I was away from Better Call Saul for two weeks. The Mexican prison in which I was caged had neither televisión nor computadora, and for some reason the chip in my brain that live-streams anything and everything related to Breaking Bad directly into my eyeballs seemed to be out of juice. Por favor, I wheezed, necesito…Saul. My captors never budged. At length I escaped with the help of a beautiful young Mexican woman named Alejandra, by foot, by horseback, by freight train bound for the States, by the skin of my teeth. I collapsed onto my couch seventy-two harrowing hours later. As “Bingo” began I felt like I’d missed something, I felt disconnected, I felt for the first time like I actually needed the previously on montage. I felt lost. I longed for Alejandra.
Oddly enough, “Bingo” was actually partially about exactly that: is Jimmy going anywhere? Even if you forget about him for two weeks, is he still just going to end up in the same place he started? This is a guy who constantly reinvents himself with chameleonic disregard for each successive former self. The episode “Hero” went a long way to depicting this, first showing the con man Slippin’ Jimmy, then the upstart lawyer Jimmy McGill, then the coiffed and suited James M. McGill, Esq. beaming down from that billboard. The trick of the thing, of course, was that it’s all still Jimmy. That billboard thing was a con, plain and simple, just like the kind Slippin’ Jimmy used to pull.
Since then, Jimmy’s fashioned himself into a bastion of honor in the field of elder law. He’s about to rent a brand-spankin’-new office space with beautiful windowed corner offices. It might not be a con, exactly, but despite all of this reinvention Jimmy still seems stuck. A lot has happened since episode one, without a doubt, and yet in “Bingo” Jimmy sits in the same diner from the pilot episode with the same people talking about the same thing.
Those same people are the Kettlemans (okay Kettle-Team!) and that same thing is their blatant embezzlement of $1.6 million from husband Craig’s public office. Wife Betsy is the “mastermind”, meaning she’s the only one who has any real heart left (read: greed) in the whole situation. They shunned Jimmy’s offer of legal assistance in favor of the shiny lawyers at Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill, but now they come crawling back to Jimmy and make a pathetic attempt at blackmailing him into representing them. We see a flash of Saul in Jimmy’s proceedings here, because the Kettlemans don’t want a deal (“A deal is what they got O.J.”) and Jimmy still wants to find a way to help them despite his knowledge of their guilt (“There has to be a way”).
Interestingly, the Kettlemans’ retraction from the House of HHM meant that Kim got the slap on the wrist for letting high-profile clients walk out the door. It might have been easy, plotwise, to have the Kettleman fiasco cause Kim to leave her job and come work for Jimmy in his new office. The Kettleman case could go to trial and Jimmy could find a slightly-less-than-legal loophole to jump through, thus cutting his teeth in the criminal law world and stepping a bit closer to his sleazier Saul persona. A lesser show would almost certainly have gone this route, because it’s a route that seems new and satisfying. Thankfully, Better Call Saul is better than that. Jimmy one-ups the Kettlemans by essentially stealing their stolen money (“doing the right thing”, with finger quotes and all) and strongly suggesting they return to HHM and beg for Kim to take the case back.
…and that means Jimmy pretty much stays exactly where he is, no more clients, no fewer. At the end of the episode he stands in his unfurnished, empty space and answers the phone in the same secretarial voice he always has. Someday this space will be filled and he’ll have an actual secretary, but not yet. He’s got a road ahead of him, filled with criminals as dumb as the Kettlemans (aka Ned and Maude Flanders) and as threatening as Tuco Salamanca. At this point, even though he might seem largely stagnant, Jimmy will get there because he wants so badly to get there. “Gotta look successful to be successful!” he says to Kim on the tour of the empty office. Even if he closes the door and throws a tantrum when he’s alone, in public Jimmy always puts on the best face he can muster. In this business, that might be everything. “Streets of gold!”