Better Call Saul 2.9 – “Nailed”

As Breaking Bad approached conclusion in September 2013 someone asked me if I sympathized with Walt. I danced around the question because that’s the whole point, in a way, isn’t it? You see where Walt’s coming from, and yet he’s doing some bad shit, and yet it’s for a good reason, and yet maybe it’s also for a bad reason, and yet who’s to say what’s good or bad anyway, and yet how could you not think this is bad? And on and on. The morality of that series — shifting, malleable, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes trivial — isn’t intended to be “solved” by the end of Walt’s arc.

And in much the same manner the warring positions of Jimmy McGill and his older brother Chuck are both simultaneously completely understandable, at least at this point in Better Call Saul. “Nailed” continued to make this disagreement more and more explicit, a fact which itself follows an interesting trajectory over the course of the first two seasons. It was only in “Pimento“, last season’s penultimate episode, that we really discovered the animosity Chuck had for his younger brother.

Now, the cards are more or less on the table as far as Chuck’s side of things is concerned. The spat can’t be simplistically boiled down to a commentary on who’s right and who’s wrong, but one thing is worth nothing: Chuck, as insufferable and bitchy and just plain mean his treatment of his younger brother may be, still has an honest and open discourse on the subject; Jimmy, as noble as his reasons may be for doing his dealings in underhanded ways, is pretty much at the opposite end of the honesty spectrum. The former makes your blood boil when he says stuff like “I find victory laps very comforting,” in reference to the risk he’s willing to expose himself to if it means the humiliation of Jimmy. That blood doesn’t boil because Chuck’s a dick (although he is), but rather because he’s got an incredibly solid point to make.

Or, more accurately, Jimmy keeps making it for him. He can’t resist mischief and mayhem (remember the lightswitch in “Switch“?) and Chuck knows it. He’s always known it. We’ve seen him bailing Jimmy out of jail years ago, that same look of condescension and disappointment on his face. But Chuck simply bailed Jimmy out and went back to HHM. Now, as far as Jimmy’s cons go, not much has actually changed — for all his shape-shifting, Slippin’ Jimmy is still Slippin’ Jimmy. It’s the fact that Chuck is now directly in the warpath that makes for the cataclysmic shake-up at this particular point in their lives, and sends Chuck on a warpath of his own.

In our review of “Bali Ha’i” we talked a little about the narrative structure of Saul, about how difficult it is to actually discern what that might be given the tone of the series. Saul swings on television’s largest tonal pendulum: dramatically, it’s one of the most compelling series in existence; comedically, it’s one of the funniest. All of these points converge to make next week’s season finale that much more anticipated for truly having no idea what will happen. Traditionally the penultimate episode of a TV season sets up the finale, though that’s increasingly a predictable model of the past. We highlighted as much in our review of The Red Road‘s “The Hatching“, noting how that tradition is a bit different in this purported Golden Age of Television.

The difference is that we trust Saul (or we should) to not drop the ball in the finale, whereas the once-great Red Road certainly tapered off after the first season. Saul is more like The Leftovers in that the first season was phenomenal and the second was somehow even better. But the way “Nailed” ended leaves so many doors open, and it’s still endlessly impressive that a prequel series to one of the most popular television narratives of all time can manage to spur this much interpretation and prediction and uncertainty. “Nailed” could easily have been a finale episode, based on the explicit confrontation between Jimmy and Chuck and the climactic closing scene. If that hadn’t ended on a massive cliffhanger it’d be suited as-is for the final installment of the season. AMC would never do that, though, ending a season of one of their shows on a childish cliffhanger. Never! Perish the thought.

I’m excited every week for Saul, but my anticipation for this particular finale is probably higher than it’s ever been. Saul has been renewed for a third season, so we at least know Jimmy will have ten more episodes (if not more) to undergo his transformation into Mr. Goodman. What we don’t know is who will be along for the ride with him post-“Nailed”, post-season two, and for that matter we don’t even know how much of that transformative journey Jimmy has left. Perhaps the end of “Nailed” is just that: a nail in Jimmy’s coffin, Saul Goodman coming to life in the next coffin over.

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