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Better Call Saul, “Bingo”

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“What are you doing?” Mike asks, as Jimmy places the cash he got from the Kettlemans into the drawstring bag with the rest of the $1.6 million embezzlement proceeds. “The right thing,” Jimmy says. But it’s how he says it that tells us where we are in the Education of Jimmy McGill. He says it with air quotes, with a sardonic regret tinged with resignation. He refers to “the right thing” like it’s a concept somebody else owns.


What is “the right thing”? The people Jimmy cares about have strong opinions about that. For Chuck, it’s making a personal sacrifice for a greater good. When Jimmy visits his brother, he finds him outside, trying to build up his tolerance for electromagnetic fields. With no help for his condition on the horizon, Chuck has decided that his only alternative to life as a hermit is to acclimate himself to the inevitable pain of normal existence. “Sitting here, rotting away, this is no life for me—for anyone. I need to be useful again,” Chuck explains, exhilarated after spending two minutes outside. And when Jimmy responds “I’m so proud of you,” it’s as touching, in its way, as Mike’s emotional breakdown last week. This is a character who has felt himself judged and found wanting by his brother for years. Now it’s his turn to offer moral support. It’s his brother, this time, who is determined to change his life for the better—a cause for celebration, even if what has trapped and crippled him until now is his own mind. Maybe especially because of that.

For Kim, the right thing is getting the Kettlemans to take the deal she managed to wrangle from the district attorney: sixteen months in county jail for a guilty plea and restitution. The other option—going to trial, losing, and sending Craig away for up to thirty years—is “no choice at all,” she emphasizes to her recalcitrant clients. When the Kettlemans walk out of HHM over being treated as if they’re guilty (“a deal is what they got O.J.!” Betsy protests), Kim pays the cost of doing the right thing for her deluded, entitled former clients. She’s banished to what Howard Hamlin calls “the east wing” and what HHM junior associates call “the cornfield.” “My two-year track [to partner] just became a ten-year track,” she tells Jimmy ruefully.

But for Jimmy, who has already furnished the Law Offices of James M. McGill Esq. with cocobolo desks in his imagination, “the right thing” is a slide back to the bottom of the Sisyphean slope. And after such hard climbing, too. That ladder up to the billboard gave him a head start; branded bingo cards and jello cups are moving him up, one will at a time. It’s the shoebox full of Kettle-cash, though, that will fund his “room to grow, dream big” base camp. To Kim, he explains it as “investing in myself.” Hiring a real receptionist instead of adopting a lilting British accent whenever he answers his phone. Meeting his clients in a conference room instead of a diner. And bringing Kim along, so she can escape HHM and take on a partnership where she’s really appreciated.

“There has to be a way,” he muses when he meets with Kim, after Betsy Kettleman triumphantly dangles that “retainer” over his head to force herself onto his client list. You have to hope Jimmy takes some pleasure in his ability to make a way out of no way. He did it when he got Nacho released, and he does it again tonight by maneuvering the Kettlemans into revealing their hiding place, having Mike steal the money, and delivering it to the DA’s office. That’s his real ace in the hole as a lawyer, not the fast-talking carnival-barker persona he adopts to distract juries from loser clients and get the business of the nursing-home crowd. The best part of this talent is that he gets the savage satisfaction of telling the truth to his unappreciative client-antagonists. He told Nacho flat-out that his own sloppiness put him in the APD’s sights, and in the Kettleman’s great room he calls bullshit on their bullshit. “Thing you folks need to know about me? I’ve got nothing to lose,” he explains as they stare dumbfounded at the ruins of their Cloud Cuckoo-Land of frantic scheming. A man like that can’t be manipulated by threats.


But the only reason he’s got nothing to lose is that he’s already decided to give it all away. The view from Chuck’s couch means more to him than the view of the freeway from that office suite. Yet there’s no triumph in that decision for Jimmy. Nobody will ever know how much he gave up except Kim, who mouths a “thank you” from the elevator as she ascends back into HHM’s good graces. And in that corner office he had picked out for her, he delivers a McGill-signature kick to the door and collapses sobbing. He’s struggling to live within the circumstances that inescapably govern his life, but it’s not getting any easier. There’s only a solitary moment of mourning and self-pity available to Jimmy before it’s time to put his shoulder to the rock and start back over again from the bottom: “Law offices of James M. McGill, how may I direct your call?”

Stray observations:

  • Jimmy’s agony mirrors Mike’s from “Five-O”: Both break down in the moment they allow themselves to recognize their true condition. It’s a measure of Better Call Saul’s quality that I feel as much for Jimmy, whom I hadn’t met two months ago, as I do for Mike whom I’ve adored for years.
  • Speaking of Mike, “Bingo” puts his arc to rest for the moment by having Detective Sanders assure him that Detective Abbasi, who’s determined to nail Ehrmantraut for the murders of Hoffman and Fenske, isn’t really running the show. It’s a beautiful, simple scene that can leave all the larger character implications unstated (like the way Mike sees his son Matt in the young detective’s crusading passion). And after Mike lifts the money from the Kettle-can for Jimmy, the two declare that they’re square. We need another caper to get these two kids together to fight the stupid criminals of Albuquerque, and we need one quick.
  • As one arc ends, though, another begins: Jimmy plants some file boxes in Chuck’s house pleading lack of storage space, knowing that Chuck won’t be able to resist looking at them. He even talks about filing “413s,” prompting Chuck to correct him (referring to New Mexico law section 45-2-513, “Separate Written Instrument—Personal Property”), thus raising doubts in Chuck’s mind about Jimmy’s ability to handle these cases correctly. Jimmy’s angling for a McGill brothers team-up.
  • Even with no overt religious references this week, Jimmy’s consciousness of guilt continues to remind me of Martin Luther, if Luther were stuck in the New Mexico desert with no church doors in sight. I wrote about the connection in a post at ThinkChristian.
  • To make the elders feel at home in Jimmy’s conference room, Kim suggests that he “embroider some cushions, crochet a table runner, make the place look like the front of a Cracker Barrel.”
  • Mighty impressive movie reference this week: “Picture The 25th Hour, starring Ned and Maude Flanders,” Jimmy hisses to Kim during his covert phone call in the diner bathroom. (“Mysteries of the bladder!” he explains with a hearty laugh upon his return to the booth.) Could be a reference to Spike Lee’s 2002 masterpiece, but (a) that one doesn’t have a The, and (b) Jimmy’s invariably a few decades behind the times on his cinematic mentions.
  • There’s more than one way to skin a montage, as we see with the elegant portrayal of the passage of time (scored to Chris Joss’s groovy “Tune Down”) as Mike waits outside of the Kettle-manse: Bite into an apple, then cut to five apple cores lined up on the wall.
  • “If there were any money, there would have to be a full accounting of it. Every penny of it,” Betsy tells Jimmy menacingly. Cue poor henpecked Craig, just trying to ride in the front seat of his wife’s careening Mercury Sable of crime: “That includes the $30,000 that—“ “Craig, he gets it.”
  • “I’m confused, the state of Pennsylvania can extradite people for returning lost property? Wow, that is one bold state legislature.”

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