Recap Digest: Better Call Saul 1.7, "Inflatable"

Mar 29, 2016 by Alex Castle

We broke our streak of episodes featuring cameos by Breaking Bad characters this week – that is unless you count the inflatable stick figure that will one day stand sentry at the Law Offices of Saul Goodman, Esq., in which case it was the most satisfying and delightful cameo to date.

Realizing that, under the terms of his contract, he would have to return his sizable signing bonus if he resigned from Davis & Main after less than a year, Jimmy sets about getting himself fired by running a juicer in the break room, by leaving unflushed Deuces in the executive washroom, taking up the bagpipes, and by donning a familiar assortment of loud suits – the salmon was my favorite – around the office. The plan works, Clifford Main fires him, and Jimmy moves back into the back of the nail salon, with the help of his assistant Omar. It was not immediately clear if Omar had quit Davis & Main to work for Jimmy, Jerry Maguire-style, but once he mentioned his kids it seems obvious that, unless he is a total moron (and he does not appear to be), he is only doing Jimmy a favor out of fondness for the man.

His freedom secured, Jimmy makes a pitch to Kim, who is still considering Rich Schweikart’s offer to leave HHM: start a new firm, Wexler McGill, with Jimmy. Be your own boss, get out from under the thumb of the Howard Hamlins of the world. Kim initially rejects Jimmy’s offer, favoring the obvious stability of Schweikart & Cokely, but her Freudian slip at the end of her interview – calling Schweikart “Howard” – unwittingly underlines that Jimmy is right, and that however favorably the new job compares with HHM, it’s still a lateral move.

During that same interview, Schweikart asks Kim what brought her to leave her tiny hometown and pursue a law career in Albuquerque. What did you want, he asks. “More,” Kim simply replies. With the exception of Mike (but decidedly not his daughter-in-law), that seems to be what’s driving everyone on this show: a vague, unspecified, ever-shifting MORE. It’s hard to see working out of the back of a nail salon as MORE, but it’s a long-term bet that could pay off big dividends in the end, if Jimmy doesn’t ruin it with his “colorful” approach to the law. So Kim makes Jimmy a counteroffer: to share office space and support staff but keep their fledgling firms separate and distinct.

While it would have been very amusing to watch Jimmy and Kim butt heads as partners, him freewheeling and her kind of uptight – like a modern-day Remington Steele (ask your mom) or something, it makes a lot more sense from a character perspective for Kim to keep her distance. And if Jimmy still manages to get some of his “colorful” on her and damage her practice, it will be all the more devastating.

Observer’s Sean T. Collins hollered at his TV when Kim threw in her lot with Jimmy:

It’s Jimmy’s idea to use his rescued bonus to make Kim an even better offer than either her current firm or that of Richard Schweikart, whom he calls “Howard Hamlin by another name.” It’s not until Kim literally calls him “Howard” as she departs her interview that she realizes how right Jimmy is. The thing is, though, so what? If not for Jimmy, she’d be doing just fine with Howard, and would likely do so with Schweikart as well. It’s true that we learn, in a revealingly un-revealing exchange during her interview, that Kim has a go-nowhere midwestern childhood in her background that she left behind because she wanted, as she puts it in a single word, “more.” But it’s Jimmy and his “Wexler McGill” die-cut business card that really put the loose-cannon bug in her ear, in much the same way that the grifter we see in the flashback to Jimmy’s own midwestern childhood that kicks off the episode put it in his. Tear up the card and declare yourselves private practitioners sharing office space all you want, Kim—that bug is contagious and chronic.

And thanks to the existence of Breaking Bad, we know its terminal stage—though not for Kim. That’s what makes her well-intentioned but no doubt disastrous decision to hitch her star to Jimmy’s wagon such a queasy thing to watch: She’s not in Breaking Bad, and it’s hard to imagine she leaves Jimmy on good terms. This is one of the show’s best uses of prequel judo so far, utilizing the weight of the original series against the uninvolved characters as they attempt to move forward.

The A.V. Club’s Donna Bowman marvels at the patient, detail-oriented storytelling:

Take Jimmy’s bright idea for a Wexler-McGill partnership. (I do love a good Gilligan team-up.) We see him doodling the WM logo while he waits to represent Mike recanting his statement about the gun. When he presents the die-cut business card to Kim, it’s clearly the culmination of a long process of strategizing. He’s thought it all through and gotten his best pitch together.

A lesser show would see the opportunity to carve out a cul-de-sac in the storyline. How about they try this partnership? Sure, they both already know better; Jimmy knows that Kim can’t be comfortable with his freewheeling approach to the law, and Kim knows that Jimmy will never be happy suppressing his creative talents on the straight and narrow. But we could watch that play out for an episode or so. Conflict! Just imagine the scenes that could be staged to explore that tension, culminating in a shouting match with all the usual accusations: “You lied to me!” “You knew exactly what you were getting into!” “I don’t think I can ever trust you again!”

Instead, the creative team compresses all of that into two moments: a beat of hesitation for Kim, swayed momentarily by Jimmy’s vision; and an immediate reversal for Jimmy, who tries out the pretense of by-the-book lawyering before stopping in mid-sentence to confess what they both know about his “colorful” approach. We zoom right past the cul-de-sac with its tempting drama. Because it’s a dead end. These characters have already had those epiphanies. They have new places to go. And when Kim comes back to Jimmy with a “solo together” proposition, we’re ready to hit the ground running on a truly new story frontier.

And Yahoo’s Kimberly Potts points out how the episode’s opening flashback puts Chuck’s story about the McGill family story in a different light:

Flashback, 1973: Young Jimmy is working in his dad’s neighborhood grocery store, sneaking a peek at a Playboy mag while he’s supposed to be sweeping the floors. But Jimmy’s dad is easily fooled, and we’ll learn just how easily when a man comes in peddling a sob story about a broken down car and an urgent need to get medicine home to a sick kid. Jimmy knows a grifter when he sees one, and he takes his father aside to let him know he’s being hustled. In fact, Jimmy says, Papa McGill is known throughout their town as an easy mark. But Mr. McGill doesn’t believe it, and when the scam artist asks for $5 to get home to his sick boy, Mr. McGill takes a $10 bill out of the cash register and hands it over. When he goes to the back of the store to look for yet another way to help Grifty McGrifterson, Jimmy goes the register, and the scammer knows Jimmy’s onto him. He wants two boxes of KOOL cigarettes — $8 — and Jimmy tells him he wants the cash first.

“There are wolves and sheep in this world, kid,” Grifty says. “Figure out which one you’re gonna be.”

Jimmy puts the $8 in the till as Grifty leaves, but when Mr. McGill comes out of the back with a box of spark plugs and rushes out the door to try to help the stranger even further, Jimmy takes the $8 out of the register and puts it in his pocket.

So Chuck was right when he told Kim that story about Jimmy pilfering money from their dad’s store. But wonder if Chuck factored in how much money his dad must have allowed to be scammed away from his bottom line throughout his years of store ownership?

New episodes of Better Call Saul air at 10pm ET Mondays on AMC; recent episodes are available on-demand.

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