In this week’s episode of Better Call Saul, “Quite a Ride,” during a montage set to The Crusader’s “Street Life,” Jimmy changes into a tracksuit and endeavors to mingle with his people — the low lifes, the criminals, and the hustlers, only to realize after he’s mugged that he no longer fits into that world. It’s a huge psychological blow for Jimmy, who has spent so many years trying to live up to the expectations of both his brother, Chuck, and his girlfriend, Kim, that he forgot about who he was when Slippin’ Jimmy and Marco used to pull off cons. He was one of them, and there’s a big part of Jimmy who feels most comfortable in that element. Freed of others’ expectations, Jimmy is a hustler, a con man, petty thief at heart, and until he got mugged, I think that Jimmy felt liberated, free to be himself in that world.
Rather than discouraging Jimmy from trying to re-enter that world, however, that mugging had the opposite effect. Seeing the disaster that Hamlin has become even with therapy, Jimmy realizes that his true path lies not in pleasing Kim and playing by the “man’s” rules: It’s in circumventing them. It’s in using his hustle and his legal knowledge to navigate around and through the law, and he’s more determined than ever to not only return to his roots but to find acceptance there. “Everything will be better,” after he becomes a lawyer again, Jimmy tells his PPD officer. “I’m going to have more clients, win more cases, I’m going to be a damn good lawyer, and people are going to know about it.”
That’s the epiphanic moment. That’s Jimmy deciding that he’s going to be on billboards and bus benches, that he’s going to cultivate a huge clientele of criminals and lowlifes. That he’s going to become Saul Goodman. The end of the episode offers the true beginning of Goodman, while the teaser in the open offers us the other side of that bookend: The end of Saul Goodman. For the first time, Saul takes us back into the Breaking Bad timeline and fills in a gap for Jimmy between “Ozymandias” and “Granite State,” where we see Saul Goodman shutting down his office and making a plan to relocate to Nebraska as Gene Takovic.
I’ve watched that teaser a few times, and there are so many fun things in it: Jimmy’s cell phones, the safe in the wall behind the Constitution, the return of Francesca — now burnt out, cynical, and after the rolls of cash that are rightfully hers — and the band-aid on Saul’s nose from when Jesse punched him. What I find most striking about that scene, however, is when Saul hands Francesca the card of a lawyer he knows and says, “Tell ‘em” or “Tell him Jimmy sent you.” “Em” or “him” hardly matters for those thinking that Jimmy is sending Francesca to Kim, because Francesca knows Kim already and Jimmy wouldn’t say that if it were Kim. Rather, what I find most striking is that — in the midst of all his Saulness in that scene — a brief glimpse of Jimmy peeks out. There’s a softness to that statement, a moment — however brief — where he exhibits something resembling compassion.
There’s still some Jimmy in him, and I think that more than anything, that brief glimpse of Jimmy illustrates where the show is going, that even during the Breaking Bad timeline, we’re going to see Saul Goodman wrestle with his inner Jimmy, just as Jimmy now wrestles with his inner Saul, and that the two personalities will never stop warring with each other, even when Jimmy is at his most Saul.
Meanwhile, we also saw the beginnings of something else. Gus Fring — with the help of Mike — took the first steps to hire an engineer to build what will eventually become Walt White’s meth SuperLab. Note that Ehrmantraut and Fring — ever meticulous — turned down the French engineer who said he could do it in six or seven months, and instead hired the guy who said that it was “difficult, dangerous, very expensive, but not quite impossible,” and as we know, it will take years before the SuperLab is up and running (it’s 2003 in Saul and Walter doesn’t take over a newly built Superlab until at least 2008).
In an episode, however, that shows the beginnings of stories with ends that we already know, it’s fascinating, too, to see Kim begin another story in which the end is still unknown. There’s a little Slippin’ Kimmy in her efforts to return to criminal defense work — and some personality traits that would make her a natural companion to Saul Goodman were they reopen their firm together — but not enough that it would last long. The approach is similar, but the motivations are wildly different: Jimmy/Saul wants to protect the interests of his criminal clients, while Kim wants to pull her clients out of the criminal life. Jimmy wants to work around the law and maintain his clients; Kim wants to save her clients from the law and give them a second chance.
Personally, I believe that Kim’s intentions will never be corrupted and that the difference in agendas will ultimately drive Kim and Jimmy apart, but I do not assume that Kim’s good intentions will not also get the best of her. I hope not, because while Breaking Bad was ultimately a tragedy, I still hold out hope that Better Call Saul is a hero’s journey for Kim and hopefully for a flawed Jimmy as well.
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