Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman
Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman
Photo: Greg Lewis (AMC/Sony Pictures Television)
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Something momentous happens in this episode. It’s a turning point in the series. And it happens entirely in Rhea Seehorn’s instrument — her face, voice, posture, and movement. What a joy it is to watch her work. And to see Kim Wexler unleashed, as it were, popping the seams on the straitjacket of her commitment to hard work and faith in legal process.

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But how devastating it is to see her embrace, fully aware of the consequences, the conclusion that the only way to get things done is outside of the boundaries. The law is now a means, not an end. Any garbage you can feed into that factory to get it to grind out the desired result is fair game.

And is Acker even worth it? I’m not sure even Kim thinks so. He fades into the background as she pursues her quest. Now she’s turning the stubbornness that has been her greatest asset into something different, something more akin to Kevin’s digging in his heels when he feels he’s being bullied. Now it’s obstinacy. It’s personal. She’s going to get what she wants not in the pursuit of justice, but in the pursuit of winning — and rubbing it in the faces of those who stand in her way.

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We see the shift when Jimmy dangles the idea of one final play before they drop the Acker matter. Kim fairly lunges toward him, out of the doorway (literally a liminal space where she could go either way), and into his world of sketchy operatives sourced through “underground Craigslist.” She’s committed, no dainty holding her nose. And we see the wrenching consequences for her identity when she follows Rich into the hallway to loudly protest his insinuations. Now Kim is the would-be bully, for one thing. (She should know Rich better than to think she could embarrass him into backing down, but she’s new at this.) Worst of all, we see it when she goes back into her office and crumples. Here is the fact, staring her in the face, that she can’t have this delicious revenge cake and eat it, too. There’s not going to be any legal-superhero cosplay left for her. And when that’s been the source of her self-worth — her identity as the woman who worked her way to the top within the system and will out-work anybody else now that she’s there — Rich’s recognition of what she’s become is shattering.

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The opposite dynamic plays out in Mike’s storyline. He’s across the border, at a compound Fring built and dedicated to Max. Initially he revolts against his detention, walking down the road as his stitches pop and his strength fails. But finding himself with nowhere to go, he finds ways to make himself useful — replacing a rotten windowsill, using his skill with tools and wood, doing a satisfying and quality job, and solving a problem that makes the life of the señora better.

He’s trying to hold himself apart from the Fring operation that he sees as a thin veneer over a typically ruthless drug operation. Yet throughout the compound he sees people doing their versions of sill-replacement: teaching, healing, cooking, maintenance, providing shelter. Is it possible that the drug business could actually be made less dangerous on the one hand, and the profits from it put to truly good use on the other? Mike is skeptical. But Gus tilts the lens to a different choice — one that’s about Mike, not about the drug trade. What good is Mike doing to anybody, drowning in drink and spoiling for street fights? Gus asserts that working for him won’t just perpetuate the cycle, and besides, like Gus, Mike has scores he needs to settle. They can help each other.

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The Mike story this week is a good reminder of Better Call Saul’s approach to character portrayal. Ehrmentraut’s material in this show is uniquely powerful when it is wordless. Images are everything; Banks’ closed face opening slightly when the señora brings him food, hardening again when he sees Gus by the fountain and twists the clamp with unnecessary force. When he has to talk — to defy the doctor, to posture in opposition to Gus — this plotline starts to feel brittle and perfunctory. For all that Mike has meant to this show, he doesn’t completely fit in. Kim’s character is never asked to bear such an expository load; she talks extensively, but who she is arises from moments of resolve followed by decisive action. What she says serves, adorns, illustrates what she does. And then there’s Jimmy: all words all the time. There’s almost nothing going on in his head that he doesn’t verbalize, and he acts out the visions he conjures in speech like an improvisor taking suggestions from his cunning id.

As Mike gets back to work, his story is going to get stronger. Meanwhile Kim and Jimmy’s stories are clicking along, as we watch in dread and delight (respectively). Whither Nacho? Let’s all meet back here next week to find out.

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Stray observations:

  • Jimmy’s first appearance in this episode is a terrific instance of the show’s signature quirky camera placement being used for both a funny gag and a curtain-raising to one of the major storylines. We look up at the construction crew’s faces from the middle of their huddle, and then Saul suddenly pops into view to advise them to knock off early.
  • Jimmy’s eviction delay tactics include: claiming the notice has the wrong house number, planting pottery shards that necessitate an archaeological survey, suing on behalf of the water district, claiming the contractor is an escaped felon, asserting a flaw in the original nineteenth-century grant of property, leaking radioactive dust out of his pants leg to prompt a contamination review, and spray-paining a miraculous apparition of Christ on the fence in order to bring in church-busloads of pilgrims.
  • Once again, watching the labor-intensiveness of Jimmy’s schemes, I’m reminded of what the magician Teller says about fooling the audience: “Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth.”
  • Kim playing Kevin is the best impersonation on TV since Ann Perkins playing Chris Traeger.
  • Steven Ogg’s reappearance as Sobchak, the security guy who mocks Mike for coming unarmed to pill-dealer Pryce’s parking-garage meetup in season 1’s “Pimento,” has the best smug bluster since — appropriately — Adrian Pimento. “The guy’s dull, like Saturday night in Salt Lake City dull.” “I may not be a nail salon lawyer, but I know legit when I see it.”
  • Between the Odenkirk side nudity last week, and the Tarantino-esque angle on Howard’s bare feet this week, a more paranoid Donna would think that the directors are intentionally trying to skeeve her out.
  • “Bottom line! More statues!”
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Donna descends from her ivory tower every year or two to recap any TV show Vince Gilligan decides to set in Albuquerque.

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