In the eighth episode of Better Call Saul many characters enacted plans — Mike’s makeshift spike strip, Jimmy’s copy shop sabotage, Kim’s joint venture as solo practitioner, Chuck’s legal though underhanded success in retaining a new client. These capable, clever characters started grandiose plans, executed them, and came out the other side…worse?
“Nailed” is all about what happens after the hammer comes crashing down. It’s about the various schemes perpetrated by the characters of BCS and how their wit and ingenuity explode in their faces. I mean that metaphorically, of course, except in the case of one “Good Samaritan.”
The episode begins with the same “Regalo Helado” truck we followed over the border in “Fifi” now embarking on its return trip back to Mexico. Mike prowls behind a busted roadside sign and unleashes his DIY stop stick causing the truck to careen off the road. Mike, dressed entirely in black, silently subdues the salt and pepper bearded driver, hogties him, then uses an electric saw to shred the tires. Now he has a quarter million in cash and the Salamanca clan is reeling.
This victory does something to Mike we’ve never, ever seen: it makes him happy. Yes, the grumpy gramp, who could be singularly defined as stoic, actually enjoys himself a little. First, much like a criminal returning to the scene, he watches from afar as Hector Salamanca has a meltdown regarding the truck robbery, and his future health problems are foretold via his angry gestures and a moment of painful regress. Mike’s ploy seems to have worked and at a local saloon he buys an entire bar of patrons a round in apparent celebration. Later, at his regular diner, he chats up a waitress about the weather and the two bat around some playful innuendo. Mike, you dog!
This temporary patch of bliss (well, bliss filtered through a grimace) is cut short when he receives a call from Nacho demanding to meet. We all know what this about and the script gets right to it. Mr. Varga accuses Mike of robbing the truck, the tell being that Mike left the driver alive, and inquires his reasoning as Hector considers the business between them as over. Mike responds that the threat against his family was enough justification. The thing is, Nacho isn’t even mad about the money, he’s more upset that the criminal side of his life is in flux and the increased scrutiny could reveal his own infidelity to the cartel. Satisfied that Mike was a lone actor and there are no inside men working within the crime network Nacho takes his leave, but Mike is curious — why weren’t the police involved? It seems this was the greater purpose to his plan, to get Hector tied up with the DEA, etc.
Nacho lays out the unfortunate truth. Instead of the cops being alerted about a truck with shredded tires on the side the road a helpful passerby was murdered by Hector via a bullet to the face. Upon hearing this news Mike sits in his car and broods. Once again, the “half-measure” proves its folly.
Elsewhere in Albuquerque a disastrous “victory lap” takes place.
A buoyant Chuck accompanies Howard to a hearing in front of the local Banking Board to finalize the new Mesa Verde branch in Scottsdale. Braving bright lights and mandatory trips through metal detectors Chuck ventures into the courtroom expecting a soft coronation. Instead he endures what he later admits is the greatest embarrassment of his professional life.
Jimmy’s typographical trickery in “Fifi” causes the Banking Board to outright reject Mesa Verde’s application with the next opportunity to be heard on the matter docketed to a much later date. Kevin, big boss at the bank, is simmering with fury, and his peer Paige doesn’t look bemused either. Chuck is on the verge of a panic attack. The guy typically emboldened by his career success and occupational prowess now quavers in disgust and embarrassment.
Even for all his (imagined) issues Chuck is a brilliant guy and it doesn’t take him long to realize that he didn’t confuse the numbers 1261 and 1216. He knows exactly what happened, and, more importantly, who’s responsible.
The attorneys of Wexler-McGill are busy prepping and painting their new office space when Kim receives a phone call from Mesa Verde effectively re-hiring her as counsel. Before she can even fully react to this sudden shift in fortune she’s summoned (by Ernie) to Chuck’s to transfer the paperwork.
Chuck wasn’t expecting Jimmy to come as well but it’s all just the same. He wants to ensure that Kim understands just how she obtained the Mesa Verde account and the ethical trapfalls of this apparently positive development. While he details the entire scheme with impressive accuracy Jimmy plays dumb, even commenting on how outlandish the whole plot is. Alas, Chuck is relentless, quickly approaching livid as he exposes Jimmy’s ploy. He demands Kim acknowledge this transgression and to report it as a dutiful attorney should.
What follows is the emotional payoff of the season. Leaning into Kim for a reaction Chuck gets one he wasn’t expecting. The typically subdued woman flat out rejects Chuck’s story and instead aims the blame right back him, pointing out that one could easily make a mistake while staring at tiny font by lantern light. Fighting law with law she is concerned with the evidence and notes that Chuck lacks proof of any sort. She chastises him for belittling his brother, even going as to far as to blame him for making Jimmy Jimmy. Kim proclaims sympathy for her bae, saying she pities him because of this mistreatment, and caps it all off with a simplistic though damning statement: “And I feel sorry for you.”
Chuck stands silent, possibly realizing that he indeed looks quite pathetic, a grown man, crippled by electricity, blasting the only family he has in his life for something he can’t even prove. Even more, Kim’s point that Chuck created the monster he now fights is an undercurrent I feel the series has been toying with almost since the beginning. Yes, Jimmy is a “grifter,” a wolf, but through Chuck’s various meddling, from getting him out of legal trouble, to relocating him to NM, unintentionally inspiring his lawyer dreams, blocking his upward mobility at every opportunity, etc., he’s culpable for the Saul that awaits.
So, yeah, Kim is not catching what Chuck is chucking. She basically tells her former boss to go shove his conspiracy theory and then jumps in the car with Jimmy…who she promptly punches three times in the arm to indicate she isn’t buying his shit either.
When the couple are lying in bed Jimmy tries to smooth things out but Kim shuts down any type of talk regarding what just happened. She does relate one thought though: Chuck is smart, and it’s best not to leave loose ends fluttering about for him to find.
Jimmy hilariously slinks out of bed and heads over to the 24-hour copy shop. Upon arrival he sees Ernie inside speaking to the lone employee, Lance. Waiting until Ernie leaves Jimmy goes in and coerces Lance into pretending he never saw him the night he doctored Chuck’s docs. He throws in a few hundred dollars to sweeten the deal and then posts up across the street to watch it all unfold.
Like the dutiful justice seeker he is Chuck arrives with Ernie in the latter’s surprisingly gaudy car, casts off his space blanket shawl and presses Lance about Jimmy. The clerk plays the fool, giving half answers and acting disinterested. This only inflames Chuck, and as his anger increases so does his disorientation. Through powerful camera work and violent editing we feel the effect of the buzzing bulbs and searing neon lights on Chuck. He grumbles fire at the employee and snaps at Ernie for speaking to him like an adolescent. Lance tries to brush Chuck off by helping another customer but the pangs of disgrace, of frustration and rivalry, spur Chuck to chase after him and, much like the rest of the characters, he is given a lesson in hubris. In doing too much. Losing consciousness Chuck collapses, striking his temple against the hard edge of a countertop. :-O
Jimmy watches all this from across the way, hiding partway in the shadows as he quietly begs the insipidly shocked Ernie and Lance to call for help. The two stand around looking about as useless as their outward appearances indicate.
One of my favorite hours of television is Breaking Bad’s penultimate episode of the second season “Phoenix.” It was the one that ended with Jesse’s doped-up girlfriend Jane choke on her own vomit and Walt White making a clear decision not to help her despite being the only one who could do so. “Nailed” is the structural equivalent to “Phoenix” and appropriately Jimmy is faced with a similar fulcrum. Does he step out from the shadows and help his brother following this nasty accident? Does he run away to make sure his felonious Mesa Verde subterfuge remains hidden? Given the character we find in Breaking Bad, the markedly more callous and emotionally bereft Saul, and the fact that Chuck is never even hinted at in that show, the decision might already be spelled out for us.
(Also, it’s pretty hard to ignore the cross motif littered throughout the episode.)
Spliced between all the drama Jimmy and his filmmaker crew (now employing a makeup girl) show up at a grade school that boasts a huge American flag in its courtyard. Following one of his patented sweet talks to a pair of faculty/administrators and a claim that Rupert Holmes (of “Escape” fame) went to the school, Jimmy films another portion of his commercial. These scenes, carried out over the last few episodes, have been playful but they point to a darker subtext pertaining to transformation and emergence of Jimmy’s true self. Our protagonist is happily marching toward a place of immorality and it seems he’s got most of the cast in his brigade.
This was one of the strongest episodes of the series yet, no question. A couple of scenes, the debate between Chuck/Kim and the closing moments in the copy shop, were extremely gratifying, and Mike’s arc has sported some strong storytelling. Though there are too many lulls and pauses overall but Better Call Saul continues to deliver emotionally and intellectually powerful episodes each and every week. Very excited to see what the season finale has to offer.