Better Call Saul is a successful show for a number of reasons. Strong directing, acting, producing, writing, and cinematography all put Saul at the head of the class when it comes to superb television experiences. Yet, above all that Better Call Saul excells because of its strength in character. This is a show that relishes in the importance of character development to the point where the story serves the characters opposed to the other way around. Last night’s episode, “Piñata”, geared us up for the last four episodes of the season but it did so through the use of tremendous character moments. Just about every character had a moment in this episode and it was a combination of brilliant acting, writing, and directing that made this episode shine. Our conflicts for the back half of the season are in play, and the beauty of Saul is the lack of exploitation. Characters don’t sit there and tell us what’s going to happen, they show us. We get a better understanding of the story to come because of how rich the characters on screen are, and last night Gennifer Hutchison took the beating heart of our main characters and allowed them to pump life into the story in a superbly crafted episode.
There is little doubt that Kim and Jimmy are going to have some problems. The flashback at the start of the episode wasn’t done just to show how Jimmy met Kim but also to show the difference in work ethic between the two while showcasing just how much Kim inspires Jimmy. It was fun seeing Kim in a non-blue outfit and fangirling about the law but it was more interesting to see her impact on Jimmy who up until his conversation was willing to just chat about the Oscars pool. Shortly after he finds himself in the office library presumingly bury to his nose in some books because Kim is his North Star. In fact, re-opening the firm with her has been one of the only positive driving forces Jimmy has had all season. We heard it last week when he made his bold declaration that he’ll come back from his suspension bigger and better than ever, but to a degree, this more delusional selfish Jimmy behavior.
I don’t know how Jimmy hasn’t picked up on Kim’s distaste for work as of late, well I do, it’s because he’s to self-absorbed in his get rich quick schemes to pay attention. Kim has been miserable working for Mesa Verde as she’s learning that her work as a lawyer will only help the rich get richer opposed to making a difference. Kim recognizes this and does something about it. Reaching out to another firm to start a financial branch gets her a partnership, removes Mesa Verde from her plate, and allows Kim to practice law in a way that makes her happy. It’s the anti-Walter White. She’s good at it and it makes her happy. What more could you ask for? That’s the beauty of Kim Wexler but Jimmy doesn’t see it that way.
Yes, he says all the right things and to a degree, I think he believes what he’s saying. On a larger scale though, Jimmy feels abandoned. Kim has been his driving force for so long and now she’s giving up on the dream. The dream of sharing a practice together. If that’s the case then what the hell is Jimmy working for? Bob Odenkirk is at his best as he walks away from the table and I was reminded of The Simpsons and Bart saying you can pinpoint the exact moment when his heart explodes. The tension, panic, and hurt all come pouring out of Jimmy and Odenkirk owns the scene. Now we have a crack in the wall in the relationship between Jimmy and Kim. I have little doubt that Jimmy will start to resent Kim for moving forward with her career while he’s still stuck spinning wheels waiting for his suspension to be lifted. In fact, I think a large part of the episode’s ending has to deal with that resentment.
There’s no reason for Jimmy to be selling burner phones in front of the Dog House other than the Walter White mentality. He’s good at and it makes him happy. As much as Jimmy wants to be a lawyer and finally make his brother proud, he can’t escape who he is. Jimmy is a man who thinks fast and takes the easy way. And no matter how hard he tries life keeps kicking him down a peg and when that happens it’s just easier to revert back to what he knows. Establishing his turf last night is a large step into the Saul Goodman transformation as well as a cry for help from a man who is spinning out of control. Think about it, this season Jimmy has lost his brother, the hope of a law firm, and his dignity having to work for a crappy cell phone store and dealing with the suspension. Should we really be that surprised that he turns to the hollow, one dimensional, Saul Goodman as an escape? Hanging a bunch of punks upside down while goons beat up piñata to scare them is his way of getting back at the world and taking control.
The strange thing about Jimmy is that he refuses to let go of everything, at least so far. When he learns that HHM is cutting employees he really lets loose on Howard and I believe that’s driven by his love for Chuck. No matter how large the problems were between the two, Jimmy will always love and admire his brother Chuck. Even despite the fact that Chuck didn’t think Jimmy mattered much. There are a lot of things out his control but Jimmy will be damned if he allows Howard, of all people, to allow his brother’s legacy to be tarnished. Jimmy’s pep talk is both cutting and clearly seems to awaken a Howard who has not been having a good season. The always well put together, slick, know it all Howard has spent the majority of this season unraveling before our eyes. With fits of poor sleep, ties not knotted to the collar, bloodshot eyes, a sense of complete dishevelment and defeat, and now the use of harsh language (one of the best “eff you” deliveries I’ve heard in some time) the collapse of Howard Hamlin has been one of this season’s hidden gems and Patrick Fabian has been absolutely murdering it. How fun has it been to see Fabian take the American Psycho like Hamlin and tear him down? Although I’m willing to bet that Jimmy’s speech works because Howard will be damned if he allows himself to be torn down by Jimmy McGill. All this feeds into my theory that Saul gives Francesca Howard’s card.
“Piñata’s” deep dive into character didn’t stop there, in fact, I think last night might have given us our greatest understanding of Gus Fring within the Breaking Bad universe. While watching Breaking Bad, I felt for Gus and that was driven by my hate for Walter. Gus had it all together until Heisenberg. The fact that his empire gets demolished by a man who at times is so out of his depths that his rise to power is mind-boggling. Throughout that journey though we saw Gus as a man who kept his emotions in check and very rarely lashed out. Yes, the incident with the box cutter and the alcohol poisoning show the type of man Gus is while keeping him sympathetic. The box cutter thing is done to clean up a mess and clearly out of frustration and the alcohol poisoning party is revenge from a man who lost the love as his life. I can relate to those things and defend Gus’s actions, last night though we caught a glimpse into the darker side of Gus Fring and it was terrifying. Giancarlo Esposito was mesmerizing and beyond frightening as Gus explains to Hector his plan of revenge allowing us to understand that Gus, this well put together, chicken/meth empire man, is a bit of a monster. This might be scene of the night as it gave me chills from the content and the performance.
With four episodes left Saul has put the wheels in motion to deliver what is sure to be an intense, heartbreaking finale, and that’s why we watch. At this point, four seasons in, we are invested in these characters. We know Saul Goodman is on the horizon but it doesn’t mean we want to see him. We know that Kim Wexler isn’t around in Breaking Bad and we hope nothing terrible happens to her. We know that Gus builds an empire but we still don’t know the cost. Better Call Saul keeps us engaged and captivated through its constant strong character work leaving us wanting more even if we’re afraid to see what comes next.
There you have it Geeklings, what did you think of last night’s episode of Better Call Saul? Do you think Kim’s decision is what causes the rift between her and Jimmy? Do you think Howard can get his shiz together? Is Gus the scariest person ever? Sound off in the comments with your thoughts. If you’d like to talk more Saul with yours truly you can find me on the Twitter @iamgeek32. In the meantime, take a deep breath and remember… it’s all good man!
Images from AMC