Monday, September 3, 2018

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Jimmy and Mike Throw Themselves Into Their Work in 'Quite a Ride'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 4.05 "Quite a Ride"

Jimmy identifies a new market for his talents. Mike vets a potential partnership. Kim drivers a hard bargain.

Throughout the run of the show so far, Better Call Saul has only offered glimpses of Jimmy's tragic fate through flash forwards during the opening minutes of each season. Every premiere teases the audience with what Jimmy becomes as Cinnabon Gene. It's such a depressing fate as well that is completely of his own making. The show has always been about the transformation of Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman to Cinnabon Gene. And yet, there have only been brief moments so far that show Jimmy becoming the Saul persona. The name was only just introduced last season with it being the name Jimmy used as he filmed commercials. He is no longer in that business. He's actually in something that seems completely tangential. He's the manager of a phone store that has absolutely no traffic inside. But that is such an ominous business for the exact reason that "Quite a Ride" points out at the start of the hour. This episode opens with Saul Goodman in his infamous office. It's not set during a time of great success for him as a lawyer though. Instead, it's the final moments of this life for him. It's the lead up to Saul going on the run and becoming Cinnabon Gene. It features him destroying the evidence in his office because the police are looking to arrest him for his involvement in the Walter White criminal conspiracy. Francesca is a willing participant in the destruction of evidence as well. She is still keeping Saul on top of things. He is literally destroying the office looking for all of the items he has hid in the walls and ceiling. He is grabbing all of the materials he needs in order to go on the run. This is a business that earned quite a profit for him. But at the very end of it, he still has to use his weight as Jimmy McGill in order to help Francesca. That too is a very intriguing detail. When he's telling her to stick to a story and seek out a lawyer, he tells her to mention him by his old name. She worked for both Jimmy McGill and Saul Goodman. And now, Saul is going on the run and Jimmy is the only one who possibly has any good will left in the world. It's just a question as to who she is going to for legal counsel. Saul is going on the run and abandoning this life because his greatest ambitions got the best of him.

There has always been the question of if Better Call Saul would ever feature scenes set during the events of Breaking Bad but from a different perspective. Does the audience need to see Saul Goodman in action before he meets Walter White? Or has the show already done enough to inform the audience of who that person is simply because of the agony Jimmy struggles with throughout this suspension? There also has to be the inherent trust that Saul Goodman was featured in a complete story on Breaking Bad. As such, anything done with him on the spinoff needs to be vital to the story of Jimmy McGill and Cinnabon Gene. That allows this moment to make sense. There is so much tragedy when pairing the beginning of this episode with the final moment. When Jimmy goes to his case officer to discuss his suspension from the law, he does so with every intention of returning to the profession better than before. He has these grand ambitions to be even more successful. He wants a broad list of clients who can count on him for numerous legal advice. He doesn't just want to be practicing elder law. He was very good at that. It earned a profit for him. But he has bigger ambitions for his life. He still envisions a future where he is working with Kim. But he is making these plans not knowing what she is currently doing with her own career. She is potentially throwing away her biggest and only client in order to essentially act as a public defender. She is getting back into the spirit of why she became a lawyer in the first place. She is trying to help people avoid jail time for the mistakes they've made. It has immediate results and the impact she has is immediately known and felt. That's very satisfying. It represents a clear shift within her. And yet, she is also eager to keep Mesa Verde as a client. It just comes with a stern lecture from Paige about needing to count on Kim at a moment's notice. They require that she doesn't have any other clients. As such, Kim is poised to blow up her life at the exact same time that Jimmy is going through the same thing.

However, Jimmy and Kim can't really talk to each other about what they are going through. When they are at home on the couch, they are no longer able to just enjoy a simply movie playing on basic cable. Instead, they are throwing themselves into their work. They are no longer operating on the same frequency. Jimmy believes he has to be working just as hard as Kim. She isn't bothered by the noise from the television. She is still able to get her work done. But Jimmy hates having this moment to sit still. He is unnerved by it. It's him just sitting alone in his thoughts. He doesn't just sit back and enjoy the film. Instead, he has to run away to the office. He creates work for himself. It's the kind of business tactics that will become so prevalent with Saul Goodman as well. The glimpse at the future reminds the audience of the desk drawer with a dozen phones in it. And now, he is selling these phones to criminals with the pitch that it will ensure that no one is listening in on their conversations. At first, it seems like he has lost his touch. But then, it comes roaring back with a fantastic montage set around the Doghouse where he is just able to move a ton of product. Then, there is the uncertainty that comes when a biker gang shows up. But Jimmy is still able to make his sales. He continues to tap into the illegal business of sneaking phones into prisons. That's the sales pitch he gives here. It's very effective too. But all of this comes crashing back to reality the moment the kids who initially laughed him off decide to beat him up for the money he has earned. They recognize that he is earning a ton of profits. It's easier for them to jump him then simply copy the business model for themselves. They don't have that same kind of spirit. Jimmy does. And yet, this moment of him laying on the concrete bruised and defeated is almost completely destructive to this path for Jimmy. It remains so interesting to see the multiple opportunities Jimmy had to get off this tragic trajectory. As such, him ultimately becoming Saul Goodman will still ultimately be his own responsibility.

In the aftermath of the mugging, Jimmy returns home and actually connects with Kim. Sure, it's an awkward moment because they are both broken and bruised. They are both injured. But at least they are able to bond over that. Jimmy is thankful to have someone in his life who wants to care for him. He has helped Kim as well. They can be such a good and healthy couple. But they are keeping their secret yearnings from one another. This moment forces Jimmy to admit that he may need therapy. He is willing to reach out to the therapist Kim has recommended. He is realizing that he may not be dealing with the suspension and Chuck's death as well as he thought. He sees the error of his ways. He is no longer promoting this phone store as a place where privacy is sold. He can still sell phones so easily with that business model. He is a natural salesman. But this represents a slippery slope to a path that he may no longer be cut out for. He was always respected when he went out working the streets. People knew not to mess with him. And now, he doesn't see this threat coming and can't talk his way out of it. It brings him crushing back to reality. However, his coincidental run-in with Howard in the bathroom of the courthouse is just as pivotal. In that moment, Jimmy completely changes his mind. He sees a man who is much more disheveled and broken. He sees just how tormented Howard still is about possibly pushing his business partner to suicide. It's eating him up inside. Jimmy doesn't offer him the easy way out by taking the blame of notifying the insurance about Chuck's condition. Instead, he simply offers him the name of a therapist. In this instance, Jimmy sees himself as the healthy one because he actually has his head on straight and can offer advice to someone clearly in crisis. As such, he believes he no longer needs therapy. He is still perfectly healthy. And yet, therapy isn't just for those people in immediate physical distress like Howard. It would be very beneficial for Jimmy to go. And yet, he never will.

Elsewhere, Mike is also throwing himself into work. He is in charge of this job that Gus has for him. He wanted to get the details immediately instead of all the chest pounding that came from his awareness that Nacho was targeting Hector. At first, it's this very mysterious story that starts in Denver. Mike is only heard over the phone giving directions to people who have just landed at the airport. He is instructing them to drive to an abandoned stretch of highway where they will soon be asked to put a bag over their heads and transported to another location. It's a whole lot of precautions. It's Mike doing his best to ensure that the job isn't compromised because of the many individuals he is interviewing. He takes each of them to the job site. It turns out it's the facility where Gus will eventually start his meth cooking operations. It's the facility where Gale, Walter and Jesse will soon work out of. It's in need of a complete remodel. It's one that must be done with complete secrecy too. No one can know about the work being done down there. Gus is very interested in starting his own drug pipeline in the states so that he doesn't have to rely on the product from over the border. He has the means and ability to conduct these secret interviews as well. He knows what to expect from this job. He knows it's going to be time-consuming and expensive. He's willing to invest in the project. He is just looking for the right man for the job. That man presents himself at the very end. He's a German who gets incredibly nauseous during the ride to the site. He takes all of his notes and measurements by hand. He doesn't rely on technology in order to inform his assessment. It takes longer but it also leads to the most accurate reading of the job. It's all very procedural. It's Mike focusing on the minute details of the job instead of reflecting on the trauma and grief in his life. It's easy for him to do so as well even though Gus is still the man making the final hiring decision.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Quite a Ride" was written by Ann Cherkis and directed by Michael Morris.
  • The sign that Jimmy paints on the store's windows doesn't get him into trouble from his new bosses either. In fact, he is basically free to do whatever he wants in this store. He has no supervision or other employees to work with. He is completely independent. But the sign doesn't increase the traffic in the store either. Only one guy comes in because of it. As such, this just feels like a bad location for this business to really lure people in.
  • It's not too difficult for Jimmy to take down the painting on the windows either. He does so of his own free will. He decides this isn't the business tactic he wants to utilize in order to succeed in this job for next nine months. All it takes is some water and a scraper in order to remove it all too. Sure, it's probably time consuming but it also helps Jimmy fill out his day as no other customers stop by asking what the messaging was all about.
  • Jimmy's big sales moment outside of the Doghouse happens as a montage. The audience sees how quickly he is going through the product. But we also aren't privy to the conversations he is having with most of his customers. At first, he talks about the phones being untraceable for however long the people using them want to keep things hidden. And yet, it also seems likely that he tells these people where to find him in the future to get more phones.
  • It also seems like the audience knows what the immediate futures are going to be for the respective characters. Jimmy is working at the phone store during his nine month suspension. Mike is going to be overseeing this project for Gus. And yet, it is also going to be so interesting to see how the show throws unexpected twists at the characters and the audience. Even though these fates seem clear, they are also going to lead to big changes in their lives.
  • Kim and Howard's fates have always been huge ongoing questions for the show. They never appear or are mentioned during Breaking Bad. However, the flash at Saul Goodman cleaning out his office infers that one of them is possibly alive. Some connection to his former life as Jimmy McGill must still exist. As such, it seems likely to be one of them. And yet, it could possibly be someone else too. But who?