If Jimmy is a circus then “Rebecca” is the sideshow.
At the end of last season I thought this otherwise superb series did not do many of its secondary characters service. The focus was rightfully zeroed in on Jimmy, but given the slow creep toward his Saul persona when it came down to assessing the first ten episodes I felt many side players, like Kim, Nacho and Howard, were generally underdeveloped.
The first half of Better Call Saul’s sophomore season of has probably been more concerned with these characters than the guy mentioned in the title, and particularly these last two episodes. The previous hour was dominated by Mike and Nacho’s ploy to incarcerate Tuco, and this one added layers to just about everyone else.
A lengthy pre-title card scene continues the show’s non-linear storytelling tradition and sends us back in time to when Chuck could handle light bulbs with no affliction. A few episodes back we saw Chuck shuffling through sheet music with the name Rebecca scribbled on it and this is who we find preparing dinner in the kitchen of their well-lit home. The elite violinist and the elite lawyer are awaiting a dinner guest, someone Chuck is not too geeked to see, and it’s quickly revealed to be Jimmy waiting at the door.
Awkward dinner conversation ensues, but ol’ Slippin’ Jimmy (the more rambunctious and uncouth version of our protagonist) does what he was born to do: crack off-color quips to loosen up the room. He begins to rattle off lawyer joke after lawyer joke, ribs he picked up after his first week in the Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill mailroom. Chuck is giving signs of that almost inexplicable shame we all feel when a family member is embarrassing us, even when they’re not (isn’t it amazing how the creators of this franchise are able to relate incredibly specific feelings in such a powerful way?) but Rebecca is loving it, even throwing her own attorneys-are-scum joke on the pile. Chuck grows increasingly uncomfortable; he’s not at all humored by his brother, and doesn’t really appreciate that his wife(?) is.
On the surface it would seem Chuck is just a no-nonsense guy, not exactly joyless but one who doesn’t allow himself to traverse deep into zones of silliness. The capper to the opener implies something different altogether though. As they lay on opposite sides of the bed Chuck and Rebecca discuss their plans for the next day when Chuck suddenly blurts out his own lawyer joke which only elicits an awkward response and forced giggle from Rebecca. Right there we’re given a whole ‘nother layer to the Chuck/Jimmy dynamic: the older sibling might not just dislike the younger because he’s a schemer, he’s very likely envious of those fantastic people skills too.
Tragically overdue for time in the spotlight Kim “Bourbon Shots” Wexler is the show’s next focus. Jimmy’s beau has mainly served to promote the main character, supporting or rebuking him whenever/wherever the plot needs it. The audience has received very little in regard to character context, motivation, grander plans and the like when it comes to Kim. I can’t say we got a whole bunch of background info on the show’s most significant female character but the mettle of her makeup was certainly on display.
This is first apparent when Jimmy tries to convince Kim to sue HHM for mistreatment. She abjectly refuses, smartly realizing she’ll achieve nothing worthwhile by suing one of the area’s biggest law firms. Still stuck in the dungy lower levels of HHM doing clerk-level work Kim scoffs at Jimmy’s attempts to play white knight, and hits us with “You don’t save me. I save me.”, which not only helps prove the strong fibers of Kim’s character but also makes for a bit of meta-commentary on how to define female supporting characters in the current age of fiction.
What comes next is an elongated montage of Kim calling just about every possible lead in her rolodex. It’s not extremely apparent what she’s doing, tracking down potential affluent clients for HHM it would seem, but the point of the piece is to show that Kim is a fighter and has no problem placing her nose firmly to the grindstone. Eventually, her telephonic rejections lead to a big get: major bank Mesa Verde retains HHM as their firm. Kim is giddy as this networking will help her escape the looming ire of Howard Hamlin.
Except it doesn’t. Immediately after their meeting with Mesa Verde Howard makes it clear to Kim she’s still banished to doc review. Yeah, in case you forgot this dude is a bit of a dick the writers forcibly remind you. Later, Hamlin stops by Chuck’s to share the good news about Mesa Verde and to toast the success. After discovering that Ms. Wexler was the one who did the footwork to get the account Chuck guesses that she’ll be out of the doghouse soon. Howard merely indicates that it’s a possibility while he sips on his chilled beverage. Damn, now I need this dude’s backstory too!
In one of the biggest payoffs thus far this year the Kim and Chuck portions of the episode unite mightily during the penultimate scene. A late-staying Kim and an early-arriving Chuck cross paths at HHM and share a cup of joe. Through their interaction it’s nearly clear that Chuck feels sorry for Kim, that, like himself, she has a fondness for Jimmy and that everyone involved in his life is “left picking up the pieces.” He tells the tale of Charles McGill, Sr. a corner store owner from Illinois who had a sizeable portion of his business revenue pilfered by his youngest son. Chuck goes on to say that their father refused to acknowledge the existence of evil, and would hear nothing in that regard when it came to Jimmy. Chuck Sr, was eventually forced to close the store and died shortly after, one would presume heartbroken about the loss of his livelihood. No one cried harder than Jimmy, Chuck Jr. tells us, and that is the point: Jimmy is a good guy who can’t help but do terrible things.
Last episode it seemed that Chuck might be gunning for Kim’s downfall to get to his brother, but maybe that was just Jimmy’s theory. Then again, maybe Chuck is buttering up Kim in order to use her against him. Whatever the case he lets her know he’s impressed with her work and will put in a good word with Howard.
There are smatterings of Jimmy throughout the episode, I promise. After his quasi-insubordination at Davis & Main he’s saddled with the short and hyper Erin, a younger lawyer who is versed in the employer’s “house style.” He ducks her once, but swiftly realizes he needs to appease the babysitter to keep his job. He submits to her soft lectures and rebukes her light stalking (“MEN’S room!”). Inside the bathroom of the county courthouse he runs into a colleague at the DA’s office. The guy, a zombie with a printed-on smile, is simply aghast at Jimmy’s success and material wealth. Our hero stands around flattered, but also seemingly unimpressed with himself. The scene is pretty useless, but fun. Maybe it’s supposed to point out that while Jimmy is doing pretty damn well he’s still not doing what he wants?
The episode ends with one of my favorite surprises of the series so far: Mike, healing from last week’s beat down, is sitting in a diner when he’s approached by…Tio!
We know Hector Salamanca well, but not like this. Fluent in English, sweet-voiced and highly suggestive in demeanor and speech Tio tries to convince Mike to agree to take partial blame for the kerfuffle with his nephew, Tuco. Though Tio agrees that Tuco needs some time in prison to cool down and learn to respect his elders he believes five to ten years is far too long. It’s an unexpected cameo and an even better development, putting unintended consequence on Mike’s shady deal with Nacho. I also like that the show is weaving these throwback characters into the plot rather than just having them show up in the background of a shot or delivering a jokey line in passing. Tio is a helluva force. If he was such a powerful menace (then pivotal ally) to Walt White whilst wheelchair-bound and mute then imagine what this guy could do when healthy!
“Rebecca” is titled after a side character (to a side character) who shows up for only a few minutes at the very beginning of the episode and doesn’t factor into any vital plot points, but yet the episode is aptly named. For one, Rebecca derives from the Hebrew word for “knotted” or “snared,” which nods to the emotional quality and moral motifs of the show. Secondly, this was an installment of Better Call Saul that looked to build up the secondary roles. To what ends? I’m not sure, because though these characters are affiliated with Jimmy their individual journeys don’t seem to be affecting the main character in any drastic way (yet).
Halfway through Season Two and I remain impressed. Still, this show can improve. The lack of a chief antagonist isn’t necessarily a black mark but it does make the dramatic tension feel scattershot. Better Call Saul has done tons to elevate the entire cast (just as I had hoped) however the next five episodes must delve deeper into the Jimmy to Saul transition.
I’m also hoping we get to see that video of Pryce squatting on baked goods. Fingers crossed.