Jimmy keeps slippin' and begins to build his church.

By Kevin P. Sullivan
February 23, 2015 at 10:42 PM EST
Lewis Jacobs/AMC

For the second episode in a row, Better Call Saul has picked up with a look at the past lives of Jimmy McGill, and once again, it’s the highlight of the hour, shading what proceeds in a slightly different shade of sleeze. The fourth episode of the series, “Hero,” kicks off with a look at Slippin’ Jimmy doing what he does best.

Well, he isn’t actually physically slippin’, but I think the con he pulls in Chicago counts as moral slippin’.

The set-up for the grift is perfect. Jimmy and Marshall from Alias leave a bar after a not-so-late night of drinking in the Windy City to find a spot that the former says will still be open. The two wander down an alley and happen upon a wallet, a man, and a lot of booze inside the man. He’s practically unconscious—awake enough to call the guys “buttholes” over and over again—and the wallet is filled with money, at least $1,000. The score couldn’t be easier, right? To sweeten the deal, Jimmy snags the man’s gold watch, a “Rolex,” or so the face claims. Jimmy’s friend isn’t keen on getting screwed by how they divvy up the pot, so he suggests a creative solution. How’s about he gives Jimmy the contents of the wallet, plus $500 of his own, making the two even once he has the watch? Sounds great!

Well, things aren’t quite as they seem. As soon as Marshall is off and running with the fake watch he thinks is much more valuable than the $1,500 Jimmy is left with, the drunkard stands up and claps his partner on the shoulder. The set-up is not totally different from the opening scene of The Sting, except with more bong hits afterward, and I kind of love it for that.

“It’s good for making beer money,” Jimmy says, basking in the glory of pot smoke and his latest score. “That’s about all.”

(Also, how good was that “It’s all good, man” reference?)

The wonderfulness of the flashbackier flashback is short-lived, however, because after the titles we’re back with the Kettlemans. These characters are a little confusing in terms of their place in the larger series. They don’t feel established enough as characters to be featured as prominently as they are, but here we are again with Betsy and Craig in their tent with a bag full of money. Jimmy wants them to come back to civilization, so that he can get Nacho out of police custody and save his own neck, but the Kettlemans aren’t so cooperative. There are a few problems. With their house wrecked as it is, it sure looks like they ran away from the police investigation into the missing treasury money, which Craig and Betsy claim to have taken for the sake of their children. Jimmy, just wanting the whole ordeal to be over with, reasons with them. The money, while concrete evidence of Craig’s guilt, can be turned into a bargaining chip, to lessen his inevitable punishment. “As they say in Silicon Valley, it’s not a bug,” Jimmy tells them. “It’s a feature.” The couple, however, sees it another way. Why couldn’t Jimmy just take some money and forget he ever saw the bag? This being the still innocent-ish Jimmy McGill of the pre-Walter White era, he struggles with the question, and we feel that pull, too. How about he takes the money as a retainer and works as the Kettlemans’ lawyer? That’s not going to work either. Why? Betsy’s answer comes straight from Breaking Bad.

NEXT: Who is Jimmy McGill?

He’s the kind of lawyer guilty people hire.

I think it’s with lines like this that we’re beginning to see the true arc of Better Call Saul emerge. From the very beginning of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan laid out his intention to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface. When approaching the Saul-centric prequel, many fans of the previous show assumed that the spin-off would follow a similar arc, watching as Jimmy McGill morphs himself from down-on-his-luck do-gooder to the by-any-means-necessary Saul Goodman, but that’s not the case. The world around Jimmy already sees him as Saul. Nacho claims that Jimmy’s in the game, and Betsy describes him in almost the exact same terms as Jesse does in his first Breaking Bad appearance. The story here is less about one man transforming himself, as Walter did, and more about the world telling the man that he’s someone else and his slow acceptance of that as the truth. In a way, that’s a much darker story, since Walter always had the makings of Heisenberg in him, and he pushed himself toward that end. Jimmy isn’t so willing.

The action picks back up at the courthouse, where Jimmy tells Mike—who couldn’t care less—that he was right about the Kettlemans. “You assume that criminals are going to be smarter than they are,” Jimmy says. “Kind of breaks my heart a little.” Before being forced through the gate, he offers Mike his legal services, if the need should ever arise. And I really hope that need arises soon, because Mike has so much further to go to becoming the man we knew from Breaking Bad. All Jimmy has to do to become Saul is getting his own office, more clients, and TV ads, but we have no idea how Mike gets from that booth to working for Gustavo Fring. That, to me, is the show’s biggest mystery and the one I can’t wait to learn more about.

With the Kettleman’s back in civilization—they had gone “camping”—Nacho Varga is free to go, but that doesn’t mean Jimmy is entirely off the hook. The timing of Nacho’s arrest was too coincidental, and he knows that someone (probably Jimmy) tipped off the Kettlemans. While never outright admitting that he was the sexy robot, Jimmy says that whoever did warn the family inadvertently saved Nacho because of how sloppy he had been in his prep. It’s in moments like these that we can see what everyone around Jimmy does. He’s already Saul Goodman.

NEXT: The magic of accounting…

When Jimmy finally returns to his office after the long day, we find out that he did indeed take the Kettlemans’ money, and in an amazing scene composed entirely of one long lawyer joke, Jimmy does some seriously creative accounting in order to justify the influx of cash. “Upon this rock, I will build my church,” he says. The first act of his “church,” however, isn’t a step toward becoming Saul. Instead, he’s becoming Howard Hamlin.

All it takes is a custom-made pinstripe suit, the perfect shirt and tie combo, and a little Photoshop magic. The result of the transformation is a billboard meant specifically to look like Howard Hamlin and to drive Chuck’s former partner crazy. And it does. The lawyer shows the crafty bit of advertising off to Kim, who then delivers a cease and desist to Jimmy. While he maintains that the billboard wasn’t personal, Kim knows better and gets him to admit as much. Howard has no right to take Jimmy’s name away from him, and he’s willing to fight for it, which is exactly what he has to do when Hamlin slaps him with an injunction. The judge doesn’t find the identical suits and Jimmy’s use of Hamlindigo blue particularly amusing, and she gives him 48 hours to take the sign down.

But Jimmy (and his billboard) isn’t going down without a fight. Though nothing comes of the many calls he makes to journalists in Albuquerque, he comes up with a plan of his own, one that involves a student film crew and one very willing billboard worker. While filming what is supposed to look like an ad about a big, bad law firm coming after the little guy, the man removing the billboard falls from the scaffolding, held up only by his safety line. Jimmy is quick to the rescue, scaling the sign, and pulling the worker to safety, all of which went perfectly to plan.

The rescue makes the local news and the paper, meaning great things for Jimmy’s voice mail, which now has a total of SEVEN messages! But this is news that Jimmy has to keep from Chuck, since the rescue bears the signature of one Slippin’ Jimmy. When he goes to visit his ailing brother, he leaves the local paper out of the usual stack, something that Chuck notices immediately. Suspicious of his brother, Chuck wraps himself in his space blanket and ventures outside to exchange one of his neighbors’ papers for a five dollar bill. (I love how the show juxtaposes Chuck’s deranged point of view with that of his sane neighbor’s.) Once back in the safety of his own electricity-free house, Chuck sees that Slippin’ Jimmy is frontpage news.

Slowly but surely, Better Call Saul has been finding its identity as a series. With “Hero,” we’ve started to see the path that will take Jimmy straight to the mini-mall doorstep of Saul Goodman, and boy, is that path slippery! It’s a sad story and one that has required more than a little audience patience so far, but as the season progresses, I’m feeling more and more that our patience will actually be rewarded.