Let's talk about commitment, and let's talk about what makes people afraid of it. Because commitment isn't just about the path you've chosen to walk or the person you've chosen to walk it with. It's also about the roads not taken. The doors you close, the bridges you burn, the opportunities you lose forever. A promise to love, honor, and cherish, to have and to hold, is a commitment.
So is a molotov cocktail, ablaze and hurtling through the air.
After last week's cliffhanger, Better Call Saul doesn't keep us waiting: before the title credits roll, Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler become husband and wife. Jimmy twists the ring on his pinky finger, the one he wears in memory of his old life as Slippin' Jimmy.
"So, we're really doing this," he says.
And they are! They really do it! Supposedly it's just a legal arrangement so that Kim won't have to testify against him if he gets himself in trouble, but the short ceremony feels a little bit more complicated than that. Jimmy has been married twice before, but you get the sense that this is something they've never discussed at all — and did Jimmy know that Kim has no middle name? It doesn't seem like it. The couple is all business until the I dos, when there's a weighty pause from each of them. Then they start to snicker. But the kiss is genuine, anyway.
There's no time after for a honeymoon, or even a celebratory lunch. Kim has a meeting to smooth things over at Mesa Verde, a conversation that starts as a groveling session but ends with Kim masterfully turning the tables and preserving the relationship by reminding Kevin that the catastrophe at Tucumcari was at least partly his fault for repeatedly ignoring her legal guidance.
For Jimmy, the afternoon is dedicated to a meeting with new client "Jorge de Guzman," a.k.a. Lalo Salamanca. He's been arrested for the murder of the wire service clerk, among other things, but he seems unperturbed. "No trial, no deal," he says. Instead, he wants out on bail, a tall order considering the charges against him — but if Jimmy could do it, Lalo says, he'd be "a friend of the cartel." And if that happened? That JMM on his briefcase would represent a new motto: Just. Make. Money.
Like, a lot of money.
This moment is the first test of Jimmy's promise to Kim: when she asks about his day, he doesn't want to tell her this part. He almost doesn't. But then — and right in the middle of what was almost, I think, the first-ever bona fide sex scene to happen on Better Call Saul — he honors his commitment. He chooses honesty. (Well, mostly: when Kim asks if he wants to be a friend of the cartel, you can almost see little dollar signs dancing in his eye as he says, "No, absolutely not.")
Meanwhile, being in jail hasn't stopped Lalo from pulling strings to unravel Gus Fring's empire: a problem not just for Gus, but for Peter Schuler, who we've seen before in the future timeline of Breaking Bad (he's the one who memorably killed himself with a defibrillator after a last meal of chicken nuggets.) In a late-night meeting with Gus and Lydia, Schuler panics over the delayed construction of the meth lab, worried that their illegal activities will be discovered. Gus takes his hands and asks, “Do you remember Santiago? Our backs to the wall? I will never forget what you did for me.”
Of course, we, the viewer, do not remember Santiago; the mystery surrounding Gus's early life in Chile has only gotten deeper as we've learned more about him. (And how well do we know him, really? Apart from the scene preceding this one, where he pauses to remove his tie and hang up his jacket before the meeting, have we ever even been alone in a room with Gus?) But whatever went on in South America, it clearly forged a deep bond between these men. Schuler is reassured. Champagne is poured. And the long game continues: later, back in Albuquerque, Gus kicks down the door of one of his own restaurants and — with the help of Nacho and a Rube Goldbergian setup involving a raw chicken, a deep fryer, and a greased ramp made from a baking sheet — burns it to the ground.
That's commitment. And so is this: Mike, reading The Little Prince to Kaylee while she drapes herself over his shoulder like a monkey, barely awake but clinging to both consciousness and her Pop-Pop for just one more page. Later, Mike tells Stacey that he's put his troubles behind him: "I decided to play the cards I was dealt."
Because we know Mike's future, we understand this part of his past: he's chosen to do right for his granddaughter by doing wrong for Gus Fring. Compromise contains the word "promise," after all. He has no way of knowing how badly it will end.
Their first morning as a married couple finds Jimmy reading real estate listings aloud to his wife, a fantasy litany of could-bes filled with wildflowers, lavender fields, mountain views. But then Kim leaves for work, and reality intrudes: Mike's interference landed Lalo in jail, but it also means the case is tainted in a way that's easily leveraged by, say, an unscrupulous lawyer. Jimmy can claim in court that the state's key witness was coached, and he does — even as the family of poor, murdered Ted Whalen sits in the gallery, tearfully watching as he manipulates the justice system to set a very guilty, very bad man free. (Their sincere grief is counterbalanced by the presence of the "family" of "Jorge de Guzman" on the opposite side of the aisle, there to vouch for Lalo's "deep ties" to the community.) The judge splits the difference, setting bail at $7 million dollars, but the pockets of the cartel run deep. "$7 million? I can do that," Lalo says.
Jimmy is conflicted. He watches Ted Whalen's family from around a corner in the hallway after the hearing, his unhappy expression split down the middle and reflected, in pure and perfect symmetry, in the mirrored surface of the polished marble wall.
And then Howard Hamlin comes up behind him.
It would be unfair to say that Howard pushes Jimmy over the edge. It's more like he extends a hand to haul Jimmy back from it, and Jimmy slaps that hand away with such force that he propels himself there, past the point of no return. Howard asks one more time if Jimmy has considered his job offer. Then he rescinds it because Howard knows it was Jimmy who pitched a bowling ball through the windshield of his car, who sent prostitutes to harass him in front of his colleagues. Of course, he knows! And while we've been seeing Howard all this time as a clueless jackass, a smug avatar of privilege with his pricey suits and vanity license plate and white leather furniture, that's only because we've been seeing him through Jimmy's eyes. The truth is, what looked like cluelessness is actually magnanimity. Howard did his best to do right by Jimmy, and he knows it, and he's at peace with whatever happens now.
“I’m sorry you’re in pain,” Howard says.
“You’re a teensy tiny man in a teensy weensy little bubble,” Jimmy screams. He keeps screaming as Howard starts to walk away, keeps screaming as he chases after him. “You have no idea what I’m capable of! I'm so far beyond you, I’m like a god in human clothing! Lightning bolts shoot from my fingertips!”
By the time Jimmy is done screaming, Howard has long since left the building.
But this isn't about Howard. This is about commitment. It's about destiny. It's about a man inexorably sliding downhill like a raw chicken down a hot baking sheet, releasing its own juices to grease the way. The explosion will come later, but it will come because the chicken couldn't stop now— not even if it tried, not even if it wanted to.
Commitment means there's no turning back.