Jimmy gives his first great performance

By Greg Cwik
February 23, 2016 at 02:59 AM EST
Ursula Coyote/AMC
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A metronome sways like an inverted pendulum. Fingers flitter across piano keys. In darkness, Chuck sits at the piano, his eyes gazing at the sheet music for “Sicilienne,” a piece originally composed (but never used) for a five-act comédie-ballet that skewers aristocratic snobbery. It was intended for piano and cello together; it is iterated here as a sad solo performance, sapped of its envisioned humor.

Chuck messes up, starts over. There’s something eerie about the scene, something elegiac; the camera vacillates from static shot to static shot as if unsure of what it wants to capture or depict as light pours through the window, crashing against Chuck. Chuck’s home looks like a mausoleum of chiaroscuro loneliness. He messes up again, and there’s a rapping at the door.

It’s Howard entreating entrance at Chuck’s chamber door, his arms full of groceries. He tells Chuck that the case — Jimmy and Chuck’s case — is going well, that Davis & Main is putting in hard work, to which Chuck says, “Good. It’s a complex case.”

Howard agrees. “Definitely not a two-man job.”

Chuck’s face tenses like a clenched fist. “How’s Jimmy?” he asks. Howard tells him that Jimmy is working for D&M.

“Doing what?”

Beat.

Ah.

Chuck mulls over this revelation. Jimmy is a lawyer — a real lawyer; the good news seems to carve more wrinkles into Chuck’s face.

“Cobbler” is helmed by Thomas Schnauz, who wrote and directed the sublime Breaking Bad episode “Say My Name,” in which Walt kills Mike for pointing out that pride and vainglory are corroding Walt’s business and life. Schnauz, like most of Gilligan’s galère, deals in irony and tragedy, channeling John Cheever as much as he does any noir or New Hollywood movie. The sad staid objects, the melancholic happy hour shadows, the bitter merriment and whiff of failed promises — it all makes you wanna pour one out for Cheever.

Visually, the Gordon Willis-inspired lighting practically dictates to the viewers that Chuck — and Jimmy — are enmeshed in the kind of moral ambiguity that lured Michael Corleone into darkness. (“I know it was you, Chuck. You broke my heart.”) But this problem between Chuck and Jimmy — it is not business. It’s personal. A wide shot pins Chuck in the doorframe from afar, so he’s tiny, rescinding into the background as another relic in his house. Chuck sits back at the piano, eyes glistening. The metronome ticks away as Chuck becomes more and more out of sync with the outside world.

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Back at HHM, Kim sets up the conference table, where Jimmy made a grand entrance last season, aping Ned Beatty in Network (“And you will atone!”). The row of rounded lights resembles a runway, or maybe the lanterns carried by souls stranded in limbo. She rearranges the folders so she can sit next to Jimmy and play footsie.

Jimmy and Kim step into the parking garage to sneak a smoke. They talk the future. Jimmy’s doing well at D&M, and they like him. He’s considering moving somewhere halfway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque to make it easier for him to travel during the joint case with HHM and D&M. Really, he wants to be closer to Kim: J&K.

“We definitely…gotta get a smoker,” he says of their hypothetical house together. A swath of light cuts across them as whorls of smoke writhe up. It’s a scene ripped straight out an unmade Robert Mitchum movie, with Odenkirk’s eyes looking a little languid, his posture crooked. The actors seem to actually be listening to each other; this quietly vital quality, and its periodic absence, is what made Aaron Paul’s performance as Jesse so enamoring, even if Jesse rarely understands Walt.

The first two episodes of Saul’s second season, though chatty and slow, have a host of lyrical touches, from the expressionist geometry of the light falling on the happy couple to the distant camera catching characters embedded in scenery, threatening to fade away, like we know Saul Goodman will eventually do. The dialogue is rife with contradictions, as is Jimmy’s fleeting existence as an up-and-coming, honest-to-God lawyer. Fluid yet sharp, like a river of razors, the words that flow between Kim and Jimmy in these first two episodes feel warm and embracing but cut a little deeper the longer they talk. “Jimmy, I’m so happy for you,” she says. They’re a good couple — of course they won’t last.

NEXT: Sitting on pies and crying

Kim gives Jimmy a travel mug that wryly says, “World’s 2nd Best Lawyer.” He proudly puts it in his cupholder.

Jimmy trades in his old beat-up, piss-yellow car for a shiny new Benz now that he’s a real lawyer and can afford a real lawyer’s car. In front of the spa, his old hunka junk gets strung up to a tow truck and hauled away while the women who work in the spa spill out into the parking lot to fawn over his new Benz. Mrs. Nguyen stands cross-armed and tense, her sweater the same color as Jimmy’s recently departed car. The car seems to merge with her as its reflection gleams against the window. “’Til we meet again,” Jimmy says, bidding her adieu.

He gets in the Benz and goes to stick his “World’s 2nd Best Lawyer” mug in the cupholder, but it won’t fit. “Must be metric,” he muses.

Mike’s client rolls up to the parking booth in his lurid H2, which Mike keenly describes as a blinking neon sign proclaiming, “I’m a drug dealer.” The client is there to speak with the police, as he foolishly told them about the theft of his baseball cards and consequently emblazoned himself with suspicion. The client, whose arc is starting to wear out its welcome, is sentimental for those cards, which belonged to his father. His unrelenting ineptitude begs comparisons to Walt, who turned out to be a pretty great drug dealer despite his frumpy sweaters and happily homely life as a husband/father/high school teacher/car wash gull, but that point has been made and I’m sorta itching to see him go. To bum a baseball metaphor, this side plot feels akin to a catcher visiting the mound to stall while the reliever warms up in the pen.

Mike tells the client he’ll retrieve the baseball cards, but, oh, it’ll cost him. Mike shows up to the auto shop where Nacho works. The client is an idiot, Mike acknowledges, but police snooping around will end badly for Mike, as well as Nacho. He likens this to a stick and carrot situation, wherein Mike is the carrot and Tuco, our favorite sociopathic drug dealer, is the stick. They make a deal to have Nacho return the baseball cards in exchange for the H2, which he’ll scrap, and some cash. “Don’t try to upset him, okay?”

In another of the show’s Cheever-esque scenes, Jimmy etches into a yellow legal pad with a Davis & Maine pen. He catches something in his notes and goes to his boss, who has an acoustic guitar slung over shoulder and is playing some note-bending blues “to let off steam.” He tells Jimmy “Nice job,” something that no one has yet said to our mini-mall Clarence Darrow.

At HHM, just as Jimmy is about to speak, the lights go dead and cell phones are taken away. Chuck, swaddled in his space blanket-lined lawyer garb (Jimmy’s idea), enters. Kim puts her hand on Jimmy’s leg, and Jimmy goes on.

After the meeting, Jimmy asks Chuck why he’s here. “My name is on the side of the building,” Chuck says. Jimmy and Chuck don’t share the screen, as each is framed alone, pressed to the side and looking off the screen.

But…why is Chuck here? With a smile: “To bear witness.”

Mike shows up, asks Jimmy if he’s still “morally flexible.”

He is.

Jimmy meets with the police to defend Mike’s client, now Jimmy’s client. The police don’t have to push the guy too hard — he’s as bad at lying as Jerry Lundegaard. Why did the flop-sweaty nerd have a secret compartment in his wall? Jimmy cuts in, telling the client to leave. In a scene to which I can do no justice as I am not Bob Odenkirk, he says that this guy, nerdy and awkward as he is, he makes videos, has an…arrangement with a wealthy man. This unnamed wealthy man has a peculiar proclivity: He gets off by watching men sit on pies. Like, literal pies. From a bakery. While crying. Sitting on pies and crying. They can eat the pie, too, but the order of sitting and eating varies from video to video. The client is a squat cobbler, an artist, Jimmy says, though it’s Jimmy who’s giving a helluva performance here. Jimmy and his client go as far as actually making a video of him sitting on pies while crying.

Ladies and gentlemen, Saul Goodman, performer at law.

Later, Jimmy sits in bed with Kim. Lamps glow luminously on either side of them. Spread out before them is a pie — one that his client didn’t sit in. (Jimmy bought extra so they could do multiple takes.) When Kim asks about the pie, Jimmy tells her the story. He tells her everything, describing the case as pro bono and harmless. But she doesn’t react the way he expects and chastises him for endangering his career by falsifying evidence.  

“Jimmy,” she says, “you can’t tell me things like that anymore.”

She has a great face, as Cheever said, but in it we see great sadness. The camera moves further away while the lamps keep glowing. The moral bottom has dropped out of Jimmy’s world without changing a mote of sunlight.

Episode Recaps

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