Better Call Saul Season 1, Episode 7 Deconstructed

by: Michael Shields

In a return to form, Better Call Saul finds Jimmy operating with absolutely nothing to lose….

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We now return you to your regularly scheduled program….

After an unforgettable episode spent with Mike Ermentrout, which in appearance and in character focal point was like no episode that came before, we now turn our focus back to the matter at hand, Jimmy’s gradual metamorphosis into Saul Goodman. But as this week’s episode, entitled “Bingo,”1 commenced, the repercussions of Mike’s back-alley shootout still resonate about. Sitting beneath Albuquerque’s ‘Wanted’ board, and fitting-in swimmingly with the mug-shots above2, Jimmy and Mike hash out how to handle one of the final loose ends of Mike’s Philly predicament, the lifted notebook. Ultimately, Detective Sanders (played by a familiar face in Barry Shabaka-Henley) assures Mike that if his daughter-in-law doesn’t allow loose lips to sinks ships, they can put this all behind them. While the Mike storyline that embodied last week’s episode was truly spellbinding, what we found on its heels was a heaping of Better Call Saul’s enticing brand of black comedy featuring two of Albuquerque’s most arrogant white collar crooks, Craig and Betsy Kettleman.

“Bingo” returned Better Call Saul to the lighter and more comedic tone that we have come to know from the show, and this was mainly due to the Kettlemans’ desire to avoid a plea deal because, as Betsy Kettleman put it, “a deal is what they got OJ.” While Craig Kettleman sits wide-eyed and shell-shocked, Betsy Kettleman’s hubris is the steam that powers this week’s episode. And it was this hubris that eventually brought the Kettlemans down, with a cleverly devised scheme by Jimmy and some help from Mike’s unique skill set. Following Mike’s five-apple stakeout (scored to Chris Joss’s “Tune Down”), all feels right in the world; the Kettlemans are ushered back to HHM, Mike and Jimmy are “square,” and Kim is all but assured to be recalled from “the cornfield.” But all is not as settled as it may seem, for that isn’t how the gears of Better Call Saul turn.

Better Call Saul has a unique way of “rewarding” Jimmy for his attempts at selflessness. Nearly every act of Jimmy’s in “Bingo” was unselfish, from offering Kim a partnership (and the bigger office), to planting files like bait in Chuck’s home in an attempt to get him back in the game. To trying to genuinely convince the Kettlemans to return to Kim and HHM and take the deal that was best for them. And then, to return the money – that rock Jimmy was to build his church upon – the nest egg that was to provide for office space with sprawling views of the picturesque New-Mexican landscape.

But alas, Better Call Saul laughs in the face of such acts of conscience. It scoffs at the idea that the righteous path will lead you to providence. In Better Call Saul, the ethical path proves time and time again fruitless, and a reductive way to look at the world. For Jimmy, doing what is right is like trudging through quicksand. And because of this he is learning that it doesn’t pay to play within the rules. And by episode’s end we find him, in a scene that exhibits once again the depth of Bob Odenkirk’s acting abilities, anguishing on the floor of the future he so vividly envisioned (down to the cocobolo desks!).

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Jimmy isn’t fooling anyone. All within his realm know exactly who he is. Mike knows who he is (“How did you know I would spill the coffee?”), Nacho knows who he is (“For when you realize you’re in the game.“)3, and the Kettleman’s know who he is (“You’re the kind of lawyer guilty people hire.”). The way Jimmy spoke of doing “the right thing” – as if it is a concept that he reluctantly embraces, one that belongs to others and that he doesn’t deserve – makes it appear that he is coming to terms with who he is, and who he must be. He isn’t the man holding Bob Barker’s microphone calling out Bingo numbers in an old folks home. Nor is he the man that gets bullied by “Mr. and Mrs. Cuckoo Bananas.” The criminal contingency of Better Call Saul resides on the edge for now. While Mike refuses an introduction into the seedy Albuquerque underworld via a crooked vet (one Mike will revisit next week played by comedian Joe DeRosa), Jimmy just won’t fully commit to the most financially fruitful use of his talents. But both Jimmy and Mike are being forced to do what they have to do, and that requires utilizing what they are already good at to succeed. This means accepting the darkness within them. Opportunities that will steer them down illicit paths amongst shady backdrops are calling, and Mike and Jimmy are closer than ever to answering.

Arthur Albert’s cinematography continues to impress. Whether we are looking at Jimmy through a stack of boxes, or through the glass of a bingo-ball spinner, or from within the cavernous bowels of a drop-down ceiling with missing panels, the framing of Albert’s shots perfectly capture the tight space in which Jimmy McGill operates. Jimmy’s righteous endeavors cast him in the guise of a fish out of water, rather than a man trying in earnest just to be good. For Jimmy’s story is one of a man who is floundering well outside of the reality of who he is. He’s playing a part he was miscast for, and the stylish and deliberate cinematography and lighting capture this idea perfectly.

“It’s like taking small doses of poison to build up an immunity,” Chuck tells Saul referring to his persistent struggle against electromagnetic radiation (he’s up to two minutes!). But this statement can easily be applied to Jimmy, as he is slowly but surely building up the gall to ripen into the man he is capable of becoming. The man we all know and love that shrewdly sells his clients alibis, loopholes, and money laundering services. “Thing you folks need to know about me? I’ve got nothing to lose,” Saul defiantly explains to the Kettleman’s. And with nothing to lose, the real fun is poised to begin….

  1. Director by Larysa Kondracki – a newcomer to the “BB”/”BCS” universe – and written by Gennifer Hutchison. []
  2. The third mug shot photo shown displays the same man who runs into Jimmy in the bathroom later in the episode. []
  3. Where is Nacho? His absence is, frankly, making me nervous. []

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