Better Call Saul 1.09: Pimento

 Posted by on March 31, 2015 at 12:03 pm  Better Call Saul
Mar 312015

You’re not a real lawyer.

Better Call Saul, Pimento, Jimmy confronts Chuck

So, the penultimate Better Call Saul of its first season, Pimento, is a bit of a heart-breaker. Jimmy McGill, the future Saul Goodman, has been slowly creeping into our good graces throughout the season. He loves and cares for his brother. He likes old people. He’s smart. He tries to do right. I feel a little bit like Vince Gilligan is punking the audience, like “Ha ha, I’ll make you care about Saul Goodman! See if I don’t!” Well, it worked. He’s no Don Draper, I’m not falling in love with him, but yeah, Bob Odenkirk’s performance is making me care. And here comes the inevitable betrayal.

Hail Satan, I submit to the dark side.

Family dynamics is a bitch. We often treat our immediate family with an automaticity, that assumes they are who they always were. Families build functional (or dysfunctional) systems, and anyone changing screws up the system, so there’s a strong need to perceive people as not changing. You’ll often see, for example, a family go nuts when an alcoholic member gets sober. The system relied on that one being the alcoholic, while that one was the rescuer/enabler, and so on. One person steps out of role, and no one else can function as normal.

Chuck, in other words, needs Slipping Jimmy. He does not need, and does not want, Jimmy the competent lawyer.

Slipping Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun.

For his part, Jimmy has spent his entire life disappointing, and yet trying to please, Chuck (and their parents as well, I have no doubt). Michael McKean is 15 years older than Bob Odenkirk, so Chuck is an older brother who was always distant (probably went away to school when Jimmy was still a toddler), always a little unattainable and a little parental at the same time. For Jimmy, reforming hasn’t changed the fundamental dynamic. He probably had a hope of impressing and dazzling Chuck when he was a con man, and so the means, not the goal, is all that changed.

Even in giving up on Chuck, Jimmy still brings him “that steak” he likes, and makes sure Chuck is taken care of for the next few days at least. Jimmy solicits, caters to, wants to please. He’s Chuck’s puppy, licking the hand. And they’re both adapted to that. For Jimmy, there’s always the hope of the grown-up relationship, “the McGill boys,” but for Chuck, well, puppies do not get law degrees.

For all that we can be mad at Chuck for how he treats his brother, there’s just no way not to be moved by the round of applause he receives on his return to HHM. How respected must Chuck be for the entire company to tolerate giving up their cell phones and electricity, with no visible complaint?

We can Erin Brokovich the shit out of this.

Let’s go back to the part where Jimmy is really, really smart. I don’t think Chuck has noticed that yet. He found the case by paying attention and thinking it through. He figured out what Chuck did by paying attention and thinking it through. Chuck didn’t imagine he could get caught deceiving Jimmy, because Chuck truly believes he’s the only smart one in the family.

Speaking of the only smart one in the family, let me tell you what it’s like in my house. Professor Spouse predicts everything that’s going to happen. Accurately. Sunday afternoon, before the Walking Dead finale, she turned to me and said, “You know, we haven’t seen Morgan in a while.” Just like that. She always does that. But she didn’t see Chuck’s betrayal coming, and I did. She was really attached to Chuck loving and being proud of his brother, and didn’t see that it had a viper at its center. But then, after Pimento ended, she turned to me and said, “Here comes Saul Goodman.” And that’s her back on her game; season finale brings us a big change, right? So that’s our official prediction.

But you probably want to talk about Mike Ehrmantraut. Well, who doesn’t? That was a badass scene in the parking structure. I watched it three times and still couldn’t see how Mike got the gun away from that asshole. Magic of television is the answer, of course. Mike’s got superpowers, and this is the emergence of a character we know from Breaking Bad, for really the first time. It was also the same parking structure where a certain Volvo got blown to bits. I suspect this has to do with the convenience of Albuquerque filming locations more than anything else.

Confidence is good, facts on your side, better. Know what you’re walking into.

Mike can talk, from time to time, and when he does, it’s always worth it. This time, he gives Silly Client Guy a lecture on being informed (echoing Chuck, quoted above), on criminality, and on good and bad people.

It was almost a role-reversal this week, with Mike providing the comedy, and Jimmy providing the pathos. The parking lot was hilarious.

And Nacho is back. If he’s working behind Tuco’s back, he’s not long for this world. Since Silly Client Guy gave him prescription pills, it’s possible he works at the hospital, and the parking garage isn’t merely for filming convenience.

I can’t wait until next week. What about you?


  19 Responses to “Better Call Saul 1.09: Pimento”

  1. I knew that Chuck was the reason Jimmy wasn’t leaving the mailroom. To someone like Chuck there’s law degrees and then there’s LAW degrees.
    I’ve had arguments with significant others along the lines of “You hate when I do X, but you don’t recognize the effort to change/please you. So why change?” THAT is the birth of Saul Goodman. It doesn’t matter what Jimmy actually does, or how he tries to become a better person and do the right thing. Chuck NEEDS his brother to be Slippin’ Jimmy in order to still see himself in a certain way.

  2. I appreciate your assessment of the Brothers McGill dynamic. Roles and structures. Protocols. Hierarchies. Judgments. There’s the genesis of the great lawyer Chuck.

    And I too was skeptical of his response to the Jimmy’s bar letter last week. I think it may have been the way McKean played his reactive pause a half beat longer than I was expecting then. Hinted that there was something more complicated than surprised pride working around in there. (Very Hamm-like now that I think about it again.)

    We know Jimmy’s evolving to Saul (and does the brother’s betrayal instantly do it?) – but I find myself really curious to find out what major event occurred to make Chuck ill, and drive him from the office. That seems to be just as interesting a question to have answered for me. His sensitivity is psychosomatic; he’s still very well-respected by everyone like you mention, friend and foe alike. What triggers his EMS?
    I really enjoy this show.

    PS – Detail to correct above. I suspect you’re right about the parking garage, but (and I’m not being a hector ing pedant here), SPOILER!! — remember the Volvo doesn’t blow to bits.

  3. Mike’s speech on criminals and good guys was as applicable to Jimmy and Chuck as it was to Mike himself. Jimmy may have made himself a criminal in his Slippin’ Jimmy days, but he’s still a good guy. Chuck would never think of breaking any law (he even left a dollar when he took his neighbor’s newspaper), but he’s still a schmuck.

    How much do I love Kim? Not only does she have the stones to walk into Hamlin’s office and challenge his actions, once she knows the truth she can’t tell Jimmy because she knows it’ll break his heart. If that’s not love, what is?

    And speaking of Hamlin, how do we think of him now? He lets people see him as a jerk and creep purely out of loyalty to Chuck. He’s as much Chuck’s puppy as Jimmy was. It’s all so Chuck can remain the golden idol. He may sympathize with Jimmy more than he’d think.

    • Chuck told the police he put a fiver under that rock, which made their break-in and arrest all the more egregious.

      Mike’s distinction between the moral and the criminal is one reason I’ll never serve on a jury (disprespect for rules of evidence is another). There are many immoral laws on the books. Note that Mike said nothing about drug laws and instead focused on theft.

      Hamlin may be a douche – but slapping down then explaining himself to Kim redeemed him a little. So does taking the heat for Chuck’s decisions to bar Jimmy.

    • One side of Mike’s speech was that criminals can be good or bad people – it all depends on their keeping their word. Being trustworthy and “upright”. People have rightly seized on that.

      But the other side of his speech was to get the pills guy to acknowledge that he is a criminal. Paraphrase: “You took something that did not belong to you, and sold it. That’s being a criminal”. in response to pills guy saying “But I’m a good guy.” It’s not just that criminals can be good guys – it’s also that good guys can be criminals. Says Mike. That’s partly what Breaking Bad was about: was Walter a good guy who became a criminal and stayed a good guy? No, it turns out: he was always a bad guy, even when he appeared not to be, which gradually took over once he broke bad. Will Better Call Saul be the same, or turn it on its head? Does Jimmy/Saul remain a good guy, or not? We shall see.

  4. I figured out Chuck was behind it all last week, that pause when Jimmy told him about passing the bar was very telling. And he oversold his disappointment at Jimmy getting shut out at the meeting at HHM.

    The last couple scenes were just so heart-breaking. Even moreso because despite being so betrayed and angry, Jimmy still made sure Chuck wouldn’t be left without a safety net. He really is a good guy and it’s so sad that Chuck refuses to see it.

  5. Slipping Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun.

    Unlike Adam Whitman, Jimmy McGill will turn his rage at his brother outward. I am so looking forward to Saul Goodman embracing the “chimp with a machine gun” and beating the big law firms at their own game. What will make him great is not his knowledge of the law, but his understanding of human nature. Beware to those that underestimate Jimmy McGill – he lives to see that look of confusion when you realize you’ve been vanquished by the University of American Samoa’s most colourful alumnus.

    Slippin’ Jimmy vs Ivy League Chuck – the legal Thrilla in Manila

  6. Chuck McGill = Merle Dixon

  7. Chuck has/had to die to let Saul Goodman come out of the bottle.
    There is no one left to not disappoint. He is cookoo for Wexler, but she is not a towering figure in his eyes.
    She’s just the best woman who’ll ever stand his presence for more than 8 seconds, and that’s a hell of a lot important, than being IMPORTANT.
    Nacho has to stick around long enough to be the catapult to Saul.
    There’s something left unsaid between those 2.
    I guess I like Ignacio Vargas cause he’s a gangster that can negotiate complete sentences.
    Hamlin feels exactly the same way bout Jimmy that Chuck does, so he gets no sympathy.
    Jimmy is the colorful entertainment in his life, nothing more.

    Mike just turned it on Nacho expertly; “You’re willing to blow this deal for 20 bucks?”.
    Mike: “Are you?”.


  8. Some might regard 1 for 3 on the New Mexico Bar Exam as indicative – of what exactly, I hesitate to speculate.

    I’ll say that the second exam for the Professional Engineer’s License (specifically for EE’s in 1994) was not particularly relevant to applying the safety codes – perhaps this is why one boss called the certification a “license to kill”.

    I will also say that I know of one PE, who started on electrician’s tools, and who later got his BSEE. He sat several times for the exam. I passed the first time, but I’m not half the designer that he is.

    And yes, not all professional curricula (and their universities) are created equal. BUT, none of that makes the decision to reject McGill the Younger (three times?) fair or wise – much better to throw him into the deep end.

    Looks like McGill the Elder may have to man up – or hire another nanny.

    • One of the best and most successful lawyers I know had to take the bar exam more than once. Happens to be a female with more cojones than a lot of male lawyers I know.

    • I went 1 for 1 in the NY state bar. Doesn’t mean much.
      I’m just a moron who has a fantastic memory, with a fetish for memorizing lists.
      Every Best Picture, all the presidents, every World Series winner, all the worthless things.
      I’d take Jimmy as my lawyer, any day.
      He got ONIONS.

      • I hope to never need another attorney, but would hire Jimmy McGill, too.

        BUT – I’d rather hire Saul.


        Same as cojones??

        • Yes, same as cojones.
          Bill Raftery the great college hoops announcer, would howl ONIONS, after a kid would take and make a gutsy, clutch shot.
          Just he gotta love that phrase.

      • Jimmy/Saul is an example that it’s not enough to merely know the law. You have to know people – how they’re hard wired and what motivates ’em. Mike Ehrmantraut has this same talent or insightfulness. These two compliment and enhance one another and make for a potent team.

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