‘Better Call Saul’: “Fall” Brought Dark Consequences and a Heel Turn for Jimmy

     June 13, 2017

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One of the immense joys of slow-burn TV is the payoff that comes from a long build-up, and in the case of Better Call Saul, the smaller the moment the more explosive it can be. “Fall” was a complicated episode (and the penultimate one of the current season) that put its characters all on separate paths — ones that will undoubtedly set the course for their futures. For those of us who have watched Breaking Bad, we know what those futures will be. But the tension of Better Call Saul has always been about the how, when, and why of it. “Fall” just happened to show some of the darkest moments of those journeys.

Let’s start with Kim, who had the biggest moment to close the hour, but a lot of small ones that led to it. Savvy TV drama viewers knew pretty much from the start of the episode that something unfortunate was going to befall our dear, plate-spinning Kim, and (save one other moment) the episode’s tension was at its very height when her car was stuck spinning in the stand out by the oil derrick. We know Kim isn’t part of Jimmy’s life once he’s part of Breaking Bad, but her demise seems like such an exceedingly dark turn. Still, I was extraordinarily worried as she freed her car and then saved it from smashing the derrick (and surely ending her business with Gatwood). It was also some clear foreshadowing for later on, when she told Jimmy to hold his news until she got back.

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Image via AMC

Any time a TV or movie character is filmed in a car from the passenger seat, one presumes a T-bone is coming, and it never stops being horrifying. Kim running off the road was a new way to experience that heart-stopping jump-cut, and it was brutally effective. She’ll be ok, her papers will get reorganized, and her meeting can be rescheduled (hopefully), but it’s a moment that suggests Kim’s tightrope of a career may be running off the rails as Jimmy can no longer practice law and pull his weight with the firm (more on that later).

“Fall” also explored the next step of Chuck’s recovery, where he continues to mostly feign his complete turnaround after the trial. Like Kim’s story in this hour, Chuck’s is largely defined by Jimmy’s past actions. The trial exposed Chuck’s illness as being only in his mind, which then exposed HHM to increased insurance premiums because of the liability of him working there. While Howard tries to quietly guide Chuck into a life of academia, Chuck’s excessive pride pushes back forcefully and litigiously. In a scene reminiscent of the one where Chuck and Jimmy orchestrate a dinner to prove to Rebecca that Chuck is just fine, Chuck anticipates Howard’s arrival after he receives the letter about the lawsuit. It’s not just that he has the lights on and the stove going in full-force, it’s that he uses an immersion blender at the end so calmly. Long-time viewers immediately recognized this as an exceptional moment (one that Chuck must recover from and start practicing his mantras immediately after Howard leaves), but it’s such a tiny thing. A character using a household appliance should be mundane, but here, it’s imbued with exceptional meaning, and shows Chuck’s willful determinism to reinstate himself to his former glory at HHM.

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Image via AMC

The only two characters whose trajectories are not currently affected by Jimmy both had intriguing moments of their own in “Fall.” Nacho’s moment of extreme tension came last week when he risked his life to switch up Hector Salamanca’s pills, and this week there was almost a moment where that result of that action had the desired result. But Better Call Saul knows better than to play a moment out that quickly, and Hector survived the placebo pills to rant and rave about Don Eladio choosing Gus’s methods over his own. But more importantly, it also meant that Nacho had to tell his father that Hector was going to come to him and use his business to launder his drug deals. Michael Mando was incredible here — firm but loving, hopeful but incredibly sad. There’s a suggestion, when he says he’s working for Salamanca “again,” that the two have had this conversation before, and that this is backtracking to something Nacho never wanted to have to return to. As such, his father kicks him out, but he promises him it will be over soon. Again, from Breaking Bad we know that Hector loses his health at some point, but whether or not it will be in time to save Nacho’s father’s business from that corruption is a frustratingly real and heartbreaking consideration.

Mike provided the night’s other strong Breaking Bad connection as he set up his payment schedule with Lydia through Madrigal, both of which play a big role in that series (and we know that Mike will definitely not be off the books that quickly, for one reason or another). While I was afraid that spending too much time on Gus’s connections pre-Breaking Bad would make the character lose his mystique, Better Call Saul maintains it with comments like Lydia saying to Mike, “A drug dealer? Do you think that’s all he is?” We know, of course, that Gus is a talented businessman and also a ruthless drug dealer all in one, but the power of it is not only a juxtaposition of his methods versus Hector’s, but also later of Walter White’s.

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Image via AMC

And then there was Jimmy’s story in “Fall,” where we need to talk about #JusticeForIrene, and the meaning behind those weighted Bingo balls. Since its inception, careful Better Call Saul watchers have been waiting for the moment when Jimmy McGill transforms into Saul Goodman. But as the show has made clear for a long time now that it’s not just one moment, but a series of moments, decisions, and consequences. The same was true for Walter White — he didn’t become Heisenberg overnight. Sure, we could probably point to the moment with Jane as when he truly breaks bad, but it’s more complicated to that. Jimmy’s hustling, and eventually, extreme emotional manipulation of poor Irene and her Sandpiper friends was hard to watch because it was just plain wrong. In the prior episode, though, I applauded him for getting a cash payout by faking a back injury because the jagoff guitar store owners wouldn’t pay him what they had agreed upon. That was easy to justify. We’ve also seen Jimmy embarrass and then publicly destroy his brother in retaliation for Chuck’s actions, and again, there was some justification there — even if both Jimmy and Kim didn’t feel great about it, there was causation.

Jimmy’s moral compass is guided mostly by his desperation and financial straits. We’ve seen things get very, very bad for him this season, and as such, it’s led him to hustle a sweet, innocent granny to get money he needs. Jimmy has always had the desire to take shortcuts and exploit loopholes to his benefit (or those around him), and he’s not afraid to falsify information to get what he wants. It’s not an admirable trait, but we — much like Kim in the Season 2 opener — have been willing to accept it because for the most part, Jimmy’s marks aren’t good people. There was always a kind of Old Testament moral code to Breaking Bad’s universe, where no bad deed goes unpunished. And yet Jimmy, especially whilst in Slippin’ Jimmy mode, was almost a kind of vigilante for that law, out to right the wrongs of others.

But in “Fall,” and with Irene, that was no longer the case. Jimmy is owed that money — eventually — and maybe he is right that the law firms are holdings out for their own greed and not for the interest of their class participants. Howard was a snide jerk to Jimmy, and it clearly sent him over the edge to setting up Irene. And even though there was a moment of hesitation before he added those special Bingo balls in, that or these other considerations in no way makes up for the outcome: Irene being frozen out by her friends, and met with silence when she won the rigged game.

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Image via AMC

The only way I could get over this scene was convincing myself that after the settlement, Irene and her friends would go back to being ok and she wouldn’t be bullied anymore. “Fall” also didn’t let Jimmy really “win” in his success, either. Like Irene, there wasn’t much satisfaction from a rigged outcome. It came late in the episode, and when he tries to celebrate with Kim, she brushes him off because she’s late for a big meeting. There are many things that are more important than that money, but at the end of “Fall,” Jimmy wasn’t seeing any of them.

In a recent interview with Uproxx about the future of the series (which as of this posting has not been renewed), Better Call Saul co-creator Peter Gould alluded to ongoing negotiations that could prevent the series from continuing. And if next week’s “Lantern” is the series finale, he said it would be “a very provocative” one, which feels like it could be a dark conclusion.

As for “Fall,” it was a stressful finish to a stressful episode, one that seemed to set each character on a very specific path towards a predestined future. Jimmy may not be jonesin’ for cash anymore now that he has the payout, which means he will not be as desperate in his schemes. But he’s crossed a line here that is significant, one that the episode’s title also alludes to. And somewhere near a Cinnabon in Omaha in the present day, the morally causational world of this show may have Jimmy paying for those sins.

Television