Better Call Saul recap: 'Off Brand'
What's a crooked lawyer on suspension to do?
The list of people who would very much like to see Hector Salamanca dead — or if not dead, at least dispatched — just keeps expanding on Better Call Saul, and this week, the angst is coming from inside the house. In our opener, we see Nacho taking meetings while Don Hector sips coffee at a table behind him. Men come in, drop bags of cold, hard cash on the table, and depart amid much obsequious bowing and scraping in Hector’s direction.
Everyone in this scene is nervous, but one man is especially so: He’s short a substantial amount of money, and Nacho initially agrees to let him cover the difference next week.
In the background, Hector sneers: “Who works for who?”
Nacho gets the message. He chases after his visitor and drags him screaming into the back for a prolonged, merciless beating. It must have been quite the experience, because hours later, Nacho can’t quite keep focus. At his father’s shop, he methodically runs a piece of leather through the sewing machine, and then pauses: He’s stitched his own hand to the material. He displays no emotion as he pulls the needle out.
Meanwhile, Chuck’s meltdown on the witness stand last week marked a turning point in Jimmy’s disciplinary hearing, and the verdict is in: not disbarment, but suspension.
“Here’s to 12 short months,” Jimmy says, as he and Kim pop a bottle of champagne. This is a hard-earned moment, but it doesn’t last; a knock on the office door turns out to be Rebecca, who wants Jimmy to come with her to help care for Chuck.
“He’s still your brother,” she says; Jimmy replies, “Not anymore, he’s not.”
Rebecca’s disgust is written all over her face. “Chuck was right about you,” she says. “He’s mentally ill. What’s your excuse?” (This would have been an opportune moment for Jimmy to list out the myriad times and ways in which Chuck has actively and vindictively tried to ruin his life, but he doesn’t. Perhaps he’s just too tired.)
Chuck, on the other hand, seems to be taking the defeat better than anticipated; sure, he takes a full day to pout, but when Howard shows up with a bottle of scotch, he eventually lets the man in. Howard wants to celebrate the sentence — not as a victory, but a turning point. The two men raise their glasses and toast to new beginnings. And after Howard leaves, something peculiar: Chuck removes the batteries from the tape recorder and holds one in his hand, like he’s daring himself to keep touching it. It’s the start of a pseudo-exposure therapy that eventually sees him careening through the streets of downtown Albuquerque through a field of psychedelic lights. He’s wearing a mylar blanket like a hoodie, and his destination is a phone booth — where, in front of a storefront so bright it looks radioactive, he makes a call and asks for an appointment with Dr. Lara Cruz.
The next day, back at Wexler & McGill, Jimmy is methodically informing his clients about his impending leave of absence. He nearly blows it right off the bat, as he realizes with seconds to spare that his “Gimme Jimmy” commercials will constitute a violation of his suspension if they run. And when he pulls the ad, it’s not painless: He’s out $4,000 worth of nonrefundable airtime that he can’t sell, and can’t use to advertise himself as a lawyer.
Of course, it takes all of 15 seconds for Jimmy to figure out a loophole. The ad space is already his, which means that he can put anything he wants in there — including commercials other people pay him to shoot. But to spread the word, he’ll have to make a commercial for his commercials, one that won’t compromise his existing public image as Jimmy McGill, Esquire. “We’ll have to Karloff this thing!” he says. (And depending on how familiar you are with the work of classic film star Boris Karloff, you may or may not see where he’s going with this.)
Hold that thought, though: It’s time for yet another Breaking Bad Easter egg, this time as a meeting between Gus Fring and Hector’s men (led by Nacho) only barely escapes turning into a bloodbath. Cut to Gus, strolling alone through a familiar setting: an industrial laundry where one day, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman will create the world’s finest methamphetamine in a hidden underground lab. He strolls through the building, out past a For Sale sign, and gets into a car where a woman is waiting.
“Well?” says Lydia, whom we last saw dying slowly of ricin poisoning in the Breaking Bad episode “Felina.”
Gus replies, “It could work.”
Obviously, we know that it will work — not least because Hector Salamanca is going to end up in that wheelchair sooner or later, allowing Gus to take over. And finally, a hint as to how that might happen: Hector tells Nacho that he intends to use his father’s upholstery business as a front for transporting drugs. That conversation is interrupted by a phone call; Tuco (remember him?), still in prison, has just attacked a guard, and Hector doesn’t take the news well. He clutches at his chest, fumbles for a bottle of pills, and drops one. And Nacho, who does not want to involve his beloved dad in any of this nonsense, quietly covers the fallen pill with his foot… for future reference.
And finally, back at Jimmy’s place, the phone is ringing off the hook. Turns out, making a commercial for commercials was a stroke of genius — and Kim wants to see what all the fuss is about. Jimmy is reluctant, embarrassed even, so it’s gotta be bad, right?
Oh, but it’s not bad. It’s good — or rather, it’s all good, man. Because in order to sell his new business venture, Jimmy also had to invent a new identity: a goateed producer who’s just waiting to make you, yes you, a star. And that man’s name? Oh, come on. You know.
“Saul Goodman,” Kim says.
“Yeah,” Jimmy replies. “It’s like, ‘s’all good, man.’”
“That guy has a lot of energy.”
“Eh,” says Jimmy, “it’s just a name.”