‘Better Call Saul’ Continues to Find Jimmy Slippin’ (TV REVIEW)

[rating=8.00] “50% Off”

Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould can do so much with so little. Even the tangential, in their hands, becomes something more, something richer than it seems at first glance. In their world, the tiniest event can become the inciting incident that brings us down new paths and opens their themes up in shocking ways.

Take Saul’s bright idea about offering 50% off legal services for non-violent felonies. In episode one, this felt like a throwaway line, something small to show us how Jimmy is thinking more like a salesman than a lawyer. His offering of that deal to a line of miscreants disappointed that they missed out on his free cell phone seemed, at the time, a sign of desperation, something that showed us only how Jimmy was approaching his new career trajectory.

Now it feels like a linchpin. There seems to be a direct through line between his handing out his cards to disappointed nogoodniks and his fear of Lalo that we saw in Breaking Bad. But it’s even richer than that. It speaks not only to Jimmy’s character but to Gilligan and Gould’s larger thesis about the spread of corruption. Theirs is a world where malice spirals out from an epicenter to affect everything around them. It’s a kind of butterfly effect of evil; a lawyer hands out a card and creates the conditions for a hurricane.

In this case, Jimmy’s desperation for clients led to two young idiots to see his 50% off deal as a license to be idiots. “Fifty percent off!” they screamed as their petty crime spree, seeing the cheap services as a way to get out of whatever trouble they might find themselves in thanks to their misdeeds. It’s a solid metaphor for the central thesis of Better Call Saul, for sure. Jimmy’s grandiose promises creates a corrupt bubble for those who cross his path as his sickness spreads in subtle ways until it eventually spreads far enough to put Jimmy back in the crosshairs of the Salamanca family.

We don’t necessarily need the reminder of how close the competing stories of Better Call Saul actually are, though for the last couple of seasons they’ve been drifting further and further apart. When was the last time Mike and Jimmy even saw each other? He’s been busy with Fring. Nacho’s been busy trying to stay alive. And all of them have been circling the growing threat of Lalo.

But the two aforementioned idiots find themselves bridging the gap. In the process we learn more about how the Salamancas operate their meth empire. Things are back to normal for them after Juan Bolsa accepts Fring’s apologies for the lower quality meth—which was of course a lie meant to cover Fring’s sueprlab—and Nacho is settling into his role overseeing the count.

That puts him in a bit of a spot, with Fring becoming increasingly impatient with the lack of progress on the Lalo front. Chastened by a late night home invasion and threats made against his father, Nacho, now revealed to be behind stepping on the Salamanca’s meth, has to ingratiate himself to Lalo in order to gain as much information as possible for Gus to use.

This sets up one of the tensest scenes Better Call Saul has ever done when the two idiots on a petty crime spree come to buy 10 packets of meth. The problem starts when their drugs get stuck in a drainpipe and they begin to make a fuss. News of this reaches Krazy 8, deep in a poker game with Lalo and Nacho, who has to leave to take care of the problem. Unfortunately for Krazy 8, the cops pull up at an inopportune moment, leaving him holding 10 packages and leaving the trap room wide open for suspicion.

For Nacho, however, this is an opportunity. The cops are in the process of taking the trap room, and all the drugs with it. Sensing a chance to get in Lalo’s good graces, doing as Gus told him, “Whatever it takes,” he sneaks into the empty apartment through the roof while the cops gather outside. With no room for error, he manages to get in and out without getting caught, despite how close it came, earning a place with Lalo’s circle of trust.

This also means that Krazy 8 needs a lawyer. Who else would Nacho turn to? Jimmy, fresh off a series of wins against the ADA, just trying to enjoy some ice cream, is approached by Nacho and a cohort and forced into a car, once again putting Jimmy/Saul in league with the cartel just as his career is taking off.

It’s an interesting through line to see develop. Jimmy’s decision to become a sleazy defense attorney plays an indirect role in the arrest of someone who’s never even met him, once again displaying the corruption thesis of Gilligan and Gould. Evil cannot exist in a vacuum and once in motion it creates a whirlpool effect, drawing the unsuspecting in. It also shows how shortsighted Jimmy actually is. He’s never been one to think too hard about the rippling consequences of his actions. In his world, a seemingly benign act like offering a 50% discount can set off a chain of events that leads him into a world of danger he’s incapable of properly dealing with.

And in the end, it’s his shortsightedness that causes his downfall. In Walter, Saul saw someone from whom he could make some money. He didn’t allow himself to see the bigger picture. He never does. It’s the fatal flaw and the source of his ultimate corruption. As ever, while the outcome is already pre-determined, the journey has a lot to be revealed. Two episodes in and Better Call Saul’s fifth season is already shaping up to be thrilling.

Better Call Saul airs Mondays a 9/8 central on AMC.

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