Mar 15, 2021
Better Call Saul: Consequences (S2 E9 Recap)
Better Call Saul’s penultimate season two episode, Nailed, repeats a theme we know well from its predecessor. It’s not that crime doesn’t pay, but that there’s a price you never see coming. The entire series has been a crazy physics or meta-physical lesson reminding us that for every action there’s a karmic reaction, sometimes grotesque or comic, but often more horrifying than anyone, except possibly Rod Serling, could have imagined. As with Breaking Bad, it’s all fun and games, and let’s go buy a round for the house, until somebody loses an eye, or a plane crashes in mid-air or a little boy is killed by a psychopathic white supremacist in the dessert.
What sets Better Call Saul apart from lesser efforts is that it never loses sight of both the inevitability and tragic depth of the sequence. Actions and reactions are always rooted in character. You gotta do what you gotta do because of who you are, but who you are will undo you. Pride goeth before the fall, hubris too, greed, vanity, and all the rest.
And so we open with Mike, the man in black from head to toe including the ski mask over his face – god that’s got to be tough to pull off in the dessert – waiting to spring a trap on his prey. The prey in question, the ice-cream truck driver, alone on the road has lost his dour countenance and is jauntily singing some silly risque Mexican ditty as he drives homeward bound with his tires full of cash.
The guy doesn’t stand a chance! But fortunately, this is a slightly less lethal Mike than the one we first met on Breaking Bad. So the driver is left hogtied, but not dead, before the masked man makes off with a quarter of a million dollars in Salamanca drug money.
Chuck and Howard arrive for a meeting with the New Mexico State Banking Board. Chuck is still working without his space blanket. Should we be worried? Howard is, just a little, though he doesn’t know his colleague has been sabotaged and they (like the driver) are prey, the trap about to be sprung. Chuck assures him that he finds “victory laps very comforting” referring to the idea that taking away Kim’s business, was something he took pleasure in, and for a moment we hate him, are colluding with Jimmy, happy to see Chuck get his comeuppance. But this is a show that will constantly play with our sympathies, force us to see things from his point of view, and then remind us again of its limits.
Before Chuck even begins his presentation, the banking examiner welcomes him back, as though he were a returning veteran. Chuck talks about Mesa Verde, the bank’s history and integrity, their personal service and attention to detail. We know one detail that got “overlooked,” and so it’s no surprise to us when someone comes up and starts whispering something to the examiner.
It’s the matter of the addresses. The original papers say 1261, but the filing says 1216. Chuck insists it’s 1216, to the point of dismissing Kevin, who finally yells at him that he knows his own bank’s address. There’s going to be a six week delay, and Chuck can’t talk his way out of it. His request for a provisional approval is turned down.
Howard isn’t happy, but he tries to calm his partner down. “We take our licks and move on,” he tells him. But Chuck is certain he never would have made such a mistake. He’s already beginning to put it together. It had to be Jimmy, and it won’t be long until he backtracks and figures out how.
Speaking of comforting victory laps, Mike is watching El Griego Cuinador from a safe distance. He sees Hector fuming. How does he celebrate his victory? He goes to a bar and buys a round for the house.
In this week’s signature montage sequence, Jimmy and Kim are cleaning up their new space. Clearing out the dental chairs, laying down the tarp, painting over the rainbow. But will they ever get out the tooth polish smell?
Kim’s phone rings. Paige is calling to tell her she got Mesa Verde back. Jimmy does his “I’m so surprised!” shtick. If we’re beginning to recognize it, can she? Then there’s another call. It’s Ernie telling her to head over to Chuck’s and get the files. Jimmy’s going with.
When they arrive, Jimmy finds his key won’t fit. Chuck dismisses Ernie and tells Kim he was hoping she’d come alone. He tells her “He sabotaged me” and then refers to the morning’s events as the “worst professional error” of his life, except he’s certain it wasn’t an error. He then explains in detail how Jimmy did it. It’s risky having a character tell us something we already know, but here it’s not done as it is on too many other shows to catch us up, or remind us about plot points the writers think we’re too stupid to remember. It’s done so we can hear how crazy it all sounds when Chuck repeats it out loud. Chuck also fills us in on a missing piece we didn’t see. Jimmy came back at some point and put back the originals, so it really looked like Chuck had transposed two numbers on one document and missed it. Chuck doesn’t have proof, but he knows Jimmy would have had to have gone somewhere to make his perfect copies – and a 24 hour copy shop seems likely.
Chuck sees this as a “twisted romantic gesture” on Jimmy’s part, but he warns Kim that as an officer of the court she has no choice but to tell Kevin.
But here’s the thing, Kim doesn’t work for him anymore. She doesn’t have to sit there and say nothing as she did two episodes back when he told her his version of Jimmy’s past. Kim asks about the evidence for his accusations, reminding Chuck that these are serious charges – criminal charges that could land Jimmy in prison.
He tells her his evidence is his knowledge of his brother. She points out that Chuck types by lantern light. The simpler explanation is that he made a typo, and then she tells him a few more things she’s probably been wanting to say for some time. She tells him that if Jimmy is who thinks he is than he made him that way, that Jimmy only ever wanted his love and support. She tells him that he never believed in his brother and never wanted him to succeed. She tells him that she feels sorry for Jimmy, and she feels sorry for him.
It’s a spirited defense, but in the car it’s clear she knows Chuck got it right, and she punches Jimmy on the arm, several times, hard.
The next day Jimmy is in a schoolyard with his film crew, plus one, a young woman with long blonde hair, dressed in black with a beret, who’s there to do make up. They’re using a wheelchair as a dolly, and Jimmy is after the perfect shot of him standing in front of a flag, and while he’s not literally wrapping himself in it, he is wearing a white suit, red shirt and blue tie.
A couple of women, one of whom is clearly in charge, come out of the school to find out who these intruders are. Jimmy bluffs his way through, which requires his using his superpower gift of gab, to convince the ladies he’s making a documentary about Rupert Holmes, whom he claims is an alumnus even though the school building wasn’t built till long after he would have graduated, plus he’s from England. Said effort requires his singing, If You Like Piña Colodas, and as awful as he sounds, damn if there isn’t something charming about it. Svengali indeed! And who doesn’t like getting caught in the rain? Takeaway for those trying to learn your scams from the best: Always go for the relatively minor celebrity. Also keep going even if your stylist wasn’t in on the joke and inadvertently mucks things up with facts.
The ladies retreat to check with the district, which leaves a very short window. Jimmy repeats the word, “Gravitas” which he also used a personal cue in last season’s Hero, and rolling….
So far so good, right? Mike got a lot of dough although it’s still not clear how or if he’s managed to neutralize Hector as a threat. Kim apparently has a bigger capacity for sticking with Jimmy through his bullshit than we would’ve thought – but not so big that we don’t believe it. We’re just waiting for her to finally crack.
Mike is at his diner, the only one worth going to in Albuquerque. Fran is his waitress, and we hope we’ll be getting to know her better, as does Mike. They engage in some cute at any age flirting complete with double-entendres that don’t make us want to vomit. When she goes to get his usual, Mike who is scanning the papers for something, breaks out into just the smallest half-smile, which for him seems to indicate full out it can’t get any better than this bliss.
And then back in the booth he gets a call. It’s Nacho and they need to talk.” Mike and Nacho meet in the usual place. Nacho figured it was Mike based on the truck driver’s being left alive. Nacho wants to know if the driver was in on it. Mike assures him he wasn’t in on it and never saw or heard him. This probably leaves Nacho in the dubious ethical quandary of having to watch and probably participate in torturing the guy until he talks even though he knows he’s got nothing to say. Nacho is skeptical about Mike’s having pulled off this heist all by himself, but Mike tells him they aren’t as smart as they think they are. What really gets to Nacho is the realization that Mike is going to do what Mike is going to do. Mike’s intention becomes clear. He thought that the truck driver and the broken down truck with the slashed tires would get some attention. He expected the police to get involved, leading to arrests. He thought he was being a hero on all fronts – getting the scum off the streets, and protecting his family. Robbing the cartel of a quarter of million dollars is something Nacho could understand, but this is just some crazy shit, which could also put Nacho in the slammer. He considers killing Mike, but Mike like Jimmy has superpowers, only in Mike’s case his superpower is the ability to be extremely calm and menacing. He uses his Jedi voice to tell Nacho to calm down and get his hand off out of his pocket. He also assures Nacho that he’s done with him and his boss, won’t be troubling them again, but he still wants to know why it wasn’t in the papers. Nacho tells him. A good Samaritan came along and freed the driver who called Hector, who came with a crew to clean things up and they shot the Samaritan, may he rest in peace. and buried him in the dessert. (Maybe not too far from where in a few years, young Drew Sharp will be killed but not buried on account of they made his body disappear.)
Mike doesn’t say anything about the news that some poor schmuck, a civilian is gone because of what he’s done, but when he gets back into his car, we see it on his face. He’s devastated. He hadn’t planned on collateral damage.
Jimmy is now keeping an extra toothbrush at Kim’s, and probably a few suits as well. Maybe he’s given up his office home in back of the nail salon. He and Kim are at that stage of their relationship where they go to bed together without it always leading to sexy times. She appears to be working. He mentions the television commercial, which will be airing the next day during Diagnosis Murder. Jimmy asks her if she wants to talk about “this” and we all know that “this” is the entire scheme he’s managed to save and sully her with at the same time.
Her answer is “not now. Not ever.” To which he replies that she and Mesa Verde were meant for each other, so all is right with the world or subtext equals: “It’s okay. No need to thank me.”
And that would be that except for one trope of television, which is that every woman has a little Phyllis Dedrickson in her, a touch of Lady Macbeth, the heart of Cookie Lyons, or maybe just the accounting skills of. Skylar White. In short, when men do something criminal, it’s usually the ladies who figure out what needs to be done next. They’re the ones who see what their fella missed. They’re better at clean up. They’re smarter too. Kim knows she’s a better lawyer than Jimmy. She also knows she’s not smarter than Chuck, and so in a voice that implies she’s simply thinking aloud and not giving an order, she mentions that if there was anything to be found, Chuck would find it, so there must be nothing.
She is totally giving Jimmy an order. Jimmy gets up and we hear the sound of his buckling his belt.
Jimmy parks at the nail salon, and walks over to the copy shop. He sees Ernie inside. Is he too late? He steps into the shadows until Ernie leaves. Then Jimmy goes back inside. There’s some suspense here. It’s not clear how it’s going to go. Lance, the clerk, doesn’t want trouble. Jimmy convinces him that the police aren’t involved. No crime here. Just something between brothers which sounds a lot like a Godfather II reference, but Lance doesn’t seem to get any of Jimmy’s reference. He does catch on though after Jimmy starts playing around with the bills like they were cards he was dealing for three card Monte. Lance even agrees to erase the video tape for a couple hundred extra.
Jimmy goes back to wait and watch from a safe dark distance. Chuck returns with Ernesto, leaving his space jacket in the car. The copy shop is an electro-magnetic nightmare. We see and hear its dangers from Chuck’s point of view. When he shows Lance the photo and gets a different answer than the one Lance gave Ernesto earlier, he begins to lose it. He demands Lance “Speak the truth.” He yells at Ernesto for suggesting they leave. Lance won’t budge. He thought it looked like a guy what he saw the first time, but now not so much. He stands up to the expert cross examination, and even Chuck’s badgering. Other customers need Lance’s help, and Chuck berates them. He’s becoming increasingly out of control, so Lance tells Ernie to get him out or he’ll call the cops.
Lance might have started out doing this for this the money, but Chuck is being an asshole, coming off like a lunatic, maybe even a bully. We know he’s right – at least on the facts, but we also know that Kim is right about the dynamic, and Jimmy is right that Kim deserved Mesa Verde.
Jimmy watching, sees how stressed Chuck is, and it’s not giving him pleasure. Chuck’s reaction to these events is not something “predictable” in the way that so much of television is predictable. We couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was coming like the way we might safely guess that Olivia’s dad is behind the conspiracy of the week on Scandal or Don Draper will inevitably cheat on every woman who loves him. Yet, it makes sense when we see it that Chuck would take his defeat so personally, that he would turn it into a righteous battle, that he would go the full Javert.
And then it happens. Just as we’ve seen Chuck collapse before the way he did last week after the meeting with Kevin and Paige, he goes down again, only this time Howard isn’t there to catch him. He hits his head hard against a counter. We see it, and hear the thwack. As a stunt it is flawlessly executed. He’s out cold at least. Ernie and Lance both stand there for a moment that seems to last an eternity.
Jimmy says out loud but not loud enough for anyone to hear in a voice that’s a plea and half a prayer, “Call 911. C’mon.”
We’ve seen the head knock against furniture before on more shows than we can count. Usually, it’s fatal, or at least leads to weeks, months, or years in a coma. If they go that way, Chuck’s continual care costs could explain a lot about why Jimmy as Saul is out to earn major coin by any means necessary, why the former Jimmy McGill would seek to play Tom Hagen to Walter White’s Vito Corleone. He’d barter away his soul to help Chuck, especially if he held himself responsible for his fate.
And wouldn’t that be some major irony if it turned out to be love, not to be greed that causes Jimmy to finally cross too many lines?
However, Jimmy or Saul won’t meet Walter for a few more years, and the above is purely speculative. In the show’s present, if Chuck is dead or broken beyond repair, it’s hard to imagine much of a future, personal or professional for the partnership of Kim and Jimmy.
Thoughts, theories, and comments of all kinds are welcome in the space below (way down under those ads that help pay the digital rent). I’m up for a discussion. It’ll give me something to do besides wait with baited breath for the season finale. (Also here is a shout-out for a spoiler that is going to break the internet.)