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

Slippin’ Jimmy is back as Better Call Saul hurtles toward rock bottom

Desert, sky, the back of a billboard along a road, and Mike getting out of his car
Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut (Photo: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Uncle Bryn, on the BBC comedy Gavin & Stacey, once described a colorful acquaintance with the memorable sentence: “He died whilst faking his own death.” As Jimmy lay on the floor in the Wexler-McGill offices, amusing himself with an extorted guitar, I thought about that line. Our hero went full Slippin’ Jimmy tonight, planting a drumstick on the floor of the music store and executing a perfectly cartoonish ass-over-teakettle. He writhes on the floor complaining about his back, the go-to injury for the litigious. Super subjective, impossible to disprove.

Only thing is: Jimmy really did hurt his back. Injured whilst faking his own injury. That’s the state of Jimmy McGill, suspended lawyer, as he moves from side hustles to make his half of the rent, to full-on intimidation for anyone who dares call his bluff. No one complains more loudly about injustice than the one who’s getting exactly what he deserves.

It’s a steep slope for Slippin’ Jimmy. We’re reminded in the cold open, which takes place back in his scamming Cicero days with partner Marco (Mel Rodriguez, always a welcome presence on my television), how deep was his disdain for his straight-shooting father. While the two wait for cops to pass by so they can leave the shuttered McGill store with Jimmy’s lucky coin collection, bait for farm-equipment conventioneers ripe for a con, Jimmy corrects Marco’s mistaken impression of his dad. He wasn’t beloved, Jimmy says. He was a soft touch, never taking advantage of the breaks that came his way. Instead, if a customer paid with a rare coin, ignorant of its value, Mr. McGill would move heaven and earth to try to get it back to him. The lesson Jimmy learned was the opposite: When the cruel world gives you a little opening, pry it open and grab everything that isn’t nailed down.

Only a sucker just takes no for an answer when the suspicious music store owners decide they don’t want the elite package from Saul Goodman Productions after all. Only a sucker shuts up and takes what the petty tyrant of community service trash pickup dishes out, figuring that there’s no choice but to play by his rules. What Jimmy learned from a father who never got ahead that way was that you have to take control of the game and change the rules to suit yourself. In the music store instance, he unloads the rest of his ad buy—back to square one, with a go-away gift in the bargain. But in the community service instance, he makes a tidy sum for including Mr. Rhymes With Mug Mealer in his threatened litigation. A wad of cash sure seems to ease his pain.

Jimmy’s fake/real injury parallels Chuck’s imagined/real pain—and Chuck, too, has moved to a new stage in his relationship to himself. With the help of Dr. Cruz, he is acclimating himself to electromagnetic fields, using pharmaceutical and behavior techniques to reduce the sensation of pain. He really has come to terms with the psychosomatic nature of his condition. But having had this reality demonstrated to him, he’s proceeding in a way that’s pure Chuck: minimizing his distress to maximize his mastery, proclaiming himself an outlier so that he can claim a remarkably speedy recovery, rushing through the process so he can preside over courtrooms and dining rooms alike—those venues where he is used to deference and praise.

While Jimmy and Chuck let those ugly parts of themselves curdle, Nacho—in the episode’s most heart-stopping sequences—is fully invested in a desperate gamble for his father’s soul. This season should be remembered for long, methodical, and nearly wordless stretches where tension rises to a fever pitch through pure cinematics. Here we are made to understand the stakes by watching Nacho practice palming the pill bottle and tossing it into a jacket pocket as he passes—failing again and again, until his father interrupts him to start the day’s work. Then he gets one shot to do it for real, in a sweltering restaurant with Hector at his back, executing the switch with shaking hands and frayed nerves. Michael Mando’s performance here ought to get him an Emmy nomination. His Nacho is the character I now most want to escape this closed circuit of disaster, like Jesse in Breaking Bad.


Nacho’s trying to get himself some breathing room, at least, even if it’s a terrifying risk. Kim and Mike? They’re digging themselves in deeper, because they feel like they have no choice. Mike needs Gus’ help to launder his illicit income, and Kim is out to prove herself by taking on another client, Gatwood Oil, even though she’s working round the clock for Mesa Verde. When Kim slips—not on purpose—I might have to spend some time lying on the floor myself.

Stray observations:

  • Many thanks to my partner in life, the master, Noel Murray, for filling in two weeks ago, when I was out of the country. If you’re not reading his recaps of Twin Peaks and The Leftovers for The New York Times, please hightail it over there just as soon as you’re done with this one.
  • Another of those beautiful wordless sequences occurs just after the cold open, with Mike out in the desert with his metal detector. He seems to be tying up loose ends from the Regalo Halado truck operation, in which Salamanca’s men killed (and presumably buried) the good Samaritan who stopped to help the driver. Interesting tidbit from when he calls the cops: It happened on tribal land.
  • My absolute favorite moment in this episode involves Francesca, holding down that receptionist desk. When Kim shuts the door to her office after leaving Jimmy on the floor, Francesca pulls out a travel magazine, only to quickly hide it again when Kim unexpectedly reappears.
  • Kim is playing a dangerous game, goaded by pride. Sure, it’s satisfying as hell when she shows up Howard in front of his clients (“Sit, I insist,” she parrots back to him). But Howard is wounded, angry about having his clients questioning the firm after Chuck’s condition was exposed. His patronizing attitude toward Kim is galling, no doubt about it, but she might be better off sucking it up and winning in the courtroom rather than sparring at the valet stand.
  • Have we seen those rocking chairs and basket of yarn in Jimmy’s office before? What a perfect touch. Make the grannies feel right at home.
  • Like everybody else with a new guitar, Jimmy is playing “Smoke On The Water.” But unlike everybody else with a new guitar, Jimmy’s is signed by the one and only Ritchie Blackmore, the originator of that riff!
  • Of all the ways that Jimmy takes that community-service kapo down a notch, my favorite is his threat to the “pinhole of a reputation you have down at the bowling alley on Glo-Ball Sunday.”
  • “If it’s not real, then what have I done?