Better Call Saul recap: 'Expenses'
Everything's better with Squat Cobbler
Let’s just get this out of the way: If Bob Odenkirk doesn’t win an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and the Congressional Medal of Honor for his work on Better Call Saul this season, there is no justice in the world. After introducing an early beta version of Saul Goodman for the first time last week, Odenkirk spent this episode giving us the smallest glimpses of the venal man he’ll one day become, letting Breaking Bad‘s Saul sneer out through cracks in the increasingly desperate Jimmy’s exterior. (EW.com recappers are required to be judicious about giving episodes an A, but Odenkirk’s performance in “Expenses” made me want to scrawl an endless, ecstatic line of A-plus-plus-plus-pluses across a wall like Ralphie’s teacher in A Christmas Story.)
When we begin, though, Jimmy McGill is still doing his best to keep his chin up — and gamely lining up for community service with a dozen of Albuquerque’s other ne’er-do-wells, who are spending the morning picking up accumulated trash under a highway overpass. Jimmy is nothing if not a multi-tasker, so in between wrangling the fast food wrappers, random articles of clothing, and bottles of human urine (why) into a Hefty bag, he’s also making calls (to beg for a refund on his legal malpractice insurance) and taking them (to set up Saul Goodman’s shoots with local business owners who want to be commercial stars).
Unfortunately, the great state of New Mexico frowns upon those who hustle when they’re supposed to be atoning for their crimes. Jimmy gets credit for a mere 30 minutes of garbage-wrangling, even though he’s bagged twice as much trash as everyone else. And when he tries to work his overseer — “thirty minutes? You can do better than that” — he gets shut down, hard.
“We can make it zero,” the man replies.
Thus begins a long, dark moment in the life of Jimmy McGill.
There’s no time to dwell on the defeat, though; after “bathing” in the parking lot with a couple of handi-wipes, he’s off to play producer for the owner and proprietor of Duke City Recliners.
“Look into that lens and see a friend,” Jimmy instructs. “Just two guys, chattin’ about chairs!”
But when it comes time to try to upsell Duke City Recliners, Jimmy has lost his mojo. He fails — and it’s just the first time of many. He cleans out his bank account to pay the office bills and lies to Kim about it. His car develops a terminal cough and dies. His next client cancels on site, forcing him to shoot a commercial for free. After, he’s so downtrodden that his production assistant tries to give him his money back.
Meanwhile, an old favorite makes an appearance. Pryce, the artist formerly known as Squat Cobbler, comes home to find Nacho waiting for him. His visitor wants to make a deal: $20,000 for a supply of empty capsules that look just like Hector Salamanca’s supply of nitroglycerin. Pryce, never a criminal mastermind, tries to hire Mike as his backup again — but Mike, fresh from laying the cement foundation for his granddaughter’s favorite playground (not to mention an interesting rapport with fellow support group member Anita, played by Tamara Tunie) declines. He suggests Pryce cancel the deal, saying, “If you don’t want to make the same mistake, then don’t get involved in whatever it is you’re involved with.”
The evidence is piling up that Mike might be considering a lifestyle change (he’s certainly got enough cash piled up in the hidey-hole in his closet to fund a comfy retirement). But at the next support group meeting, Anita shares the story of her husband, who went hiking at a nearby state park and vanished without a trace. She’s sure he’s dead, but she wishes she knew how and why — and for some reason, immediately after this conversation, Mike calls Pryce and opts in as his backup for the deal with Nacho. (Side note: Because Mike has a sixth sense for this stuff — and also because you don’t hire an actress like Tamara Tunie just to stick her in some random throwaway role — I’m guessing that there’s more to her story.)
Cut to Pryce and Mike meeting with Nacho. After checking Nacho’s gas cap for bugs and finding none, Mike growls out a little useful advice: to un-switch the pills after the deed is done. Oh, and there’s one more thing…
But we won’t know what it is until next week, because it’s all Jimmy from here on out — and if he hasn’t hit rock bottom yet, he’s certainly on his way. Despite the united front he and Kim presented in the disciplinary hearing, she’s feeling conflicted about the outcome (when her friend at Mesa Verde wants to gloat about Chuck’s breakdown on the stand, Kim gets agitated: “As far as I’m concerned, all we did was tear down a sick man”). And while she still enjoys talking about how she and Jimmy could con each and every person in a 25-yard radius — just for fun, purely as a creative exercise — things get weird when they set their sights on a nearby man who’s loudly denigrating the waiter for bringing him a poorly made martini.
“That guy’s a real asshole,” Jimmy says. “He needs to go down, hard. I’m gonna sell him a worthless credit card for five thousand bucks.” His mouth curls into a sneer, and for a few seconds, the bitterness and anger he’s been pretending not to feel is right there, out in the open.
Kim looks dismayed — and he shakes it off, but something has shifted. The next morning brings a meeting with his insurance agent, a last-ditch effort to have his payment refunded. Jimmy tries to be charming, but he’s missing his usual confidence; his losing streak isn’t going to stop here, and he knows it. But this time, the loss comes with an extra, bonus blow: Once he does get his law license back, his premiums are going to skyrocket as a result of the suspension.
Jimmy’s composure was shaky already, but now, it cracks. He starts to cry, and as the insurance agent stares with horrified pity, he starts to babble — about how hard he’s trying, about Kim’s clear disappointment in him, and especially about his brother, who is struggling so terribly with mental illness that he had a full-on breakdown in court… and who just so happens to have his own insurance policy with this same company.
The insurance agent picks up her pen and starts scribbling.
“What are you — no, don’t write, don’t,” Jimmy protests, looking genuinely alarmed. (And despite everything, Bob Odenkirk’s performance in this scene is so flawless that even now, it doesn’t seem like he’s faking.)
“You’re not going to say anything about that, are you?” he begs.
The insurance agent says, “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
And indeed, half a dozen raw emotions twist across Jimmy’s face as he walks out of her office — but worry is not one of them. Triumph, on the other hand? Oh yeah.