Better Call Saul: Wrong Notes (S2 E1 Recap)
This week on Better Call Saul the drama was more subtle and the comedy more deep than on our season premiere visit to purgatory – aka a mall in Omaha, but Jimmy’s tour de force performance in front of a couple of Albuquerque’s finest, reminded us of why Saul Goodman merited his own show, and Vince Gilligan’s direction proved that television is the new art house cinema.
We begin with Chuck. Last year when we saw him through his brother’s worshipful eyes, we accepted him as a model of moral rectitude, a kindly, long-suffering man who had done everything he could for wayward Jimmy. Now that we know otherwise, he looks bloated, distorted,and mean. Must be the lighting. He’s setting his metronome. Then he sits down to play the piano in his dark and lonely home. He stops himself each time he hits a discordant note, and we see the irritation and frustration on his face. We know that Jimmy is one big wrong note to him. The doorbell rings. It’s Howard bringing him groceries and ice. Is he is just checking in on his partner or is there to carefully deliver some news? Chuck asks about Sandpiper, which leads Howard to mention Davis & Main. Then Chuck asks about Jimmy, who was going to get a pay-off for bringing in the case, but wasn’t going to be working on it. Howard, drops the bombshell. Jimmy is working for Davis & Main. Chuck’s reaction is, “As what?” Howard walks a line. He never criticizes Chuck’s attitude toward his brother. He doesn’t even acknowledge it. He tells Chucks that he “didn’t pull any punches” about Jimmy’s “education” and “background” although we don’t know what he doesn’t know about Jimmy. Would Chuck have shared the Chicago sunroof incident? Howard makes the case for Jimmy. The clients love him and he brings “continuity. Howard places the bulk of the responsibility on Kim, but tells Chuck he “didn’t stand in the way.” When Chuck replies, “Of course not,” you can almost hear him muttering under his breath, “That’s my job.” He won’t openly admit how much he hates his brother, but we see it, and Howard knows it. Howard leaves but not before saying, “All set. All good,” because someone must say “s’all good” in every episode. Chuck returns to the piano, but he can’t play a note.
Next comes a meeting at HH&M with Davis & Main. Kim, who arranged the seating, is next to Jimmy. She taps her foot against his under the table. They meet to share a cigarette in the garage. She tells him she likes his new look. It doesn’t seem like they’ve seen each other since he left Albuquerque. They talk about all the perks of his cushy new job, and when he mentions maybe getting his own place, maybe something between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, it’s she who starts using the “we” word. He’s about to pick up his new company car. She has a present for him. It’s a car cup that says “World’s second best lawyer.” It fits perfectly into the holder of his Datsun, and even matches the color.
The new car, and a truck to take away the old one, are waiting in front of the Nail Salon. Did Jimmy arrange that so “the girls” and Mrs. Nguyen could see it? Probably. He doesn’t really exist without an audience. Mrs. Nguyen is not impressed. She sees through him.
Jimmy gets into the new car – a Mercedes no less. He looks up at the sunroof, and we know what he’s thinking. Jimmy tries to put his new cup into the holder. But he can’t jam it into place. No matter how hard he tries he can’t make it fit, just like he’ll never fit into his new life.
We catch up with Mike in his booth. We see his coffee cup, which is disposable and says nothing. The coffee inside is beginning to swirl, and the earth itself is shaking. It’s not an earthquake. It’s Daniel Wormald driving up in the “opposite of restraint” and he’s about to talk to the police about his stolen baseball cards.
Mike points out that Daniel is a criminal and it’s usually a good idea for criminals to avoid talking to the police. But just like the Kettlemans, or even Walter White at the beginning of his career, Daniel does not see himself as a criminal,or accept Mike’s wise council, putting Mike in an awkward position. The only way he can prevent Daniel’s talking to the police is to take on the case of the stolen baseball cards himself.
Jimmy is in his office, working like a real lawyer, when he hears someone playing the guitar. It’s his boss, Cliff Main. Will he be Jimmy’s cooler, better Chuck replacement? Jimmy goes over to Cliff’s office, which is open, and they talk a bit. When Jimmy’s about to leave, he mentions something he’s discovered in the documents. Sandpiper claims that the people suing them were all enrolled in an “optional allowance program” but the program actually seems to be a mandatory requirement for residency. Cliff tells him he might be onto something. Jimmy beams.
Speaking of things that fit in cars, Mike is over at a re-upholstery shop, looking to get new seat covers. The man running the shop is a salt of the earth type immigrant, concerned that Mike not only wants to spend too much money, but that he wants material that won’t even look right on his car – because you can’t change something’s nature by covering it up. When the shopkeeper runs out of English and Mike’s Spanish is exhausted, he gets his son to help. His son, is Nacho, who recognizes Mike and is not pleased to see him. He thinks he’s there to threaten his family, but Mike tells him he doesn’t need to do that. He can just tell Tuco that Nacho has his own side deal going, but he’s not going to do that either. He’s there to make him an offer and he has a plan, which could yield Nacho sixty thousand dollars.
Daniel and Mike, driving separate cars, meet with Nacho and his crew in front of the abandoned factory where Daniel signs over his car, and Nacho gives him his baseball cards back. Daniel is crestfallen when he realizes Nacho isn’t going to baby his precious, but is going to give it to the chop shop because it looks like “a school bus for six year old pimps.” Nacho also tells him their business is concluded. There’s no background music, but we hear the wind, and set against the stark New Mexico sun, the scene resembles a showdown in a western. When Nacho and his crew drive off, they kick up a storm of dust. Daniel, we realize has learned nothing from his experience, and gripes that the least Nacho could have done was apologize. Unlike Nacho, Mike’s business with Daniel isn’t quite over. The police keep calling Daniel, and he won’t be able to avoid them forever. So who’s the fixer going to call to fix this?
Meantime, there’s another meeting at HH&M. Jimmy is discussing the challenges of working with clients with “inconsistent organizational practices” but hard copies of everything going back to the Eisenhower administration. Anyone with parents or grandparents can relate. In the midst of this, an assistant comes in to whisper to Howard. Then he asks everyone to hand over their electronics. Jimmy and Kim both look at each other. They know what this means. The individual reading lights by each place are also turned off. Chuck’s presence is more disruptive than a yellow hummer with red stripes, yet he tells people to just “Pretend I’m not here.”
We can only watch this with dread, remembering how Jimmy lost it at bingo last season. He hasn’t seen Chuck since their confrontation, and for a moment our boy is speechless. Then he touches Kim, and he’s back. He goes on telling stories about gathering paperwork from his “pack rat” clients and how they’re “our best resource plus they have ribbon candy.” Everyone laughs in the right places. He’s nailed it. After the meeting, Jimmy asks Chuck why he’s there. Chuck says, “To bear witness.” Chuck is the Lady Mary Crawley of brothers. He’s miserable, and he will therefore make his brother’s life miserable. Jimmy’s phone rings, and steps away to take the call. What happened to all of Chuck’s symptoms? He’s not even sweating. It’s Mike calling, asking Jimmy if he’s still “morally flexible.” He replies, “Where and when?”
Why then and there? He could have said no. Is he afraid that the “good path” could turn to dust at any moment? Is immorality his drug? Does he craves a fix after seeing Chuck? Or is being bad simply the only way he feels authentic? Is the outlaw-verse the only place where he doesn’t feel like the cup that doesn’t fit? While the other lawyers all seem to accept him, to admire his skills, Chuck’s presence reminds him he’ll never be a “real” lawyer. Jimmy’s going back to what’s comfortable.
Jimmy and Daniel are in an interrogation room at the police station with wizened detectives, not the uniforms who responded to his call. The cops are doing exactly what Mike said they would, sweet-talking him, pretending to be interested in the minutia of his collection, and asking a lot of questions. Daniel tells them that he hired a private investigator who “found” his collection, so s’all good, though he doesn’t use those words. Jimmy sends Daniel out for a soda, so he can do his thing. And what a thing it is! If the show had been, as originally conceived, a half-hour comedy, we might be able to look forward to something like this week after week though this level of perfection would seem impossible to keep up. Jimmy weaves a complex tale, expertly offering his information in small bits, making the cops beg for more. It’s a performance that must be experienced. Like the “Chicago sunroof” Jimmy offers various colorful names for the “sensitive” videos made for a wealthy patron he claims Daniel was trying to hide, the one “of no concern to law enforcement.” He feigns incredulity that the cops have never heard of a “squat cobbler” or a “Boston creme splat” or a “Dutch apple ass.”
Later we see him and Kim on a bed, looking comfortable but not necessarily intimate with each other. He’s told her the story and she’s entertained by it until he mentions that he had Daniel make a video of himself sitting on a pie and crying. That’s fabricating evidence and for her that’s over the line. He could lose his job. He could get disbarred. He reminds her of swindling Ken into paying their tab, but she says that’s completely different. It’s a distinction that’s very difficult for Jimmy to grasp. She doesn’t tell him not to ever do it again, but she does tell him that she must never hear of this kind of thing again. Just as we know that Jimmy will give in to his dark side and become Saul Goodman, we also know he will lose Kim somewhere in the process. We’ve just gone from comedy to tragedy at light speed.