February 16, 2015, 10:00 p.m. (EST), AMC
In its early going, Better Call Saul has been about the battle for the soul of Jimmy McGill. This is not an external battle, but a struggle between his inner demons and his better angels. Jimmy has done bad things in his life, and when his life gets hard, his default reaction is to do some more bad things. But Jimmy doesn’t want to be a bad guy. When he tells Chuck he wants to change in the episode opening flashback, its believable. This is a man who is prone to mistakes, but is self-aware enough to hate himself for it.
Though its never entirely clear, it appears that Jimmy is actually trying to be the good guy throughout “Nacho.” He calls Kim instead of Nacho, to warn her that her clients may be in danger. When that doesn’t work, he calls the Kettlemans themselves, trying to mask his voice with a paper towel tube, which humorously works so well they cannot understand him. And when Jimmy finally calls Nacho, it almost immediately becomes clear his goal is just to get the Kettlemans back safely, to “de-escalate the situation, legally and otherwise.” Jimmy is in the game this week, but not because he chose to do something bad. The worst he does is something desperate in a situation where his life might be in real danger. No, Jimmy finds himself pulled into this mess from simply trying to do the right thing.
The middle of this episode is a clash of world-views that hopefully will increasingly pay off as the show goes forward. Jimmy sees everyone in terms of their angle—everyone is either trying to gain something, keep something secret, or is engaged in a longer battle to get what they want. But Mike isn’t the same sort of cynical. He sees the world for what it is, and takes what comes matter-of-factly. He doesn’t make Jimmy go back for stickers all the time because he’s a miserable asshole. He does it because that’s his job, and if you bend, you become easier to break. But when he listens to Jimmy’s story, he also sees that as a logical explanation for what happened. So he lends the guy a hand. There’s no angle there. Just the truth trumping what could have been a petulant grudge.
For all that we see Jimmy as weak and cowardly, as willing to get ahead by using shortcuts, we also see him generally being a pretty good defense attorney, not because he has to be (he gets $700 a case either way), but because he wants to be that better version of himself. His fury at the prosecutor who was holding plea negotiations from the toilet over the wrong client is righteous; Jimmy doesn’t intimidate the guy into taking the deal because Jimmy is scary; it works because he is right. The truth, again and again, is the best weapon in Jimmy’s arsenal. He isn’t all that lucky or all that brave, but then, he doesn’t have to be. All he really has to be is correct, and good enough on his feet to convince the other person of the wisdom of his position.
Its hard to oversell the cleverness of this basic conceit, three episodes into a prequel, this idea that what motivates Jimmy at this point in his life is actually the better side of himself. We see the cowardice and greed and willingness to cut corners that will someday make him Saul Goodman, but we also see an honest desire to do good, to be better, to atone for his previous mistakes and become the sort of person he wants to be. Jimmy may take that hike in part to save his life, but that isn’t the whole story. He takes it at least as much because an innocent client is behind bars, and he knows just the way to get him out. No person is just one thing. But Better Call Saul wants us to know the man on the other end of that line, warts and all. We knew some of the bad stuff before, so this season, we’re seeing some of the good put on display as well.
- “Mom took it upon herself to call you! I was just…lettin’ her know where I was…”
- “If I was just a better person, I’d not only stop letting you down. I’d stop letting me down.”
- “I’m no hero.”
- “Nobody wants to leave home.”
Its hard to oversell the cleverness of this basic conceit, three episodes into a prequel, this idea that what motivates Jimmy at this point in his life is actually the better side of himself.