Better Call Saul Season 1, Episode 3 Deconstructed

by: Michael Shields

Jimmy McGill finds himself at the crossroads in Better Call Saul’s third episode, “Nacho”….

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After the first two episodes of the inaugural season of Better Call Saul, which were delivered via a one-two punch on back-to-back nights last week, I spent some time in contemplation. I wondered how long, in episode duration, we would be fumbling along with a broke and frustrated Jimmy. That is, how soon, I wondered, would Jimmy realize the gold mine he is sitting upon, and the opportunities that reside literally at his fingertips if he relented to the pressures of Nacho’s enticing offer1. For Jimmy right now resides in a purgatory of sorts. He isn’t quite the slip-and-fall specialist of the past who enjoyed a good “Chicago Sunroof” from time to time. Nor is he the sharp-tongued, strip-mall celebrity lawyer he will one day become. Saul was a man with answers, while Jimmy is a man just trying to figure it all out. And in “Nacho,” the third episode in this fledgling season, he is one step closer to that endgame.

After smooth-talking his way out of certain death at the hands of Tuco, Jimmy is offered entrance into the criminal underworld of Albuquerque via Nacho, who asks for Jimmy’s help in fleecing the Kettlemans2 of the 1.5 million they embezzled from the county. Nacho, not waiting for Jimmy to realize he is already “in the game,” starts staking out the Kettleman’s, which is the jumping off point for a series of events that ends up with Nacho in cuffs, the Kettlemans in a tent, and Jimmy battling with his conscience. And it was this conscience I speak of that Jimmy wrestled with all episode (“I’m not a hero”), a telling memorandum on the man Saul once was.

Finding a way to sympathize with Saul was, from the outset, essential to the success of Better Call Saul. Of course, there is no doubt that Saul has alway been a likable guy. He is funny, and has a unique brand of churlish charm brought blithely to life by Bob Odenkirk’s dynamic talents. But let us not forget that when we were just becoming acquainted with Saul in Breaking Bad, he was already suggesting killing Badger as a solution to Walt and Jesse’s conundrum. So, it was imperative if Saul was going to successfully carry his own show that we learn that once upon a time he cared about people, and that he possessed a moral compass, even if its readings were a little off from time to time. Jimmy never epitomized virtue, and fortuitously for us viewers, he never falls to the depths of depravity that Walt did, but there was a point in time, Better Call Saul shows us, when Jimmy would employ the “sex-robot voice”3 in order to attempt to save a family in danger, and there is something so refreshing about that.

In “Nacho,” we finally had the opportunity to learn more about Jimmy and Kim Wexler’s (Rhea Seehorn) relationship, a friend with some benefits who Jimmy, it seems, cares about. But a friend who he will also exploit, due to her position at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, for information and advantage. These two have a past, and if Jimmy doesn’t blow it, possibly even a future. This episode also allowed us more of a glimpse into the foundation of Mike and Saul’s future partnership. Although they are far from operating on the same page, a rapport has now been established, one where Mike makes mention of a former life, a life he begrudgingly abandoned. “Nobody wants to leave home,” he tells Jimmy, a reminder that we have so much to learn about Mike’s former life in Philadelphia, and that he involuntarily ended up ruling over the county courthouse parking lot in Albuquerque, a city that if given a hundred times to try to spell, Jimmy couldn’t pull it off.

Jimmy and his older brother Chuck’s relationship remains one of the most fascinating aspects of Better Call Saul, and in the cold opening of “Nacho” we learn more about their earlier days. A time when Jimmy was more reckless and lost, and where Chuck was free from the shackles of a curious disease. Slick Jimmy is in full form and with him behind bars, we can easily see why Jimmy would one day be so indebted to his brother. Through their conversation in the interrogation room, you get a sense this isn’t the first time Jimmy has put his brother in this situation, and who knows if it will be the last. But the most interesting element of this opening scene was the parallels drawn from a shot of Chuck dropping his personal items into a steel box in order to visit Jimmy in prison. This intentionally mirrors Saul surrendering his cellphone and keys to Chuck’s mailbox everytime he visits his brother’s home. These images emphasize the idea that prisons come in multiple shapes and sizes. Just ask Mike – his materialized in the form of a parking lot attendant’s booth.

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Bookended between two well-placed “Here’s Johnny’s” (one from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and one from The Shining), was an episode that acts as a significant turning point for Jimmy, a crossroads if you will, where Jimmy is forced to make a decision. With two roads diverging amongst the cottonwoods in a dried-up river bed, Jimmy will be forced to make a choice. As Bobby Bare’s “Find Out What’s Happening” sets the tone, a dejected but determined Jimmy saunters through the desert in search of a runaway family, and in doing so comes upon a split money bag that recalls the forbidden fruit from the story of Adam and Eve. Will Jimmy haphazardly indulge, or will he continue to fight the good fight in a vain effort to preserve his conscience, and in turn his soul? That is the question Better Saul Call is here to answer as the season progresses…

  1. Jimmy’s glut of messages to Nacho prove that there is little more entertaining than a bit where someone leaves one (or five!) too many messages. []
  2. Julie Ann Emery from the television reinterpretation of Fargo, and Jeremy Shamos. []
  3. In creating of the “sex-robot” tube we were offered a taste of Breaking Bad’s patented MacGyver moments! []

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