Better Call Saul “Quite a Ride” (S4E05)

We’re halfway through the season and we’re met with an episode possessing a key turning point in Jimmy’s prospective path to Saul. Just like Gus’ prospects being interviewed for the structural engineering position of the future superlab, Jimmy too traverses the hour with a figurative bag over his head. He doesn’t know the plan or where he’s going and he’s also challenged to prove what he’s capable of, which is something that can only become successful if you have a clear grasp on who you are. Jimmy doesn’t know who he is. His Slippin’ Jimmy origins are hopeful in his street hustling, but the mugging he endures forecasts a slower learning curve he’ll need to take on before reprising the fine-tuned master he once was. The shell of Saul Goodman that will eventually encapsulate him is also not fully formed. There are little abstract cues throughout the episode that hint towards Saul like the shot of the backwards “SOL” painted on CC Mobile’s glass door or “S THE MAN” as Jimmy later scrubs the paint off. He even reassures Kim “It’s all good” before becoming a creature of the night. The name, just like his future, is fragmented and not yet fully realized.

Other than the vague cold open flash-forwarding the smooth commute of a Los Pollos Hermanos truck in last seasons “Sunk Costs”, the surprise opening shot here presents us with the first distinct scene set during Breaking Bad (“Ozymandias” era) and is shot with the former show’s rare home use of 35mm film. That fact, disclosed by Gilligan and Gould in various interviews, is something that blows my mind because regardless of how seamless it fits into Better Call Saul’s digital presentation, you can still tell the difference, truly immersing you in this stage of time.

From a story perspective, this scene is jarring. For starters, it’s the first, long-awaited glimpse of the show’s title character (as we remember him), ironically in a moment when the era of Saul is coming to an end. Second, Jimmy’s working with Francesca and she’s completely changed her tune towards him? For future viewers who will watch Better Call Saul first, this is going to be a strange reveal considering we haven’t seen her character since the season 3 finale and as far as one might presume, her purpose was served up until then. The mystery still remains as to why she joined Saul and stayed with him, especially (supposedly) without Kim in the picture.

I wouldn’t call “Quite a Ride” an origin story in the same vein that “Five-O” is Mike’s, but it’s certainly an important chapter in the overall origin of Saul which bookends Jimmy’s idea for the future with his actual one. In the last scene at Jimmy’s pre-prosecution diversion meeting, he essentially mirrors the first guy who Mike interviews for structural engineer. Jimmy’s over-confident and regardless of whether he’s telling a plan the PPD supervisor would want to hear or Jimmy just plain isn’t facing the truth of his own reality, he’s still making a promise to something that’s not going to come to pass.

Howard on the other hand, takes on the role of Werner Ziegler, the German engineer that Gus and Mike end up going with. Howard is the guy who is willing to get his hands dirty in the long road ahead, sweat, and be completely honest with himself while grieving over Chuck’s death. Jimmy refuses to face those demons, especially after seeing the draining effect it can have on a good, morally-sound man like Howard. It’s absolutely appropriate that the first shot of this episode is paper being shredded in Saul’s office, because Jimmy shredding the therapist’s number and flushing any chance of healing himself down the toilet, is exactly what’s going to propel him towards the future of his own destruction.

It really was shocking to see Howard like this and I’m worried about him, but I believe he’ll come out the other side in a better state while Jimmy will continue to descend. What’s conflicting though is a theory I have that the lawyer Saul advises Francesca to meet with in the cold open is not Kim, but Howard. Francesca knows who Kim is, so Jimmy wouldn’t use a phrase like “Tell em’ Jimmy sent you”. If the law of the bookend is at all a thing (which arguably there’s not), I feel as if a role reversal is hinted to take place where instead of Jimmy being the unlikely character who tries to help Howard in this final scene, Howard could be the unlikely one to do Jimmy a favor in the cold open. It makes no sense why Howard would, especially since he’s a good man on the road to recovery, but perhaps something odd happens along the way for Howard that could keep him tethered to Jimmy’s orbit. Otherwise, I’d say the lawyer could be Bill Oakley (not The Simpsons writer/showrunner), but Kim pretty much has proven that he’s not the guy you want in your corner when you’re cornered. “I invented chicken” is not going to hold up in court.

Speaking of Kim, it seems like she’s fully committed to fighting minor offenses, while leaving Mesa Verde on the back-burner. In last episode’s review, I touched on how she’s working through an existential crisis and may be trying to use these small cases as a catharsis for helping Jimmy, but the more it unfolds I feel it’s as simple as what I’ve noted long ago. It’s not so much that she feels bored with Mesa Verde but tainted with its growing success after Chuck’s suicide. One of the first shots of the season are the embers of Chuck’s house floating into the night sky being superimposed over the Mesa Verde files. It’s why she decided not to take on Gatwood Oil in the season 3 finale as well, because she received that client through Mesa Verde and she already felt guilty enough after putting a mentally ill Chuck through the ringer in “Chicanery”. By burying herself in the underbelly of the courthouse, she may be trying to start over from square one, detaching herself further from what she feels she does not deserve. This again, shows the widening gap between herself and Jimmy and it’s only a matter of time before it’s all brought to light.

No Nacho this week, but Mike is indeed aboard the Gustavo Fring train, traveling across the state to interview foreign structural engineers. I know the creation of the superlab is mostly necessary in the context to how far along Gus’ empire is, but I also find the execution of its creation fascinating. I love Werner as a newly introduced character for how openly human he is with a lack of concern for composure. The research that went into his dialogue is excellent. I’d be entertained just by listening to him speak of his trade for hours, weighing every hurdle that will present itself in this “not quite impossible” task ahead. The birth of the superlab might be just as much of an enigma as any other character on this show.

Other stuff:

– “Headlines” by Freddy Glidersleeve and Stephen Easterling (a track unfortunately not commercially available to the public) is the song that plays while Jimmy awaits his first customer at CC Mobile. It’s the same song that played when Walt and Jesse meet at Denny’s to regroup after Gus kills Victor. Coincidentally, it’s being played when Walt asks Jesse how he’s doing (in regards to Gale’s murder) where Jesse, similar to the defense Jimmy uses in regards to Chuck, acts as if everything is fine. Both characters are going through self-loathing and both choose to drown themselves within Albuquerque’s criminal element (Jimmy even occupying the Dog House, a prime spot for Jesse to be). Jimmy gets robbed and Jesse almost gets robbed from the people they surround themselves with (Jesse taking on a new role when Mike takes him under his wing). There’s a foreboding parallel here but it’s not exactly identical. It makes you wonder how closely it will be followed. Jimmy certainly won’t have an outburst in “therapy” like Jesse had in “Problem Dog” so that frustration and anger might be redirected elsewhere (Kim) or remain unhealthily internalized.

– I adore the street montage of Jimmy selling phones to a diverse group of sordid customers. The tension that builds when the biker gang arrives, causing everyone to scatter felt very Breaking Bad to me in it’s direction and scoring. Jimmy having the gall to approach them felt reminiscent of an early Walter White and I like how the success in selling the phones to the gang was used as a distraction from the real danger. The whole time I expected the kids lurking in the background during the montage was there to help illustrate how wrong they were about Jimmy being a narc, so it’s even more of a surprise when it turns out it’s because they were planning to rip Jimmy off.

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