This week’s episode is mostly about moving pieces into place. But as is always the case with Better Call Saul, the pleasures of the story arise less from what happens than from how it happens.
Take Jimmy’s bright idea for a Wexler-McGill partnership. (I do love a good Gilligan team-up.) We see him doodling the WM logo while he waits to represent Mike recanting his statement about the gun. When he presents the die-cut business card to Kim, it’s clearly the culmination of a long process of strategizing. He’s thought it all through and gotten his best pitch together.
A lesser show would see the opportunity to carve out a cul-de-sac in the storyline. How about they try this partnership? Sure, they both already know better; Jimmy knows that Kim can’t be comfortable with his freewheeling approach to the law, and Kim knows that Jimmy will never be happy suppressing his creative talents on the straight and narrow. But we could watch that play out for an episode or so. Conflict! Just imagine the scenes that could be staged to explore that tension, culminating in a shouting match with all the usual accusations: “You lied to me!” “You knew exactly what you were getting into!” “I don’t think I can ever trust you again!”
Instead, the creative team compresses all of that into two moments: a beat of hesitation for Kim, swayed momentarily by Jimmy’s vision; and an immediate reversal for Jimmy, who tries out the pretense of by-the-book lawyering before stopping in mid-sentence to confess what they both know about his “colorful” approach. We zoom right past the cul-de-sac with its tempting drama. Because it’s a dead end. These characters have already had those epiphanies. They have new places to go. And when Kim comes back to Jimmy with a “solo together” proposition, we’re ready to hit the ground running on a truly new story frontier.
Enough about what’s not in “Inflatable,” though. The most delightful thing that is in the episode has got to be the ebullient Jimmy “fire me” montage. From the moment he unzips that garment bag to reveal a rainbow of shirts, it’s a giddy ride through fashion and intolerable office behavior, complete with split-screen effects that would make Brian De Palma glow with cinematic joy, all choreographed like a Gloria Estefan video. It’s all touched off by Jimmy’s sympathetic assistant Omar pointing out that he can’t resign and keep his bonus, not until he’s been employed for a full year. If he’s fired without cause, though, the money stays in his pocket. When Clifford finally cracks, however, all the other amenities have to be left behind—the company car, the apartment. The cocobolo desk Jimmy buys outright, but not before he finds out just how much leeway he’d been given on his arrival; Clifford isn’t in the habit of buying $7000 desks for associates.
And speaking of expensive things, Mike’s daughter-in-law Stacey has her heart set on a nice house, in a neighborhood where (she assures Mike) the local cops give her a safe vibe. Clearly she knows that Mike couldn’t afford it on a parking lot attendant’s wages; just as clearly she wants him to answer her proffered concern about the money exactly as he does: “You don’t worry about that; we’ll make it happen whatever the cost.” There’s still some mystery to be revealed here, about why she wanted out of that old neighborhood bad enough to lie about gunshots and push Mike into the criminal underground to pay for the move. She might even know that the car accident story Mike invented to explain his beaten-up face is bogus (“Car looks good, you wouldn’t even know you scratched it,” she observes). Ironic that her insistence based on feigned danger is pushing her and Kaylee into real danger, through the jobs Mike is forced to take and the folks with which he’s forced to associate to get her what she wants.
But in the potent final images of Mike’s storyline this week, we see that Mike is not going to take those threats to his granddaughter lying down. It’s not clear what he’s planning, sitting across the street from the restaurant where the Salamancas do their business, but the little smile suggests that he expects to enjoy it. Not just to get revenge for that finger-gun pointed at Kaylee, I don’t think; he’s almost as mad about having to lie to the prosecutors on Tuco’s behalf. While Jimmy loves every second of that little scene with the prosecutors, and even offers to waive his fee, Mike’s having none of it: “You take the next one, and bill me.” No free rides for him; he pays as he goes and erases his debts whenever possible. Cleaner that way. That’s why Stacey’s schemes aren’t just thoughtless. They’re cruel, exploitative, violating Mike’s hard-won clarity and code, sapping the ground of principle from under his feet.
Mike is willing to be his daughter-in-law’s mark, but not Hector Salamanca’s. Jimmy, on the other hand, learns from the cold-open flashback with his dad that if you’re not the wolf, you’re the sheep. And Kim, while she’s done with being a wage slave, hasn’t yet started to divide the world into sharps and suckers. Come next episode, will those three world begin to overlap in earnest, grinding and squealing as the gears fail to mesh? Just like at the end of every hour of BCS, I wish next week were already here so we could find out.
- In tonight’s cold open flashback, Rafael Sbarge (playing Jimmy’s dad) brings to life the character Chuck described to Kim two weeks ago, in “Rebecca”: “I’m not sure he could see sin, in any form.” It’s hard to tell what hurts young Jimmy more: the moment where his dad rebukes him for mistrusting the grifter, or the moment where his dad comes back with the tools to fix the car and finds the man long gone.
- I love how Omar, in a few scattered reaction shots and bits of business, has emerged from the background as an empathetic character. It all pays off this week as he processes Jimmy’s resignation letter (“I didn’t know how unhappy you were,” he says; “Not your fault, buddy, you’re top notch,” Jimmy reassures him), and then helps Jimmy move back to the nail salon. Jimmy tries to prolong the goodbye with a drink or at least a “cucumber water for the road,” but Omar demurs with the first indication of his life outside the office: “Gotta get home to my kids.” I hope we haven’t seen the last of him.
- Jimmy’s final meeting with Clifford Main illustrates the bind in which he’s always going to find himself when working with other people. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re a good guy,” he tells his former boss. When your business requires to you to use folks for your own purposes, you don’t always to get pick on jerks who deserve it (like the douchebags he and Kim have enjoyed conning). Sometimes, to get what you want, you’re going to be an asshole to people who don’t have it coming.
- I’ve never seen an inflatable tube man with a tie, like the one that inspires Jimmy to louden up his wardrobe by about 100 percent. But I laughed like a maniac every time it popped back up in that wonderful montage. By the way, if you’ve ever wondered how the dancing fan-driven tube guy got started, my favorite podcast 99 Percent Invisible has you covered.
- We get tiny glimpses of Kim’s backstory in her interview with Schweikart and Cokely: She’s from a little midwestern town on the Kansas-Nebraska border, and decided to come to Albuquerque to make a change after realizing that otherwise, her life prospects consist of cashiering at the Hinky Dinky and marrying the guy who runs the gas station.
- Some of Rhea Seehorn’s best work in her amazing run this season happens right at the end of that interview. Thrilled beyond measure that she has aced the interview, almost frightened at the prospect of joining the team on the partner track, she calls Rich Schweikart “Howard” in a Freudian slip—and on her face you can see alarm, shame, and existential dread at what the slip really means (as Jimmy said, “That’s just Howard Hamlin under another name”).
- I can’t decide which of Jimmy’s deliberate sins against Davis & Main I love most: juicer accident (“oh shit, I’m spreading it around”) or loud Spanglish vacuuming instructions (“dude, I’m from Michigan”).
- Wonder if that cantilever desk lamp drooping was an ad-libbed moment? It’s perfectly spontaneous and spontaneously perfect, especially paired with Jimmy deciding to use his own voice on his outgoing message instead of his former fake British receptionist ploy. (Note as well that he uses a Davis & Main coffee cup for his pen holder. First order of business for his new practice, after the commercial of course, is to get his own promotional swag.)
- “Maybe it fell from a passing bird’s beak.”