[This is a review of Better Call Saul season 1, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week, questions began to surface about what Chuck’s relationship with Jimmy and his legal career really were. Those questions were also tied to Chuck’s disorder and the attempts he was making to curb it, in order to help his brother with the increasingly large and complicated Sandpiper Crossing class action lawsuit. It seemed as though Better Call Saul was intimating some sort of a link between the two – a cause and effect that would be spelled out in the season’s penultimate episode.
And to a certain degree, ‘Pimento’ did deliver on Chuck’s relationship with Jimmy – especially as it pertained to his legal career. The episode’s final moments are sour ones, to say the least; they spelled out in no uncertain terms exactly what Chuck thought of his little brother. In the eyes of the elder McGill, Jimmy will always be Slippin’ Jimmy, and no law degree (from the prestigious University of American Samoa or otherwise) is going to change that. In fact, as Chuck mentions, Jimmy with a degree in law was like “a chimp with a machine gun.”
Chuck’s words were harsh, not only because they came out of a place of contempt for what Jimmy had accomplished (and also the way he accomplished it), but because of how it undermined his own achievements – his entire career in fact. Chuck sees the law as something to be cherished, and his devotion to the law is not to be diluted by an upstart (family or not) with a law degree earned online.
There’s a hint of sibling rivalry going on in Chuck’s statement to Jimmy that somehow makes it even worse. It is the familiar idea of “what’s mine is mine,” and Jimmy needs to go find something that’s his, something more suitable to his nature. Something like a nice job in the mail room, where Chuck can keep his eyes on his little brother – make sure that he doesn’t revert back to his old scam artist ways, but also keep him from flying too close to the sun. Or, in other words, keep him from besmirching the good name of the law (and the McGill in Hamlin, Hamlin, McGill, apparently) by reaching for something he was never intended for.
It seems as though, in Chuck’s eyes, Jimmy is that quintessential lost person. The guy who doesn’t know where it is that he belongs, so he latches onto the defining characteristic of the person he is closest to, or perhaps even admires. The stinging sentiment, the complete bitterness in Chuck’s admission during the climax of ‘Pimento’ suggests not only that he doesn’t think Jimmy is fit to call himself a lawyer, but that there is some lingering resentment (or even envy) in what his online law degree-wielding brother was able to accomplish – with regard to the Sandpiper Crossing case.
It all comes back to one simple question: Can people change? All season long, Chuck has been expressing doubt that Jimmy has really left his life of petty crime behind him, worrying on more than one occasion that certain stunts were going to result in the dreaded “chimp with a machine gun” scenario. But what the series, and especially Michael McKean, have done so well over the course of the season is paint Chuck as the kind of brother who was always looking out for Jimmy. That much was made clear during the flashback were Jimmy was facing some serious jail time, only to be rescued by his big brother. And yet, while Chuck’s concern seemed brotherly on the outside, it concealed a demonstrable level of contempt on the inside that revealed what he really thinks: people simply do not change.
But what’s interesting about the episode is how it explores the idea of whether or not people can change by exploring how the actions of the individual in question aren’t nearly as important as the perception others have of him. What ‘Pimento’ does such a great job of illustrating is that change is impossible when others have the power to determine your path. That throws a new wrinkle in Jimmy’s journey to becoming Saul Goodman. It ostensibly leaves him with no choice.
Now, whether or not Jimmy will be on the road to changing his name and all of his business cards by the end of next week’s season finale is a good question. He may not be there just yet, but this certainly puts him on the road to strip mall lawyerdom. It also paints the whole Saul Goodman persona not only as a way to get ahead, but also as one giant act of defiance against Chuck. Jimmy’s essentially going to become everything Chuck despises.
That’s what separates Mike’s situation from Jimmy’s: Mike knows exactly what he’s getting into, he makes the decision to engage in a life of crime for the purpose of providing for his daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Consider Mike’s explanation to his minivan-driving employer that by taking something that doesn’t belong to him and using it to turn a profit, he’s made the decision to become a criminal. He may be a nice guy, he may even be a good guy (outside of selling pills to someone like Nacho), but at the end of the day he has willfully crossed the line into criminality.
It seems like Mike’s speech is a little on the nose – especially considering he’s talking to a meek-looking family man, who finds himself venturing into the murky world of drug dealing – until you stop to consider how it really colors Chuck’s decision to take away Jimmy’s case, and to tell him where he doesn’t belong. All of which adds up to an unexpectedly powerful episode about choices – who gets to make them and why.
Better Call Saul will air its season 1 finale ‘Marco’ next Monday @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Ben Leuner and Ursula Coyote/AMC