Better Call Saul “Breathe” (S4E02)

Two episodes in and Better Call Saul has already kept me up later than usual upon the night of its airing as well as given me actual dreams of hummel figurines as I wracked my brain the following morning trying to figure out what’s going on in Jimmy’s head. That’s not to give less credit to the entire episode as a whole though. “Breathe” fires on all cylinders as it features characters finding themselves clawing for control against the near impossible odds or forces that the universe deals them.

So why did Jimmy seem to legitimately want the copier sales position, showing the utmost gumption to earn the employers’ admiration, only to tear into them once they agreed to hire him? Was this planned from the beginning or did Jimmy experience a change of heart after sincerely hoping it would be a good fit? We already know afterwards that he’s looking into how much the Bavarian boy figurine is worth ($8,740.45), but he couldn’t have been going on a string of job interviews just to scout potential items to steal, right? If Jimmy needs money, he could steal from anywhere, which is why I believe there’s a personal motivation at play (like his disdain for suckers) that was conceived in the spur of the moment.

I think there are a few factors going on in Jimmy’s head right now. Some of it may pertain to self-loathing of his own abilities. He’s basically arguing against the very shortcut the employers are taking by not considering their other options, the same way Chuck would in the name of operating thoroughly by-the-book. It’s shortcuts and illegitimate practices by Jimmy that fueled Chuck’s fire so this could be interpreted as somewhat of a tribute to his brother. I think Chuck, regardless of their feud, is the only McGill that Jimmy has ever genuinely respected. Both Jimmy and Chuck from both sides of the legal coin managed to not become a sucker like Jimmy perceives his father to be. It might have made Jimmy proud, even relieved, to know that Chuck was prepared to go to war over the insurance debacle before meeting his end.

Another aspect to consider is Jimmy’s denial to having any part in Chuck’s death and his flashy tap dance performance put on for the employers might have subconsciously reminded him of how successful his schemes work, much like the insurance leak worked too well against Chuck. Jimmy may be trying to find a place that could truly put him in line as a form of penance. On the other and more likely hand, it could be the exact opposite and Jimmy is embracing his slippery ways. Jimmy has faced rejection from legitimate business, clients, and of course, his brother, all his life. Chuck’s last words to Jimmy was the ultimate rejection. Perhaps Jimmy winning over a legitimate company with his hustling talent and then telling them off is his way of taking back control. The universe never wanted or accepted Jimmy, but if he could win the universe’s admiration, then he could be the one who does the rejecting.

Overall, it’s a grieving process which may or not be conscious, but it does seem to be taking the form of Chuck’s last advice for Jimmy to embrace who he is, free of doubt or remorse. Like a Gila monster, Jimmy could be ready to latch on after taking a bite, which is why he’ll hold no regrets in ripping off a straight and narrow company like Neff Copiers. Stealing the hummel figurine would also be symbolic in contrast to how he’s always done right by his elder clients. If it wasn’t for his back-pedaling guilt in throwing Irene Landry under the bus for his personal gain, that bridge would not be burned. An innocent elderly woman would be left in ruin, but Jimmy would be on easy street. I think besides money, stealing the figurine could be his way of rejecting the community that will no longer have him, reapplying a sense of disregard he feels he should have stuck to (according to Chuck).

This is something I’m sure is going to create tension for his relationship with Kim, because it seems like he’s heading beyond the colorful lawyer and scam artist who she knows and accepts. Here, it looks like his true criminal self is emerging, which for the moment he’s hiding from her. Meanwhile, Kim is withholding information from Jimmy with the good intentions to protect his emotional and mental state. Rhea Seehorn gives an Emmy-worthy performance as Kim angrily unloads on Howard for his misplaced considerations towards Jimmy. Of course, I feel bad for Howard here because due to his own grief of his best friend and colleague (which he’s entitled to feel), his head was not in the right position to be thoroughly sensitive and mindful. He didn’t set out to hurt Jimmy, but Kim makes excellent points of Howard purely interested in his own self-preservation. I completely understand Kim’s vitriol and this is a win for her in some ways as she’s finally telling Howard off on the subject of fairness. That said, I don’t think Kim approves of emotions getting the best of her, despite her points still being delivered soundly.

Going to the meeting on Jimmy’s behalf is something she’s refusing to disclose to Jimmy. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Kim is going to read Chuck’s letter intended for Jimmy and be the judge on whether she’ll hand it over to him. If it reads toxic or back-handed (which it most likely is), she’ll destroy it, but if it’s surprisingly apologetic or hopeful, she would have to tell him she read it first. I don’t think Jimmy would have a problem with that since her heart is in the right place, but for the moment, all secrets feed the gap that currently exists between them. Both characters are tip-toeing around each other at the moment and not being completely honest so I look forward to how this affects their relationship going forward. They also seem to be using food, movies, and sex as a mask to cover their off-beat disconnection with one other. Their sexual relationship is something that existed almost entirely off-screen up until now, so the creative decision to finally display that helps give the impression that they’re cordial and spiritual connection is spiraling.

On the drug world side of things, “master of the universe” himself, Gustavo Fring, is tasked with moving heaven and earth to ensure that Hector’s fate remains in his hands and no one else’s. As soon as I heard Gus utter the words “no one else” in the cold open, I knew he was speaking more specifically than just the laws of nature. Beyond putting however much money forward to get a doctor from Johns Hopkins to treat Hector, the Nacho problem from last episode needed to be answered to and boy, was that handled swiftly and shockingly. Back in the season 2 finale, when the truck driver was shot point blank in the face by the cousins as Mike watched from afar, I remember feeling a complete tonal shift for that moment. There’s much longer stretches from when people are murdered on this show compared to Breaking Bad, so it’s jarring when it’s creeps back up on full display. Better Call Saul has certainly set a dangerous tone the second Tuco was introduced, violently breaking the legs of two skater twins in the desert as Jimmy winces in horror, as well as when Mike’s backstory was filled out. It’s a presage of where the overall show is heading no matter how successfully the more graphic, gritty moments are kept at bay.

This is also the first scene we ever see of Gus (in this show) bringing the hammer down on someone, playing as a much different viewing experience for someone who’s never seen Breaking Bad. What I enjoy most about this part of the show right now is how Nacho’s fate is completely undetermined, giving me a reason to remain emotionally invested beyond appreciating how all the pieces are forming as a prequel story. The absolute disgust and disappointment expressed by Nacho’s father here is deserved and heartbreaking, and yet, he’s still concerned for his son’s well-being. Can these two survive long enough before Robert Forster reprises his role as Ed, the disappearer?

If there’s one brief shot that I feel sums up the entire episode, it’s when director Michelle MacLaren allows the camera to crawl along the pavement of a yellow painted line, veering it off-course to reveal Gus sweeping up trash on a parallel one. Street lines tend to be a common, symbolic image used in this show to illustrate the idea of the characters following a narrow, fixed path. From the last image of season 1, to the first meeting between Gus and Mike, it’s the equivalent of the pink teddy bear’s eye or the fly. The characters in Better Call Saul are trying to get off this path, redefine it, or work it into their favor. The title “Breathe” isn’t just in reference of Arturo’s death, but it applies to the tension felt between all these characters.

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