“I sold my soul for B, I, N, G, and O! It’s a new game!”
If there was any doubt after last week that Jimmy McGill is finally, truly breaking bad, treating a little old lady like a pawn — lying to her, lying to all her friends, isolating her so she’ll go for the quick settlement in the Sandpiper case — would seem to put those doubts to rest. And an empathy-free Jimmy McGill looks a whole lot like Saul Goodman.
Suspended from practicing law for a year, Jimmy has to figure out how to make ends meet — most importantly, to hold up his end of the office-sharing arrangement with Kim, the last person left he still cares about — and has decided it’s time to check in on his old friends at the Sandpiper Assisted Living facility and see where things stand with the class action suit he started and then gave up, first to HHM and then to Davis & Main, for a 20% finder’s fee.
Once he realizes that Sandpiper has already offered a large settlement that would net him $1.1 million, but that Davis & Main is holding out for a bigger settlement that would increase their take by millions but the residents’ take by only a few percentage points, Jimmy realizes it’s time to speed things up. After all, his former clients aren’t getting any younger.
Even if he’s right, and Davis & Main is screwing the old folks, manipulating Irene and her friends is a stunning act of cruelty. The events of Better Call Saul — Jimmy’s half, at least — have had much lower stakes than those of Breaking Bad, but proportionally speaking, Jimmy’s stunt at the Bingo parlor is like his version of letting Jane die: the moment he let the dark overtake the light.
Chuck, meanwhile, is eager to get back into the light, having accepted that his condition was all in his head, but his recent behavior has unsettled Howard enough that he’s forcing Chuck into retirement. But if he thinks Chuck will go quietly, he doesn’t know Chuck, who, once so intent on proving that his condition was real, is now just as intent on proving the opposite, ostentatiously cooking over electric (not gas) burners and even using a hand blender.
Not much movement on the cartel side of things this week, though Hector is upset enough to learn that Don Eladio wants Gus to take over all transportation of “the product” that he has a minor heart episode as he proclaims his independence. It appears that the pills Nacho swapped out were not poison, just a placebo, so Hector is not going to drop dead right away, so Nacho has to come clean with his father and tell him that Hector is going to take over his business – Hector’s only alternative to letting Gus take over transport – but that it will all be over soon.
Lydia Rodarte-Quayle makes another appearance to assist Mike with laundering his ill-gotten cash through Madrigal Electromotive by hiring him on as a Logistics Consultant (“someone who consults on logistics,” she clarifies) to the tune of $10,000 per week. There is a bare hint that Lydia is in this game for more than purely venal reasons, as she tells Mike that Gus is much more than a drug dealer, but she does not elaborate. Does Gus have nobler motives than we’ve been able to see? Or is Lydia just rationalizing the shortcut she’s taking?
Kim continues to provide an example of what it looks like when you don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t cut corners, and just work your ass off all day every day, and it’s paying dividends: her new client, Gatwood Oil, is thrilled with her solution to his drilling-over-state-lines problem, and it looks like she will be paid handsomely and gain entry into the the kind of legal circles where the clients are high-dollar enough to build a firm comparable to HHM upon. Even when Gatwood leaves her on his oil field and her car gets stuck, Kim, in a wonderful little character beat, just keeps her head down and solves the problem and doesn’t even allow herself a fist pump before diving back into working on Gatwood. But even Kim has her limits, and the episode ends on her, punchy and sleep-deprived, nodding off while rehearsing her presentation on the way to the Gatwood meeting and crashing her car, with her carefully assembled settlement offers blowing in the wind.
The A.V. Club’s Donna Bowman zeroes in on the characters’ coping strategies in the face of mounting trouble:
To the intricacies of human relationships, to rifts with colleagues and friends, even to the internal conflicts that stem from wounded pride and perceived betrayal, these lawyers apply the remedy they know best: the law.
Chuck, as usual, represents this premise at its most infuriating. Sitting across the table from the folks who underwrite HHM’s legal malpractice coverage, he blows his top at the suggestion that he represents a risk for the firm. Why should anyone impose conditions on him? Why should any professional framework or process have any power over him? No, it’s the process of which he is master that will exert the power. When the threat of a lawsuit over unspecified lapses and violations fails to bring the representatives into line, Chuck anticipates the next step—“a demand letter that will make their heads spin”—with relish.
And of course, when Howard fails to back him up, and instead suggests (first gently, then forcefully) that he retire for the good of the firm, Chuck takes that unsheathed sword of the law to his partner, without hesitation. Chuck may have accepted that his condition is psychosomatic, but he has not stopped believing that the law will vindicate him. It’s the foundation of his worldview. He was willing to shatter his relationship with his brother over it, so naturally he’s also willing to destroy the firm with his name on it. At the start of the season I wondered about the resonances these storylines might have for our current geopolitical predicament, and dare I say, this is a big one. Seeing your enemies driven before you, hearing the lamentations of their women, forcing them to acknowledge your mastery—it’s worth anything, even reducing the world you’ve won to ash and rubble.
Alan Sepinwall of Uproxx sees it a little differently:
Jimmy is hanging by a very thin thread in “Fall,” but so are most of the show’s major characters, who are trying to go it alone in desperate circumstances, and suffering as a result.
When Hector refuses to accept Don Eladio’s order for all drug smuggling to run through Gus’s operation — and when the fake pills have enough of a placebo effect to quell the angry old man’s latest heart episode — Nacho finds himself with no choice but to warn his father what’s coming, and to confess that he’s working for the Salamancas again. The “again,” and the way that Michael Mando plays Nacho’s shame at the admission (along with the disappointment on Juan Carlos Cantu’s face as Mr. Varga assimilates this new information), tells us all we need to know about the history between father and son, and the very passionate fight they must have once had about Nacho associating with such scum. And what’s particularly brutal about the scene, beyond how drawn and tired and afraid Nacho looks, is that he may have confessed this, and gotten himself kicked out of his father’s home, for nothing, because he can’t get Mr. Varga to agree to trust him and stay calm when Hector and his people approach him. Nacho insists this will all be over with in a few weeks, and the condition that Hector is in during the Heisenberg years suggests some kind of medical mishap is coming, but will it come fast enough to save the upholstery business and Nacho’s dad?
The disbarment hearing, meanwhile, continues to create aftershocks for Chuck and Howard. Jimmy’s stunt with the malpractice insurance agent doesn’t get Chuck’s coverage pulled, but it makes HHM’s premiums so onerous that they might as well have, which leads Howard to try to push his mentor and partner into finally retiring. But Chuck McGill is even more prideful than his brother — it’s hard to imagine him being the most prideful person in this fictional universe, but there’s still plenty of life left — and rather than slipping into academia, or a chance to write that book about the Commerce Clause, he instead threatens to sue HHM for the money he’s owed as a name partner. We know from the show’s earliest episodes that Howard can’t pay that — he indulged Chuck’s extended absence because it was much cheaper than buying him out the way Jimmy wanted — but we also know that even with Dr. Cruz’s treatment, Chuck can only bluff so much, as we see how much pain he’s in from using the blender the second that Howard leaves. If the brothers were still on speaking terms, Jimmy would be the ideal sidekick in this operation, but he’s not, and it seems like Chuck is going too far, too fast, for this stage of his recovery.
The episode ends not on any of those desperate men, but on Kim Wexler, dazed and confused as the paperwork she so carefully organized — for a presentation that she admitted to Billy Gatwood had to be juuuuust right in order to solve his problem before the tax burden became too heavy — flies through the desert air in the wake of the single-car accident she got into because she had worked herself to the point of distraction. The car can be fixed, the papers reprinted and collated, and perhaps the meeting can be rescheduled with no harm and no foul, since Kim has a pretty good excuse so long as nobody asks too many questions about the nature of the accident. But Kim is — like her boyfriend, like her ex-boss, and like Nacho Varga — asking more of herself than she’s capable of giving at the moment, and bad mistakes are being made as a result.
Over at the New York Times, David Segal looks at this show’s spin on karma:
Certainly, the way that Jimmy engineers Irene’s capitulation is underhanded and inexcusable. It’s the sort of behavior that, in other shows, is ultimately punished. But in the universe as conceived by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, the sinners rarely suffer for their sins. Their loved ones do. And that is my best guess as to why the sleep-deprived Kim winds up staggering out of a solo car crash at the end of this episode. Payback is a bitch in Better Call Saul, but the indiscriminate sort. Kim might have overstretched herself by taking on the Gatwood Oil case — as Paige from Mesa Verde warned — but that hardly justifies the pain inflicted by the Story Gods when she drives off the road and collides face first with her airbag.
Similarly, it looks increasingly as though Nacho’s father, rather than Nacho, will suffer for Nacho’s work with the cartel. The scene in which the compromised son pleads with the principled father — let Don Hector Salamanca run your upholstery shop for a while, and don’t make trouble — is an emotional highlight in an episode that was mostly about callousness and calculation.
The only ray of hope for Nacho is that his pill-switch plan to kill Salamanca will soon work. But the plan has flaws, as evidenced in the brief scene in which the Don appears, fuming over phoned-in orders from Mexico to continue using Gus Fring’s transportation network of trucks. Salamanca has an attack of whatever ails him and cures himself by taking some kind of medicine. It may be a different medicine or from a different bottle. Perhaps the attack simply passes on its own. In any case, he’s still standing.
Nacho might need a Plan B.
And Kenny Herzog of Vulture sees the Sandpiper settlement dilemma in broader terms:
That’s the crux of “Fall,” really: Should you opt to fast-track your needs at others’ gradually more burdensome expense, or let situations play out naturally and hold out for more than diminishing returns? We certainly know how Hector feels about the latter. As does Nacho. When the elder Salamanca all but spits in cartel leadership’s eye at the pronouncement that his plan to piggyback on Gus’s route has worked a little too well, Nacho hurries to his father’s house to warn that Hector will be making a hostile visit soon. It’s a heartbreaking moment for Nacho, and fans of Nacho, when his father more or less disowns him. (Even more so when Nacho pours out one last glass of milk before leaving.) But Nacho made his choice to work for Hector, and understands that slipping up now means his blood has to take the fall.
When Mike signs on the dotted line as a “security consultant” with Madrigal, he likewise accepts his choice, even if the outcome isn’t determined. Breaking Bad viewers will appreciate (and spoiler-averse folks who’ve yet to binge on BB, stop here) how crucial this encounter truly is. Mike could hardly predict that he’d eventually break into Lydia’s home and stop just shy of killing her. Nor could Lydia ever imagine that this man whom she thinks underestimates Gus would outlive the kingpin and conspire with a former chemistry teacher who spikes her tea with a lethal dose of ricin. Still, it’s hard to say whether either of them would have pumped the brakes if a crystal ball foretold that their partnership with Mr. Fring would indirectly result in the horrific murder of a young boy beneath the desert train tracks. Maybe Jimmy might have eased up on Irene were he privy to the irony that, almost 15 years hence, he’d be a humbled mall employee rather than hustling mall-walker. Perhaps it’s best to classify such consequences as human rounding errors.
The season finale of Better Call Saul airs at 9pm ET Monday on AMC; recent episodes are available on-demand.