Better Call Saul “Expenses” (S3E07)

“…It is growth, then decay, then transformation!…” – Walter White (the study of change)

At the end of last week’s episode, we were given the first hint of Saul Goodman and of the transformation that Jimmy McGill will eventually succumb to. “Expenses” is an episode that reminded Jimmy that although his year suspension from practicing law is a massive victory over Chuck’s intention to get him permanently disbarred, it still is a significant hit that Jimmy will have to take. After popped bottles of champagne, an optimistic exercise in damage control with his clients, and the driven razzmatazz over coming up with a quick, eccentric idea for his commercial problem in “Off Brand”, the reality here is starting to set in that Chuck still managed to deliver a mighty blow, in which the lovable charm of Jimmy McGill and the slimy finesse of Slippin’ Jimmy will only get him so far. The circumstances of his sentence suggests an extraordinary amount of change that Jimmy is going to have to roughly adapt to. Right now, in regards to transformation, if there’s any stage the character is currently in, it’s decay.

In a far point of the season where Jimmy is not allowed to be a lawyer, he ends up making absolutely zero headway on anything else that is left for him to do. The “deeply sorry” saint that Kim painted him as is immediately contrasted in the cold open as he demonstrates a deep lack of remorse. What should have been four completed hours of community service turns to 30 minutes as he spends the majority of time on the phone, failing to hook potential customers for shooting a commercial, as well as failing to get through to anyone at the insurance company. Usually any other episode grants Jimmy success from a clever song and dance, but in the case of the cold open, and overall episode, nobody is having it. It’s pretty much “Dude , are you gonna get in the van or not?” for him throughout the entire hour. As fans, we enjoy Jimmy’s backhanded attitude towards his punishment, as well as the fun of him getting commercials off the ground, but when nothing comes from it, it’s pretty courageous from a writing standpoint to just constantly starve the audience of any payoff. Even when Jimmy decides to take Kim out for a scam session, we are presented with conveniently deserved, potential marks (too perfect), yet the show robs you of any possible pleasure, especially as it serves primarily as Jimmy really just wanting to target an asshole, to channel as a revenge fantasy against his brother.

I believe it made a world of difference that Chuck wasn’t featured in this episode because it helped put further emphasis into Jimmy’s final act of hurting his brother (the only moment where he managed to accomplish something) being of a great, merciless offense. Usually when Chuck’s on screen, it’s because his resentment towards Jimmy demands screentime. We want to know what he’s up to, where his mind’s at, and what his next move is. Last week, however, Chuck was in a state of retreat or even decay, from his own behavior. The courtroom hearing was like a giant bomb going off for him where although his feelings towards Jimmy will keep, he still became self-aware of his relentless toxicity and became a humiliated spectacle in the process. Chuck has traversed electric hell in order to get in contact with Dr. Cruz in the attempt to seek self-improvement. That’s all we need to know for now and for Jimmy to derail Chuck even further in light of an already morally compromising situation, it helps display the much darker and jaded Jimmy, host to characteristics which are in no doubt essential in the journey to Saul.

I am relieved from the turn of character that Kim is undergoing in regards to what she feels about Chuck. Using Paige as kind of a window into the injustice against Chuck has been set up since the premiere, so it was intriguing to watch Kim finally crack. As Saul Goodman approaches, Kim is at a crossroads. She’s completely taken back from Jimmy’s commercial and now she’s beginning to sympathize with Chuck as a mentally ill victim after the seed of shame that Rebecca planted during last episode’s late night visit. The question of where Kim’s character is heading is getting louder and louder. You can feel a slight divide between her and Jimmy slowly growing. What this means for the next three episodes is beyond me, but all I know is that the only way I could imagine Jimmy going full Saul is if he sheds everything exclusive to his world in Better Call Saul. Otherwise, Kim is in for a rough adaptation herself if she is to commit to Jimmy’s journey into Saul to the extent of being a silent partner in Breaking Bad.

Mike’s story is a down-to-earth spiritual venture as he does his best to give back to the community, which has been an enjoyable change of pace from what you can usually expect from his character. Contributing to the playground and giving a large donation is a grand gesture, but also to witness Mike brush shoulders with other people who mean well and only want to help makes for a sweet story. Other than Anita serving an important role by allowing Mike to realize that the punishment he delivered against Hector is not enough, I actually really liked Anita on her own regardless. There’s such a tension when she’s introduced purely based on hoping that Mike’s not going to leave her hanging from helping in the project. It would have been crushing if she was turned away, regardless if Mike really had no idea what she could do. Then to offer her a broom to sweep, seemingly patronizing, only to reveal a more clever, thoughtful plan…it’s the little ups and downs of this interaction that really helped the outcome of it feel good.

There’s several things Mike is considering when she later touches on how awful it feels to not know what happened to her husband. Obviously the death of the good samaritan is on his mind, but how does that dictate his decision to call Price? It’s one thing that he wants to continue to hammer Hector into the ground after this, but I also believe, on some level, that he doesn’t want Price to get in way over his head and possibly end up vanished himself, especially when Mike could have prevented it. He identifies with Price. Ever since Price’s baseball cards were stolen (some of which was his dad’s), Mike can’t deny that even though Price can be a recklessly oblivious person, he’s still somebody’s son. Price’s transparent approach towards Mike in seek of his help isn’t what Mike chalks up as a clumsy stalking attempt, but instead is just as upfront and innocent as Anita’s proposition to offer help. It’s a gesture that Mike had no problem refusing but now that Anita has opened his eyes, I think Mike is realizing that even in the criminal underworld, it’s hard to ask for help, let alone offer it, but what bad can come from bridging that gap to provide guidance rather than judge and push away. At the end of the day, even Nacho is just a struggling, misguided soul and Mike simply empathizes.

^ There’s something very zen about returning to this familiar setting, one that began in Season 1’s “Pimento”, now at night, as well as it being with the three main characters that initiated this setting to begin with. Price is completely silent while Nacho is completely drained of upholding any strong front. There’s a sadness to it where even though these characters couldn’t be any more different from one another, they’re still, weirdly drawn together. I love when Mike checks the gas cap and Nacho barely has the energy to be naturally suspect over what he’s doing. The authentic line delivery of Nacho’s “what are you doing?” tells so much about how cornered the guy is and expresses such a great sense of humanity. I really felt for him throughout this entire scene and I’m happy the writers accomplished exactly what I wanted them to do, by really exploring him further.

Speaking of characters who go out of their way to offer help, the drama club girl sticking around to give back the money to Jimmy was also a great act of kindness. I have nothing to really add with it but it again ties into the theme of the grand gesture, and offering help vs. accepting help. All the way up to the ending with Jimmy asking for some leeway on his insurance problem, “Expenses” consists of a lot of characters in need of help.

Some technical stuff to note:

– I love that drone shot over the freeway in the cold open. I’m amazed that Thomas Schnauz was able to capture the feeling as if the passing cars were mocking Jimmy below. Not by the obvious act of the trash being dropped, but just in the way they looked like toy cars. Toy cars that get to live a free life, while our actual human leading character has to pick up after them. The way he showed that shot more than once made for quite a tickling effect.

– I related so much to Kim trying to catch a quick nap in her car, illustrated perfectly with that jump cut. The only thing I couldn’t buy was that she didn’t recline her seat back!

– ^ While I have never used wet naps as a means to skip a shower, I totally find myself running from my current place of work most days in order to do more fun and meaningful things. Also I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I watch an episode of anything, a musical score will get stuck in my head throughout out the day. The hustle and bustle of this one managed to do the trick especially at the 0:56 mark.

Overall, this episode is definitely one that’s moving pieces into certain places to set us up for what’s to come in the following three. Like the first 2 seasons, I’m expecting the next episode is going to pull the trigger on something big (a unique development), because after what Jimmy did to Chuck at the end of this one, there’s an increase in heat. I have no idea what’s to come of this energy, but it will play its part and I’m absolutely hooked. How’s everyone else feeling?

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