There are certain actors who deserve TV Performer of the Week every week, and Bob Odenkirk is one of those for Better Call Saul. Odenkirk carries the series on his back, and while “Cobbler” also was an excellent turn for Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut (who already has a much better storyline in this season than last), Odenkirk continues to shine in his mastery of the character of Jimmy, both in the nuances he gives him, and in the way he portrays the many shades of his personality.
At the core of Better Call Saul is the struggle between two sides of Jimmy McGill — one who desires to be a successful, upstanding lawyer, and one who (beaten down by the realities of life) falls back upon his innate abilities as a charming con man. The compromise, down the road, is the persona of Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman, who straddles the legal line and finds loopholes with aplomb. But until we get there (and far more depressingly, Jimmy’s post-Breaking Bad stint in Omaha), Odenkirk must portray the innate battle among his many impulses and motivations, and they are legion.
In that way, “Cobbler” was a brilliant showcase of the many sides of Jimmy McGill, starting with the return of Chuck (Michael McKean), and his impact on Jimmy’s life since their fallout. In an early scene, Jimmy takes command of the conference room at HHM and starts detailing how he thinks they can crack the case, even after some patronizing statements from Patrick Fabian’s Howard (engineered by Chuck). But then Chuck himself enters the room, and Jimmy is silenced by his own … what is it, exactly? Anger? Sadness? Fear? Kim (Rhea Seehorn) puts a reassuring hand on his knee under the table, and he gets back on track. But those few moments of pause were filled with drama and uncertainty, with Odenkirk deftly holding our attention with suspense for what turn Jimmy might take.
As it was, Jimmy saved his feelings for after the meeting, and later settles in to his new work place at Davis & Main with a personality that seems almost shy and retreating. It’s completely different from the side of himself he shows when he has his old car towed away after being given a company car, and tells the strict owner of the nail salon where he used to work (and live) out of the boiler room, basically (and more colorfully), to shove it.
And then, “Cobbler” gives Jimmy the chance to morph yet again when Mike calls him up and asks him to be Pryce’s attorney in that twisted drug money / baseball card / Hummer idiocy. This is where we really get to see Jimmy shine as a bullshit peddler. As Kim says to him, he certainly knows how to tell a story. And with the cops, Odenkirk’s Jimmy is laid-back, self-assured, and guardedly friendly. He keeps things curt at first, before gradually (as planned) letting his guard down, and explaining the “twisted truths” about Pryce’s tape, the details of which are too bizarre for anyone else to ever think up on the fly. It’s a masterful scene that’s funny, uncomfortable, and cooly portrayed.
But, wins don’t come easily for Jimmy, and when he details his exploits later to Kim (where he is different again — gentler, thoughtful, vulnerable), she’s not impressed. The story was great, but he also falsified evidence. That she can’t forgive. Though she doesn’t cut things off completely, she does cut off him off from telling her about these kinds of things in the future, which further isolates him.
So let’s add all of these up: in the main timeline, there’s Jimmy as a confident lawyer, a bitter brother, a vulnerable lover, a whip-smart employee, a chaotic tenant, and a cool trickster. In the future, we also know him to be a depressed, reticent Cinnabon employee. All of these are distinctly portrayed by Odenkirk, and yet, they all seamlessly add up to one enormously complex, engaging, and magnetic figure in Jimmy McGill. It’s not an easy task, even though Odenkirk makes it look that way. The series is completely built on the undeniable charm and spark through which he stole his scenes while on Breaking Bad, which is really an enormous feat. So every week, we tune in not to see what happens to Jimmy in long run — that we already know. It’s to see where Odenkirk takes him next.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays nights on AMC. You can read about former TV Performers of the Week here.