Better Call Saul 1.8 – “RICO”

I’m such a huge fan of Michael McKean’s Chuck, brother to Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul, and “RICO” really underscored why. His casting was great based on looks alone, but soon it was clear that the character had a heck of a lot more to him than “looking like Bob Odenkirk”. The fifth episode “Alpine Shepherd Boy” delved into Chuck’s condition — a strange aversion to electromagnetism — and yet delved even deeper into the relationship between Chuck and Jimmy. Coincidentally, we also recently wrote about shots like the mailbox one above in our discussion of Michael Mann’s The Insider, so, yeah. There’s that.

First, though, before talking about Chuck’s medical/mental affliction, it’s worth recounting “RICO”s mini-flashback. Since “Uno” reached forward into Jimmy/Saul’s post-Breaking Bad life, each succeeding flashback has contributed to a portrait of who Jimmy used to be. As we discussed in last week’s review of “Bingo“, the answer to that question is really multiple answers: Jimmy’s a chameleon of sorts, shifting from street-level con-man to remorseful convict and now to mailboy at HHM, and there’s a sense that the “present-day” events are a continuation of this constant reinvention.

That mailboy has just passed the bar exam, a development that seems as shocking to Jimmy himself as it does to Kim and Chuck. The latter, in particular, is completely flabbergasted. Jimmy never told his older brother he was attending law classes through the University of American Somoa (“Go Land Crabs!”), and we might suspect this is partially because Chuck might have rolled his eyes at such a prospect. Jimmy? A lawyer? Never. And so Chuck’s speechless pride is reflected in Jimmy’s own demeanor: finally, after years of asking him for bail money, he’s able to grasp what it feels like to make his older brother proud.

Speaking of speechlessness (sorry), there’s a great tail-end to this flashback of Jimmy’s life featuring Howard and Jimmy that same night Jimmy’s passed the bar. The door shuts the two of them into a glassed-in copy room, so all we’re treated to is the visual and the sound of a printer mindlessly churning out page after page. We nonetheless get a ton from this wordless scene, which no doubt depicts the beginning of Jimmy’s hatred for Howard. But since we’ve only just seen Jimmy telling Chuck that he’d love to work for HHM as something more than a mailboy, might we begin to suspect that Chuck’s eye-rolling doubts of his wayward younger brother go deeper than simply eye-rolling? Might Chuck have asked Howard to discourage Jimmy because he couldn’t bring himself to do it?

If so, that would certainly set up some sort of change for the Jimmy-Howard relationship going forward. But it would also change the Jimmy-Chuck relationship, possibly irrevocably, and might even provide fodder for Jimmy’s shift into the guy we know as Saul Goodman. In the present-day of “RICO”, Chuck comes out of his self-imposed retirement to assist Jimmy with a fraud case against Sandpiper Crossing, a nursing home in the center of town. Seeing the brothers work together is nice, especially for Jimmy, because not only does he get to see Chuck focus on something other than his illness but it also gives him more opportunities to impress him with his legal prowess. When we get down to it, Chuck might be the entire reason for Jimmy even considering becoming a lawyer in the first place.

At this point the structure of Better Call Saul is growing to be more and more satisfying as the longer storylines flesh themselves out. Again, the portrait of Jimmy pre-Saul is coming into focus through flashbacks (that’s pre-Saul, not to be confused with Jimmy pre-Saul, which is kind of the entire thing of Saul, which is pre-Bad [= good?], with the exception of that post-Bad Omaha Cinnabon scene — anyway). And though it’s a very fluid tale thus far, there’s still a monster-of-the-week-type feel to some of the episodes. Think of the skateboarding scam in the pilot, the billboard scam of “Hero“, the Kettleman fiasco of “Bingo” and the Sandpiper stuff here in “RICO”. This is a long way of saying that the self-contained nature of each episode is done beautifully, making each piece of the puzzle important and unique.

Lastly, kudos to the hilarious dumpster-diving scene (or “the opera”). The guy who talks about big trash bins in terms of hobos and wigwams is really just destined to become the über-quotable Saul Goodman.

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