I pulled out my notes to start writing this review, saw the name of the episode, and started grinning like a giddy fool. How in heaven’s name does this show know with such uncanny accuracy how to make me happy?
“Coushatta” is an in-depth case study of something Better Call Saul — and Breaking Bad before it — have always known and constantly represented to us: what it means to be willing to put in the work. I can’t think of this theme without remembering what Teller (of Penn & Teller) once said about doing magic. People are always looking for the trick. But the trick, sometimes, is being willing to go to such insane lengths to pull something off that no one would believe it.
That’s what Kim’s nutso plan to send Jimmy to Louisiana and do a Miracle on 34th Street on Judge Munsinger is — a shoot-the-moon ploy so out of proportion to the case and its humble venue that no one can fathom anyone undertaking it. And remember, as much as it’s very Slippin’ Jimmy to enlist his fellow bus passengers (every single one of whose names he learns) to write the letters, Kim comes up with this con all on her own. She knows that her very presence annoys this particular judge; he’s the one who warned her not to hang around his courtroom casting her version of The Verdict. (Gotta respect Hizzonor’s taste in classic films.) Using him to put pressure on ADA Ericsen to resolve the case is a brilliant stroke.
But then, my friends! The real next-level genius move, the true spirit of the con artist, is knowing that the DA will respond by going all out to avoid caving to Kim’s demand. She also has an idea of what it means to be willing to put in the work, but her idea is about getting a return on sunk costs. She’s taken a stand on this case, and needs to redeem that personal investment. So she pulls everybody in her office away from their work to get to the bottom of this Babineux thing. Imagine, all that energy for a guy getting hit by a sandwich.
And Jimmy is ready. It’s not clear from the episode whether he contributed this backstop to Kim’s letter-writing campaign, but judging from the way it makes inspired use of all his resources, I’m going to give him the credit. Dozens of phones labeled with the names and backstories of letter signatories, which Jimmy carefully tracked in his notebook on the bus. The local college film crew he used to shoot his commercials, engaged for the day to answer phones in those personas and sing Huell’s praises. And the pièce de résistance, the touch that had me reeling with delight: a fake church website featuring a slideshow of Huell the pious community servant and local hero, complete with a donation ticker for his defense. At a key moment, as “Pastor Hanford” regales the DA with the story of how Huell saved senior citizens from a fire, Jimmy signals one of the college students waiting with his laptop. Ding! The donated total goes up, leaving Erickson to contemplate busloads full of Free Will Baptists from the bayou rolling into Albuquerque to pack Judge Munsinger’s courtroom.
Mike has his own blind spot with regard to sunk costs. Despite the fact that Gus is the master of going to unthinkable lengths to hide an unimaginably audacious operation, Mike feels like they have come too far with their German crew to let Kai’s handsy entitlement at the strip club and Werner’s sociable loose lips at the bar derail them. He tells Gus that he gave Werner a “come to Jesus” and vouches for the crew’s stability under his leadership. I predict he’ll come to regret his lack of imagination about the prospect of hitting pause and changing teams, difficult as that is for anyone (other than Gus) to contemplate.
And hey, Nacho’s back! His story has also moved eight months forward, during which time he’s taken over the Salamanca operation in the ABQ and promoted Krazy-8 to fill his old position. The job comes with a fancy modernist house and hot-and-cold running junkie women draped over the furniture, but Nacho is stressed; that question his dad asked about when he’ll be out seems more unrealistic than ever. At the end of the episode a whole ‘nother Salamanca shows up from Mexico — Eduardo, bustling around the kitchen and interfering in the collections routine. No matter how far you rise, there’s always some smiling asshole who’ll slide into the slot above you because of connections. The underworld ain’t no meritocracy.
But it’s Kim for whom the connection between extra effort and desired results hits home. When she leaves Ericsen’s office after standing up to a rebuke of her “shock and awe” tactics, she draws a ragged breath; she’s not used to bluffing in her legal persona. But the payoff sends her sky-high. It’s not Huell walking with four months probation and time served that has her so elated; it’s the thrill of pulling off a job. Jimmy thinks they’ll head back to normalcy after their team-up caper — he looking at increasingly sad office locations, she in Mesa Verde meetings — but Kim has a clarifying moment in one of those meetings. Kevin and Paige think in terms of what’s practical, not what’s possible. They’ll never go to nonsensical lengths to get what they really want; they’ll always settle for a sensible alternative.
And that’s not what makes Kim feel alive. Sensibility be damned. “Let’s do it again.”
- Before Jimmy turns the bus into a production line, he tries to vary his handwriting — including at one point, writing with his left hand. Afterwards he has to direct the pieceworkers much as he directs the college students in his makeshift boiler room: “I like your passion, but could you tone down the anger?” “Don’t use swears … We’re going to have to lose that one.”
- Nacho has Manitoba driver’s licenses in his safe for himself and his dad. He’s got an exit strategy set up, but when will he find the chance to run?
- Mike’s willingness to cut Werner some slack is due to Werner taking an interest in him — teaching him German like we saw last week, asking about his family, comparing his relationship to his father to Werner’s dad’s work on the Sydney Opera House. We haven’t seen another man show such sensitivity toward Mike, only women like Stacey and Anita.
- Kim has Stereolab in her headphones while reviewing Huell’s file and staying strictly professional with Jimmy.
- Werner is sure that his sketch on the coaster is not a problem: “No detail, no scale at all!” He doubts the guys in the bar will even remember him. Mike has a more jaundiced take: “A German national. In the middle of Albuquerque. Talking about pouring tons of concrete in a secret location.”
- My favorite detail from Jimmy’s hilarious impersonation of the Coushatta pastor (“Free Will Baptist, Pastor Hanford speakin’, who dis?”) is his invention of Clarence, who practices the organ (“I’m just gonna step out into the vestibule”) and messes with the robes (“those are for communion!”). Have to admit I held my breath on that last one — Free Will Baptists would call it the Lord’s Supper, not communion — but ADA Ericsen doesn’t seem to have read up on sacramental theology.
- “I’ve got crawdads in ma pants!” Jimmy drawls when Kim demands more of the Louisiana accent in bed. “It’s a thing that happens to you when you’re sittin’ in the bayou.”
- “Saw your Esteem in the parking lot.”