Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Alliances form as Better Call Saul heads for a two-front war

Michael McKean as Chuck McGill, Kimberly Hebert Gregory as ADA Kyra Hay (Photo: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)
Michael McKean as Chuck McGill, Kimberly Hebert Gregory as ADA Kyra Hay (Photo: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

If characters on TV were good at walking away from investments of time and energyfrom jobs, marriages, quixotic quests, vendettaswe’d have a lot less great drama. The title of this episode refers directly to one of Kim’s lines as she promises to stand by Jimmy, but it applies to the thought processes of Chuck, Jimmy, and Mike equally well.

“Sunk Costs” sets the table for two plotlines we’re likely to see play out for the next few weeks: Jimmy’s fight against the criminal charges pressed by Chuck, and Mike’s vengeance against the Salamanca organization for threatening his family. Both men are given a chance to walk away, and both are unwilling to leave behind their investments. And so they decide to fight on, preferring the risks of staying in the arena to the losses they’d incur by taking the proffered deals.

And both have alliesto their surprise. Gus warns Mike off Hector Salamanca, but offers to look the other way if Mike repeats his truck-robbing stunt. “An associate of an associate,” Gus cryptically describes Hector. Mike realizes, though, that Hector must be a competitor, not an ally, and that Gus for some reason doesn’t want him taken out. Hector’s continued existence is good for Gusbut it’s also good for Gus if Hector doesn’t prosper. A hit to the Salamanca business helps Gus out, and gives Mike a chance to exact another measure of revenge. “I’m not done with Hector Salamanca,” Mike declares as he rejects Gus’ idea and offers his own.

Instead of robbing the truck (the attendant civilian casualties last time, as Gus points out, are cause for regret), Mike arranges to have customs authorities at the border do the job for him, with an elaborate and highly entertaining set-up at a lonely intersection on the Mexican side. It’s the one where Hector’s men stop to cache their weapons before they get to the crossing. As their truck passes under a telephone wire, Mike snipes the toe of a sneaker he had earlier tossed over the wire, releasing a powdery stream of drugs onto the bumper of the truck. To inure Hector’s guys to that shot, he fired off a few shots into the air while they were stashing the guns, leading them to conclude that hunters were in the area. Long story short, drug-sniffing dog alerts, cops swarm the drivers, and now we understand what we saw in the cold open: much later (months? years?) it’s a Los Pollos Hermanos truck passing through that intersection on the way to the border, as Mike’s sneaker laces finally give way. Mike hurt Hector, and in the process, he changed the territorial map of the drug trade and gave Gus an edge.

That cold open is a classic of Vince Gilligan’s Albuquerque duet. At first, it appears simply atmospheric, and would have been noteworthy just at that. Look how many angles we get on those faded red high-tops: into the sun, straight down from overhead, at immense distance, close enough to see the laces fraying. Sound design is wind, otherworldly thrum of wires strung tight, roar of the approaching truck, and finally the quick little thud of the sneakers hitting dirt. That would be enough for most prestige television, where the inscrutable, foreboding cold open is practically part of the genre convention. How much greater is it, then, that Gilligan and Peter Gould double back to it, revealing that it was a secret flash-forward? Not that we would have known to look before the credits, but yep—that little bullet hole in the toe is visible. And in an excess of generosity, we are blessed with the visual of Mike winding up to bolo those shoes at the wire three times, from the same wide range of angles as in the open.

It’s “la venganza,” as the free-clinic receptionist says to Gus’ doctor contact before he fills Mike’s rather vague drug order. She could be talking about Jimmy, too, who’s ready to fight back after enduring the humiliation Chuck has carefully designed for him: arrest, booking, the jeers of DDA Oakley (“getting fingerprinted with the hoi polloi!”), a night in lockup, shackles and an orange jumpsuit, and the pity of a judge before whom he once argued cases (“not how I’m used to seeing you in here”). He’s determined not to drag Kim down with him, refusing her help in open court at the arraignment and then hamming his way through a speech he clearly rehearsed in the cab on the way to the office (“We’ve worked too hard to let Chuck’s bullshit vendetta wreck everything we’ve built! I will fix this! Me! Jimmy McGill!”). But in a beautiful callback to the first-season cigarettes the two shared in the HHM carpark, she takes his hand in silhouette in front of a golden glass wall. Chuck’s still after Jimmy, but Jimmy doesn’t have to fight alone. Sweetest team-up ever.


The question going forward is how underhanded Kim’s willing to be to help Jimmy wriggle out of Chuck’s no-win scenario, which boils down to a) take the plea deal he’s crocodile-teared the out-of-town prosecutor into offering, which means pleading guilty to a felony and getting disbarred, or b) fight the charges in court and risk jail time and disbarment if he loses. She references Viktor-with-a-K (and Jimmy calls her Giselle in response), and last week she roped herself with Jimmy by taking his $20 retainer and opening up the lines of privileged communication. But the Kim that the creators have been at pains to show us so far this season is obsessed with dotting i’s and crossing t’s. She’s even sleeping at the office, in her clothes, and showering across the street at the gym (as we see in a fantastic martial-arts-style montage set to the cinematic “Alfonso Muskedunder” by Todd Terje, full of snap zooms and extreme close-ups), to get Mesa Verde done right. Seems likely that her alliance with Jimmy will undermine that case, the one that their whole practice is riding onand that she’ll have to stray into the ethical shadows where his shortcuts often take him. Loyalty is admirable, but they call it the fallacy of sunk costs for a reason.

Stray observations:

  • Even though this episode is more about maneuvering the pieces into place for coming confrontations, there are still marvelous, infuriating, and delightful character moments. Just look at Chuck’s two sanctimonious speeches—to Jimmy on the curb (“please understand that I’m trying to help you”), and to the out-of-town prosecutor (“you know, Jimmy has a good heart”).
  • Said prosecutor (“Boss used the words ‘tough but fair’” comments Oakley around a mouthful of Jimmy’s fries) is ADA Kyra Hay from Belen, and is played by Kimberly Hebert Gregory of HBO’s Vice Principals. If Jimmy and Kim are going to fight, we’ll see a lot more of her in the coming episodes, and I’m pretty excited about that.
  • It’s so satisfying to watch Chuck’s smug face curdle into fear as Jimmy flatly informs him (repeating his own opening: “Here’s what’s going to happen”) that he’ll die alone in a hospital being tortured by whirring, beeping machines.
  • How about Giancarlo Esposito all in black on that desert highway? What a look, especially when the director shoots him from an extreme low angle, framed against that big sky that lends such a distinctive spaciousness to this show.
  • Francesca’s turning out to be a treasure. What other receptionist would have touched up the edges on the WM logo in Jimmy’s absence?
  • Jimmy had his angle on Oakley all figured out, bringing that tempting burger to his usual spot scarfing down two bags of chips and vending-machine coffee. Trans fats “are the best fats,” he sighs happily when Jimmy demurs.
  • Speaking of Oakley, he’s kinda obsessed with Davis & Main, which makes me wonder if he’ll hook up with them somehow in the future, or try to. First he remarks on Jimmy’s idiocy in leaving that firm, then he asks if they might be hiring, and finally asks if Jimmy got to keep the company car.
  • I love that so many cars in Gilligan’s Albuquerque are instantly recognizable because they are so very lame (like Walt’s Pontiac Aztek). That big stupid spoiler in the Wexler-McGill parking lot means Ernesto is back!
  • “Just so you know, this isn’t a typical week around here.”