The most telling scene of tonight’s Better Call Saul is the telephone call between Jimmy and Rick Schweikart. Jimmy is coated in garbage and rotten food and old diapers, negotiating in a whisper. Schweikart is sitting in a gargantuan office, spinning around in a swivel chair. On the surface it’s a scene that reinforces the odds that Jimmy is going up against: this Schweikart has more resources in the expensive suit he wears than Jimmy does in his whole operation.
But it’s more than that, isn’t it? It speaks to broader themes, ones that are universal. The bad guys get to sit clean, in brightly-lit and comfortable offices; the work they do is buttressed by a system that rewards white-collar criminality. The good guys get covered in dirt and muck and unspeakable filth, not so that they can sit where the bad guys sit, but so that everyone can have a place at the table. Jimmy is officially one of the good guys.
You can spin it as him being the same money-and-power-hungry man that he’s always been, but you’d be wrong. You’d be missing the years of silence and subtle dehumanization that he went through, just so he could have a shot at respectability. He paid for his own correspondence school, he paid for his own bar exams, and he worked a full-time job. He did this with no help; he did this while being so afraid that he couldn’t even open his own congratulation letter. Jimmy just wants to be a better man than the one he left behind. And he keeps having to do it alone.
He tells Chuck about what he’s done, and Chuck has to be reminded to tell him he’s proud of him. Jimmy was the screw-up little brother who Chuck got to lord over; the one who Chuck got to feel warm and toasty about as he sat in his expensive home and drank expensive wine while Jimmy was off doing night school. Jimmy did the Chuck Plan, and Chuck wasn’t happy. Chuck wanted Jimmy in the mailroom because it was a sign of his mercy, because it was easier to stick him in a dead-end job with no prospects and let him slowly die than it was to actually help him.
No matter what, Jimmy McGill is the lesser. He takes shortcuts, and then gives them up. He does things the right way, and Howard comes into his celebration party and takes a piece of cake and shuts the doors and as the ca-THUNK of printers ring in our ears, he destroys the younger McGill. Howard does it because he can; he does it because Chuck is too cowardly to come out and say the truth: HHM will never let Jimmy be more than the man who pushes the squeaky cart. The bad guys have the table, and they like to stretch their reach in all directions and pull in all the power for themselves. They’ll eat their own, as they do with Chuck. We are not our ancestors, who roamed in jungles and across plains, and murdered anyone who threatened their piece of land. We’re civilized now; we kill people slowly, imperceptibly, with cruelty. Howard and Chuck and Sandpiper Crossing are the apex predators of our “lie agreed upon,” and they have no intention of letting a straggler get back to the herd.
And yet, we persevere. We dig through trash, and we put the pieces together. We get covered in garbage and rotting food and unspeakable filth, and we come out clean. We use every tool at our disposal so that we can just maybe, for a minute, get a slice of the pie that is ours in the first place. That is who Jimmy McGill is. He wants to be respected, and he wants to do the right thing. He wants someone to love him, and he wants someone to shake his hand that isn’t trying to get one up on him. He is the perfect audience surrogate; we don’t see things through his eyes, because his eyes are ours. And so, a familiar question must be asked: How in the world did Jimmy McGill end up as Saul Goodman?
– This was ridiculously good television.
– Looks like Mike is getting into the criminal underworld. Wonder if we’ll see Gus.
– Would Kim really knife Jimmy the way it appears she might?
– “You can’t say it’s private if a hobo can use it as a wigwam!”
– “Blow my Magic Flute.”
– “1933, the same year Hitler came into power.”
– God, those Hydrox. Holy Christ on a Cracker those garbage knock-off Oreos.
[Photo via AMC]