Recap Digest: Better Call Saul 1.7, “Bingo”

After filling in the heartbreaking details of Mike’s back story last week with “Five-O,” widely called the best episode yet of Better Call Saul, the show quickly wraps up the Mike-vs.-the-Philly-Cops storyline in the cold open before turning back to everyone’s favorite delusional embezzlers, the Kettlemans, and along with them, the breezy but inventive tone that has characterized the bulk of this first season.

I couldn’t help imagining how much worse Walter White’s adventures would have gotten if he had married Betsy Kettleman instead of Skyler; he probably would have gone down in a hail of machine-gun fire in Season 1.

The episode’s real delight was Mike’s method of finding the money the Kettlemans had stashed, which led to Jimmy doing “the right thing” (air quotes his), which led to losing both his expansive office suite and all hope of Kim joining him there. While on the one hand it’s easy to see how repeated disappointments like this might lead someone to drift over to the dark side, Jimmy is so good-hearted that I’m still having a hard time imagining how he’ll go so far down the dark path that his first advice to Walt and Jesse, only a few years from this episode’s timeline, will be “Why don’t you just kill Badger?” But then, if I knew how he made that transition, we wouldn’t need this show, would we?

Alan Sepinwall sees this episode as a pivotal moment for Jimmy:

But this season has been filled with examples of him doing the right thing and suffering awful consequences. As we see Jimmy howling on the floor of the corner office he hoped to give to Kim — for reasons both professional and personal — it’s not a moment as gut-wrenching as Mike wailing, “I BROKE MY BOY!,” but it does light up a clear path from where Jimmy is now to where we know he’s going. Doing the right thing brings him headaches and misery; being a criminal lawyer in every sense of the word seems just fun.

The A.V. Club’s Donna Bowman zeroes in on Jimmy’s real talent:

You have to hope Jimmy takes some pleasure in his ability to make a way out of no way. He did it when he got Nacho released, and he does it again tonight by maneuvering the Kettlemans into revealing their hiding place, having Mike steal the money, and delivering it to the DA’s office. That’s his real ace in the hole as a lawyer, not the fast-talking carnival-barker persona he adopts to distract juries from loser clients and get the business of the nursing-home crowd. The best part of this talent is that he gets the savage satisfaction of telling the truth to his unappreciative client-antagonists. He told Nacho flat-out that his own sloppiness put him in the APD’s sights, and in the Kettleman’s great room he calls bullshit on their bullshit. “Thing you folks need to know about me? I’ve got nothing to lose,” he explains as they stare dumbfounded at the ruins of their Cloud Cuckoo-Land of frantic scheming. A man like that can’t be manipulated by threats.

IGN’s Ruth Cornet likes how the series uses composition to underline Jimmy’s predicament:

Better Call Saul is a show about duality, about those shadowy areas where sometimes right is wrong and up is down. The gorgeous lighting and cinematography perfectly captures the thematic exploration. This is not the story of a hero who faces his inner and outer demons victoriously. It’s the portrait of a man who faltering within the confines of a path that is simply out of sync with who he is. He’s caught, and the framing creates a really interesting sense of claustrophobia. I’ve talked about this before, some, but it’s worth noting again.

It’s not so much that the camera is consistently tight on Jimmy; in fact, for the most part, quite the opposite. There’s expanse, but it’s a heavily framed expanse. More often than not he’s seen behind a doorframe, through the glass of a fish tank, a square in a ceiling and so on, as the layers and lines that surround him evoke a sense of suffocation. As if everything is more important than he is. As a viewer, it so often feels as if Jimmy is trapped, a caged animal, frozen in an emotionally binding web with his brother – and to some degree Kim.

Yet each bit of progress he makes brings with it another obstacle, and disappointment after disappointment.

Sean T. Cornet chimes in over at Rolling Stone:

Move over, Sesame Street: Better Call Saul just taught us more about the power of shapes than Elmo ever could. Scan tonight’s episode with your DVR’s fast-forward feature and just check out the geometric variety on display. Look at Jimmy and Mike in the police precinct, dwarfed by a massive block of square most-wanted mugshots. Check out the big rectangular picture windows of Jimmy’s expensive new office, quite literally granting him a new view of the world. Watch Kim desperately try to talk her clients Craig and Betsy Kettleman into taking a deal amid the disorienting triangles and trapezoids of her over-designed high-class conference room. And bear witness as otherwise innocuous structures become prison cell bars, trapping their inhabitants in their own failure. Even if you muted your TV and watched tonight’s episode “Bingo” without the sound on, you’d still come away with a clear message: “Jesus, this show is beautifully made.”

David Segal of The New York Times sees the episode as a fork in the road for Jimmy:

You could describe Better Call Saul as the story of a struggling entrepreneur, one stuck in a system that is all but baiting him into illegal behavior. By accepting that bribe, Jimmy took the bait. This produced nothing except anxiety and further criminal action. So what lesson will Jimmy learn? There are at least two possibilities: 1) Never yield to such temptation; 2) If you do yield, yield smart — in a way that will allow you to keep whatever tempted you.

Jimmy still seems like a guy who would like to internalize lesson No. 1. There’s a decency about him that is hard won; it comes from swearing off his days as a scam artist to his brother. But he also craves success. Given the name of the show, and his future as a consigliere, it’s safe to assume he’ll embrace lesson No. 2 soon enough.