Jimmy faces betrayal, and Mike gives a lesson in dealing drugs.

By Kevin P. Sullivan
March 31, 2015 at 03:28 AM EDT
Ursula Coyote/AMC
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Beyond the superficial commonalities of a shared fictional world and a handful of characters, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are very different shows. From its in-no-hurry pacing and more satirical tone, right down to the soul of its overall story, the rise of James M. McGill, Esq. is exactly what Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan set out to make: a new, distinctive series that enriches some of what comes after it.

The qualities that the two shows do have in common, however—impeccable production value, masterful scene structuring, performance, and dialogue—have been a treat for fans throughout the first nine episodes, and it’s these sometimes less noticeable characteristics that make an episode like “Pimento” really stand out.

Take the first shot, for example. A simple image of Jimmy and Chuck from the rear, both sitting outside on a park bench, perfectly renders the change we saw at the end of the previous episode. Chuck, previously crippled by his sensitivity to electromagnets, sits with his brother under a transformer of all things. It’s from there that the scene then dives into pushing the story forward. The older McGill thinks that the lawyers from Sandpiper Crossing are probably going to attempt placing a restraining order on Jimmy, to keep him away from his potential clients for the impending class-action suit. That turns out to be the case, except for a minor detail.

The Sandpiper’s lawyers are trying to keep Jimmy off the premises, not away from his clients. His opponent argues that Jimmy’s eccentric behavior would disrupt operations at the elderly care facility. The judge throws out the request, but Jimmy’s victory is short-lived. The firm has sent boxes of discrediting information about the suit’s possible claimants over to Chuck’s in hopes of stalling progress on the case and keeping the number of defendants low. The retirement home is going to bury them in paperwork unless—as Chuck is sorry to report—he and Jimmy farm the case out to HHM, because there’s no way that they’ll “Erin Brockovich the shit out of this case.” Jimmy is forced to see the light, but agreeing to work with Hamlin isn’t enough to make Chuck a believer, as he sneaks outside late at night to make a phone call to his brother’s nemesis.

Completely unrelated to everything that’s happening with the Sandpiper suit, Mike got his own plotline that would have made for a perfect, standalone short film.

After gifting Kaylee with the dog he bought to meet the vet, Mike heads to a parking garage, packing exactly one sandwich, to follow up on “a lead for a job opportunity.” The work is a civilian protection gig, and it comes with two other hired muscles, one of whom is particularly chatty. The talkative guy can’t believe that Mike would neglect to bring a gun to the job. “I’ve got at least two guns on me that I’ll tell you about,” he tells Mike, but the former cop is as steely as ever. When the organizer of the job arrives on the scene in his minivan and Dockers, there’s further discussion about Mike’s lack of weaponry. What happens during the job when Mike needs a gun? He’ll take one of the talkative thug’s pieces, and Mike is kind enough to demonstrate how that would work. Unfortunately for his potential co-worker, that kind of sharing entails a swift jab to the throat. Left as the only man who isn’t choking on the ground or running away, Mike gets in the car with Price and is promised the job’s full $1,500 payout.

It’s an utterly perfect scene. From the set-up of the three thugs, to the Price reveal, and the explosion of violence, this kind of writing separates Better Call Saul from almost everything else on TV, including Breaking Bad in many ways.

Chuck and Jimmy’s trip to HHM, on the other hand, did share one key aspect with the preceding series: an excellent, censored curse word! But the road to that swear is long and awkward. The brothers (and Chuck’s secretly space blanket-lined suit) receive a warm, electromagnet-free welcome at their former workplace and quickly get down to business. Hamlin is willing to take on the suit, which he considers a slam dunk, and pay Jimmy both 20 percent of their earnings from the settlement and a $20,000 “of counsel” fee. The two figures sound great to Jimmy, but he’s itching for the office next to Chuck’s. That ain’t happening, though. Howard explains that it was the decision of the board that Jimmy shouldn’t be hired, so Jimmy has no other recourse but to tell that “pig f–k” to go to hell. He’s not giving HHM the case.

NEXT: The Mike and Price Show

I love how Jimmy’s story has developed, but I wouldn’t mind if the series turn into Better Call Mike and Price, because the second half of their story lives up its start. The weathered pro and his novice employer park outside an abandoned plant to conduct their drug deal, but first Price has a few questions. You do have over the pills first? Or do you wait until you have the money? Mike clears the air before their buyer arrives, and when they do, we’re treated to a familiar face. Nacho, apparently, is in the market for some prescription pills, and he has the money— well, the money minus $20, which is all right with Price, but Mike stands firm. The other $20 or no deal. Nacho begrudgingly offers up the rest and leaves having made a successful business transaction. Price has some questions, though. How did Mike know not to bring a gun? He did his research and looked in Nacho’s affiliations. Since this was a side deal, Nacho would have wanted everything to go smoothly. Mike ends his lesson with some beautiful and insightful dialogue.

Mike: “The lesson is if you’re going to be a criminal, do your homework.”

Price: “But I’m not a bad guy.”

Mike: “I didn’t say you’re a bad guy. I said you’re a criminal.”

Price: “What’s the difference?”

Mike: “I’ve known good criminals and bad cops. Bad priests, honorable thieves. You can be on one side of the law or the other, but if you make a deal with somebody, you keep your word. You can go home today with your money and never do this again, but you took something that wasn’t yours and you sold it for a profit. You are now a criminal. Good one, bad one, that’s up to you.”

Here, I think we’re getting a peek into Mike’s psyche in the wake of Matt’s death and how he’s casting himself as a good criminal. Though it was Mike’s insistence that his son take the money and go dirty, he’s able to reconcile his current and future actions by the outline he presents to Price and his knowledge that it will ultimately help the innocent, Kaylee and Stacy.

Elsewhere, Jimmy is fighting to be a good lawyer with the help of gin, tequila, and good Kentucky bourbon. At the salon, Kim confronts Jimmy, armed with intel from her behind-closed-doors conversation with Hamlin. She agrees with her boss, even though Jimmy believes Howard “has reached a level of douchebaggery that will live on for generations, passed down by windtalkers and the like.” There’s clearly something she’s not telling him and in the void left by a real reason, Jimmy accuses her of pushing the party line and supporting her company over her friend.

The truth isn’t long to come out, however, when Jimmy makes a trip to Chuck’s with an idea. If the big brother does truly support Jimmy in his fight to work with HHM on the case, the solution is simple. All Chuck needs to do is pretend to quit. The firm would do anything to keep their prized partner on the staff, since the alternative would mean financial ruin, but all Jimmy is doing is calling Chuck’s bluff. Jimmy has checked his cell phone records. His brother went to great lengths to call Howard at 2 a.m., using a phone that must have hurt him a great deal. What could possibly be that important?

Finally, the truth: “You’re not a real lawyer,” Chuck tells him. Everything that Jimmy has achieved since leaving the mailroom at HHM is an affront to Chuck, who has spent his whole life working, staying out of trouble, and building a career. It’s impossible for him to accept that Slippin’ Jimmy could ever reform to become his equal. “You’re Slippin’ Jimmy, and Slippin’ Jimmy I can handle just fine,” Chuck tells his brother. “But Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun.”

The full scale of this story’s tragedy has revealed itself. This is the tale of how a low-life turns his life around, until the world tells him, “No. You can’t be good. You can’t be one of us.” There’s no reason that Jimmy couldn’t work for a firm like HHM and have the kind of office that he was close to renting. Despite his low beginnings, the only thing keeping him from ascending are the people above him, unwilling to accept someone who took a different path. It’s a relatable, sad story and one that only gets sadder when we consider that Jimmy, in becoming Saul, ultimately listens to them.

Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own Vince Gilligan prequel.
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