overwhelmed and nearly killed. Unlike Walt, he understands that this particular line of employment is far too dangerous and immediately quits, scrubbing his new CC Mobile signage off the very next day.

Unlike Mr. White, Jimmy McGill can read a room. He knows what people are thinking, and he knows how to manipulate them. He also knows that the tallest dandelion gets cut. The first man to poke his head out of the foxhole gets it blown off. So when Kim urges him to go see the shrink she found for him, he seems to consider it. But when he runs into poor Howard Hamlin in the courthouse bathroom and sees what guilt and second thoughts have done to that Great Man, his self-confidence is renewed. Jimmy tears up the shrink’s number and instead goes to his parole officer, telling him that in “9 months and 24 days” he’ll get his law license back, and he’ll become the best lawyer anyone’s ever heard of.

Jimmy is perhaps the perfect criminal (just like his brother said) because he knows how to handle himself with anyone. I said the other week that selling copy machines might be Jimmy’s perfect job. I was mistaken. Selling pre-paid cellphones to drug dealers and gangsters and dipshit army men trying to cheat on their taxes — that is Jimmy’s perfect job. Until the next perfect job, and the next one, and the one after that. I said that Jimmy’s biggest skill is reading a room, and when he read that quiet room with Doctor Zhivago playing and Kim quietly working, he knew that he was losing her. Not to another man, or to The Law, but to his own base impulses. He’s smart enough to know that if he really wants to keep doing this whole “petty criminal” thing, then he’ll lose Kim. He has to know that.

So why will he keep doing it? We know, for sure, that he will, even if we throw out our memories from Breaking Bad, because we saw the teaser this week where Saul Goodman covers his tracks after the fall of the Heisenberg Empire (with a little help from Francesca, holding out for every dollar of compensation she can get, which I can appreciate on this Labor Day). We’ve seen nearly every side of Jimmy McGill. We’ve seen the dull paranoia of Gene Takovic. What we have yet to see on this series is the title character himself, here at the end of his rope, dangling over the eternal damnation of Cinnabon. Where does he fit into all this?

  • I don’t want to leave Kim out of all this delicious character development. Her hanging up on Paige Novick and Mesa Verde was the sort of thing that would be shocking on a lesser show, not one that’s spent five episodes carefully charting out Kim’s growing disillusionment with white-collar lawyering.
  • No Nacho this week, which is fine by me after that show-stopping shootout scene with the Cousins. This show has become so casually great that it can stage something like an epic gangland extermination scene as an act break for a tertiary character.
  • Wonderful little tidbits in the opening flashforward immediately orient us to when we are. Francesca’s dour look, Saul’s suit, the nigh-iconic egg white fake marble columns. My favorite bit was Saul literally punching a hole in the Constitution to get that mysterious box (which I assume is his collection of Saul videos and paraphernalia from the very first Cinnabon Gene scene in the pilot).
  • Mike’s “big job” from last week’s closer turns out to be recruiting someone to construct Gus’s superlab. The first guy, a chipper, confident man who is well dressed and punctual, is summarily shut down for saying the job will be too easy. The second, a nauseous, greasy looking German named Werner, seems to think the whole enterprise is nearly impossible. When Gus Fring emerges from the shadows and agrees with him, the man is hired. It’s a great pair of scenes, but I especially liked the touch of having these black market architects fly into Denver instead of Albuquerque, a bigger airport where foreigners picking up abandoned cars would be much less noticeable.
  • I especially like the simplicity with which director Michael Morris contrasts the two engineers. The Frenchman was precise and cocky, with fancy gadgets and a breezy, professional attitude. Werner was nervous, low tech and tedious, repeatedly making note of just how difficult this task would be. So it makes sense that two people as detail-oriented as Mike and Gus would prefer him.
  • My favorite scene this week, however, was that montage at the Dog House, if only for the amazing cast of characters shown procuring some of Jimmy’s wares. My two favorites were the severe looking guy with the prosthetic arm and the big ol’ cowboy with an eyepatch. Gimme those two guys as recurring doofuses like Badger and Skinny Pete.
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