Better Call Saul: Men at War (S2 E8 Recap)

bcs logoThose of us who keep waiting for some incident that causes sweet Jimmy McGill to turn into criminal lawyer Saul Goodman should know better. Jimmy and Saul are the same guy. We’ve seen Jimmy repeatedly try (not very hard) and fail to stay on the up and up. In the past few episodes we’ve watched him manufacture evidence, screw over good guy Cliff in order to keep a bonus he hadn’t earned, and con people purely for sport. But this week’s stunt seemed to go beyond even that, and is bound to have consequences, one of which is likely the end of any possible professional or personal partnership with the lovely Kim Wexler.

The episode opens with a Mexican ice-cream truck. We have a one shot steady-cam following the truck and its driver through to the US side of the Mexico/New Mexico border and beyond. Talk about production values! In Jimmy McGill’s personal heaven, he would get to direct something like this. The driver has a familiar face, from The Killing and various other shows, but not from Breaking Bad. Per IMDB he’ll be around for the next two episodes, which is a good thing. This guy does a lot with no dialogue.

Production values!

Production values!

Those of us hoping to maybe see DEA agent Hank Schraeder or any other familiar face inspecting the vehicle, will be disappointed. Some boxes are put through an x-ray machine. Dogs sniff. The driver doesn’t break a sweat. He opens a box and takes out a Popsicle before continuing on his way. Somewhere in the desert he pulls over, walks off the road, takes a gun that was hidden in a box underneath a rock, and puts his Popsicle stick into the ground where it stands with dozens of others.

As far as opening sequences go we’re further into Breaking Bad territory and style than we’ve been before. If you cued up the old theme music it could’ve been a lost outtake. There’s even a bug crossing the hot desert road, and you can’t get more Breaking Bad than that, unless it’s a spider, which we actually have in the title sequence.

While the scene feels almost out of place for the “lighter” tone of BCS, it’s directly in line with the darker place the show is heading toward. Jimmy’s scams are starting to go beyond billboards and loud suits. Mike is gearing up for  a one-man guerrilla war against a cartel.

It looks like Jimmy said yes to Kim’s offer because the two of them are out at a hot dog place celebrating their new plan to share expenses while still maintaining independence. This being a show with an eye toward American quirk, the restaurant features a neon dachshund wagging its tail. Jimmy is already advising Kim on securing Mesa Verde before she tells Howard she’s leaving. She reminds him that she’s going to be doing things her way.

Let's hope Mike's vet isn't a co-owner.

Let’s hope Mike’s vet isn’t a co-owner.

The next day, after she gives Howard the news, she’s barely out of his office when she hears him tell his secretary to get Mesa Verde on the phone. She slowly clears his space and then races back to her own office to phone Paige.

On your mark, get set....

On your mark, get set….

We watch her meeting with Paige and Kevin and making her case. She’ll be their custom fit one person law firm. They’ll be her solo client, and they know she knows what they need for the expansion. She later tells Jimmy that Paige gave her two thumbs up, but of course nothing’s in writing yet.

She and Jimmy are looking at their potential new space. It’s an indistinct small building, not in strip mall though not exactly downtown either, a former dental office. The offices still have sinks and dental chairs. There’s a shared waiting and reception area. No big windows and mountain views, but she’s game.

Chuck’s working from home when Howard arrives to tell him the news. Howard is meeting with Kevin and Paige, but it’s just a courtesy, a “Hail Mary pass.” He’s got nothing. When Chuck hears that Kim is going into business with Jimmy, he shakes his head and calls his brother a “Svengali.”

Chuck decides he’s going to attend the meeting. Howard looks panic stricken, but Chuck’s ahead of him. He tells Howard he knows he’ll have to look “professional” and not crazy. He’ll deal with the phones, the lights, the key fobs and all the other things that would normally send him running underneath a space blanket.

Unlike Superman, Chuck needs to drop the cape in order to be a hero.

Unlike Superman, Chuck needs to drop the cape in order to be a hero.

The associates stare with wonder as Chuck descends the stairs for the ritual lobby client greet. Chuck manages to be nothing short of brilliant as he buries and destroys Kim by a combination of piling on faint praise, while making the case that nobody knows more about tricky government rules and regs than he does, and Mesa Verde needs a team, not a one-woman band. No sooner, have the clients left than he collapses in Howard’s arms.

While Jimmy will see this as a personal attack by Chuck on Jimmy through Kim, that’s not how Chuck is seeing it. He and Howard are in a battle, saving Mesa Verde for the firm. No matter how big they are, they can’t afford to cede territory.

Jimmy is at a military airstrip where his latest petty con involves passing one of his less savory clients off as a wheelchair bound World War II veteran. He’s with his film crew, trying to get a few moments in front of a B59 for a commercial featuring a member of the greatest generation, in uniform yet. The sequence doesn’t announce itself as something really important, but when the episode is taken as a whole, it fits in perfectly.

Mike meantime is back to his private stakeout of Hector. He’s following the truck, which winds up in a garage, which Hector is standing in front of.  Exactly what is going on was not clear to this viewer, but Mike knows.

Jimmy gets a phone call from Ernesto. Chuck’s in bad shape. He’s already covered by a space blanket. He tells Ernesto no hospital, give him a second blanket, and some chicken broth. He doesn’t drop everything and go over, instead he meets Kim to sign the lease on their new building. His girl is in tears because she lost Mesa Verde. Paige told her that Kevin’s head was turned by CHUCK. Jimmy gives her some confidence because that’s what confidence men do, and she goes in to sign, but the camera catches his face. He doesn’t look confident. He looks angry.

Nobody is going to make Jimmy's girl cry!

Jimmy doesn’t want to see her sad. Yet, another example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

Later he goes to Chuck, who by that time is asleep on his couch under two space blankets. He dismisses Ernesto, telling him he’ll take it from there. Is he going to put a pillow over Chuck’s head? Nope. He takes out some select Mesa Verde files and brings them over to a twenty-four copy shop where he very carefully makes new copies transposing the number 61 in Mesa Verde’s address, so it reads 16. (The sequence of his cutting and pasting counts as this week’s signature montage.)

What exactly is the scheme here? In the earlier meeting, Chuck had extolled his expertise at the various filings with the feds that need to be handled perfectly. Is Jimmy hoping that this will screw up those filings and send Mesa Verde running back to Kim? It sounds pretty far fetched. Would the letters actually go out without the mess up in the address being found? Are we to believe Chuck typed them himself on a manual typewriter? If they were created on a computer, the originals would show the correct address, so the deception would be obvious, and law firms usually have proofreaders or get associates or paralegals to make sure to dot every “i” and cross every “t.” Even if it drives the business from HHM, if Jimmy’s fingerprints (literally) are on the messed up documents, it’s going to bring Kim down. It’s a dumb plan, one that’s bound to confirm Chuck’s worst feelings about his brother, and whatever happens, Kim is not going to thank him later. In fact, it’s Chuck’s prophecy come to fruition – Jimmy really is like a drunk school bus driver heading over a cliff.

Speaking of thanks, in the morning, Chuck finally says that word to Jimmy for staying there, and mentions that even though they’ve had their differences, he’d do the same for him. It looks for a second like Jimmy may be rethinking, but it’s too late.

Over at Mike’s, Kaylee is helping him drill holes in a garden hose. Why?

Girls can help too!

Girls can help too!

When Stacey comes to pick her up, Mike explains he’s going to have a “soaker” for the rhododendrons. Sure, he is.  After Stacey and Kaylee leave we watch him watching television – Turner Classic Movies probably, The Front Page with fast talking Rosalind Russell and faster talking Cary Grant. He’s sitting in his comfy chair putting long nails into the holes in the hose. Yikes!

Ironically, in last week’s episode, Mike wouldn’t even get on an elevator with Jimmy, seeing him as man who was nothing like him. But we’re watching them on parallel paths. Mike already had been a corrupt cop and a murderer, so it’s not like he “broke bad” in his old age, but he’s clearly broken more bad lately. Jimmy had a past as well, and a consistent disregard for the rules, but he was attempting to walk a straight and narrow path until he decided not to. One irony is that if they had both simply split the Kettleman’s money, if they hadn’t both been trying to do “the right thing” that day, than maybe neither of them would have been on the path that led them to Walter White and put more innocent blood on their hands than either of them could have imagined.

Each of them  is trying to help or protect someone (a female) he loves. However, they also both have other motives for their actions. Sure, Jimmy is doing this to bring Mesa Verde back to Kim, but he also feels Chuck has screwed him over, and blames Chuck for Kim’s having been in the cornfield – even though Chuck’s the one who got her out, and she was there because of Jimmy’s actions. Jimmy doesn’t just want to win. He wants his brother to lose. Mike is acting to protect Kaylee, the only person he cares about in the world, but taking orders from Hector, even if he was well paid, was more than he could stomach. He’s not acting “purely” to protect her. Like Walter White, all Jimmy and Mike are men who’ve felt emasculated, disempowered, by others, and are acting in part out of anger and a need to be on top. Even Walter White’s initial rationale for selling meth was to leave something for his family. It wasn’t until the final episode that he admitted he did it because he liked it.

In a very real way, Mike and Jimmy are men at war, doing what men do — protecting their women, but also proving themselves against an adversary, which brings us back to Jimmy’s television commercial featuring a not-so-great member of the greatest generation playing a war hero. We know that Jimmy’s client was not whomever Jimmy was passing him off as, but in what felt like a throw away moment, we realize he is more than the crime he was once accused of. He corrects Jimmy, telling him the plane would have flown in the Pacific, not over Europe. When he says, “I fought in Japan, ” it doesn’t sound like he’s just staying in character.  His eyes mist over. Maybe even he had had a moment of glory, was somebody’s hero, or dared to try.

Saying it like he means it because he does.

Saying it like he means it because he does.

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: Better Call Saul

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