Better Call Saul 1.3 – “Nacho”

Money makes people do crazy things. Though “Nacho” was ostensibly a slower episode than “Uno” and “Mijo“, the third hour of Better Call Saul took a deeper look into the good and the bad inside Jimmy McGill. The Kettleman Family, who are at this point kind of like Breaking Bad‘s Elliott and Gretchen in the way they relate to the larger plot, not only drew out this dark side/light side conflict in Jimmy but will almost certainly continue to do so in the upcoming episodes.

And as usual, a lot of that conflict and drama was implied or depicted through action. Allowing his conscience to get the better of him after accidentally imparting the knowledge of Nacho’s plan to rob the Kettlemans to his friend Kim — a new character and seeming love interest — Jimmy anonymously tips the unwitting family off to Nacho’s plan. But none of this is painfully obvious until it happens, and the expected epiphanic conscience-awakening moment is played down in favor of a more methodical and strangely exciting sequence.

By way of recap on said sequence: Jimmy hangs up with Kim and heads to bed, lying awake in his boiler room futon. He rises at length and heads to the storage closet. He lays a broom down on a short filing cabinet and slides a fresh roll of paper towels over the handle, and he proceeds to unroll the hell out of the thing until it’s just an empty cardboard tube. He moves into the unlit nail salon and rummages among the foam toe separators for an elastic band. He finds a small square of wax paper in another drawer. He gets in his car and drives through the dead of night until he reaches a payphone.

Even though this entire time we’re wondering what the heck is Jimmy doing? it’s still an engaging sequence. Jimmy picks up the phone and calls the Kettlemans once, twice, three times until Mr. Kettleman picks up, and then he uses the towel roll/elastic/wax paper contraption as a voice muffler. The Kettlemans can’t understand a single word he’s saying. Eventually he ditches the entire contraption and just tells the Kettlemans they’re in danger.

The scene could have easily played out any other way — say, Jimmy gets out of bed and then a smash cut shows him pulling up to the payphone, muffling his voice with his hand. That achieves the same end, but it doesn’t show the minuteness of Jimmy’s schemes and the actual amount of work he puts into something as simple as an anonymous phone call. This, in a nutshell, is what Better Call Saul had to be in order to even merit existence in a post-Breaking Bad television world: the prequel path had to be interesting on its own, had to be difficult and rife with obstacles, had to show Jimmy not simply deciding to become Saul but slaving away at stupid little voice-changing contraptions that he ultimately discards.

To that end, “Nacho” also gave us a few more ingredients for the Saul Goodman/Mike Ehrmantraut recipe that we know will eventually be made into an actual meal (how’s that for a metaphor!) before the events of Breaking Bad take place. Once again, Saul denies us the easy thrill of seeing the two meet and team up just like that; all of this bodes well for episodes (and seasons) to come.

That said, it’s the new characters — Nacho, Kim, the Kettlemans, Jimmy’s brother — that really provide the meat of the new series. Jimmy’s light/dark battle is brought out by the “Kettlefamily” and their stolen millions, eventually hunting them down on foot through the arid paintbrush desert beyond the Kettlebackyard. He finds them, having essentially kidnapped themselves and fled with their bratty children into the barren landscape, and he demands they “do the right thing”. It’s what he’s been trying to do the whole episode, helping Nacho even though he’s threatened by him, helping a client he knows is guilty by verbally assaulting the prosecuting lawyer in the courthouse bathroom. He seems like a good guy, not for lack of a better descriptor but just because that’s truly what he seems like amid his somewhat sleazy demeanor. Bob Odenkirk nails this, as he did toward the end of his arc in Breaking Bad. He seems like a good heart.

…but then he grabs Mrs. Kettleman’s bag, she grabs the other end, and when it rips open the stacked millions explode all over the little tent. It’s clear that money has made the unassuming Kettlefamily a bit insane. The question is whether Jimmy will allow it to do the same to him.

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