Better Call Saul “Fall” (S3E09)

“Money IS the point!” – Jimmy (“Uno”)

I want to scream about this show right now.  I’ve mentioned it long ago but what I love most about Better Call Saul, down to its very core, is that there’s a story lurking underneath the surface throughout the entire series with all of its characters that never gets addressed until it does.  Mike unearthed the good samaritan’s body after nearly an entire season of never allowing Mike to even speak of it.  In season 1’s “Pimento”, Chuck finally reveals his true feelings towards Jimmy.  These are only two examples (the former being recent and the latter being central and iconic) out of alot where you could pick up on what’s really going on in the heads of these characters, regardless of when or if it’s brought to the forefront, and yet it’s always so rewarding when it is.  Even when you can’t connect certain dots, you can still feel an effect from dots that are there to connect.

“Fall” did something that was just as powerful and game-changing as what “Pimento” and “Nailed” accomplished (not just because I was hoping it would), and did it in a way we’re not used to.  Season 1 had the “You’re not a real lawyer!” moment between Jimmy and Chuck.  Season 2 had the Kim/Jimmy/Chuck standoff.  “Fall” is a penultimate hour that consisted of characters outright delivering hard truths to one another, some on the brink of severing ties, while also allowing some important developments and revelations to remain brimming in subtext to an overwhelming degree.

“Is this about Chuck?” – Howard

Back in “Chicanery”, it was very much about Chuck, but as of now, (temporarily) Jimmy is done with him.  There are wounds so strong between those two that will carry on for the rest of their lives and will serve as a surplus of fuel for Jimmy’s path to Saul Goodman.  Due to the aftermath of Chuck vs. Jimmy, the torch has now been passed to Kim.  She is the final character who can keep Jimmy rooted as Jimmy, and by the looks of it, the roots are starting to give.  Can there be any more of a divide in the scene where Jimmy comes in with a bottle of Zafiro, dressed as Matlock, wailing his arms around like a clown, while Kim prepares for a meeting with a client that Jimmy is just now aware of?

Kim has been burying herself in the work for Gatwood Oil, her first client that’s disconnected from any of Jimmy’s smarmy manipulations.  It’s a much needed distraction after the guilt she feels over what they did to Chuck, as well as being a way to distance herself from the Jimmy who’s essentially doing Mr. Show skits on the air, getting any laugh he can in making the universe out to be a fool for his fortune.  The two storylines of Jimmy and Kim in this episode are meant to work in contrast to the larger story that’s being told.

We open with a close, creeping shot of pavement as Jimmy self-seekingly rips across before pulling his car straight up to the camera, almost colliding with it.  This is a shot that’s meant to foreshadow what’s to come at very end of the episode, especially considering my belief that Kim’s crash is indirectly responsible, on a subconscious level, of Jimmy’s behavior as of late.  On Jimmy’s side of the story, after the last two episodes of Jimmy scrapping for cash, I had completely forgot about the Sandpiper money that he would have coming to him once that case settled.  I think Alan Sepinwall from last year’s review at Uproxx put it best:

“If Clifford Main were to simply call Jimmy out of the blue and reluctantly tell him his check was in the mail, that would have no dramatic weight, and would also make Jimmy so financially comfortable that there might not be much of story for him for quite some time. By making him literally hustle for it — cruelly isolating class representative Irene Landry from all her friends at the retirement home to manipulate her into pushing for an earlier and smaller settlement — the story becomes less about what the money can do for Jimmy than what Jimmy does for the money, and the moral depths to which he’ll sink to pursue his own ends.”

I can see how the audience can still be in Jimmy’s camp when he faces off against Chuck, but I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who can defend Jimmy’s actions against Irene Landry, a sweet elderly lady in a retirement home and trusted client who has been one of Jimmy’s best supporters since season 1.  I had to check the beginning of “Off Brand” to see if she was one of the clients who showed up to Jimmy’s hearing (she didn’t) but she easily could have been.  I remember back in “RICO” when Irene went for her money that was stashed in a very accessible spot, I wondered what Jimmy’s limits were in regards to taking advantage of his elderly clients.  It’s at this point of the series where I would never imagine the extent of how low Jimmy could possibly sink.  Irene wasn’t just the class representative of the Sandpiper case, but she represents that whole world who loves and champions Jimmy.  After depressingly throwing her to the wolves just to rush a class-action lawsuit, diminishing the entire retirement community’s potential earnings, it makes you question who he wouldn’t hurt for his own personal gain.

That’s where Kim comes in and the ever-looming storm cloud of a fact that she is, indeed, not in Breaking Bad.  This episode positions her in an unfamiliar setting of open, South-Western desert landscape presented in the staple wide shots you might come to expect when recalling an elusive RV, severed head on a tortoise, or a crooked lawyer’s shallow grave.  In Better Call Saul, the desert alludes to the unavoidable future and imminent danger Breaking Bad will become host to, especially for those who aren’t suited for it.

Billy Gatwood (played by Twin Peaks’ Chris Mulkey) facing a muddled predicament of determining where the line lies to prevent two different states from taxing his operation can be seen as a metaphor for where Kim’s operation lies between the two over-lapping states of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad.  It’s a question that’s becoming increasingly pertinent as Jimmy is becoming ever-closer to the world of the latter.  Can Kim Wexler survive in that world, if the case is that she exists off-screen, or will she get swallowed up entirely?  Here, we’re shown Kim alone in the desert, her car gets stuck and she chooses to independently solve the problem by wisely placing some loose stakes underneath the tire.  She’s successful but not graceful as the car almost hits one of the oil wells, leaving the question of her future endurability still up in the air.

No matter how many times I anticipate Kim’s car crash, I can never work the timing out after the elongated silence.  Even when I use the passing landmarks in the background as bearing, it still always catches me off guard.  It’s as if Kelley Dixon, longtime editor for both shows found the perfect off-beat moment to execute on.  In horror movies, jump scares can tend to be a cheap device, but there are instances when it’s done right and here it couldn’t have been a more helpful way in portraying a car crash so accurately when falling asleep behind the wheel (according to people who relay such an experience).

There’s also a moment of foreshadowing a couple of episodes back in “Expenses” when Kim sets her timer for 5 minutes so she could take a nap in her car.  It not only establishes that Kim is working on a limited amount of sleep but a jump cut is used to portray how fast time can get away from you.  All in all, the final shot that’s shown here is of a long winding road heading to the right as Kim’s car crashes to the left.  The camera pulls out to, again, a classic Breaking Bad-esque landscape, which seems to highly suggest that Kim will become estranged from such a world, as we know.  The drama to what happens between her and Jimmy feels like it’s right around the corner.

As the future of Kim and Jimmy’s relationship may remain to be seen, and Jimmy betrays an unbeknown Irene Landry, other relationships based on past love and support begin to wear out.

After the reveal that every practicing attorney in HHM is going to have their insurance premiums doubled, Howard gently suggests it might be time for Chuck to pursue other avenues.  Chuck antagonizes, shooting down the notion, and Howard is faced with the more unfortunate choice of confronting Chuck on his unpredictability as of late and that it’s time to hang it up.  Chuck later retaliates by suing the firm, essentially choosing to hit the self-destruct button regardless of anyone else’s feelings.  I once compared this show to Dr. Strangelove and it’s similar themes to a Cold War back in my season 2 episode review of “Fifi”:

“Better Call Saul is essentially Dr. Strangelove as well, in how ridiculously comedic the entire conflict is when you say it out loud, yet it’s derived from something very serious and real between these two brothers where everyone within a potential blast radius of their world is forced to play in it like it’s a game. Chuck is actually incredibly similar to Jack D. Ripper being in a high position of power yet going sort of cuckoo indirectly due to being emasculated with his wife in the bedroom. Because of that, something bizarre and non-existent is now present in Chuck.

His psychosomatic condition of electromagnetic hypersensitivity is his version of Ripper’s theory of a communist plot using fluoridation to “sap and impurify” Americans of their precious bodily fluids. Communism is a real threat while Ripper’s theory is obviously all in his head, just like Slippin’ Jimmy is a real threat while Chuck’s condition is all in his head, yet it somehow proves time and again to act up whenever Slippin’ Jimmy is about. And what better correlation to communism is Jimmy himself, being the low-level and lesser deserving scam artist who wants to be of the same class and reap the same rewards as his more educated and hard-working brother?

This is why I have been defending Howard this season because despite how unfair his actions have been towards Kim, the guy is really just as much a victim to a rigged situation. To Chuck, Howard is the Lionel Mandrake who has been forced to put up with Chuck’s nonsense, but at the same time there is a real destructive threat going on beyond HHM’s window. Regardless of what fuels Chuck to be against it, it’s still a very real threat (Jimmy) and Kim continues to fool around with that threat without truly taking stock of how dangerous it is for a hard-working person like herself to entertain the experiment of keeping him under the same roof.

The Cold War was all about reaching a compromise but not without an impossible tension. Howard keeping Kim in doc review is almost like keeping a bunch of school children under a desk. It’s a means of exercising control but it’s all bullshit. He says he was hard on her because he saw something in her (and I believe that), but we all know that Kim is helpless no matter what. Howard admires that Kim will not be going to S&C and envies her for escaping and starting her own thing but in reality she’s still trapped in the McGill blast radius. The fact that Howard has stayed at HHM for his father was a great reveal but it’s also very revealing that he’s telling her this because it shows it’s been on his mind for a while to be thinking back on a moment when he too could have avoided this present reality where he’s locked in Jack D. Ripper’s office.”

I’m glad to see Howard finally standing up to Chuck, but saddened by how difficult it is to witness because, as we know, he’s has always cared for him, showing nothing but the utmost respect. Regardless, this has always been nuanced, unspoken conflict between these characters that’s been bubbling for three seasons now.

Meanwhile in the cartel world, Juan Bolsa has to set things straight with Hector, affirming that their product’s transportation will run exclusively through Gus’ chicken trucks.  This is followed by Hector’s continued resistance towards Gus, but also a complete disrespect for his association with Don Elado and Juan.  Nacho, of course, is already on the path to ending his connection to Hector, but Hector’s stroke doesn’t give and Nacho is instead faced to confront his father out of desperation.  He’s forced to reveal his involvement in the cartel, despite what that could mean for their relationship.  It’s heartbreaking.

The title of “Fall” really isn’t messing around as everything is beginning to collapse and change.  The only character who hasn’t cut or strained ties with another is Mike.  After “Slip’s” ending establishing the introductory union between him and Gus, he has become absorbed into Madrigal Electromotive with no turning back.  He has made the one connection in this entire episode that will hold for the duration, but it’s far from anything to celebrate.  This is the last we’ll see of Mike this season.  He becomes a ghost who may have just sealed his fate.  Remember, just like Jimmy, he has just as much of a transformation to make before he becomes the Mike of Breaking Bad and the stepping stones to get him there do not look good for him.

Some extra things to note:

– I’m loving this cool and collected version of Lydia.  It’s going to be a lot of fun to see Laura Fraser approach the character without the high anxiety she’s riddled with in Breaking Bad as we move forward.

– The way Howard talks down Jimmy in regards to his Sandpiper money was an incredible confrontation.  It reminded me of Howard’s first ever appearance in “Uno”, being more kind, considerate, and diplomatic, even when Jimmy would barge into his conference room, flailing his arms, demanding the money that’s owed to Chuck.  In contrast, Howard has now become the complete enemy that Jimmy once mistook him for in season 1 and it feels so deserved by this point.

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