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Better Call Saul Episode 8 Review – ‘Rico’
Jimmy focused on the details this week as he latched onto a chance to make a small case big.
And why not? Jimmy’s doesn’t exactly have big cases dropping into his lap too often as someone who specializes in elder law. If he wants to become bigger than Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill he’s going to have to take risks.
For all the strides Jimmy is making in the right direction in his life, it seemed fitting to have the episode kicking off with a flashback showing us where this drive for success came from. There are two reasons, and let’s start with the main one: Howard Hamlin. Showing us the reason why Jimmy loathes Howard so much was not there to shock us, but to make us, the audience, feel anger and the hunger for vengeance towards him. Up until now, we have only heard from word of mouth of Hamlin’s conniving and disregard of Jimmy as a big-time lawyer. But now we see Howard in all his smarmy and patronising light when he informed Jimmy he wouldn’t be a lawyer there anytime soon. It was a great choice to have the scene contain no sound as well, and to just use their body language to tell the story: Jimmy – hopeful and innocent, while Howard – cocky, and fake.
But the HHM conflict will have to wait a while to come to fruition, as the flashback scene was more important to highlight the second reason why Jimmy wants to succeed in the straight life.
He wants to impress his brother Chuck, who gives Jimmy a side we haven’t really seen to him: envy.
In past episodes Chuck has shown he cares for Jimmy in a brotherly kind of way, but there is something deeper than that for Jimmy – he wants to be as valued and held in as high regard as his brother. For the second time in two episodes Jimmy made me feel empathy for him, not because he passed his bar exam but because he is displaying real weaknesses. He envies Chuck’s success, he wants his approval and not to be the black sheep of the family. Jimmy’s face when Chuck was pleased (and slightly baffled) seemed to give Jimmy greater satisfaction than it did passing the exam. His drive and determination in the present day is probably for that reason. It’s why that scene with Hamlin becomes earth-shattering for Jimmy as his dreams and aspirations are shot down over a wad of cake and a cheesy smile. But Jimmy didn’t stay down for long, no, he feeds off of this kind of ‘put down’ and he will point his drive in the right direction and do anything – even if it means searching for evidence in a dumpster. But it’s just another step towards success for Jimmy and he certainly does go about it in his own, let’s say, vibrant way.
Any ordinary lawyer would have turned a blind eye to the over-charges made by the old people residents. But Jimmy is aiming big, and his elder law career can’t be his line of work forever. We know his main goal is to topple HHM, so he will inevitably try to find a potentially massive case even in the smallest of details.
It’s such a testament to the writers of Better Call Saul that they have introduced such an original but believable conflict with the old people’s home or, as Tony Soprano would say, a “retirement community.” It honestly feels like Gilligan, Gould, and co. can find a story in a chewing gum packet at the moment. But the conflict between Jimmy and Sandpiper & Crossing, not only did service to Jimmy’s likeable determination and imagination, it served to further and grow the relationship between him and Chuck.
Chuck, for good reason before this episode didn’t really believe in Jimmy’s lawyer credentials, or that he would keep to the straight and narrow – again, for good reason (‘hello slippin’ Jimmy.’) But I believe after this week, Chuck realizes what the center of all his ‘illness’ was: Jimmy. When Chuck saw Jimmy with the pile of shredded paper and the will to actually piece them together again to make whole documents, Chuck, perhaps for the first time, believed what he was seeing. All of Jimmy’s questions of whether what he was doing is legal must have been the truth – not just a load of air and tomfoolery to convince Chuck he was going straight. It was so much of a weight off Chuck’s mind that it also shifted his ‘illness’ and finally rubber-stamped the premonition we had forged before: it’s all in Chuck’s head.
The last shot of Chuck dropping the box of papers wasn’t the high stakes, live or die ultimatum we were so accustomed to in Breaking Bad, but it still had the same effect of a cliff-hanger as it poses big and important questions: will Chuck now go back to HHM and ditch Jimmy? Or will he help him fight this conflict out? And how big is this case going to get with Rick Schweikart?
But for the moment, Jimmy seems to be dealing with these conflicts without any illegal tactics. He’s staying straight and there’s no reason why he would change now considering he just won back the respect of his brother. It gives weight to the question: how is Jimmy going to, well, ‘break bad’?
If he was going to stay in contact with the likes of Kim and Chuck, then Jimmy’s most likely going to stay straight as he respects them and wants to follow in their footsteps. So something drastic must happen to one or even both of them that transforms Jimmy into the sleazy Saul Goodman. It gives the show an air of unpredictability and lurking tension where we’re not sure entirely how or when Jimmy will head in that direction. In a sense, the writers have battled the hurdles of making an origin story, where we easily could have not cared about Jimmy’s situation now and just wanted to see him turn into Saul so we can get on with the good stuff. However, right now, it is producing the ‘good stuff.’ It feels like a different show – like it’s not even going to head in the direction of Saul, as I find myself so engrossed in the current conflicts of HHM, the Kettlemans, and Chuck that I forgot Jimmy was ever Saul. In itself, that’s an accomplishment.
What made this episode tick though was not only the superb writing from Gordon Smith, but the performances and chemistry between Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean. They’re both so convincing as brothers. McKean shows a clear affection for Odenkirk’s Jimmy while laying subtle gestures and dialogue hinting that he doesn’t fully believe Jimmy when he’s going on about how he’s changed. While Odenkirk is just getting more impressive by the week as he’s constantly finding new sides to Jimmy.
Odenkirk has come so far from his Saturday Night Live days. He delves into the different sides of Jimmy with ease, from the bubbly and innocent office worker at HHM, to the overly cocky, witty street hustler, and on to the confident yet naïve elder lawyer. You just get the sense: Odenkirk has fully inhabited this, like the likes of Daniel Day Lewis can do. And I don’t throw that kind of comparison around lightly.
It was nice to see a bit more of Mike even though it was brief, it seems like we are very soon going to get the old ‘fixer’ Mike back. I wonder if that Vet has connections to Gus Fring? Probably not, but possibly it could be in connection with Nacho, whose presence has been missed in the last few episodes.
Overall, it was another confidently paced episode, not throwing in cheap thrills or over the top plots involving drug cartels or violence for the sake of violence. Better Call Saul feels more like a show that knows where it’s going. It’s laying the seeds, constantly throwing us off track with clever little twists and turns, which sets up the final two episodes perfectly, even though there are too many dangling plot threads to by tied up in the last episodes. Considering Season 2 was announced before the show even aired, I think there will be plenty of conflicts and unanswered questions left wide open in Season 1’s finale.
For now though, praise the Lord they didn’t cross cut those documents!
Next week, we have the penultimate, ninth episode – ‘Pimento’ where Chuck wants Jimmy to accept a harsh truth and Mike’s ability to complete a job comes into question.