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'Better Call Saul' recap: 'Rico'

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Ursula Coyote/AMC

Better Call Saul

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks
Crime, Drama

It has been kind of thrilling, watching Better Call Saul find its voice, rhythm, and sense of humor over the course of the first season. The makings of each element have been present from the beginning, but seeing an episode like “Rico,” which doesn’t benefit from the “Breaking Bad bump” the way that “Five-O” did, this feels like such a richer, more nuanced show than the one that started eight weeks ago.

This week’s cold open flashback plants us at the very beginning of Jimmy’s law career. No longer Slippin’ Jimmy, Chuck’s former fraternal disappointment has a new gig, mailroom clerk at HHM, but he’s been spending his nights and weekends doing something a little more constructive. There’s one piece of mail that Jimmy can’t open, and not because that would get him fired. This letter is addressed to him, but he takes it to Kim—then exiled to a dark, box-filled pocket of the office—to open it. As Jimmy tells Chuck after receiving a smooch from Kim, he’s passed the bar, which catches his brother by total surprise. Thanks to correspondence classes from the University of American Samoa (“Go, Land Crabs!”), James M. McGill is a bona fide, certified lawyer, and therefore, available for more significant employment at HHM.

I want to call out the next scene for a second because it’s a perfect example of the creative team approaching a sequence in a way that almost no one else on TV does. Howard interrupts a small celebration in the mailroom and asks to speak with Jimmy alone. Closing the door behind them, the others leave, and—at least in terms of sound—so do we. Cutting out the dialogue from Howard and Jimmy’s conversation could (wrongly) be taken as an empty style choice, but think about what we’re really missing here. We know Howard, and we understand Jimmy’s reputation at this point. By muting the sound, the show is demonstrating that we know these guys well enough to fill in the blanks ourselves and be completely right. This, in essence, is an exchange we’ve already heard, and the scene acknowledges this. Jimmy, no matter how hard he tries, cannot improve his station, because the people in power won’t have it.

In the present tense, that struggle continues, though Jimmy has made some significant strides. Though Howard gets to go on TV and brag about the Kettleman deal that Jimmy is responsible for, the elder law specialist cannot be deterred. At Sandpiper Crossing, an assisted living facility, Jimmy meets with his new client. Mrs. Landry is having her will and testament finally drawn up, but unfortunately, she doesn’t have the money to cover Jimmy’s fee. She will, however, be able to pay him once her allowance comes through. Allowance you say? Jimmy wants to hear more. According to Mrs. Landry, things like pension and social security for all of the Sandpiper residence first go to the caretakers, who then deduct expenses before depositing the remainder and doling out a bi-weekly allowance. Now, that doesn’t seem quite right, so Jimmy takes the initiative of teaching a few of Mrs. Landry’s friends how to read their invoices, something the management isn’t too pleased about.

And just as that suspicious look from the receptionist would suggest, there’s more to the Sandpiper story. At Chuck’s—who has, as predicted, finished some of the work his brother left boxed up at his house—Jimmy is looking for a Sandpiper receipt from a previous client. As the two McGills learn from the coded entries on the front of the bills and the fine-print key on the back, Sandpiper Crossing is overcharging its residents, and there’s decent proof of concealment. This could be a class-action lawsuit on fraud charges, but according to Chuck, Jimmy needs more evidence.

That means heading back to Sandpiper, but the staff has wisened up to Jimmy’s scheme. At the front desk, he’s welcomed with a “no solicitation” sign and the sound of a document shredder. The staff doesn’t want to let him in, but he can’t be kept from the bathroom, where he pretends to have IBS and drafts a demand letter on the back of his notepad and a few squares of toilet paper. If the person in the office doesn’t stop shredding documents immediately, they risk destruction of evidence charges on top of fraud. It’s an impressive show of legal maneuvering on Jimmy’s part, but all it does is get him kicked out.

NEXT: Brotherly teamwork[pagebreak]

Banned from the premises or not, Jimmy still needs more evidence to move forward with this case, so that means getting dirty. Very dirty. Late at night, Jimmy cases the place and takes a dive into the dumpsters out back. Bob Odenkirk does a spectacular job selling just how disgusting the trash is. The scene, as we later find out, is an expertly structured joke that also moves the story forward. While he’s in the trash, Jimmy receives a call from Sandpiper’s lawyer, who received the demand letter but only takes it seriously out of respect for Chuck. The way this lawyer sees it, the case is as thin as one-ply toilet paper, and this crusade is just a shakedown, which is what it arguably looks like until Jimmy finds the shredded documents in the shallow recycle bin next door. It’s just the perfect punchline.

At Chuck’s, Jimmy now has the unenviable task to piecing together the shreds. He works through the night in front of Chuck’s fireplace, where his brother finds him the next morning. It’s been a long night though, and when Chuck comes back from making coffee, he finds Jimmy asleep on the floor.

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that there was a teeny-tiny Mike subplot involving Stacy and the money that Matt Ehrmantraut took, but the ramifications of the story are huge. During a shift at the parking lot booth, Mike receives a call from Stacy. Something has come up, and she needs someone to watch Kaylee, which Mike is happy to do. When his daughter-in-law returns home, there’s something she wants to talk about. Since finding the money that Matt stashed shortly before his death, Stacy hasn’t known what to do with the cash. What she wants to know from Mike is whether it’s all right to spend it. Of course, it is, he tells her, as long as it’s for her and Kaylee. It’s great news for Stacy and her conscience, but honestly, the money will only be “a drop in the bucket.” If Mike’s visit to the well-connected vet later in the episode doesn’t make things clear enough, what we’re seeing here is the fixer’s career in organized crime officially beginning.

Elsewhere in Albuquerque, a very lawful partnership is beginning. Jimmy wakes up to find that Chuck has not only pieced together several documents, he’s also found the “smoking gun,” an invoice for syringes Sandpiper bought in Nebraska. Now that Chuck knows there’s something to Jimmy’s hunch, he wants in, and his brother is happy to have him. They still require some outside help from Kim though, who agrees to print up thousands of pages worth of case files for precedents using Chuck’s printer log-in, meaning Howard will inevitably find out. Kim has her doubts about the McGill brothers teaming up, and we see how justified her concern is during their meeting with Sandpiper’s legal team.

For most of the meeting, Chuck is a complete statue, leaving Jimmy on his own to fend off the lawyers’ arguments. They claim that Sandpiper, a company in good standing with 12 locations in the U.S., may have overcharged, but there was no element of coercion or threat involved in the billing. Sandpiper offers to pay back the funds and cover legal fees, totaling $100,000, but that’s when Jimmy brings up the issue of the syringes. Though the team has already seen the invoice, Jimmy shows them the detail they happened to miss. The syringes came from out of state, and bringing interstate commerce into the equation, Jimmy and Chuck could add criminal conspiracy to the charges. This makes the Sandpiper lawyers nervous, and they want to know a number. “Twenty million,” the now-awake Chuck tells them, having discussed none of this with Jimmy, who expected $1 million.

It’s still difficult for Jimmy to recognize how unstable Chuck really is, but by the end of the episode, all of the cards are on the table. Though Jimmy has been steadfast in his faith toward Chuck and his insistence that the electromagnet allergy isn’t psychosomatic, it’s hard to argue against the stroll his older brother takes outside. Chuck’s trip to Jimmy’s car is completely unconscious, and he feels no ill effects until he realizes that he’s being watched.

I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but “Rico” got me to care about Chuck. Well, actually, I can make a few guesses. It’s taken the better part of eight episodes, but the writers have grounded this guy (no pun intended) to the point where he no longer seems as gimmicky as he did at the beginning of the series. Now that we have a better idea of Jimmy’s arc as the guy who insists he’s a hero when the world keeps labeling him a villain, Chuck’s issues harmonize thematically with the rest of the show. Jimmy is, at the very least, partly to blame for the condition, and now it’s keeping him from improving himself. Luckily for us, Better Call Saul doesn’t share that problem, because the series is heading into the season’s final two episodes stronger than it’s ever been.