Ursula Coyote/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
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Chuck, man. Wow.

In tonight’s episode we see yet again—and with emphatic emphasis—how far Chuck will go to keep Jimmy from succeeding. Howard’s relationship with Kim is a model of professional courtesy by comparison. Heck, Howard actually does envy Kim her freedom (that “Dad talked me out of it” is a remarkably naked line of dialogue) and sincerely wishes her well, I believe, despite the scramble to retain Mesa Verde as a lucrative client. He’s far more respectful of her resignation in light of her decision to go solo than he would have been had she followed the money to Schweikart.

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But Chuck is willing to put himself through hell, to wrack his body with psychosomatic pain, in order to prevent Jimmy from even enjoying the penumbra of a successful Kim Wexler, Attorney at Law. And it’s an impressive performance. While we watch Chuck damning Kim with faint praise while emphasizing the complexity of the regulatory law on which Mesa Verde’s expansion could founder, we forget that he is powering through his aversion to the lights and phones and electromagnetic background by sheer will. He is not going to give Kevin any reason to doubt them, focused as he is on creating reasons for him to doubt Kim. HHM has to be positioned as the unimpeachable choice, because CEOs, like coaches punting on fourth down, would rather avoid the criticism that comes with bucking conventional wisdom than actually succeed.

When he collapses in the lobby after sealing the deal with a handshake, we’re yanked suddenly back into Chuck’s reality, out of the miasmic spell his rhetoric cast over his target. What he did would have been vicious even without the cost he pays with his body; with it, the act takes on the frisson of murder-suicide. And why? The cold open of “Rebecca,” showing Chuck’s social-climbing, classist contempt for his brother, gives us the ugly side of the motive. But there’s another side, represented by the story Chuck tells Kim about Jimmy’s pilfering from the till and ruining his father (a story confirmed, or at least made plausible, by the cold open of “Inflatable”). That’s the defensible part of Chuck’s reasoning. He truly believes Jimmy will always desecrate the holy practice of law, and constitute a danger to his clients (or in this case, the clients of someone who’s made the ill-advised choice to bed down with him). When Chuck thanks Jimmy for staying with him, at the end of a long night of shivering under a space blanket—”if things were reversed, I hope you know I would do the same for you”—he’s asserting that despite appearances, the Mesa Verde fight is really not personal.

Of course Jimmy didn’t stay with him. He saw his chance at revenge, sitting in those boxes full of Mesa Verde documents, and he took it, methodically copying, cutting, and pasting so that every mention of a Scottsdale location now points to the wrong address. The tediousness and meticulousness of the work is underlined in (what else) a signature BCS montage. It’s become clearer in the second season that these montages aren’t just some of the most stylish visuals on television; they do thematic heavy lifting, cementing, deepening, and advancing important aspects of character and story. Here it’s a laconic counterpart to Chuck’s verbose conference room performance. Jimmy can work just as hard and endure just as much to sabotage his brother.

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But that’s taking Jimmy’s assumption to heart—that his brother sabotaged him. What Jimmy does is actually different from what Chuck does, however reprehensible the latter. Chuck persuades a client, using less sincere tactics but fighting on the same turf as Kim, when she persuaded that same client earlier. Jimmy alters documents to deceive Chuck into working on approvals for the wrong site. His goal is to embarrass and discredit his brother, but he’s also taking revenge on Mesa Verde for their perfidy, and using means that give credence to Chuck’s distrust of his lawyering. It’s a betrayal of another order entirely. And maybe the worst part is that Jimmy takes advantage of Chuck’s incapacitation and then takes credit for staying with him all night. He regards himself as responding in kind to Chuck’s attack, but without consciously making the choice, he’s broken the bond of brotherhood that—as recently as “Amarillo”—compelled him to treat Chuck with humanity. Tonight when Jimmy puts his keys and phone into the mailbox before heading into Chuck’s house, it’s not because he cares about Chuck (after all, Chuck subjected himself to much worse, voluntarily, to screw him over). It’s part of the pretense that’s needed to carry out the con, to separate Chuck from the one thing he loves the most: his professional reputation based on the quality of his work. True, when he walks in, Jimmy doesn’t know how he’ll get his revenge. But he’s seething cold, not hot; he’s not there to have it out with Chuck but to look for a weakness he can exploit. Jimmy is sure that Chuck deserves it, like the assholes whose checks he accepts in bars. But that’s a judgment that, however understandable in the moment, no one should take on themselves. When you aren’t hit-and-running tequila-swilling, Blutoothing douchebags as Viktor with a K, the damage you cause doesn’t get left in the rear-view mirror.

Contrast Jimmy’s vengeful recklessness with Mike’s steely-eyed mission to turn the tables on the Salamancas. He follows Hector to a warehouse and watches a refrigerated truck pull into the adjoining bay. Inside, contraband smuggled into the country under boxes of popsicles gets loaded into Hector’s car. Now he’s got part of the supply chain figured out. And he’s going to fly solo on disrupting it with a homemade spike strip (although he does accept an assist from Kaylee, under the cover story of making a soaker hose for the rhododendrons). Equally meticulous, equally patient, equally angry. But Mike is fighting for his family’s security and independence as much as he is chafing personally under the Salamanca’s boot. And I’m willing to bet that he’s not going to make the same mistake as in the Tuco operation. There he exposed himself as the instrument of Tuco’s imprisonment, giving Hector a lever and an opening. Here he’s in the shadows, and if he can restrain the urge to take credit, he can stay there; the Salamancas have plenty of enemies, and Nacho is the only one who knows Mike Ehrmantraut’s real mettle.

Jimmy, though, doesn’t care to stay in the shadows. He’s out loud and proud, and he’ll be gloating when Chuck goes down. It’s not going to be pretty.

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Stray observations:

  • This episode’s title “Fifi” refers to the name of the plane, the only B-29 still flying, which travels to air shows around the continent. You can visit it at the Vintage Flying Museum at Meacham International Airport in Fort Worth.
  • The cold open clues us into the role of Regalo Helado (“frozen treat”) in the Salamanca’s supply chain. You’ve got to love the way it takes its time with the border inspection (including a long take that seems to have been shot with a drone), then ends with a kicker that reveals the regularity of the plot: The driver recovers a gun from a box buried in the desert and sticks his popsicle stick into a little graveyard nearby, joining a couple dozen of its mates.
  • My favorite scene from “Fifi” is also the most heartbreaking in retrospect: Kim’s adorable, infectious excitement over landing the Mesa Verde business. Gradually over the middle part of this season we’ve seen her let down her professional guard in more and more situations, and this is the most uninhibited she’s been, chattering about “enthusiasm and personal service” and imitating the clients: “Paige gives me the double thumbs-up, boomp boomp, just like that!”
  • Jimmy bullshits his way onto a air force base with one of his old public defender clients (“public masturbation, total bullshit”) and the film students (with a wheelchair pressed into service as a dolly, natch) in order to shoot a commercial against the backdrop of a B-29 Superfortress. “You’re heroic!” Jimmy directs his actor. “Not that heroic. Throw it away a little bit.”
  • Under the copy-paste montage, you probably recognize the twangy guitar riff from “Better Call Saul Main Title” by Little Barrie. This isn’t the series theme with lyrics added; it’s “Why Don’t You Do It” from the band’s 2006 album Stand Your Ground.
  • Jimmy really does his homework on the office lease, finding “two dentist’s offices for two dentists!” with mirrored layouts and a shared entrance/reception area. I think they should keep the cool hydraulic chairs.
  • Mike’s TV watching as he fills the “soaker hose” holes with wicked long nails: His Girl Friday.
  • That tarantula crawling on a Saul Goodman Colorful Tie™ under the titles gave me flashbacks to Breaking Bad’s “Dead Freight.”
  • “Because I’m a grownup, and grownups get to be stupid.”

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