It’s been a week since the conclusion of the first season of Better Call Saul. “Pimento“, far and away the best single episode of the season (although I loved “Hero“), made sure Jimmy’s world was flipped upside down as we headed into the finale hour. Relationships that once meant the world to our morally-challenged lawyer are now seen in a different light, and people Jimmy once thought to be the scum of the earth are suddenly something else entirely.
It’s fitting, then, that “Marco” gives a name and a history to Jimmy’s one-time best friend Marco. In “Hero” we saw a glimpse of Slippin’ Jimmy’s adeptness in the short con game, and if he’s The Sting‘s Johnny Hooker then Marco is his Luther Coleman. After the events of “Pimento” Jimmy returned to his old stomping grounds and found Marco exactly where he left him, asleep at a bar in the middle of the afternoon, scraping by on a crappy job and a handful of half-assed scams.
Jimmy slides back into it like a favorite shirt (he resurrects an old floral-print button-down, too), pulling cons with Marco on every sad sap who crosses their line of sight.”It’s like Miles Davis giving up the trumpet,” says Marco of Jimmy’s desire to move away from the flimflamming. It’s a talent that’s so natural to him that a three-year absence spent passing bar exams and schmoozing potential clients for his elder law practice seems to have made no difference at all. Of course, we know that Jimmy’s law tactics have resembled conchs on more than one occasion, so perhaps it’s not entirely fair to say that he’s been away from it. Still, Jimmy makes it inescapably clear that he feels he’s destined for greater things.
Howard Hamlin spent the greater part of the season as the closest thing to a “villain” in the landscape of Better Call Saul, but in “Marco” he articulates things that hew closer to that destined-for-greatness side of Jimmy than the sleazeball side. More simply: Howard knows Jimmy is a good guy. Yes, Jimmy apologizes for calling him a “pig-f*cker“; it’s more Jimmy’s attitude toward his jerk brother Chuck that Howard clearly acknowledges and respects. “You’ve been doing all of this every day for over a year?” he says about Jimmy’s daily grocery runs. By now it’s clear to Jimmy that Chuck doesn’t like him — this has been evident to Howard from the beginning, and Marco even says as much later in the episode — and that pain certainly manifests itself in other places throughout “Marco” (see: B for bingo scene).
Is Jimmy pissed off or determined as he drives off at the end of “Marco”? It’s a bit of both, obviously, but perhaps the uncertainty of his future is where the real beauty lies. The fact that we know where Jimmy ends up just because we’ve seen Breaking Bad mattered less and less as the first season went on, and now I think it’s almost a moot point. Jimmy’s been a rolodex of personalities since the pilot episode “Uno“, and even though he’s in pain and seems to be driving toward a clear-cut future (i.e. his Saul Goodman persona) that may not be the case. It’s possible that Saul is still a long way off, and it’s almost certain that there are plenty of surprises left on Jimmy’s journey even though we think we know how it ends.
Though it’s important for Saul to stand alone while still being a great companion piece to Bad, it’s no mistake that the show operates on a similar premise: our protagonist is a good guy at heart…but that might not be his whole heart. It’s not as easy as “good” or “bad” (I’m thinking of that Carl Jung quote about the pendulum of the mind swinging not between right and wrong, but between sense and nonsense), and as far as that’s concerned it’s impressive how men with such shaky morals can elicit such sympathy from us. This article/video on Indiewire gets to the heart of that, because at after a certain point in the journey the morals almost cease to matter (sacrilege, yeah). So go for it, Jimmy, whatever it is. We’re with you.