Better Call Saul “Namaste” (S5E04)

When Saul is called upon to represent the two addicts from “50% Off’s” cold open, he’s still on a high from playing a part in an intricate power move amidst high profile forces involving the D.E.A. and a war between drug kingpins. He’s come out the other side unscathed (for now) and it’s a rush which makes him realize what his talents are truly worth. Saul raises his rate with these two to $4,000, being half off (as promised), but to the $8,000 he received for his business with Lalo.  When they protest, Saul pounds his chest in regards to his skills before strong-arming them into asking for clean money from one of their grandparents to meet his costs. He even uses the same power play as Hank and Gomez by making his way out the door, guilting the addicts for their missed opportunity.  At this point, we can expect as long as Lalo manipulates Saul into remaining his go-to attorney, Saul will be requiring much more than $8,000 in future endeavors and an increase in rate from his low ranking clients. Jimmy is taking charge of his newly crowned moniker as he continues to learn what he’s capable of.

Saul is no longer just a name.  He’s becoming defined. When called into a lunch meeting with Howard, he’s put on the spot to distinguish the difference between Saul Goodman and Jimmy McGill as if he’s an analytical fan of his own show.  Saul proves surprisingly articulate on the spot, deeming himself as a life raft when you’re sold down the river and a friend to a friendless, among a multitude of colorful, rapid-fire summations.  Howard wonders whether Jimmy McGill could also live up to this sparky ideology and Saul deflects that it’s possible but Saul Goodman already does. It’s here where Howard detects the underlying sore spot of how the Jimmy McGill name and legacy has been tarnished from HHM entertaining Chuck’s resentments by refusing to hire Jimmy when he was barred or when he brought in the Sandpiper case.

Howard wants to correct his lack of backbone from the past now that Chuck isn’t pulling the strings and states that as far as he’s concerned any bad blood HHM has been through with Jimmy is of separate issue between Jimmy and Chuck. While Jimmy maintains composure the best he can, Howard’s spiritual upswing and forward-moving mentality is precisely what gets under Jimmy/Saul’s skin. Howard gets to move on and play the gracious, welcoming gatekeeper to HHM, while he forces Jimmy to self-reflect and rub his nose in his deep-seated hang-ups with Chuck (precisely what he aims not to do).  As soon as Howard mentioned Chuck’s name, you could see the micro-cataclysms buried within Jimmy and masked by Saul begin to erupt.  However, for the sake of social niceties and Howard’s good intentions, he hears him out even if by doing so while using food and multiple swigs of his drink to keep himself in check.  What Howard is offering here is not just an opportunity that was denied to Jimmy for so long but a new hopeful and honest take of who an outside force sees him as

Jimmy’s argues valid reasons for why hiring him wouldn’t be a good idea (referring to Jimmy’s own misbehavior at Davis & Main), but Howard proceeds to turn a blind eye to it in favor for valuing Jimmy saying what he means and calling out truth and judgement for what it is.  Jimmy has tried to prove otherwise to what people see him as (a lawyer guilty people hire, morally flexible, Slippin’ Jimmy, etc.) for the better part of his life and Chuck was the major catalyst in having him finally double-down into Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree, but nobody has ever sized Jimmy up in a more positive light the way Howard is here.  Kim has always argued Jimmy’s potential but she was never a gate-keeper of opportunity to the extent that Howard is.

For Jimmy, Howard’s buttery praise is too little, too late.  Jimmy’s trajectory towards Saul reached a point of no return last episode when he got involved with Lalo, so while Howard is making a sincere (if not desperate) effort to rectify injustices against Jimmy, it’s a convenient slap in the face that it’s now that someone recognizes Jimmy’s potential.  Saul is already on the path to rectifying the mistakes of Jimmy McGill and Howard just sets himself up (like pins to a bowling ball) for Jimmy to take a higher power’s offer and shove it back in their face.  It’s the same thing that happened during the interview at Neff’s Copiers last season but with Howard it’s much more personal.

Usually Jimmy’s methods in scamming someone or getting things to go in his favor undergo an intricate and well thought out process, but because of the deeply sensitive nerve Howard struck with Jimmy, it’s no wonder that the payback against him is nothing more blunt and clunky as simply chucking bowling balls on Howard’s fancy car.  Will Howard be able to retrace his steps and deduce Jimmy as the perpetrator or is he too oblivious even when claiming to understand Jimmy?  Poor Howard.  He’s a good, smart guy who means well, but he’s a prisoner to the McGill War’s aftermath no matter how much therapy has helped him and at the end of the day, he’s just not long for Saul Goodman’s world. Hopefully, for his sake, he stays far away.

Kim, on the other hand, is not so lucky as she starts her morning recovering from a drunken stupor with Jimmy from the night before.  Never has a tooth brushing scene, which has been a symbolic runner of the state of their relationship since season 2’s “Switch”, been more depressing and zombified.  Bad day of prior aside, she aims to start fresh and resolve the problems of yesterday, even taking it upon herself to sweep up the broken beer bottles she and Jimmy chucked from the night before.  Kim tries to sway Mesa Verde’s C.E.O. Kevin Wachtell to reconsider buying up an alternate vacant lot (2375 which has a flooding problem) over the lot where every homeowner but Mr. Acker has complied to vacate for the construction of the banks’ call center.

She argues that the lot has shored up the drainage, repaved roads and that their operation will become more efficient and pay dividends in the long term despite eating the cost of the land they already own.  This is her last chance to save Mr. Acker from getting kicked out his house.  It’s the moral right she cherishes over the legal, but Kevin and Paige are dismissive to the reputational risk of throwing a man from his home and argue that as long as they’re in the legal right, they’re willing to fight Mr. Acker on this.  Sadly, to great hesitation, Kim confides in Saul Goodman, who just got finished lighting a court case with figurative fireworks as he tricks an eye witness into pointing at a dummy defendant, not realizing the real defendant is sitting in the back of the room.  The courtroom stirs into upended commotion over this reveal which results in a mistrial.

This is the trouble-making spontaneity and unpredictable flare that Saul thrives with, but it’s at the expense of everyone involved, even his client who will not get disciplined by the State for his crime, and therefore not learn from his actions.  Saul will play with fire to get his way and this is who Kim resorts to calling for her rescue after every possible by-the-book effort to fix the Mr. Acker problem herself, fails.  Kim’s most quotable line from season 2, “You don’t save me. I save me.“, is a badge of honor she’s always carried, but in this case it’s reached a dead end.  That’s owed to how much her involvement with Jimmy has chiseled away at her legal compass.  She drew the line last season in “Wiedersehen” when declaring that she would only go forward with a scheme after weighing the moral outcome as she sees fit.  A man getting to keep his beloved home at the cost of her most depended client Mesa Verde getting dragged through the mud is something she decides warrants the green light.

She recruits Saul to offer Mr. Acker his services as a defense attorney and Saul follows through by prying open his gate and keeping one foot in the front door before flashing Mr. Acker a photo of man fucking a horse.  It’s the gall in delivering such a graphically perverse pitch and applying symbolism to how far Saul is willing to go to stick it to Mesa Verde (their bank’s logo being a cowboy on a horse), which wins Mr. Acker over.  Kim is essentially sacrificing her own civic duty and reputation in helping Mesa Verde legally expand their banking enterprise, as well as compromising herself morally by pursuing an end to justify the means.  How does Saul going up against Kim as opposing council, even if structurally orchestrated by the two, not result in an absolute mess?  It’s like reciting Beetlejuice’s name three times.  He’ll probably get the job done but not in any way anyone wants.  You can whole-heartedly expect Kim will regret summoning him.

Kim allowing Mesa Verde to take a crucial hit in the name of preserving something more valuable is awfully similar to what Gus must allow happen to his operation. If Gus wishes to raise no suspicion of Nacho relaying Lalo’s every move to him, he needs to allow the D.E.A. to capture the money from the reported dead drops. We get to see Hank and Gomez surveil the culvert from season 3’s “Witness” which is where one of the dead drops is reported to be.  The dread Gus anticipates as he awaits the sacrifice of three men to the D.E.A. and an estimated $700,000 loss in drug money amounts to a frustration he can only contain by abusing his role as a Los Pollos Hermanos owner.

Gus needs some form of control in this crisis so he pressures Lyle into cleaning the deep fryer to perfection ala Walt enlisting Jesse’s help in catching a fly in the superlab.  It was likely spotless from the start, but Gus continues to find flaw in Lyle’s efforts.  Lyle also might be manipulated into cleaning it twice in order for Gus to strengthen an alibi depending on what shakes loose from these busts.  Hank and Gomez’s stakeout/chase scene being intercut with Lyle’s unwavering perseverance to make his boss happy is an effective manner in getting into Gus’ headspace and showing the viewer how much tension he carries beneath such rigid composure.

And that leaves us with Mike who shows up at Stacey’s thinking it’s his time of the week to babysit Kaylee.  He wants to apologize for snapping at her the way he did but Stacey has already hired another sitter for the day after trying to call Mike previously and getting no response.  She states she’s better off if Mike just take a week to get back to himself because something is clearly off with him.  In the same way Howard triggers Jimmy by bringing up Chuck, you can see in Mike’s grief-stricken expression that he’s using every ounce of energy to prevent himself from bursting into flames when Matty is mentioned. He shoots venom at the notion of “getting back to himself” before storming back to his car.  Mike hasn’t had a clue how to get back to himself ever since Matty was murdered.  He’s been on the path to finding his place and correcting something which can’t be corrected in the wake of his son’s tragedy, but ultimately it’s lead him down worse avenues.

Putting himself in the position to murder Werner directly has proven Mike’s been running in an inescapable circle. Like Kim and Gus, he feels he has no other choice but to succumb to a more chaotic solution bearing unforseen consequences in ending his misery.  By strolling through the bad neighborhood and granting the group of thugs from last episode an opportunity for revenge, he’s craving pain and punishment.  Whether he lives or dies, his life and the burden he carries is put into the universe’s hands.  After getting the shit kicked out him and eventually stabbed, the scene cuts to black before revealing Mike in a strange, if not reminiscent setting where his wounds are being treated.  This could be the residence of Gus’ doctor from Breaking Bad on the other side of the border or something and somewhere along the same vein, but two things are clear:

1) The street thugs must have been thwarted or else Mike surely would have died.

2) Gus is the only one who has taken a special interest in Mike, so he must have had someone keeping close tabs on him similar to Jesse Pinkman after Gale’s murder.  Otherwise, I doubt Mike would have received medical attention in time and in such an unconventional place.

What happens from here will undoubtedly contribute to Mike’s rehabilitation and the rescue alone could likely spark the beginning of him feeling absolution for what he’s done. Trauma will always exist, but perhaps this place, presented to the viewer as something of a sanctuary, is key to shedding perspective for Mike after a near-death experience.  Jesse needed a retreat after a four episode downward spiral in Breaking Bad when Gus ordered Mike to take him on a ride-along.  Mike is more independent from being under Gus’ thumb so even if his physical and mental health does improve, what draws him back as Gus’ proud right-hand man?

Other stuff to note:

It’s appropriate that Howard’s licence plate is the 1337 (LEET) spin on the phrase Namaste (being Namast3) because for Jimmy the digit 3 being a backwards ‘E’ is like a flippant way of saying “Howard, you can take your pretentious clarity and gesture of respect and shove it.”

In the cold open, those three bells in the antique store’s doorway first made me think of Gus’ doctor office, which used a similar angle when introduced in Better Call Saul’s season 3 episode, “Sunk Costs”.  Nothing thematically really ties the bookend of Mike’s mysterious sanctuary with Jimmy’s mission to buy bowling balls, but I appreciate the use of imagery putting the vague idea of Gus’ doctor in the viewer’s head without officially revealing his presence at all.

Hank and Gomez might have been successful in making a major dent in an illegal drug dealing operation, but Hank is still smart enough to know that they haven’t even scraped the surface.  Krazy 8 will be put to good use by them in the future but Hank knows he’s not the key to getting the more high profile players.  Hank might come off like a macho clown, but you can already see the deeper layers within him beginning to show.  He’s hungry for greater things and the potential to pursue it is there.

Your thoughts?

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