Better Call Saul “50% Off” (S5E02)

“In the end, you’re going to hurt everyone around you. You can’t help it so stop apologizing and accept it. Embrace it. Frankly, I’d have more respect for you if you did.” – Chuck

Jimmy can pull himself back from going too far as Saul all he wants but Saul is already setting events into motion from the limits he will continue to push. The episode opens with two skells taking Saul’s ‘50% off’ per legal representation offer as an excuse to go on a wave of frenetic, doped-out crime sprees in the hope to score more drugs. For these addicts, reward trumps risk and they are just two potential clients wrecking havoc out in the world out of who knows how many but their actions will reverberate exponentially. Within the hour, Saul has already caused a direct chain of events that leads him right back into the stammering guy we knew back when he was on his knees before Tuco and Nacho in the desert.  The broken gnome from the cold open and Saul’s tossed ice cream cone at the end perfectly illustrate this correlation.

But is Jimmy the same person from the last time Nacho saw him? Saul has always possessed fear in the face of immediate danger as a defense mechanism.  Fear is not a trait that distinguishes Saul from Jimmy.  It’s Saul’s lack of remorse for the consequences of his actions which Jimmy periodically carries with him. I wouldn’t say the Saul we see here is completely free of doubt or regret, but it’s much easier for him to be.  Not only is Chuck not around to judge him, but Chuck is the one who told Jimmy he would have more respect for him if he owned up to his misgivings and skip the show of remorse as a process. Saul is consciously carrying out Chuck’s worst nightmare, sticking it to his deceased brother by wielding his law degree around the courthouse bowels like a chimp with a machine gun. In another way, he’s subconsciously fulfilling Chuck’s challenge to embrace his slippery ways to the fullest, out of the respect he always craved from him.  The elevator hustle he runs on Suzanne (who was already conned into a loss over last season’s Huell dispute) is a brilliant, if not extremely shady way to accelerate their shared case load so he can make room for more clients and in turn, make more money.

In order for Jimmy to embrace himself as a criminal lawyer without regret, he must lose consideration for who gets caught up in his tailspin.  What he will or won’t come to learn, evident of the chaos that ensues in the cold open, is his behavior has a much more expansive blast radius than he can imagine.  If it wasn’t for his 50% offer deal to the addicts, they wouldn’t take that as an invitation to illegally obtain as much fast cash as they can.  If it wasn’t for all that cash, the storm drain as a delivery system wouldn’t be clogged with 10 bags of dope.  This leads to the Krazy 8 (a nickname originating as Ocho Loco for his bad poker play) getting busted by the police trying to fix it, which leads to Lalo coming up with an idea to get Krazy 8 help, which leads Nacho boomeranging right back into Jimmy’s world.

Whether the idea of Jimmy’s crooked services as a lawyer sprang up because of Nacho’s history with him or Saul has made such a splash in the criminal world already to the point where he’s on Lalo’s radar, this is the dangerous road Jimmy/Saul was going to go down one way or another.  Jimmy’s world of building a new name for himself while juggling his relationship with Kim has now begun its convergence with the criminal underworld. Up until now, these two sides of the show have ran mostly parallel.  Only two episodes into season 5, Lalo has already made an influence on Saul Goodman’s life and we know from Breaking Bad that it’s only going to get worse considering Saul feels relieved at gunpoint when it’s verified Walt and Jesse are not associated with this prestigious cartel member.

This is what makes Kim and Jimmy’s brief visit at an extravagant open house all the more worrying. On one hand, it gives them a chance to clear the air.  Kim makes her reservations known that scamming her clients at any measure or time is not okay with her and Jimmy humbly accepts that.  Jimmy is also honest about the slip-up he made in giving a 50% off deal per legal representation of non-violent felonies and vows he’ll never make that mistake again.  He reassures her that nothing too bad will happen from it, which we know is a reassurance he can’t be certain of and in whole isn’t true, but Kim takes this in good stride nonetheless.

Kim and Jimmy have their differences but their relationship in this moment feels more hopeful after coming to an understanding with one another. Kim even entertains the prospect of them living in such a big house together and is playful and laughing when soaking a fully clothed Jimmy in the shower.  This is all fine and dandy considering we want these two characters to be happy with one another and maybe possibly share a future, but we know Saul’s trajectory doesn’t end in rainbows and sunshine.  As Better Call Saul’s two main worlds begin to merge amidst the brink of war between Gus and Lalo, how soon is it before Kim is crossing paths with any of these dangerous figures? How might they influence her absence from Breaking Bad?

What’s great about these storylines melding together is that I’m just as invested in the fate of Nacho as I am in Kim’s.  I’ve never felt such a heightened sense of dread and despair since Breaking Bad’s final season compared to when Nacho is abducted from his bed by Gus’ crew and made to sit and watch as Gus holds a figurative scythe over his father’s head. It’s a shocking mood shift that really makes you feel like this is the end for Nacho’s father but Gus uses this as fearful motivation to get Nacho to gain Lalo’s trust.  As much as I fear for Nacho and his father, I’m also curious about Gus because we learn in Breaking Bad that he does not believe fear to be an effective motivator.  He tells this to Mike in regards to Walt’s motivation to work for him after Mike proposes the idea of filling Walt in about Tuco’s cousins and how working for Gus would protect him.  What happens with Nacho that makes Gus stray (as best he can) from this method?

As of right now, instilling fear in Nacho is working. He’s willing to risk everything for his father by jumping across rooftops to snatch the remaining product from the stash house as it’s being raided by police.  All of this is to gain Lalo’s trust as Gus demanded, but how long can Nacho thrust himself upon grenades before Lalo takes advantage and pushes him to the limit? Lalo has a great amount of respect for Nacho now, but what does that mean coming from this charming lunatic? This is the same guy who treated Nacho’s prison-defying action stunt like it was a scene from a movie, chuckling at the idea that he’s about to get caught.  Nacho gained his trust but as a soldier willing to nearly fall on his sword for the operation.  Something eventually is going to give here and now that Saul Goodman is becoming more involved, what transpires next remains wildly unpredictable and won’t be pretty.

There’s also a matter of Krazy 8, who’s become more and more of a character as this series progresses.  Saul likely has been recruited to represent him but from what we know from the former show, I have to ask the question. Is this the bust (taking place in 2004) where Hank Schrader flips him into an informant? Hank reports to his task force in Breaking Bad’s season 1 episode “Cancer Man”, “Way smarter than your average cheese eater.  I turned him out when he was street level.”  Gomez then goes on to say that Krazy 8 would snake out all the small town dealers he informed on in order to climb the ranks, so we can suspect this was an ongoing process. Enough to last roughly four years though until the Breaking Bad timeline begins? It’s hard to say, but if this is the start of Krazy 8 getting flipped and Saul is the one who’s representing him, doesn’t that complicate things? Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here but there’s a gap of story that’s again, curious.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ve had so many questions going into a season but it being the penultimate, it’s a good sign to how increasingly compelling this show is becoming all across the board as a prequel.

Meanwhile, Mike wakes up hungover after a rough night, being clearly is in a bad place after murdering a good man.  It’s one thing to see Mike lose his cool at work and not be on good terms with Gus, but it’s another when his double life bleeds into the one that matters most.  This episode is about worlds colliding, being cleverly titled “50% Off” not just because of Saul’s deal with potential clients, but because Better Call Saul has been more or less two shows in one where until now has striven to be neatly divided.  That’s never fully the case though in a universe that’s established how every piece and action undertaken matters.  Eventually your decision in one world will dictate what happens in the other and for Mike, this leads to him scolding Kaylee after a significant nerve is hit when she inquires about her dad’s death.  Specifically about his job as a cop and how “the bad guys got him” is what sets Mike off.

We’ve seen Mike’s nerve struck in last season’s “Talk” when Stacey shares how she’s starting to feel guilty for not thinking about her late husband Matty for stretches of time, but taking it out on Kaylee is much more upsetting.  I don’t blame Mike for his grief, but this is the dark, descending spiral he’s been on for a while now and it’s now catching up to him.  I’m sure he feels regret for lashing out on his grand-daughter so we can only hope he can come to terms with what he’s done and the life he’s chosen for himself before the people he truly cares about suffer for it.  It’s a strange thing to hope for since it basically means Mike has to become more cold-blooded and numb to the horrible things he’ll continue to directly or indirectly take part in.

One last thing. It looks like Howard wants to set an appointment for lunch with Saul.  Bob Odenkirk gives a superb, subtle performance when confronted here by allowing a shred of Jimmy McGill’s guilt to peek through the Saul Goodman mask.  Jimmy doesn’t know what Howard wants but from his perspective, Howard was always more in Chuck’s camp and any judgement Chuck carried may have been passed on to his grieving law partner.  We have to remember that the last interaction between these two before Chuck passed was Jimmy trying to get Howard to settle on the Sandpiper case followed by Howard coldly calling him out as transparent and pathetic for trying to hustle the money.

Howard has obviously dialed that resentment back ever since Chuck’s death, but them being on the same page with one another is still something I wouldn’t say is completely warm.  On the other hand, Jimmy did give Howard a tough love speech to help save HHM which might have worked, while also donating $23,000 to Howard for Chuck’s memorial reading room.  Imagine if Howard wants to hire Saul at HHM? That would be crazy, but whatever the case is, Howard associating with Saul Goodman at this point is just another future of a character we’re going to have to add to the list to be concerned about.

Some tidbits:

  • Kim barely has any closet space for herself seeing as it’s packed with Saul Goodman suits and attire.  A sad metaphor for her misplacement in this relationship and the not-so-bright future of her sticking around.
  • Jimmy apparently has 45 clients to juggle.  The scene where he’s ironing his clothes while trying to talk on his cell phone was a perfect way to introduce Saul Goodman’s hands-free bluetooth ear-piece. The physical transformation is almost complete, save for the combed over mullet.

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