Better Call Saul “Nailed” Analysis (S2E09)

This is without a doubt the best episode in the series so far. It kept me up all night like most episodes do but had me literally dreaming about it into the morning and that is just my favorite effect of great television. I went into “Nailed” ready to see how it holds up to last season’s penultimate “Pimento” and ended up tossing the measuring tape over my shoulder. Every scene was just front-loaded with climax which this entire season has been carefully building towards.

You know you’re in for a confidently strong hour when the cold open throws you immediately into the spike strip heist. Mike got a seemingly-heroic, badass batman-like moment when his gun (the very one he was forced to claim possession of) sneaks from the left side of the frame (1:15 in video). As much as we get to see classic Mike here, we’re also getting another side to him that I don’t think has ever been explored. Present Mike has always been doing what he does under the motivation to support Stacey and Kaylee but a few episodes back in “Bali Ha’i” we see the first moment where Mike’s collateral family is directly threatened. Other than him left thrown off and vulnerable in the sake of his family’s safety, he’s also left vulnerable for what he’s about. Who he is and what drives him is put into question. Hector had full control due to Mike’s family being such an easy button to push to the point where it was almost pathetic and this is exactly what Mike wants to prove otherwise now that the conflict between them is “over”. He wants to show that family or no, he still is an individual force not to be reckoned with. At the same time, in defense of the family angle, he integrates Kaylee into helping with the spike strip as an added insult that he alone can relish when all is said and done.

Beyond that, for a brief period here, Mike found another layer of himself to compensate for who he is. He exercised revenge with a code that can combat the usual pitfalls of revenge. It had nothing to do with benefiting his family, he wasn’t looking to make a profit, and Mike is such a random suspect (especially after already being granted $50,000 as a personal win), so how could such an honorable act of offense possibly backfire? Seeing Mike joyfully buy a round for the house and then flirting with Fran really showed a victory that was based more on his character striking a well-rounded groove which gives hope that his life doesn’t have to solely revolve around feeling required to owe his family for past mistakes. Nacho, like Chuck, was smart in figuring things out almost immediately. Not only is Mike wrecked about being responsible for an innocent person’s death, but you can tell that old wounds of Mike’s son have now been reopened, being one of the strongest components that ties him to Stacey and Kaylee, the very factors that he was trying not to make his actions about in this episode. Hector, while certainly enraged, still gets to laugh in hitting Mike in this sore spot (from Mike’s POV because obviously Hector has no clue).

Such a great scene:

 

But holy hell, what a nightmare of an episode this was for Chuck. Jimmy even comes off like a monster in the the way he’s shown hiding behind trees, later staking out an elementary school as if the main conflict with his brother doesn’t even phase him, and then snaking his way back to Valiant Printing only to lurk in the shadows across the street. My god, Chuck, I felt so bad for him and I felt as if my mind was short circuiting along with his the further the episode progressed. The Mesa Verde hearing was so disastrous and hard to watch. I don’t think Jimmy understands how seriously Chuck was set to defend his own memory and talents because this is really all he has left that is truly his. After losing their father and then whatever happened with Rebecca, Chuck has been stripped of almost everything and despite his condition he is willing to fight for a profession he’s dedicated his life to while Jimmy makes a mockery of it.

The scene with Kim, Chuck, and Jimmy was so brilliant and unlike Jimmy confronting Chuck in “Pimento”, here we get the opposite. I was wondering whether Jimmy tampering with the files would be a long lingering secret, similar to Jane and Brock in Breaking Bad, but “Nailed” was not shy about pulling the trigger on Chuck’s realization which is good because I figured he would be able to put the pieces together if his state of mind was called into question. The tragedy though is that despite how incredible and elegantly executed his argument/deduction is and how obviously transparent Jimmy is in defense, and the fact that Kim KNOWS Chuck is right, she still pretends to not believe him. My heart fell to the floor in that moment. This has been Kim’s season and she has been #1 in my sympathies throughout but wow, to me this is her most despicable moment. That little hidden spot of her johari window where she is rebellious/corruptible shines through and I think this is what Howard sensed in her. Jimmy has brought this out in her and at the same time, what Kim tells Chuck in this scene needed to be said and I’m so glad it was her that addressed it.

As much as Jimmy’s story parallels Mike’s with revenge leading to unintended consequences, it also very much relates to Kim. Like Mike, she was put in a situation where she had no power over her own conflict. In “Rebecca” Kim is shown working her way out of doc review and nabbing a client for HHM, but she still gets thrown back to doc review. In that same episode, Mike is shown beaten but successful over the Tuco situation only for Hector to show up and reverse that. Mike has been forced to own up to Tuco’s gun and Kim has been forced to not explain how she couldn’t have known about Jimmy’s commercial shortcut. And just like Mike’s gun pops from the left side of frame in the cold open (which is the most unexpected place to come from), Kim draws her gun on Chuck just as unexpectedly. They both ironically ended up embracing the very lie that was forced upon them. Both characters have regained control over their conflict (Mike gets to show up Hector, Kim retains Mesa Verde) but both will have to answer to an unforseen consequence that could have been avoided.

Imagine how Kim is going to feel if Chuck dies or is seriously injured after he went out of his way to put his health at risk in order to bring justice to what happened against him, when she clearly knew he was right to begin with. What also sucks is that she didn’t want to get caught in the middle of this war between brothers but now look where we’re at. She is now tainted because of Jimmy, although reluctant to put things right because Mesa Verde is so tempting to keep.

Mike and Kim may have fucked up but the ending with Jimmy is just full-on scumbag. The fact that nobody has the good wits to call the police except Jimmy but he’s clearly going to choose his scheme over his brother is just so dark and tragic. I felt saddened that the more Chuck was failing for things to go right, (whether at the Mesa Verde hearing or the print shop) the more dizzy and groggy he was getting from his condition. It’s as if he was slowly getting poisoned throughout the episode but still had to fend for himself and like a true nightmare, the entire world was just not on his side. This is a big push forward for Jimmy’s character, as well as Mike’s and Kim’s. There was a time when I felt bad for Saul and even more for Jimmy when I see this scene from Breaking Bad but now I admittedly feel kind of good about it…

Some notes:

-I like that it was in the diner that Mike realizes the story of the hijacking was not put into the papers, followed by Nacho’s phone call that will lead to the bad news of the good samaritan. There was an earlier episode this season that gave us a close-up shot on the lamps that have loomed over the diner since Breaking Bad, all of which have roadrunners on them. After him playing Wile E. Coyote with the spike strip, what better place for him to realize that the scheme got away from him? Meanwhile, after Jimmy has been pumping himself up to be an American hero with Fifi and now the school flag, the place where Jimmy realizes the scheme got away from him is in the shadows of the U.S. Eagle building. Take what you will from that but still interesting use of directing.

-Nice touch with Chuck’s mention of 1215, the year the Magna Carta was signed which is a peace treaty between an unpopular King (Chuck) and a group of rebel barons.

-Really sweet Abbey Road nod when Jimmy and film crew were crossing the street. Also, just as much as Gilligan, Gould, and crew were able to meet the tight time frame to get the B-29 in the show at the airbase, I’m sure getting a mob of kids on a playground to cooperate (no matter how simple of a scene) must be just as impressive when there’s daylight burning haha.

-Jimmy and Kim’s scene of putting their office space together was great. I feel like that rainbow, while nice-looking has a bit of a juvenile quality to it and while it can represent a brighter future for Kim, it also encourages Jimmy’s colorfulness in how he operates. I admired that shot where all the walls were brown around Jimmy but Kim was shown in the background with the rainbow. I forgot exactly how it was staged but I remember that image looking cool if you know which one I’m talking about.

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