[This is a review of Better Call Saul season 1, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
Jimmy McGill has been on a losing streak for some time. Sure, there have likely been a series of ups and downs along the way, but from the looks of the opening sequence of ‘Nacho,’ that losing streak has been going on since Jimmy was still “Slippin’ Jimmy” back in Illinois, calling his brother Chuck to get him out of a massive jam. And as Better Call Saul points out in its fast-paced third episode, maybe it’s time for Jimmy to get a mark in the win column – or as close to “win” as possible.
Last week left things a bit open-ended, after Nacho dropped by Jimmy’s spacious office to discuss the possibility of working together to rob the Kettlemans of their ill-gotten gains. The moment came after Jimmy underwent a grueling ordeal at the hands of Nacho’s associate and Breaking Bad baddie Tuco Salamanca that, it was hinted at, was something of a turning point for Jimmy.
Technically, it could be said that Jimmy got his win back in the desert, when he successfully negotiated his own release and the Lindholm twins’ sentence down from death to a broken leg each. But a win shouldn’t necessarily be followed by breadstick-induced flashbacks that result in the “winner” putting his head in a toilet bowl. So, by that logic, Saul gets a much-needed win after he discovers Nacho isn’t just a terrifying criminal associated with an even more terrifying and unhinged criminal (adorable abuelita aside), but that he’s also a client.
Jimmy’s been angling for a client that will get him out of the $700-a-pop public defender grind ever since the series premiere, back when the Kettlemans met with him at Loyola’s and the smell of his desperation overwhelmed the diner’s greasy spoon cuisine.
The only problem is: Nacho may or may not have been involved in the disappearance of Besty and Craig Kettleman (oh, and their two kids). And, adding to Nacho’s position as dream client is the fact that if Jimmy doesn’t get the charges against him dropped, he’ll likely wind up back in the desert where no amount of smooth talking and half-baked negotiating is going to stop some very bad people from leaving his body in a shallow grave.
In that sense, Nacho offers a great deal in terms of tension to the story. It’s the kind of tension that benefits from the audience’s lack of knowledge of the circumstances. But it’s also reliant on the build-up that’s been going on around the Kettlemans, Nacho, and Jimmy’s limited success as a mid-level lawyer on the straight and narrow.
But ‘Nacho’ isn’t going to be another Jimmy-hangs-his-head-in-shame episode. Instead, it’s got “win” written all over it from the very beginning, when he helps himself to some of that cucumber water the owner of the salon had previously denied him access to. Sure, it’s two o’clock in the morning and Jimmy’s using it as a mixer, but there’s an assertiveness in his actions that suggests ‘Nacho’ is the point where Jimmy McGill starts going after the things that he wants. Which is probably why he calls Kim (Rhea Seehorn) at the same time, in a halfhearted attempt to warn her about a possible threat to the Kettlemans.
Like the blatant clarification on Chuck and Jimmy’s relationship from the episode’s opening sequence, there’s a foundation being established between Kim and Jimmy, and it’s not strictly professional. Of course this was hinted at earlier, when the two shared a smoke in the parking garage of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. Not a single word was exchanged between the two, but the moment hinted at more of a connection than any line of dialogue would have. And, as it turns out, the two often share some very specific words with one another, as Kim announces to Jimmy that she’s not going to talk dirty to him and expects him to do the same.
While some of the key relationships are established further, it’s worth noting that they are given that clarification in the third episode. Leaving an entire hour of television between the time Kim was introduced to when her connection to the main character was made known. That would be unheard of in nearly any other show, but it points to 1) how well Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould know how to handle telling a story on television, and 2) how much freedom this new series has, thanks to its beloved predecessor.
What’s great, then, is how ‘Nacho’ makes good on that leeway by delivering an episode that feels truly independent of the series that came before, but cashes in on several threads that have been building since ‘Uno.’ Threads like Jimmy’s antagonistic relationship with Mike, which escalates from a rather benign parking validation sticker dispute to a display of Mike’s very particular set of skills. The payoff of which is the interplay between the two in the police department stairwell, in which Mike points Jimmy in the direction of the Kettlemans and some line of communication is finally established.
Where the episode really delivers, though, is through the broad humor of the final sequence, wherein Betsy and Craig are driving their kids nuts with family-friendly tunes like ‘B-I-N-G-O’ and the promise of a stirring, pre-bed rendition of ‘John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.’ The discomfort of the children becomes the perfect setup for Jimmy’s intrusion on their family getaway. And the veneer of innocence is finally washed away with the subsequent reveal of a bag full of cash they packed along for their impromptu camping trip. All of which points to a necessary win for Jimmy.
It is still uncertain where this success will take Jimmy, or how long it will last, but one thing is for sure: Jimmy McGill still has a lot of climbing to do before he begins the slow descent down to that Omaha Cinnabon.
Better Call Saul continues next Monday with ‘Hero’ @10pm on AMC.
Photos: Lewis Jacobs/AMC