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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Of course Jimmy takes all the wrong lessons from his ordeal on a terrifying iBetter Call Saul/i
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Last week I held out hope that Mike got through to Jimmy—that his speech about doing what he had to do to keep his loved ones safe changed the way Jimmy would approach the intersection of Kim and his work. Well, it did. But I should have known that the Jimmy who walked out of the desert wouldn’t be changed in a way that could do any good for anybody else. Call it Saul’s Law: If there’s a wrong lesson to be learned from his experience, that’s the one Jimmy will learn.

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Jimmy changes in two directions, both maladaptive to the actual conditions of his life. First, he suffers from post-traumatic stress. Ordinary sights and sounds, like Kim chunking some fruit through a juicer, are unbearable. But self-care is not Jimmy’s forte. He needs to be okay, to be independent, and to get past this as quickly as possible. His shocked and shredded nervous system has other ideas.

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Second, he decides he needs to define the terms of the Jimmy-Kim partnership. It was her idea to get married, to bring down the wall that had Jimmy hiding questionable practices and clients from her; as her spouse, he wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. But now he finds he has much bigger things to worry about. And so he takes Mike’s speech about protecting his family and gives it the ol’ Walter White twist, deciding that he will shoulder the martyr’s role of doing what it takes to bring in the money that will buy them security, keeping from her all the bad things he has to do in the process, insulating her from the danger. I don’t think this is macho or narcissistic, the way it was with Walt; Jimmy doesn’t need to control Kim or have her be dependent on him. He loves her because she’s capable, confident, and yet still laughs at his jokes. For him, it probably feels like a sacrifice to arrive at this decision: that in order to keep her safe, the terms of the relationship will have to be set by him.

But the counter-evidence —revealing that this decision runs directly counter to actual conditions—comes rolling in like waves, over and over. For one, the horse had already bolted from that particular barn. Kim went to Lalo; he knows about her. She can’t be quarantined from Jimmy’s work for the cartel, as he would know if he’d listened to Mike. She’s in the game. And that disconnect is evident early and often: when she breaks down crying on the phone hearing his voice; when Lalo reveals that he’s seen her (“She’s a looker!”); when Jimmy directs her to the duffel bag to see the money (“that’s what it’s all about”) and she finds the bullet hole in his travel mug.

For another, if money = security, then Kim’s work suddenly carries an outsized weight in their partnership. She can’t quit her job because her career is the lifeline, the escape pod, the tether that at least one of them could follow back to safety if the Saul thing goes south. She can’t quit because that leaves them as wholly-owned subsidiaries of the cartel. The most painful scene of the episode for me was Jimmy trying to repeat Mike’s folksy metaphor about bad choices back to Kim in a completely twisted context, all the while refusing to tell her why the choice that felt so right to her was so wrong. “Bad choices lead to bad roads lead to bad places,” he clumsily summarizes. “I’m giving you a reality checkthis is too far, too fast.” It’s that last bit that rankles. His decision about what their relationship has to be in the post-desert reality makes him assume a patronizing, paternalistic position over her, lecturing her as if she can’t see the consequences of her choices, when of course he’s the one who is refusing to let her see them. The bad choice wasn’t hers. It was his—not the one that sent him to the desert, but the one he made about what the desert was going to have to mean for the both of them.

And then of course, there’s the tense standoff that ends the episode, both stunning and stirring. Lalo invades their space, claiming his position at the fulcrum of their lives, wielding effortless power over them. As Mike hesitates, not wanting to pull the trigger and bring down a host of consequences on all of them if it can possibly be avoided, Jimmy unconvincingly plays dumb, offering up a few more demeaning details with each telling as if his previous narratives were incomplete because of his shame. He’s not going to back down, but it’s getting them nowhere.

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I thought last week that Jimmy might be motivated to try to save Kim. But instead, Kim steps up to save Jimmy, tearing into Lalo, physically putting herself in Mike’s crosshairs, and pulling a desperate but very convincing version of the inconvenient truths speech she made to Kevin last week. “It’s obvious you have no one else you can trust,” she spits. “Get your shit together and stop torturing the one man who went to hell to save your ass.”

And it does send Lalo stalking out of their apartment. But it also changes his plans. Earlier in the episode, Lalo was tantalizingly close to resuming his anti-Fring whisper campaign in Mexico, releasing Gus, Nacho, Mike, and Jimmy from his orbit. Now he knows that Saul’s not just somebody Nacho brought in, but part of a team working togetherand keeping it secret from him. That suggest a lot of other secrets, a host of other events that need reinterpretation. Undermining Gus to Don Eladio is no longer enough. He’s got a whole new plan.

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Whatever it is, it keeps everybody on the hook. That’s where Jimmy and Kim are left wriggling. Will they form Team Full Disclosure For Real This Time at last?

Stray observations

  • The split-screen cold open calls back to last season’s “Something Stupid,” where Jimmy and Kim share the same space but lead separate lives. This time they’re mirroring each other to a Spanish-language cover of the song as Jimmy walks out of the desert and Kim waits, with the blackest laugh coming while Kim just drinks water and splashes it on her face like there’s plenty more where that came from.
  • Next week’s episode is titled “Something Unforgivable.” Hoo boy.
  • Who were the bandits who attacked Jimmy? Mike recognizes a tattoo or brand on one of them, a Colombian gang. Gus immediately knows that Bolsa hired them to “protect his business by protecting our business,” unaware that the whole Lalo bail operation was being orchestrated by Gus. “Once Salamanca is south of the border, our actions must be unimpeachable,” he tells Mike, right before callously refusing to release his “asset” Nacho Varga.
  • Every time somebody presses Jimmy to tell the truth about what happened in the desert, he reluctantly admits that he drank his own pee. That’s his idea of a believable worst thing that you wouldn’t want to tell somebody, the last word in trauma, a shame of which none greater can be imagined.
  • Jimmy does get a good dig at Mike, asking whether Fred from TravelWire was “in the game” and therefore had invited his fate. Mike does have a problem with rationalizing all the collateral damage of his industry as somehow voluntary or unavoidable, and with setting aside issues of morality or justice in favor of a resigned realism.
  • Before leaving Schweikart & Cokely, Kim grabs the agave-shaped stopper to that fancy tequila bottle she and Jimmy drank at their mark Ken’s expensive in the season 2 premiere “Switch.” And longtime fans will recall that that was a callback (or a foreshadowing) to the explosive scene in Breaking Bad’s “Salud” where Gus uses the same brand to poison Don Eladio. (That was eight and a half years ago. I have been writing about these shows for a long time.)
  • DDA Oakley makes the most of his rare victory over a sunburned, traumatized Saul Goodman: “Law students will study the Goodman debacle as a teachable moment. Think of all the kids who will learn what not to do when faced with underwhelming odds.”
  • In the twenty-first century, the corporate cliche of the boss putting into a cup can be updated to Juan Bolsa driving into a simulator.
  • Of course Lalo taps on the aquarium. Of course he keeps doing it when asked not to.
  • “I will recover and we never need to mention this again.”
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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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