I knew while reviewing “Bali Ha’i“, last week’s episode of Better Call Saul, that I’d be eating my words not long after the following episode hit the airwaves. “Bali Ha’i” wasn’t at all a bad episode; on the contrary, it was full of tension and character development and that special Saul mix of humor and meaningful symbolism. But for the first time the Jimmy McGill storyline felt like second fiddle to the Mike Ehrmantraut storyline, mostly because the latter was about a highly personal slow-boil turf war and the former was about a file audit at a law office. Doesn’t take much to discern which one of those will be more gripping.
“Inflatable” did much more than put the focus back on Jimmy. After a cool flashback cold open showing some of the elements of the youthful genesis of Slippin’ Jimmy, “Inflatable” finally seemed to push Jimmy over the invisible threshold at the heart of the series itself. The conceit was always this: we watch Jimmy become Saul. In the same way that Walter White’s Mr. Chips becomes Scarface, Jimmy’s sensibilities are leading him toward a particular version of himself. One could argue that “Inflatable” is the episode where Jimmy finally becomes Saul.
It’s not a fully-fledged version, of course, and perhaps “version” is a misleading word in a certain sense. This “particular version of himself” is the Ideal Jimmy, the real me that Jimmy refers to multiple times throughout “Inflatable”. It just so happens, of course, that Jimmy loves this version of himself while pretty much everyone in his life hates it. Chuck, Howard, Rich Schweikart and Clifford Mane all find this Jimmy to be intolerable in a professional context. The real test is with Kim, perhaps the only one who sees any worth in Jimmy’s real me; again, though, that worth doesn’t extend into the workplace as far as Kim is concerned.
One supposes that the context is everything. Saul is perfect for that strip mall with the gigantic inflatable Statue of Liberty on top, for the gaudy office wallpapered with the Constitution. Saul operating inside the hallowed halls of Davis & Mane? Not so much. He wears bright orange suits and gladhands prospective clients without blinking. He declines to flush the toilet, citing a dangerously low water table (you know: a real issue; all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men flush unnecessarily). The nail in the coffin, as it were, is when he decides to take up the bagpipes at the office. Cliff Mane caves and fires him. Thus does Jimmy get what he wants, leaving D&M with his bonus intact and his future ahead of him. He even gets to keep the cocobolo desk.
Granted, this is a sort of exaggerated “fire me!” version of Jimmy, but damned if it doesn’t look a lot like Saul Goodman. How refreshing to see this guy garbed in glittering cufflinks and tawdry big-knot ties, slamming fruits and veggies into an overly-loud juicer. This is so like the comic relief of Breaking Bad, especially at home in the Vince Gilligan-esque montage of “Inflatable”, one of the best since “Marco“.
The context, though. Not only is the environment noticeably off, but Jimmy himself is hosting conflict between Jimmy the Man and Jimmy the Lawyer. “There are wolves and there are sheep,” the seedy hustler says to little Jimmy in the episode’s flashback; on the other end of the episode Kim asks, “What kind of lawyer are you going to be?” Deep down Jimmy wants to be himself, and he sees himself as both a good person and as a successful businessman. Oddly enough, even if Jimmy the Man is ultimately good Jimmy the Lawyer is ultimately bad. For this reason the black-and-white post-BB sequences that begin each season (so far only glimpsed in “Uno” and “Switch“) take on extra importance, mostly because Saul’s conclusion in that show seemed to suggest that this “criminal lawyer” was in fact one of the good guys all along.
If that’s the case then “version” is the wrong word. If the real Jimmy is a good guy all along then Saul is more of a disguise than an actual iteration of selfhood, as if when the camera follows Walt and Jesse out of that office the World’s Best Lawyer hangs up the orange suit and reminisces on plastic cups of cucumber water. Does he shake off his criminality? When he punches the clock does his morality return? Down the line, Better Call Saul might start to overlap with Breaking Bad in order to address this possibility that Saul isn’t Saul at all. He’s just Jimmy from 9 to 5 on weekdays.