May 11, 2018
Better Call Saul: The Paper Chase
This week on Better Call Saul… Jimmy lands a big fish, and Chuck wants in. Kim returns from the cornfield. Mike babysits and gets a puppy.
Younger Jimmy McGill (with mo’ betta fake hair) is a messenger in the lofty offices of HHM. He addresses everyone by name as he makes his appointed rounds – the ne’er-do-well li’l brother of a senior partner. But wait, there’s something for Jimmy! He takes it to Kim’s office, which appears to be a supply closet, and asks her to open it. To the surprise and delight of both, he’s passed the bar! This entitles him to a hug, but always looking out for the main chance, he grabs a lip-smacking kiss.
Then he tells Chuck, who is surprised not only that Jimmy passed – on his third try – but that he even took it, which he did after secretly completing his undergraduate degree at community college and enrolling in an accredited “distance learning” law school in American Samoa. Chuck seems genuinely proud of his bro, but there’s an awkward moment when Jimmy asks if maybe they might hire him.
“As what?” the otherwise astute Chuck asks. Then Chuck cautions the final decision’ll be up to his partners, but not to worry: “How can they say no? So much drive.” And we know something will go wrong because every single time Jimmy tries to do the right thing, the right thing kicks him in the ass.
Then it’s Kim, Jimmy, and two guys from the mailroom celebrating with cake. Howard dismisses everyone but Jimmy, then shuts the door. We only hear the sound of a copier spitting out paper, but we watch Howard standing and leaning over a seated Jimmy… and see our boy deflate.
Did he get fired? Nope, but when Howard says, “Let’s reassess in six months,” the subtext is clear. The only future he has at HHM is the same as the present, and that’s only by the grace of Chuck. Howard, class act that he is, takes the cake and closes the door behind him.
Back to the future, Kim is hanging her diploma after returning from exile. Howard invites her to “bask” in his glow. She reluctantly follows him to a press conference, in which he does the talking and takes credit for the resolution of the Kettleman case – the one where Jimmy and Kim did all the work.
Jimmy is watching it on the TV behind the front desk as he signs in at Sandpiper Crossing Assisted Living, the future home of Hector “Tio” Salmanaca. He’s going to see Mrs. Landry. Lest we forget this show is more Catholic than the Father Dowling Mysteries and The Flying Nun combined, Mrs. Landry has a gory painting of Jesus on the cross – the kind that might even drip real blood and traumatize the grandkids. “Thy will be done,” Jimmy tells the painting upon completion of his work.
Mrs. L. looks in her purse and in her cookie jar, but can only pony up $43. Jimmy seems embarrassed to be shaking her down (especially in front of Jesus and all). She mentions trying to get an “advance” on her “allowance.” He tells her they’ll call it an even $120, and she can mail him the rest. But after he walks out, he doubles back to find out what she meant by “allowance.” Turns out Sandpiper Crossing gets her Social Security and pension check. They take out fees plus expenses and put the rest in her savings account. It’s all about making life easier. Sure it is, Jimmy thinks. Soon he’s gathered a few of her fellow inmates and is examining their invoices. The print is so small Jimmy can barely read it, even with borrowed super-strength official old people reading glasses.
Next stop, Chuck’s. Chuck is annoyed about the wills Jimmy left. He’s oblivious that Jimmy was trying to make him feel useful, get his mind onto something besides his imaginary disease… and just as oblivious that Jimmy might try to do good once in a while. Instead, Chuck assumes Jimmy is trying to trick him into working for him for free. Jimmy doesn’t defend himself. But when Jimmy starts to tell Chuck about the old folks home ripping off residents, damn if it doesn’t wet his brother’s legal appetite. Jimmy shows him an invoice: $14 for a box of Kleenex, $3.50 for a roll of toilet paper. Have they been shopping at that bodega by the subway?
The next time Jimmy shows up at Sandpiper, they won’t let him in. Plus, he can hear them shredding in the office. He uses the IBS card to get in the bathroom, where he starts composing a letter. As he doesn’t have any paper left on his legal pad, he writes on cardboard and finishes on toilet paper, before being tossed out by two burly guards while shouting about “spoliation,” which is a legal term for illegally destroying evidence. Now, they’ve made Jimmy angry – for justice!
Meantime, over at Mike’s parking lot booth, Stacy, the daughter-in-law, calls and wants to know if he can babysit Kaylee. Can he ever! He’s so excited he raises the gate and waves a car through without even asking for his precious tickets!
Night falls, and Jimmy – still wearing his Matlock pants, clean white shirt and a tie – dumpster dives into the trash bin at Sandpiper in search of shredded gold. Two workers dump more garbage, which lands on top of him. Looks like shit, but it’s probably chocolate pudding. Oh, the white pants! Oh, the humanity! It’s like Tim Robbins swimming through the sewer in The Shawshank Redemption. Then he gets a call from Rick Schweikart (sounds like Shrinkheart), a suspender-wearing corporate attorney (the worst kind), who manages to threaten, belittle and dismiss Jimmy all while still keeping it professional. Turns out the shreddings aren’t even in the dumpster. They’re in the nice clean recycling bin! Jimmy really can’t catch a break.
Then Jimmy burns the midnight oil, literally, because he’s taken his haul to Chuck’s electricity-free place, which is roomier than office/apartment behind the nail salon. After debating the legality of searching through the garbage (legal as long as “a hobo can use it as a wigwam”), Chuck makes coffee and helps him out. Jimmy falls asleep. Chuck keeps going as night turns into day. When Jimmy wakes up, it’s a miracle! Chuck has reassembled several pages and is excited about one particular invoice – syringes from Nebraska – that he calls “a smoking gun.” Suddenly, there is an “us” working on the case. Jimmy done good, and Chuck wants in!
Jimmy goes outside to call Kim because they need copies of a lot of case law. He offers her Howard’s code for the copying – “1933. The year Hitler came to power.” She says no because that would get her fired, so he gets Chuck’s. Because not even Kim trusts Jimmy, she asks if Chuck knows he’s using his code. Jimmy tells her they’re working together and it’s going to be big. She questions whether Chuck is up to it, and whether he can do that given his contract with HHM, which only covers his working outside the firm on pro bono and small claims, but she agrees to get him the papers and keep quiet about it.
How’s Mike’s babysitting going? We see him smiling! Mike! Smiling! This has happened when before? When Stacy comes home, she brings up the money she found after Mattie died and asks him if she can spend it. He tells her if it would do her or Kaylee any good, she should. She’s relieved because money is tight, but, “It’s only a drop in the bucket.” Thus leading to Mike’s life of crime.
After receiving some “revised” demands on the fax machine, Shrinkheart and his posse show up for a meeting at Chuck’s. Jimmy makes them leave their electronics outside – much the way Mafioso would leave their guns. He seats them at the now cleared dining room table, and then he gives Chuck, waiting in the next room and almost paralyzed with anxiety, a pep talk, reminding him he just has to sit there and look intimidating.
Shrinkheart reminiscences about a case they both worked on and how brilliant Chuck was. Chuck doesn’t seem to remember until Shrinkheart mentions the cases he sited. Shrinkheart then twists the knife, saying he thought he’d be before the Supreme Court one day – unsaid, “… instead of at a dining room table with your ambulance-chasing brother.”
They get down to it. Shrinkheart claims nothing rises to the level of fraud and they’re willing to offer $46K to cover the clients’ losses. Heck, they’ll make it an even $100K for the legal “expenses.” Jimmy, doing the well rehearsed talking, drops the bombshell. The syringes were purchased in Nebraska – another state – making this interstate fraud and prosecutable under RICO. Shrinkheart and posse confer, then come back asking what Jimmy and Chuck want. Before Jimmy can answer, Chuck does: “Twenty million dollars or we’ll see you in court.”
Looks like they’re going to court, which, uh, might be a little difficult for Chuck. Jimmy, who thought “big” was one or two million, confers with his brother after the others leave. Chuck is manically talking about the case, which he has now taken charge of, and is barking orders at Jimmy.
What’s our favorite parking lot attendant up to? He’s bringing a shelter dog to Albuquerque’s most criminally connected veterinarian, who clearly is not all bad as he believes puppy mill owners deserve to rot in hell. Mike mentions maybe taking advantage of the vet’s previous work offer. Dr. Slimey wants to know what Mike’s “wills and won’ts” are. Mike tells him, “You tell me what you got. I’ll tell you what I’ll do.”
Jimmy returns to Chuck, exhausted from doing all the legwork while still hustling up clients for his little practice. Chuck asks about the “code provisions.” Jimmy left them in the trunk of his car and will get them as soon as he’s closed his eyes for a couple of seconds. He hits the couch and falls asleep. Chuck needs his paper and, without even realizing what he’s doing, steps out of the house into the sunlight, retrieves Jimmy’s car keys from the mailbox, and opens his trunk. Jimmy hears the door, wakes up, and steps outside.
Jimmy calls out to Chuck, and suddenly Chuck is Wyle E. Coyote recognizing he has stepped over the cliff.
The harmless nature sounds are gone, and we get a shot from Chuck’s point-of-view, in which his home appears to be an impossible distance away. Cut to Jimmy and the THUD of someone falling. Please, don’t be dead, Chuck! (Spoiler: Chuck isn’t dead.)
In addition to Mrs. L’s painting, what other evidence of religious allegory do we find this week? Jimmy continues to do his good deeds, for which there is no earthly reward, in secret. Spoliation – is also used in ecclesiastic law to refer to churches being plundered. The garbage dump can be seen as a reverse baptism. Stacy mentions leaving the money in “the collection plate.” The veterinarian speculates on hell and who belongs there.
How was this episode different from all other episodes? No montage sequence, and while we got a lot of sound – photocopiers, Coleman lamp whoosh, shredded paper crinkling, birds, etc. – we only got about 15 seconds of music on the soundtrack.
We are so being set up for some horrible betrayal of Jimmy. The only question is whether it’ll come by the end of the 1st season.