In “Inflatable,” we see the entire span of Jimmy McGill’s duplicitous incubation, from the earliest flickers of juvenile dishonesty to the eventual emergence of that flamboyant, flimflam-spinning courtroom jester Saul Goodman. A little Leave It to Beaver-looking boy peruses the magazine stand, his hair pomaded and parted, his eyes coasting over Time’s famous post-Watergate “Can Trust Be Restored?” cover, which pits the heads of Nixon and Agnew back-to-back like warring superheroes; Superman in his bright-colored spandex looking heroic (makes you wonder which comics Zack Snyder read growing up, since he clearly didn’t read this one); Mad magazine, whose buffoonish mascot Alfred E. Neuman appears scrambled, like a TV set besmirched and besot by poor reception.
The boy eventually settles on, of course, Playboy, a buxom lady come-hithering him with promises of forbidden imagery.
“Jimmy!” a voice calls, inquiring about the sweeping.
Jimmy is not sweeping. He’s reading Playboy. He lies.
Jimmy walks into the front of the shop, where a man is telling Jimmy’s pop about his sickly wife, his busted car; if he could spare just five bucks, mister…
He’s grifting. Jimmy’s dad and Jimmy know it. “Dad,” he says, “It’s a ripoff. Every grifter in town knows this is the spot for a handout.”
“Where did you learn a word like grifting?” dad wants to know. “What if you’re wrong?”
Whether Jimmy’s dad is genuinely fooled by this smug-looking con artist, has a truly altruistic heart, or he just doesn’t like when his young son catches on faster than he does, Jimmy’s dad gives the guy double his asking price — and he goes in the back to fetch him the auto parts he needs for his fabricated car troubles, as if the harder he buys the lie, the realer it’ll be.
Jimmy slips behind the register. The con man asks him, “How much for a carton of Kools?”
He buys two.
“There are wolves and sheep,” the guy tells Jimmy. “Figure out which one you’re gonna be.”
He disappears into the bright sunlight, Kools in hand. Jimmy looks scathingly at the money in his fist, then shoves the bills into his pocket.
Some background: Shortly before this scene, Kools had won an award for its ingenious Snark sailboat ad campaign. For $89 and the flap of a carton of Kools, you could get an 11-foot sailboat that sold for $120, festooned with the Kool penguin (who was, at various times, marketed as a doctor; a suave, monocle-wearing dandy; a pork pie-wearing hustler; a blue collar worker; a football player; a skier; a soldier; a chef; etc.). A study in 1972 showed that stores sold more Kools when they promoted the sailboat and stores that did not have the display lost money. Jimmy’s dad does not have the display up.
The look of ire on young Jimmy’s face suggests that he’s a reluctant grifter (which would make a really good Tom Waits album title). At various points throughout Better Call Saul, especially in this episode, Jimmy says variations of “I want to be myself,” talking about how people have always tried to mold him into what they wanted him to be. This opening scene shows that this “himself” Jimmy believes in was goaded by a fraudulent passerby looking to snag a couple cartoons of Kools. Jimmy, Saul, Gene — they’re all manufactured, like a mascot penguin wearing different outfits.
NEXT: Jimmy doesn’t flush