Kim, Jimmy, and Chuck clear the air
ALL CROPS: Critics Choice Best Drama: Better Call Saul (2016) Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 2, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC
Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

A man in black unspools wire across a forlorn highway in the desert. His car is parked behind a dilapidated billboard that reads, “Oasis Motor Court.” We get a series of close-ups: a cactus, hammer and nail, truck dashboard. The street hews the beige landscape like a poorly-healed scar. As the green-and-yellow truck approaches, the man in black tugs the unfurled wire that’s been run through a pulley and attached to a hose strewn with nails across the asphalt. The gray-bearded driver from last week’s Touch of Evil homage opening sees the strip and slams the brakes, but it’s too late and his tires rupture.

He exits the truck, gun in hand; he’s been here before. He handles the gun like a pro.

The man in black sneaks behind him, holds a gun to his head, ties him up. He removes his mask: It’s Mike. He carves up the truck tires until he finds one full of cash, then he leaves the driver gagged and bound. As Nacho will later say, he again refused to pull the trigger; as Nacho will tell us, Mike’s morals again have devastating consequences for others.

“Nailed,” written and directed by series co-creator Peter Gould, is another triumph of slick, stylish camerawork that extrapolates underlying metaphors and expounds on unspoken character developments. Visual details, like points of punctuation in legalese, change everything here. Chuck adjusting his tie, trying to look normal, or the numbers 1 and 6 being switched on a legal document.

Howard doesn’t think Chuck should go to the courthouse, where they’re assumedly just going through the motions to secure Mesa Verde’s proposal for expansion — he’s concerned about Chuck’s “comfort.”

Chuck says, “I find victory laps very comforting.”

Chuck’s car pulls out and drives away, and the camera pans to follow, passing over Jimmy, who is hiding behind a tree.

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Every shot during the approval hearing scene is immaculately composed. When Chuck enters the court, he comes into focus, his face tightening as he approaches the camera. This is where he belongs, but the building, with its metal detectors and buzzing lights, seems to reject him. The row of Mesa Verde representatives sitting parallel to the officials are shot to be flush, precise. When it comes to light that the address of Mesa Verde’s proposed expansion has been mixed up (thanks to Jimmy), from 1261 to 1216, forcing the hearing to be delayed another six weeks, the camera slowly zooms in from a low angle on Chuck, on the overheard lights, the sound of static pervading the scene as electronic noise cackles like a witch’s laughter.

“I don’t understand,” Chuck later says, trying to ascertain how this could happen. He’s so careful, so assiduous.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Howard assures him. But Chuck knows better.

“This was no mistake.”

NEXT: Kim Gets a Call

This episode, the penultimate of the season, is about transitions — money changing hands, clients changing representation, loyalties deferring. Jimmy and Kim prepare their new shared offices, pulling out the dentist’s chair and painting the walls yellow (yellow!). Kim gets a call. She takes it as the camera goes to a medium-wide shot, Jimmy in focus framed in the doorway behind her. When it jumps to his point of view, Kim is out of focus, the camera having to rack to show her against the yellow wall, a rainbow sprouting from her. (Remember when she told Jimmy not to be colorful?) She tells him she got Mesa Verde back but doesn’t know why.

Chuck knows why. Kim and Jimmy head to Chuck’s, where Jimmy finds out the locks have been changed.

In Chuck’s house, his dusty den of perpetual dusk and light coming down like golden ash, he “clears the air.”

“He sabotaged me,” Chuck says of Jimmy. He recounts every step of Jimmy’s plan, from the cutting-and-pasting in the all-night copy shop to Jimmy sneaking back in to replace the original un-doctored documents. With a guffaw, Jimmy rebukes Chuck’s claims, pointing out how much effort this endeavor would involve, but Chuck says, no, Jimmy has never been lazy. “Every other sin. But not that.”

“I did all of this for some business?” Jimmy says.

“He did this for you,” Chuck says to Kim.

Chuck says Jimmy stabbed him in the back, but Kim cuts in, saying, “’You’re the one who made him this way! I feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for you.”

This scene, with its roulette of loyalties and three startlingly good performances (give Michael McKean every award,; just give them all to him already), is an analogue to last season’s penultimate episode, in which Jimmy realized it was Chuck who told Howard not to hire him. Kim now knows, beyond a doubt, what Jimmy did, who Jimmy is. This scene is revelatory for all three characters: Kim realizes that Jimmy has betrayed her — yes, it was to ostensibly help her, but she told him not to, and she now knows she didn’t earn the account herself. He’s emasculated her the way Chuck emasculated him. Jimmy, who seems genuinely oblivious (or maybe he knows and just never drops the act) when Kim punches him and tells him, “Just drive,” is so deep into his method acting, proto-Saul Goodman persona that he can’t be honest with the woman he loves. And Chuck, who has remained supportive of Kim through all of this, who has relied on Jimmy even after he sabotaged him, has become so fiercely obsessed with proving that Jimmy ruined the proposal (is it because Chuck can’t stand to be tainted by a professional flaw? Or because Jimmy is better than him?) that it just might be his own undoing.

Later in their bedroom, which doesn’t look unlike the one Chuck shared with Rebecca, Kim says, “Your brother is a smart lawyer.” She says he would make a fierce adversary. Jimmy has to dot every i, cross every t, if he doesn’t want Chuck to prove that Jimmy committed fraud. “Leave nothing for him to find.” Is Kim telling Jimmy this because she cares about him? Or because she can’t afford to lose Mesa Verde?

Also, Jimmy’s toothbrush is green.

NEXT: Mike Meets With Nacho

Better Call Saul is, among many other things, a show about performance, about visual art. Some of the best scenes have involved Jimmy shooting his ambitious commercials. Last week we had Jimmy with a faux veteran standing in front of an airplane. This week it’s another wheelchair dolly low-angle shot moving in as an American flag waves triumphantly behind him. Jimmy, like most great artists, is an auteur, his motifs including low angles, dolly shots, and multiple planes of detail; his themes include lying and cheating to make a buck. He’s an American auteur through and through.

“Wanna be a filmmaker?” he says. “Grow a pair.”

Mike meets with Nacho, who has figured out that Mike, the man who won’t pull the trigger, is the one who held up the truck driver and stole Hector’s money. The driver was spotted by a Good Samaritan passerby, who was rewarded for his niceness with a bullet to the face. If Mike had just killed the driver, the Good Samaritan wouldn’t have been killed.

The scene is, again, immaculately composed: Mike stands on the far left side of the frame; every time it cuts to Nacho, who is on the right, Nacho takes a step closer to Mike. After a few cuts, the camera pulls back to a wide shot to show them against the wooden skeleton of a building being constructed, the same one in which they’ve been meeting all season. Like their relationship, the building seems to be coming along in fits and spurts, not quite finished, maybe never going to be finished.

When Nacho realizes that Mike wants to have Hector arrested, which would also ruin Nacho, the camera moves to a new, off-center angle, showing that the two are not on the level anymore. Gould directs the way he writes: Every movement, every frame, has meaning.

Jimmy goes back to the copy shop to convince the guy behind the counter to lie to Chuck, who will certainly ascertain where Jimmy made his copies. He offers him $100.

“$200?” the guy counters.

Jimmy smiles.

“You will go far, my young friend.”

Chuck arrives and, to put it succinctly, loses it. He knows that this is the place, but the guy behind the counter maintains his lie, earns his $200. The camera wiggles and wavers, the frames shaking like they have motion sickness. The camera jumps outside to show Chuck and the copy shop boy framed in the red triangle of the neon 4 in the window.

The electricity seeps into Chuck, who shakes and trembles. His eyes roll back and he falls, cracking his head on the counter.

Outside, standing in the shadows, Jimmy watches. He mumbles, “Call 911… Come on, call 911…”

Episode Recaps

Better Call Saul

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

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