There’s nothing quite like a good ol’-fashioned Hoboken Squat Cobbler, amirite? You know what I’m talking about. A Full Moon Moon Pie. Seriously! Would I make this up?
If Bob Odenkirk isn’t TV’s Best Funnyman then he’s certainly #2, right behind the unstoppably hysterical Louis C.K. or the endlessly quippy Stephen Colbert. Odenkirk’s advantage is that few comedians are a part of something as brilliant as Better Call Saul, and “Cobbler” might be a microcosm of the entire series in terms of tone and humor/drama balance. The season opener “Switch” was great, pulling back for some breathing room after the comparatively cataclysmic events of “Pimento” and “Marco” and allowing Jimmy some Me Time to reflect on his epic sibling rivalry with Chuck. We didn’t see Chuck or Mike (aside from the in-episode recap of the ending of “Marco”) and it was a refreshing change of pace.
Happily, bringing those characters back in full didn’t shake up the feeling of changing pace, nor did it feel as if those characters are anything but vital to Better Call Saul. Saul is definitely a true blood brother to Breaking Bad in the sense that a minor-seeming character like Pryce or Gale Boetticher can become a crucial piece of the whole puzzle, but the heart and soul reside in the core cast. “Cobbler” felt more like a return to greatness than “Switch” because that core was out in full force.
To that point, Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler is really becoming a fantastic character. Far too often showrunners and filmmakers treat a romantic attraction as a kiss of death for a relationship between a male lead and a female lead. Yes, there’s a certain eye-roll factor to the inevitability with which this sometimes occurs, like when Mulder and Scully become romantic on X-Files because, hey, we’ve been not kissing all this time, and we’re in a room together, so why not. Just last week Rick and Michonne made out on The Walking Dead, made only slightly more excusable by the fact that Rick and Michonne are literally among the last people on earth. The fear for weak screenwriters is that there are such frenzies about creating strong female characters these days that casting a woman as The Lady Hanging Off the Protagonist’s Arm will make that character weak, too, which of course is oversimplification. Even the Lady Hanging Off the Protagonist’s Arm can have a dark and tumultuous and complicated character arc.
Kim’s not a LHOtPA, but the romance between her and Jimmy — wholly absent from the first season — doesn’t encroach on her character at all. Maybe because there’s an actual challenge that exists between then, the concern with what Mike calls being “morally flexible”, that it just clicks to have Kim and Jim be invested in each other on a higher level.
One also expects Kim to have some sort of challenge from Chuck, nemesis and brother of Jimmy who’s nonetheless probably aligned with Kim on the whole “morality” issue. Howard Hamlin makes a point of mentioning that Kim Wexler essentially engineered Jimmy’s hiring at Davis & Main, and even if that’s not exactly true we do see Kim switch the seating around when she’s alone in the conference room; she’s engineering a little tiny part of the whole. “Cobbler” showed that Chuck’s hate toward Jimmy is way bigger than HHM, so much so that he overcomes his condition and braves his hypersensitivity to electromagnetism just to “bear witness”. If Chuck wants to remain the true engineer of his brother’s fate, he’ll need influence over those who control the little tiny parts.
And maybe hate is the wrong word for what Chuck throws at Jimmy, though from the receiving end that’s certainly what it must feel like (and I’m sure Jimmy’d grin and sneer the feeling’s mutual). Not hate, maybe, but a longstanding, deep-rooted, unshakable belief that his brother simply will not measure up to everything he himself has worked so hard to achieve. To Chuck, Jimmy is always equivalent to 2nd best. The crux of Jimmy’s arc so far lies in whether he can be convinced of this, whether he’ll settle for second best or try to reach #1 regardless of that pesky “morality”. In this episode Kim gives Jimmy a cup that says WORLD’S 2nd BEST LAWYER, a cute joke between the two attorneys and a shout-out to Saul Goodman’s mug in Breaking Bad.
Then Jimmy puts the cup in his cupholder:
Jimmy might not notice that the LAWYER part is now effectively muted, but he might sense his silver-medal standing nonetheless. A big part of his transformation into Saul Goodman is this relentless, incomplete runner-up-ness so intricately tied to Jimmy McGill, who can’t even be #1 where his own name is concerned due to his successful big brother.
Admittedly, Saul Goodman is #1 because he carves a niche out for himself and dominates the empty playing field, but at a certain point success is success. Moreover, Saul works with criminals and not for them, which is something Jimmy clearly relishes at the end of “Cobbler”. He jumps at Mike’s offer and goes above and beyond the call of duty in representing the lowly Pryce, crafting the kind of story only he can. Odenkirk’s defeated demeanor throughout his monologue is truly priceless. He already recognizes the difference between dim-bulb wannabes like Pryce and the Kettlemans and serious criminal operators like Mike and Nacho (sidenote: Michael Mando is putting in some great work as Nacho, reminding one of Oscar Isaac in his easy swagger). Meeting Walter White will prove to be the final bridge to cross, a bridge that spans “morality”, and a bridge too far.
Odenkirk and Jimmy shouldn’t settle for #2, and so it’s good to see both of them going the extra mile. “Cobbler” might rival “Hero” and “Alpine Shepherd Boy” for funniest Better Call Saul episode, but then again who knows what’s to come. Jimmy said it best, presaging what’s to come in a light both humorous and tinged with doom: “The world is a rich tapestry, my friends, and trust me, you don’t want to see it.”