Mar 20, 2020
Better Call Saul: Hero... Or, The Road to Damascus
Would you rather have the law on your side or the media? When a little money comes his way, Jimmy is slippin’ back into his old tricks.
Episode four played out a lot like The Sting, if The Sting had been written by Jesuits. Let’s just say it was a religious experience.
Anyone else harboring doubts by the end of last week’s final scene? Finding the Kettlemans’ hiding nearby exactly like Mysterious Mike said they would be, AND finding their money, felt a little too pat. But glory hallelujah, last night was so good man, I had to watch it twice, just to see how it was done. My faith is restored!
We open late night, probably Cicero, Illinois. Slippin Jimmy—whom we recognize as Slippin Jimmy by the Slippin Jimmy Wig—is out bromancing a bro. Bro appears to be a stranger in those parts. They are bullshitting in the manner of young dudes impaired by much beer. When Bro asks Jimmy his name, he tells him, “S’all good… man.”
Bro finds a wallet on the deserted street with a fat wad of cash in it, and a license that reads Henry Gondorff—who all you movie mavens know was the Paul Newman character in The Sting. Within two minutes, Bro will exchange the contents of said wallet and the $580 dollars he has on him for a Rollex watch, which he mistakes for a Rolex watch, and then he’ll run off thinking he’s the one who ripped “S’all” off.
Later, “Gondorff” and Jimmy retire to an apartment to smoke a few bowls. While his partner admires his “genius,” Jimmy isn’t satisfied. “It’s good for making beer money.”
Years later, (as seen on Breaking Bad) Saul Goodman will ask to be Walter White’s “Tom Hagen,” his “consigliere,” but even back in his Illinois days, he must have been thinking of Don Vito Corleone’s admonition to Tom, “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.”
Back where we left off in the tent, Jimmy is trying to convince Betsy and Craig to go back home to meet with Kim, their lawyer. He assures them no one is after them and the police are on it, but they are afraid to go back as that will look bad for Craig. Besides, they’re not giving up the money. Betsy looks toward Craig and says, “He worked too hard for it.” She elaborates, “Just because you’re salaried doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to overtime.”
But they have no plan—no next step. Jimmy convinces them to say they were just out on a spontaneous camping trip. They beg him to take a bribe to forget he saw them. He agrees to take a retainer to be their lawyer and makes a great case for himself. He tells them he will be “singularly devoted to you.” At first I thought that might be a film reference to a song from Grease, but guess what? It’s a phrase from Thomas a Kempis’ 1418 devotional treatise, Imitation of Christ. And it’s not the only religious reference we’ll be getting. But it still doesn’t convert Betsy. She tells him, “You’re the kind of lawyer guilty people hire,” and hands him the money as though she were paying off a garbage man with leprosy.
The next day as he drives into the courthouse, he tells Mike, “You called it,” and thanks him. Mike does just the slightest, briefest raise of an eyebrow and upper lip, but then his face turns again to stone. Mike won’t let Jimmy think he was impressed with himself.
Jimmy goes to get Nacho out of jail, but instead of being grateful, Nacho is still pissed. He’s not buying the “camping” story. He knows the Kettlemans were warned, and could only have been warned by Jimmy. “There will be consequences.” Here’s where we get a good look at future Saul. Jimmy points out all the dumb things Nacho did that would have gotten him caught—letting the van get seen by a neighbor, the blood in the van he didn’t bother to clean up. He never explicitly admits it was him, but he tells Nacho he should be grateful to “this good Samaritan whoever he is” that did him “a favor” before he got himself into real trouble.
Later, Jimmy goes back to his office/home to count out his money. He fake-bills his services—$950 hourly rate, travel expenses, etc.—and announces to his majority of one, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”
What’s his master plan? And is every step we see part of a con or just improv? He starts out by going to the kind of men’s tailor shop that probably doesn’t exist in Albuquerque. Side trip to Santa Fe, maybe? He has a precise list, which includes authentic mother of pearl buttons on the shirts and navy blue “Tasmanian wool.”
Back at the salon, he’s about to get his hair died, but when he realizes he won’t be able to wash out the lighter color, he decides, “We’ll photoshop it.” Turns out what he has in mind is putting himself on a billboard that copies every detail of the Hamlin Hamlin & McGill board featuring Howard. He got himself Howard’s exact suit, and hair cut, and used the same font, colors and logo.
Kim stops by the salon after hours when Jimmy is enjoying the “perks,” which include unlimited use of the massage chair and all the cucumber water he can drink. She hands him a cease and desist order from Hamlin, and they argue. It looks like a spiteful move to her—something personal. He’s better than that. Jimmy points out that Howard “fired the first shot,” suggesting he not use his real name. She tells him Howard is just getting started, next will be an injunction, besides he could do better than turning himself into a Howard “clone.” He tells her she could do better than working for a firm that doesn’t appreciate her. She knows him enough to know he’s always working an angle, but she doesn’t get what his is here.
Jimmy and Howard are in a judge’s chambers, where Jimmy swiftly loses. Howard does not get to stop him from using his name, but the billboard has to come down in 48 hours. Next we get a montage of Jimmy calling the media, trying to spin his story, and crossing every local and national station and newspaper off his list. Show might want to think about whether the montage thing is going to be a weekly feature. (If it is, we’ll have to come up with a montage drinking game.) After no luck whatsoever Jimmy notices a woman wearing a UNM tee shirt. The next thing we see is Jimmy with a couple of film students in front of the billboard. A worker is already beginning to take it down. Could this be the start of his commercials?
The kid behind the camera is in a hurry to shoot, but Jimmy wants to get it just right. He winds up setting the shot up himself. He makes sure the billboard is in the background and he’s in front of it. Before the camera rolls, he looks nervously at the billboard. Then he says the word “gravitas” out loud. His own private cue, and another interesting and specific word choice.
But when he starts talking, he’s just a little more stilted, a little less sure of himself than usual. He turns twice more toward the billboard and says stock phrases, “self-made man,” “scrimping and saving.” It’s one cliché after another. Not his best work. But then the camera guy starts yelling, “Dude, the worker dude!” Jimmy turns around. The worker-dude what was taking down the billboard has slipped off the platform and is hanging in the air. It’s a good thing there’s a strong rope and he’s wearing a halter! Jimmy tells the kid to call 911, and then he runs up the ladder to the top of the billboard, cupping his hands as he shouts to the hanging man that he’s there to help. He reaches down and tells the worker-dude to grab his hand, but he’s actually pulling him up by cranking the rope—something the gathering crowd below doesn’t see. “Took you long enough,” worker-dude whispers once he’s up.
Over at Hamlin Hamlin & McGill, they’re watching Jimmy being interviewed on the news, and Howard keeps saying, “It’s a stunt.” But you can tell even he isn’t quite sure. Kim says, “People love a hero.” And she smiles not so much that anyone would notice, like she’s finally figured something out.
Back in his office, Jimmy braves his voicemail and has a record seven messages. He goes to visit his brother, but doesn’t take in the local paper now featuring his photo with the headline “Hero.” He knows Chuck will see right through him. He tells Chuck his advice is paying off. “You were right. Keep plugging.” Chuck notices the missing newspaper. Jimmy says kids must have stolen it. Chuck doesn’t buy that, but doesn’t confront Jimmy either. After he’s gone, Chuck looks out the window and sees a newspaper in the street. He hoods himself in his foil blanket and opens the door. He cowers under his blanket the way Spike on Buffy used to when he ventured out in daylight. We see sunshine, telephone polls, normalcy. But we hear the pulsing of the electromagnetic field that is searing through Chuck’s body, and Michael McKean makes sure we feel Chuck’s terror. He almost gets hit by a passing truck, but somehow makes it to the newspaper, retrieves it, and runs to safety in his house. It’s an epic journey. Maybe Chuck was the “Hero” of the episode title. He sees the photo and looks like his heart has broken.
Is Chuck done with Jimmy? And what will Jimmy look like if he gives up trying to be a good man for his brother? Will Kim fill the moral void or get sucked into a vortex? It’s a strange trip we’re on, and a story with an ending we think we know. There’s one of those AMC non-preview previews up that tells us nothing about the next episode, but whatever happens, it’s going to be worth keeping Monday nights free for.