Monday, April 24, 2017

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Jimmy Faces the Consequences of His Actions Against Chuck in 'Sunk Costs'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 3.03 "Sunk Costs"

Jimmy decides to represent a new client, much to Kim's dismay. Mike meets a formidable ally who presents an enticing offer.

Much like Breaking Bad, each episode of Better Call Saul produces an effective cold open that is largely self-contained but definitely sets the mood for the rest of the episode that follows. At times, it's abundantly clear what's happening in these sequences and why they are important to the main characters. Other times though, they are completely mysterious. That's absolutely the case at the start of "Sunk Costs." The hour opens with a pair of sneakers tied together hanging on a wire above an empty road in the middle of the Mexican desert. They've clearly been up there for awhile. A truck approaches and stops at a stop sign riddled with bullets. It's an ominous tease that something major has happened. It's just not abundantly clear what right away. The truck is from Los Pollos Hermanos. So, it clearly has a connection to Gus somehow. But the importance of this scene is purely seeing the sneakers finally fall to the ground. The elements haven't been too kind and the laces finally gave out. It's a nice, mysterious tease for the start of this episode. One that doesn't take too long to explain either.

The sneakers are up there in the first place because of Mike. He has his first meeting with Gus Fring. One day they will become partners in a criminal business. But right now, Mike is just putting a face to the person who doesn't want him to kill Hector. Gus explains how Mike is boxed into a corner at the moment. He can't kill Hector without dealing with the wrath of Gus. But he also can't do nothing because Hector threatened his family and killed an innocent man. Mike is wise enough to realize that Gus is Hector's competitor in the local drug trade. He doesn't want to take out his rival just yet. He just wants to encourage Mike to continue to disrupt Hector's business like he did when he hijacked the truck last season. Mike doesn't like it when others tell him what to do. And yet, he's also in a situation where he doesn't have as much control as he thought he did. He's not done with Hector yet. But now, he has this new guy to deal with as well. Gus could be a potential ally because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And yet, Mike still chooses to go about things on his own. That's the way he conducts business.

A lot of this season has been Mike as a silent badass. Jonathan Banks can convey so much emotion and understanding with just a concerned but well calculated look in the eyes. Mike is a very smart and capable guy. He only talks when he needs to. It's been fun seeing him enact these elaborate plans to get one over on his enemies. He's learned from his past mistake in hitting one of Hector's trucks. He can't risk anything going awry and producing collateral damage. So instead, he throws the shoes up onto the wire with drugs in one of them. When Hector's men come to drop off their weapons in the secret bunker, Mike shoots off a couple of bullets to make them believe that hunters are in the area. He makes sure they have a false sense of comfort when he ultimately shoots the sneaker to make drugs fall down on the truck. It's all just an elaborate way to make sure the truck is stopped at the border. It's all disruption to Hector's business. And thus, the cold open reveals that it's not long after this happens that Gus' trucks replace this route in the drug trafficking. So, Mike ultimately helps Gus. That will lead to a more meaningful relationship. But right now, it's just important that Mike is protecting the things he cares about by going after the people who wish him harm.

Once again, all of the stuff going on with Mike stands in stark contrast with what's going on with Jimmy. He fell directly into Chuck's trap and is now facing the consequences. Chuck is at his most smug in the opening of this story. Jimmy is outside on the curb waiting for the police to arrive to arrest him. Chuck wanders out fully confident. He's not in a space blanket at all. That continues to confirm that his condition is psychological. The effects of sunlight don't seem to be affecting him because he's finally confident that he has won in this war with his brother. He has prevailed and Jimmy will learn his lesson. It's such twisted reasoning on his part too. He's right to fear that Jimmy's morally questionable impulses will corrupt his ability to do his job. He's destined to become Saul Goodman, lawyer to the criminals of New Mexico. But Chuck lacks the awareness to know that he's largely responsible for creating that person as well. This sibling dynamic has gotten so toxic. There's no going back to the way things were before. And yet, there never was a whole lot of sympathy and understanding between them in the first place.

Plus, it's fascinating to see Jimmy absolutely defeated. He fell right into Chuck's trap. He knows that everything his brother has said about him is true. He feels responsible for his own demise. He doesn't want to drag anyone else down with him. And yet, Kim and Ernie are already on that path. Chuck fires Ernie even though he did exactly what he wanted him to. So, it feels like him punishing Ernie simply for showing some loyalty and compassion to Jimmy. Meanwhile, Kim wants to help Jimmy out of this mess because she loves him. She knows him just as well as Chuck does. She knows how he breaks the rules in order to get what he wants. She knows he can be ethically flexible when it comes to the law. She's heard him explain his actions so many times already. And yet, she chooses not to put up a fight when he asks to represent himself in court. He feels he's responsible for getting himself out of this mess. It may ruin his career and he doesn't want that to hurt Kim as well. He's ashamed of what he has done. But he's still willing to do anything to lessen these charges and continue to live exactly as he has been. He doesn't want Chuck to be right in having this be the great wake up call of his life.

And yet, Chuck doesn't want Jimmy to spend time in prison. Yes, he gets booked and sleeps in a jail cell while waiting for a bond hearing. But that's not what Chuck is hoping for out of all of this. A special prosecutor comes to town for this case because of Jimmy's deep ties to the legal community. She wants to be tough on him because lawyers should be held to high standards when it comes to breaking the law. But Chuck doesn't want this to go to trial. He's cooperative in the event that it does. But he wants a deal to be made where Jimmy avoids jail time but confesses to a felony which would lead to him being disbarred. That's the root of so much of Chuck's animosity towards Jimmy. He has great respect for the law but a poor opinion of his brother. He doesn't see how Jimmy could possibly be a good lawyer. He just has no respect for him in that profession. Taking it away from him has been what he's always wanted. Jimmy knows that. Not taking this deal means he'll have to fight that much harder to avoid jail time. And yet, he's committed to that path because of the support he gets from Kim. She rationalizes it with the theory of sunk costs. This is simply what is necessary to ensure that their not really a partnership stays strong in the longterm. It seems destined to fail because something has to happen to make Jimmy change his name. But there's still so much hopefulness in the narrative as well at this point. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Sunk Costs" was written by Gennifer Hutchison and directed by John Shiban.
  • Also like Breaking Bad, this show delivers some amazing cinematography of the desert. Those shots of the areas around the sneakers and Mike's meeting with Gus are beautiful to look at. They also show how expansive this world is compared to the small but important roles these characters play in it.
  • The montage of Kim's morning routine is fun and compelling to watch as well. It shows all the effort she puts in to prepare herself for the day. But it's only after all of that happens that she learns of Jimmy's new legal troubles.
  • That closing shot of Jimmy and Kim together discussing their options is also beautiful. They are standing in front of that window largely in silhouette. They are dark objects but they are together and hopeful that they'll find a way to get Jimmy out of this entire mess.
  • It's funny to see Jimmy's counterpart from the prosecution show up again while he's in lockup. That guy is still obsessed with all the nice stuff Jimmy got while working at Davis & Main last season. But Jimmy is also trying to manipulate him to help with his case.
  • Jimmy tells Francesca that this is not an average week at the practice. And yet, the audience knows that things will only get crazier for Jimmy as a lawyer. However, Francesca is also destined to stand by him during all of that.
  • That's Kimberly Hebert Gregory - from Vice Principals and Brooklyn Nine-Nine - as the special prosecutor who comes to town for Jimmy's case. She seems more straight laced here but it'll be fun to see her comedic chops in this role as well.