This episode needs to come with a special content warning: BELOVED CHARACTER’S PLANS WRECKED BY SELFISH IDIOT (BCPWSI). I swear, few things on television send me into as steep a tailspin. The night before I watched “Wexler v. Goodman,” I caught up on the episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel where (spoiler coming, skip down to the next paragraph if you must) Sophie Lennon just trashes the opening night of Miss Julie while Susie watches in horror from the audience, powerless to stop the destruction of everything she’d worked so hard to build. That one-two punch left me gutted and enraged at the same time.
It’s not just the betrayal and the out-of-control nightmare spiral that the two episodes have in common. Both turn on theater — doubly so, in the case of Better Call Saul. There’s the suite of commercial solicitations that Jimmy directs, with big auteur energy, to put pressure on Mesa Verde. We, the audience, knew that all of that activity wasn’t going to vanish without us seeing the results. And from a character perspective, Jimmy can’t possibly let it get memory-holed; he invests way too much of his identity in the performance, the spectacle, the excess of his attack-on-all-fronts approach. He just can’t stop giving in to the voice in his head: “They think they’re so much better than me. This’ll show ‘em!” So he talks himself into believing that his beautiful commercials can serve a dual purpose: convincing Rich that he and Kim aren’t in cahoots.
Contrast the way Kim commits to investing herself — by sacrificing, rather than indulging. Her idea is that she’ll write a check to make up the difference between Mesa Verde’s highest offer and what will make Acker take the deal. She eats crow to mend the relationship with Rich, too; that couldn’t have been easy after she made a point of publicly challenging him. Kim’s position is that she can fix it if she’s willing to do what she shouldn’t have to do, what a more prideful person would think is beneath her. Kim will face the situation head-on and carry through, just like we see in the lovely cold open where she sets off to walk home three miles with a cello on her back, rather than get in the car with her neglectful (and buzzed) mom.
That’s what stings so badly about the disastrous meeting at Mesa Verde. Jimmy has no conception of how much Kim has given up, how hard she has worked, to get everybody to the table ready to move on. Turns out he is the only person who is not ready to move on. He reminds me of Rod Blagojevich, a gem in his pocket, determined to extract the maximum value from it. It galls him to think that the Navajo photographer he tracked down based on the photos from inside Kevin’s house could go unused. In Jimmy’s world, if you can dream up a play, you have to use it. He’s the Anton Chekhov of nail salon lawyers.
Luckily, over in the drug-dealing storyline, we have Mike going to work and getting it done, no nonsense, no stress. Like he tells Nacho, who’s looking at Scylla Salamanca and Charybdis Fring on either side, the first thing to do is take care of Lalo like Gus wants. So we get to see him patiently triangulating: “reminding” the TravelWire customer of the car she saw, asking her to report it to the detective who interviewed her, maneuvering a hit-and-run report about the same car onto the detective’s desk, and radioing in Lalo’s location thank to Nacho’s surveillance. Boom, Lalo’s picked up and off the streets (though probably not for long). With some breathing room, what kind of escape plan will Nacho and Mike concoct? Two desperate men, both flirting with nihilism, both hanging on only because of people they love — we know Mike’s not going to get out of Gus’s clutches, but maybe Nacho still has a chance.
So what are we to make of Kim’s astonishing final proposal? “We are at a breaking point,” she says, and it’s about that old standby of narrative conflict: trust. Thank goodness she never says that word; whenever a TV show manufactures drama in a relationship by having a character tell another “I don’t think I can trust you anymore,” my eyes roll so hard you could stick a magnet in them and generate electricity. But here I did not even think about that toxic word “trust” until I started to write this paragraph. And it’s all because we watched that trust being broken, felt it in our bones. The creative team showed instead of telling. Going back to what I wrote last week about Kim and Jimmy’s differing approaches to words versus action, that’s both completely on brand and a remarkable accomplishment.
“I don’t believe you. You don’t believe yourself,” Kim observes. So there are only two ways they can go: their separate ways, or headfirst together into the lies.
- Little Kim in the cold open flashback sets her jaw and drums her fingers in a very familiar way when her mom tries to coax her in the car.
- “I just feel like if we get out there and we hustle, we can do it,” Jimmy pleads, trying to somehow conjure his vision into existence without any outlay of resources, and sounding remarkably like my associate dean.
- One of my favorite things about Saul Goodman is that he allows Jimmy to indulge all his alter egos. Tonight: the auteur! Just watch him posing his actors in front of the green screen like he’s a photographer at Olan Mills, and coaxing just the right reading of “bare genitals”: “Conversational, to me, like a friend. But there’s fear there, emotion — will no one save you? But throw it away.”
- Mike uses the alias Dave Clark for his private investigator character. As in the Five? Were we previously aware that Mike is an aficionado of the Tottenham Sound?
- Poor Howard. There’s no indication that he’s anything but sincere in offering Jimmy a job, and for his trouble he gets humiliated in front of the whole country club.
- Jimmy is muddling through “Smoke on the Water” on his electric guitar when Kim comes home, because of course he is.
- Just a gorgeous shot when Kim pulls up outside the nail salon. In the bottom left of the frame she turns off the car and the interior light comes on as she pauses, mentally getting ready, while over her shoulder we see the nail salon ablaze with the light, people milling about doing Jimmy’s bidding.
- “This is like watching a walk-off home run just drift foul.”