Recap Digest: Better Call Saul 2.2, “Cobbler”

The symbolism of Kim’s gift to Jimmy in the week’s Better Call Saul – a “World’s Best Lawyer” travel cup, cheekily modified by Kim to read “World’s 2nd Best Lawyer” – was pretty hard to miss. Though it fit snugly in the cup holder of his trusty Suzuki Esteem, it does not quite fit in the cup holder of his company car, a brand new Mercedes.

Obviously, this is a metaphor for the idea that Jimmy will never really fit in at his new firm. But if you were patting yourself on the back for that little bit of ENG 210 close-reading, it’s fair to say that Jimmy probably missed it, shrugging it off by saying “Must be metric.”

While Kim likely meant Jimmy to take “World’s 2nd Best Lawyer” as the good-natured ribbing of a significant other in the same profession, Jimmy was probably thinking of Chuck: no matter what Jimmy does to prove himself as an attorney, his brother, whose “name is on the building” at HHM, will never see him as an equal.

Chuck’s appearance at the meeting of the two firms handling the Sandpiper case throws Jimmy off his game for a moment, and the resurgence of his feelings about Chuck’s betrayal is likely the reason he takes the assignment to represent Wormald, the world’s most short-sighted drug dealer, in his police interview.

This sequence, in which Jimmy spins a hilarious yarn to explain the presence of the hollowed-out baseboard in Wormald’s apartment, is the purest hit of Saul Goodman we’ve had yet on this show; a true pleasure to behold. But that pleasure quickly gives way to dread, because though Kim loves the story in the retelling, when Jimmy gets to the part about making a videotape to back up his claim Wormald is involved in something called a “Squat Cobbler,” she makes it clear: she does not condone any bending of the law and doesn’t want to hear about it.

So, the slow-motion tragedy of Jimmy’s transformation to Saul continues, because the person he cares about most is the only thing stopping him from giving into the side of himself that loves to get over on the other guy, no matter what the cost. As Kim tells Jimmy, if he keeps doing this, his firm will eventually find out and he’ll be ruined. But, the same thing is true of Kim. He can try to keep it from her, but she’ll eventually find out, and when she does there will be nothing left to keep him on the side of the angels.

Entertainment Weekly’s Greg Cwik sees symbolism in the episode’s opening:

A metronome sways like an inverted pendulum. Fingers flitter across piano keys. In darkness, Chuck sits at the piano, his eyes gazing at the sheet music for “Sicilienne,” a piece originally composed (but never used) for a five-act comédie-ballet that skewers aristocratic snobbery. It was intended for piano and cello together; it is iterated here as a sad solo performance, sapped of its envisioned humor.

“Cobbler” is helmed by Thomas Schnauz, who wrote and directed the sublime Breaking Bad episode “Say My Name,” in which Walt kills Mike for pointing out that pride and vainglory are corroding Walt’s business and life. Schnauz, like most of Gilligan’s galère, deals in irony and tragedy, channeling John Cheever as much as he does any noir or New Hollywood movie. The sad staid objects, the melancholic happy hour shadows, the bitter merriment and whiff of failed promises — it all makes you wanna pour one out for Cheever.

Visually, the Gordon Willis-inspired lighting practically dictates to the viewers that Chuck — and Jimmy — are enmeshed in the kind of moral ambiguity that lured Michael Corleone into darkness. (“I know it was you, Chuck. You broke my heart.”) But this problem between Chuck and Jimmy — it is not business. It’s personal. A wide shot pins Chuck in the doorframe from afar, so he’s tiny, rescinding into the background as another relic in his house. Chuck sits back at the piano, eyes glistening. The metronome ticks away as Chuck becomes more and more out of sync with the outside world.

The New York Times’ David Segal contemplates the show’s lowered stakes:

In moments like the police station scene and Mike’s negotiation with Nacho, Better Call Saul is still better than nearly everything else on television, but it lacks the same evocative sense of a hidden, sinister Albuquerque. I can’t think of a Better Call Saul setting that I’d like to visit. This is perhaps because none of them are home to a devious, outsized sociopath, but it might also be that the writers aren’t interested in the kind of illicit thrills they crafted in Breaking Bad. (“Cobbler” was written by Gennifer Hutchison, a former “Breaking Bad” writer.) So far, Better Call Saul is a far more interior show. It raises similar questions about ethics and human nature, without the body count.

I’m not simply arguing for more shooting, though it wouldn’t bother me to see more weapons. I just wonder if this show’s general lack of urgency and visceral kicks — or anything equally compelling to take their place — might start to work against it. Is anyone dying to catch the next episode? What is that you can’t wait to find out? What open questions do you yearn to have answered? Aside from “What does that light switch in Jimmy’s office’s actually turn off?” I’m kind of blank.

Yes, a love story is emerging with Kim, and yes that love story will be complicated by Jimmy’s wayward inclinations. Other than that, the only real reason I look forward to Episode 3 is the show’s track record. Season 1 proved Better Call Saul can flex its dramatic muscles, vigorously, at any moment. Hopefully it will. Soon.

Donna Bowman of the A.V. Club sees another motivation for Jimmy’s exploits:

The problem with Jimmy’s education as a grifter is that he has grown addicted to having an audience. Look at how he has the company car delivered to the nail salon so that the techs can fawn over it and the owner can choke on her bile. Marco served admirably, both aiding and applauding the performance. Kim fell into the same role last week, but she wouldn’t commit to the partnership. So Jimmy brought the show to her, so to speak, and as they eat surplus Boston creme pie together, she eats up the account—until it crosses the line into legal malpractice. “I cannot hear about this sort of thing ever again,” she tells him, and he answers: “You won’t.” He’s not going to stop obstinately flipping that switch, and she’s not going to ask questions about it. But her scruples mean that he has no cheering section for what he does best, and is determined to keep doing to poke Chuck right in his squinty narrowed eyes.

Observer’s Sean T. Collins worries that Mike’s scenes are too good:

Better Call Saul has a Mike problem. Granted, this is what Marlo Stanfield from The Wire would refer to as “one of them good problems,” but a problem it remains. Simply put: No matter how thoughtfully composed the shots, no matter how refined the acting from the show’s cast of largely comic talents gone dramatic with excellent results, no matter how strong a character Jimmy McGill remains—when Jonathan Banks is on screen as Mike Ehrmantraut, there’s no one else you’d rather be watching.

At least that’s how it felt to me in “Cobbler,” the second episode of BCS’s second season. Perhaps it’s because the welcome-back moood of the premiere has now given way, as it has to, to the basic incremental advancement of the plot. But as Jimmy settles into his new job as an attorney at the tony Santa Fe law firm Davis & Main, his segments of the show will naturally take place in the thrill-a-minute-world of discussing class-action lawsuits about nursing homes in conference rooms with men in mediocre suits. And like, you don’t cast Ed Begley Jr. and his acoustic guitar to keep people on the edge of their seats, you know? This is vibe is intended to be vanilla as hell, and it succeeds all too well.

And Alan Sepinwall of HitFix is reassured that we are in good hands:

As much as I want Jimmy to somehow rewrite history and enjoy these legit rewards… I watch a hysterical scene like the one where Jimmy serves up a pie-ful of lies to those detectives, and I’m reminded of why everyone wanted to make a Saul Goodman show in the first place, and why the creative team assumed they would have gotten to Saul well before now. Bob Odenkirk has been a revelation as a dramatic actor on this show, and I look forward to many and more opportunities for him to make me feel deeply about Jimmy/Saul/Gene’s plight. But in that scene, I was so delighted at his comic delivery, and how he was treating this absurd fetish — with its many, many, many alternate names — with the utmost gravity, that if the hour had ended with him tendering his resignation to Davis and Main and moving into the strip mall, I don’t know that I would have minded. This was the funniest Breaking Bad universe moment since Jesse thought Walt was going to build a robot, and the show sending a reassuring message that it will do just fine whenever the switch in Jimmy’s office flips permanently to the Saul position.

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