If I had a dollar for every time I have said “we saw our first glimmers of Saul Goodman in this episode” in this space, I could afford to run a 30-second commercial on a local Albuquerque TV station. But this time I really mean it: The return of Slippin’ Jimmy, who saves the day when the owners of ABQ In Tune try to weasel out of their “first one’s free” deal with Saul Goodman Productions, followed by Jimmy’s first steps into the murky water of Easy Money Helping Drug Dealers when he uses his legal expertise (with a dollop of BS) to get himself and a “mug mealer” out of community service without losing their hours, felt like a major signpost toward the true introduction of our title character. This is the fast-talking Saul Goodman, who takes such relish in putting one over on the man, that we have been waiting for, and for all the complaints (complaints that I wholeheartedly disagree with) from some quarters that this show is taking too long to go Full Saul, it has felt over these last few episodes like Jimmy is on an increasingly slippery slope, and that there is a good chance that we will see all these elements that have appeared in teasing isolation — the legal practice, the shady clients, the loud suits, the nom de plume — come together before the season is out.
In the episode’s pre-credits flashback to Jimmy and his old running buddy Marco visiting the shuttered McGill family grocery, we learn that Chuck’s seething contempt for Jimmy having stolen money from the till may have been misplaced all along: when Jimmy found a rare coin in the till that a customer had used unaware of its value, Jimmy’s father refused to let Jimmy keep it and waited for the customer to come back for it. After that, when Jimmy spotted a rare coin, he just pocketed it. So was he stealing from the till? Yes. But his comments that his father was a soft touch, easily talked into giving away the inventory, suggests that the store’s continual shortfalls were his father’s doing. Lamenting his dad’s poor business sense, Jimmy tells Marco that the old man “was never gonna do what he had to do,” and should never have bought the store in the first place.
You could just as easily argue that Jimmy should never have become a lawyer, because he similarly is never gonna do what you have to do — a point underscored by the way Kim continues to provide an example of doing things the right way in stark contrast to Jimmy’s inveterate corner-cutting. Not only did she tell Mesa Verde about her involvement in Jimmy’s disbarment hearing and offer to give up their business, this week we learn that she also plays golf, further ingratiating herself to her clients and winning a referral for more business from them — business she initially refuses, reminding Kevin that she had promised Mesa Verde would command her full attention. As much as we like the character, it would be hard to argue that “charm offensive” is one of Kim’s go-to tactics; she is just working her ass off, every day, and it is paying off — paying off handsomely enough that, in a fit of pique, she can scribble a check for $14k to an insulting Howard to clear her conscience about being in his debt. But it is not without a price: she has no time to spend with Jimmy, and even if she did, his hardening emotional shell is starting to shut her out, and it seems like it may not be ONE BIG AWFUL INCIDENT that drives these two apart for good, but a more gradual growing apart. And that increasingly feels like the real tragedy of this show.
That is, unless Hector Salamanca manages to turn Nacho’s father’s upholstery business into a money-laundering operation, but I wouldn’t bet on that after this week: Nacho has successfully swapped out Hector’s heart medication (in the most suspenseful scene this series has yet produced). We know that Hector is going to survive this series, if confined to a wheelchair, so either the medicine swap is the thing that puts him there or, if the gambit somehow fails, Mike will intervene on his behalf.
In addition to the way it recasts Chuck’s grudge against Jimmy, The A.V. Club’s Donna Bowman points out what the rare coin scene says about Jimmy:
It’s a steep slope for Slippin’ Jimmy. We’re reminded in the cold open, which takes place back in his scamming Cicero days with partner Marco (Mel Rodriguez, always a welcome presence on my television), how deep was his disdain for his straight-shooting father. While the two wait for cops to pass by so they can leave the shuttered McGill store with Jimmy’s lucky coin collection, bait for farm-equipment conventioneers ripe for a con, Jimmy corrects Marco’s mistaken impression of his dad. He wasn’t beloved, Jimmy says. He was a soft touch, never taking advantage of the breaks that came his way. Instead, if a customer paid with a rare coin, ignorant of its value, Mr. McGill would move heaven and earth to try to get it back to him. The lesson Jimmy learned was the opposite: When the cruel world gives you a little opening, pry it open and grab everything that isn’t nailed down.
Only a sucker just takes no for an answer when the suspicious music store owners decide they don’t want the elite package from Saul Goodman Productions after all. Only a sucker shuts up and takes what the petty tyrant of community service trash pickup dishes out, figuring that there’s no choice but to play by his rules. What Jimmy learned from a father who never got ahead that way was that you have to take control of the game and change the rules to suit yourself. In the music store instance, he unloads the rest of his ad buy—back to square one, with a go-away gift in the bargain. But in the community service instance, he makes a tidy sum for including Mr. Rhymes With Mug Mealer in his threatened litigation. A wad of cash sure seems to ease his pain.
Kenny Herzog of Vulture points out how the episode softens Chuck even as it hardens his brother:
Conversely, Chuck is giddy and game for reentering the workforce and society at large. He proudly shares journals of his depreciating pain levels with Dr. Cruz, who’s been getting him back on the good foot since that perilous payphone sojourn weeks earlier (good thing for Chuck it’s still 2003). She communicates caution that he pace himself, and listens patiently as he opens up about the pain of confronting his psychosomatic state. Both characters are at their gentlest, a reminder that the version of whomever we’re seeing at any given time serves a particular function. When Jimmy was Better Call Saul’s outright protagonist, Chuck was his foil. And in Dr. Cruz’s coldness toward Chuck, she supported our and Jimmy’s shared sense that he was at the mercy of this man’s mania.
But as season three rounds its final lap, Jimmy has darkened like the interiors of those rooms that bookend his adult life. It’s time to see Chuck in a new light. Not a halo, per se, but more like Rebecca views him, or as Kim began to understand him — an ill individual coping with a delayed neurological reaction to past trauma, who’s contending with the possibility that he’d displaced his anger and grief for decades. Whereas Jimmy is still hung up on settling scores and proving his worth to everyone but himself, Chuck appears genuinely dedicated to getting better and being whole.
That, of course, will be tested now that Howard fills him in on their malpractice-insurance issues, which they will both surely peg as Jimmy’s doing. Over the remaining two episodes, we’re almost certain to see Chuck’s anger get triggered and his antiquated coping techniques get weaponized. If only Jimmy had left well enough alone. Like Mike, he’s crossed a line that he likely can’t walk back, charting his irrevocable course toward the indignity of losing consciousness in a Cinnabon kitchen down the road.
The New York Times’ David Segal follows on:
Well, this is the darnedest thing. On some psychic level, Jimmy and Chuck appear to be trading places. Jimmy used to be the life-loving extrovert. Chuck was the bitter shut-in. Now, look at them.
Jimmy spends much of this week’s episode seething about his fortunes and in pain that leaves him, literally, flat on his back. Meantime, Chuck is blossoming. He is grappling with the reality that the illness that turned him into a recluse is psychosomatic. And as he looks ahead to life after mylar-lined jackets, he is planning — can you believe this? — a party. A great big celebration, with “caterers and a full bar.” He wants to return to his career. He bravely, if a bit prematurely, attempts a foray into a supermarket, demonstrating the very sort of élan and recklessness that was once Jimmy’s domain.
It’s as though there were a fixed amount of warmth and a fixed amount of vinegar available to the brothers McGill, and as Jimmy becomes more acerbic, Chuck becomes less so. As Chuck becomes more human, Jimmy becomes more remote.
“My back hurts and people suck,” says Jimmy, a line that is very Chuck.
“I want to be surrounded by friends,” says Chuck, a line that is pure Jimmy.
The dynamic is a fascinating surprise. And its origins can be traced to what initially played like a victory for Jimmy and a catastrophe for Chuck — the disbarment hearing. The immediate aftermath left Chuck in the fetal position and Jimmy in the mood for champagne. Now Jimmy is supine and Chuck is shopping for groceries.
And over at Uproxx, Alan Sepinwall ties the grocery-store cold open to both Nacho’s and Mike’s stories this week:
It’s easy to see parallels, meanwhile, between Mr. McGill and Mr. Varga, even though Nacho has far more respect for his father than Jimmy did for his. Nacho is putting himself at grave risk trying to kill Don Hector, but it’s the only way to save, at minimum, his father’s business, and probably his father’s life, so risk he shall. The business with the pills is a pretty classic BB/Saul piece of sweating the details — literally, once Nacho busts the air conditioner to ensure that Hector won’t be wearing his jacket when it’s time to swap out the medicine — and showing just how hard it is even for an experienced criminal to pull off a specialized trick like this(*). And by showing us just how difficult it was for Nacho to do the swap once, we’re primed to feel tense for the moment when the plan succeeds and he has to swap the pills back again before the police or someone else in the cartel can check them to see why they didn’t work.
It’s also not hard to find parallels between Mr. McGill and Mr. Ehrmantraut. Mike has never been a saint, but we’ve also seen him trying to do things the right way, even as he keeps being tempted by the money he can make for Kaylee by working on the other side of the fence. Working for Daniel Wormald led him to Nacho, which put Tuco and Hector and the Cousins into his life, which led to a truck heist that left the good Samaritan dead and Mike with $200,000 in cash he can’t give to his granddaughter. “Slip” sees him belatedly dealing with both problems, first by identifying the Samaritan’s body in the desert near where he robbed the truck and alerting local authorities to provide closure for the man’s loved ones, then going to Gus Fring for help laundering the cash. He presents it as a one-time transaction and offers Gus a hefty percentage for his trouble, but Gus doesn’t want Mike’s money: he wants Mike Ehrmantraut himself. Their handshake signals the start of an alliance that will last years, create fortunes, ruin lives, and end with the men on either side of it dead at the hands of Walter White.
New episodes of Better Call Saul air 9pm ET Mondays on AMC; recent episodes are available on-demand.