Recap Digest: Better Call Saul 2.9, "Nailed"

Apr 12, 2016 by Alex Castle

“Stick around long enough, you’ll have something to shovel.”

This line, spoken to Mike by a slightly flirty (age-appropriate) waitress in reply to his question about snow in Albuquerque, could easily double as a warning to all the characters on this series (and on Breaking Bad): nobody gets out of this town clean.

And so it is that we finally have Kim definitively throwing in her lot with Jimmy on the wrong side of the law.

After insisting to Jimmy and to Kim that his poaching Mesa Verde from Kim was not personal, Chuck insists on attending a routine hearing before the New Mexico Banking Board on Mesa Verde’s behalf, crowing, “I find victory laps very comforting.”

But that victory lap is interrupted by the biggest professional humiliation of Chuck’s career, when a discrepancy in addresses derails the filing, creating a six-week delay and worse, badly embarrassing Chuck, who is incapable of admitting his mistake. Even when the owner of the bank insists that he knows his own address, Chuck still argues that the address was 1216, not 1261. It’s a particularly embarrassing gaffe, given that Chuck’s whole pitch to steal the business was centered on his attention to detail; Mesa Verde soon fires him and gives the business back to Kim.

Of course, it was 1261, but as Chuck correctly guesses, he was set up to make this mistake by Jimmy, who we saw in last week’s episode replacing every document in the Mesa Verde files with exact copies, with only the 6 and the 1 reversed.

When the news of her reversal of fortune reaches Kim, she and Jimmy are remodeling the dentist’s offices they’re moving their practices to, which gives us a lovely shot of Kim in front of a painted-on rainbow, underscoring that she is the pot of gold that Jimmy is chasing. She’s surprised to learn that Chuck is ready to turn over the files immediately, so she and Jimmy head over to find that Chuck has changed the locks, and has put it all together. Jimmy’s protests that Chuck is talking crazy are halfhearted and transparent, but Kim surprises everyone (including this audience member) by asking Chuck what his evidence is (he has none) and telling him to face the most obvious explanation: he made a mistake.

But once Jimmy and Kim are alone, it’s clear that she believes every word Chuck said, but she doesn’t want to talk about it – ever. Jimmy is clearly waiting for her to explode, and so was I, but once again Kim surprises us both by making a coded suggestion to Jimmy that he make sure he hasn’t left any breadcrumbs for Chuck to find and use to have him disbarred.

Rhea Seehorn gives her fifth consecutive “best performance of the season” playing these scenes, and if there is any justice in the world she will at least be nominated come Emmy time. It’s surprising that Kim finally accepts Jimmy’s unconventional help, but it makes sense: she won the Mesa Verde business honestly, and lost it because of Chuck’s underhanded suggestion that she couldn’t give the case the attention to detail that he could. He’s the one that started with the dirty pool, and it’s only natural – particularly with one’s whole career on the line – to respond in kind, whatever your ethical leanings. So the question is, is Kim about to truly follow Jimmy into CRIMINAL law? Is she absent from Jimmy’s life circa Breaking Bad because he’s alienated her with his reckless approach, as we’ve all assumed up to now, or will her increasingly flexible moral fiber and stated desire for an undefined “MORE” lead her to truly break bad?

It’s an intoxicating feeling, as Mike Ehrmentraut can attest: carrying out his revenge against the Salamanca gang by taking out the popsicle truck with a spiked hose, hogtying the driver, and stealing the quarter-million dollars carefully hidden in one of the tires. In behavior thoroughly uncharacteristic of the reserved, all-business Mike we got to know on Breaking Bad, he actually allows himself to enjoy his triumph, buying the house a round of drinks with the ill-gotten cash and even allowing his presumably long-dormant libido to peek through in his interaction with the waitress. Remember, even though he’s a fugitive, it’s for killing the guys that killed his son – arguably a justifiable act. Until this move against Salamanca, Mike had not truly Broken Bad, and just like a certain W. White, he’s feeling the rush of danger and superiority that comes with a well-executed caper. Having tasted such sweet revenge and won such lavish spoils against Chuck, will Kim be compelled to continue down the darker path?

Not if Jimmy, who hustled to the copy shop where he doctored the documents and bribed the clerk to throw Chuck off his scent, intervenes to help his fallen brother, whose panic attack during his questioning of said clerk leads him to hit his head and knock himself unconscious. If Jimmy helps Chuck, Chuck knows for sure that Jimmy bribed the copy clerk and disbarment proceedings are sure to follow. What if Kim gets ensnared in the investigation? As the direct beneficiary of Jimmy’s chicanery, she might be in for as much or more trouble as her perpetually wayward boyfriend.

Calling this episode the best of the season, Vulture’s Kenny Herzog muses on the show’s attention to the unexpected importance of bit players:

The small-world connections of human existence possess both incredible romantic appeal and an air of caution. Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould (who wrote and directed this week’s episode), and their team have cannily exploited that duality since day one of Breaking Bad, using chemistry as an apt metaphor for the volatile connections that exist between people. They’re no less vigilant about ensuring Better Call Saul’s characters are humbled when the slightest encounter looms. In turn, we viewers know we can’t take any minor figure for granted, which heightens even the most innocuous interactions.

Though, who among us kept an eye on Lance the copy-shop guy (Elisha Yaffe), as if he’d figure into the crescendo of events in season two’s penultimate episode? Yet, there he was: sharing what he knows about Jimmy with Ernie, then taking a few hundred bucks from Jimmy to deny everything when Chuck squeezes him for details, and finally, stonewalling Chuck and unwittingly short-circuiting his electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Now Chuck’s knocked out on the shop’s cold, undignified floor, having conked his head on a counter during a fainting spell. Jimmy, initially watching from across the street with zeal, freezes with concern when his brother collapses. He steps halfway out of the shadows as he once again confronts a defining ethical choice.

Alan Sepinwall of HitFix sees a ghost:

Walter White has yet to appear on Better Call Saul, and the most the show would likely be able to do with him is a brief (and likely more distracting than it’s worth) cameo where one of the show’s supporting characters bumps into an aggrieved local high school science teacher. But if Walt’s doesn’t particularly belong on this show, his spirit very much hangs over it — not only because we know that Jimmy and Mike are both doomed to get tangled up in his business, but because we keep seeing them make mistakes we know all too well from our days watching Breaking Bad.

This is particularly apparent in season 2’s penultimate chapter, “Nailed,” where Jimmy and Mike stage crimes that each man believes will bring harm only to the guilty, but that instead blow back and do grave harm — definitely fatal in one case (the good Samaritan who gets killed helping the trucker Mike robbed), possibly fatal in another (Chuck taking a very bad blow to the head while collapsing in the copy shop), and emotionally brutal to a third (Kim discovering what Jimmy did to steal Mesa Verde back for her) — to three innocents. Walt’s criminal turn was predicated on the idea that he could do it without hurting anyone (other than the end users of his product, and he could rationalize them away as lost causes who would otherwise just buy from someone else), but it didn’t take long for his naivete to drown in the blood of his many victims. Here, two of his future partners learn the same nauseating lesson.

The A.V. Club’s Donna Bowman admires the way characters on this show stick to their decisions:

Look at how Kim reacts to Chuck’s accusations against his brother. She knows they’re likely true. She has put herself on record with Jimmy that she won’t be a part of legal dirty tricks. But she’s also thrown her lot in with him, romantically and professionally, and she doesn’t renege on that promise. Siding with Jimmy against Chuck is her Rubicon; once she does that, her veneer of deniability is paper-thin. And the stakes aren’t just about Kim’s ethical compass. Now a threat to Jimmy is a threat to her. If he’s neglected to cross a T or dot an I in his schemes, she has to nudge him. In other words, positive effort is required on her part to protect Jimmy from the consequences of his decisions. That’s a step over a line this character never expected to cross. But having set herself on this course with the “solo practioners together” and “you’ve got me” decisions, she grits her teeth and sees it through.

And Observer’s Sean T. Collins notes the blowback from Mike’s scheme to rob the Salamancas:

The knowledge that his revenge scheme got an innocent bystander killed weighs heavy on Mike’s big bald head, even just in the few seconds we stay with him after he gets the news. Before that he was as close to happy as we’d ever seen him outside the context of his granddaughter and daughter-in-law. Rolling in $250K worth of dough from the truck, he breaks his usual rule of laying low at all times and buys a round of drinks for everyone in a very crowded bar, even turning and raising his hands in triumphant acknowledgement as they cheer. The next morning, he—hand to God—flirts with the waitress at his regular breakfast stop, or at the very least realizes she’s flirting with him and enjoys it enough to smile about it. The smiling stops when he catches up with Nacho, though not because he’s unhappy—far from it. He’s adamant that the driver wasn’t in on it, proud to have pulled it all off himself, a bit gleeful about rubbing the cartel’s face in their own stupidity, absolutely certain the driver learned nothing about him during the hijacking, and more than willing to own up to his grudge against Hector Salamanca. “He forgot all about you!” Nacho fumes. “I haven’t forgotten him,” Mike replies so sardonically it’s laugh-out-loud funny. At least until he discovers the end result of his actions. Nacho was able to ID him because he’s “the guy who won’t pull the trigger.” Sometimes all you need to do is light the fuse.

Watch the season finale of Better Call Saul at 9pm ET Monday; recent episodes are available on-demand.

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