Better Call Saul “Dedicado a Max” (S5E05)

“Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.” – Chuck

Saul’s on a path to destruction that’s never going to course-correct and now Kim has made the conscious decision to join him.  Secretly appointing her boyfriend Jimmy as Mr. Acker’s attorney against Mesa Verde makes for a desperate, contrived play, invoking blatant conflict of interest and rising tensions with her most financially secure client.  The crooked schemes of Saul Goodman are too far-fetched for her to play ignorant to but Kim goes forth with it as C.E.O. Kevin Wachtell is blinded by her loyalty.  The question of the episode is how far is Kim willing to go to put her career at risk for a morally favorable outcome? Like Mike recovering from a stab wound across the border, she’s at a crossroads of what she actually wants to make of her life.  There’s still time to turn back from the dangerous path but does part of her even want to?

One would wonder if subconsciously Kim is setting herself up for failure by trying to solve the Mr. Acker situation in such a daringly transparent manner. Surely she knows involving Jimmy as the opposing council is a bad idea prone to suspicion from her peers and most trusted client, but perhaps it’s a hard and honest attempt at seeing what shakes loose by pushing her limits.  Termination for malfeasance? Losing Mesa Verde and freeing herself from the role of playing loyal soldier to meet a mega banking firm’s corporate needs at any cost? Confirmation that Saul Goodman is no good for her? A lot is at risk here, but Kim has carried an existential burden and moral hypocrisy for so long, this entire arrangement might be her way of allowing the universe to sort things out for her, no matter how difficult the outcome may be. Kim dreads change but there’s no denying (and I think she strongly senses this) that something needs to give, sooner rather than later.

Kim has always been fascinated with law and order applied to all fields of specialty.  When she quit HHM and tried to go it alone as a solo practitioner, Mesa Verde served as a life raft. As far as she was concerned, helping a banking firm expand by jumping over technical hurdles and cutting through red tape was just as noble an exercise as Jimmy McGill pursuing elder law.  As long as the law was being upheld, she could do no wrong.  Little did she know how much more complicated things would get when Mesa Verde’s campaign to expand its territories would become a long, mundane, and unfulfilling process.  It’s one thing that her client has always been tainted through Jimmy’s document tampering, leaving Chuck’s reputation tarnished and his life eventually destroyed, but the situation with Mr. Acker is the last straw, proving that all of this was for nothing other than helping a big bank become richer.  Kim gets nothing out of it except a compromised heart and soul to a process that’s all tunnel with no foreseeable, redeeming destination.

For the past year, she has found the perfect balance in spiritual and professional fulfillment by dedicating most of her time to pro bono work.  Helping people, not corporations.  If there’s anything promising that she knows she values for certain, it’s this.  When Jimmy proposed the idea of scamming one of her pro bono clients in the season premiere, she fiercely shut the idea down to the point of scolding an excitable Jimmy in the courthouse hallway within her client’s earshot.  She’s aware of Jimmy’s intrusiveness and the overbearing impression he can have on her, especially when she realizes it’s easier to go ahead with scamming her pro bono client behind Jimmy’s back, than admitting any humility or defeat over their confrontation.  In the following episode “50% Off”, Kim draws the line and makes it clear that her clients are off-limits.  “Dedicado a Max” sheds new light on those principles though as Mesa Verde becomes the exception.

This once again excites Jimmy as he’s detected Kim’s virtuousness as an exposed, corruptible spot in her armor (something that’s always existed), allowing her once again to come down to his level.  Jimmy takes pleasure in getting her to scam Mesa Verde because for him it’s an exhilarating game no matter who’s on the other end.  It’s show time and he wants Kim to enjoy it just as much as he does.  When asked to recap her initial play of the scam against Kevin during their meeting at the country club, Jimmy insists that she imitate Kevin (voice and all) while Jimmy plays as her.  It’s an unusual, funny request and Kim’s thrown off by how much pleasure Jimmy gets out of this, but she indulges him.  In what might be the most hilarious performance by Rhea Seehorn all season (Seriously, the range she has in this show is extraordinary), we see something surprising is brought out in Kim, being her true disdain for Kevin and the contempt for her role in working for him.

These are feelings that she hides well under the guard of professionalism and an exercise in integrity she upholds even when at home. Kevin Wachtell has pushed her to the brink though, so when she finally lets loose and vilifies Kevin through her impersonation of him, even Jimmy is sideswiped by it.  This is the unfiltered Kim that Jimmy adores and always strives to unveil.  By doing so, he’s opened Pandora’s box, eager to explore the gifts that lie within (a new shared page in the chapter of their relationship) while ignorant to the unspecified evils and consequences that likely will come from it.  Kim doesn’t like to keep that box opened.  She tends to creak it ajar every now and then but right now she’s very vulnerable and willing to see where it gets her.

“Dedicado a Max” (translation “Dedicated to Max”) isn’t just in reference to Gus’ late partner, but can also be wordplay applied to how far characters are willing to go for a desired goal.  Kim plays on Kevin’s impatience and intolerance for nonsense as Saul Goodman throws Mesa Verde every BS reason for postponement on demolition of Mr. Acker’s house that he can.  The logistical issue of the financial hit they’re taking by ramming through each of Saul’s roadblocks is enough an argument for Kevin to back down.  What Kim doesn’t account for is Kevin’s arrogance and the stubbornness instilled within him by his father.  Like Mesa Verde’s logo, Kevin relishes in the horse-riding cowboy mentality of winning a duel and acquiring land.  He’s willing to do that at any cost, calling on Kim to step up her game.

She can fold or take her dedication for Mr. Acker to the next level by consulting a third party, which Jimmy warns her only heads into more dangerous territory, while sneakily piquing her curiosity with the idea to begin with.  Jimmy is willing to test Kim’s determination by calling Mike for help.  Due to bad cell phone reception from Mike being out of the country, Jimmy asks if he’s currently in a tunnel.  Metaphorically, like Kim, Mike is caught in a tunnel, dwelling in a suspended state of uncertainty with lack of fulfillment.  It’s a strong similarity among several that’s shared between Mike and Kim (both are dependable, thorough in achieving their goals, and no-nonsense) which makes their potential to cross paths all the more of a tease when Mike declines Jimmy’s request for help.

Instead, Jimmy goes down the veterinarian’s criminal underworld totem pole and summons Steven Ogg’s character (credited as Sobchak) who introduces himself to Jimmy and Kim with the alias, Mr. X.  This is the same loudmouth criminal P.I. that Mike subdued in season 1’s “Pimento” when hired as a potential bodyguard for Daniel Wormald (Pryce).  While he can come off as kind of a bumbling goon, he does prove useful by infiltrating Kevin Wachtell’s house and taking photos of anything that could possibly give Jimmy and Kim an edge.  How far Kim is willing to go is indeed tested here as she questions how he broke into her client’s house.

She’s somewhat relieved when learning it was through the guise of a security system repairman under Kevin’s consent.  Jimmy can sense that beyond Mr. X doing everything he can to potentially dig dirt up on Kevin, his services are superficial and when Mr. X proposes the next step is to kidnap Kevin into an unmarked van and drive him out to the desert, Jimmy shows him the door.  This is how quickly following the wrong path escalates and thankfully they were able to do away with him before things got more out of control.  But are they learning what happens when overlooking how things get done when leaving things in the hands of those who are less morally-inclined? Kim might have spawned an idea from what she sees in the photos and it involves the Mesa Verde logo.  Perhaps a copyright issue?  Still, she’s recognizing the silver lining to misbehavior that she’s getting in way over head with.

Kim’s tunnel-vision in sabotaging Mesa Verde might be a hail mary that Kevin and Paige are none the wiser to, but she never considers that her boss Rich Schweikart is able to pick up on what’s really going on, being someone who can see the situation from the outside, in.  He rightfully calls her out for the contrivance of Jimmy’s involvement as opposing council and the convenience that Jimmy’s fighting for the exact thing Kim went out of her way to contend against in prior meetings.  Rich knows that taking Kim away from her pro bono work to help Mesa Verde has been like pulling teeth as of recent so he can apply that pattern of behavior to her true motives.  It’s why he prefers she’s temporarily taken off the case until the Mr. Acker situation is dealt with, hinting at the possibility of malfeasance.  This stirs Kim up and she compels Rich out in the open of the S&C law office to come out loud and clear what he’s accusing her of.  It’s her way of feeding the narrative of her innocence by showing she doesn’t care who hears her protest.

The truth will always set you free, so to speak.  Of course, we know Kim is defending a lie and Rich is only trying to protect her, but if she refuses his protection, he’s just as willing to let justice take it’s course.  During this public unraveling, Kim reminds Rich how hard she’s worked for Mesa Verde and demands he tell her why she would risk everything for some squatter.  In this moment, Kim isn’t so much asking Rich this as she’s asking the question for herself.  That’s the dilemma she’s left with when returning to her office.  Why is she going so far to protect Mr. Acker at the expense of her own career and reputation?  Because of moral reservations and her own childhood which influences it? Because of Saul Goodman dangling the carrot into bending the law in favor of a world she sees fit?  Kim is pushing the limit at this point and instead of Saul’s scams giving her an easy out or shaking an outcome loose to help dictate her decisions going forward, she’s once again back where she started yet more exposed.  The burden of what road she goes down from here is completely on her.

If you couldn’t tell by now, this is a big Kim episode, but as mentioned Mike is also at a crossroads.  In fact, he’s done much worse for himself in order to solve his problem by using a deadly altercation with street toughs as a fateful solution to end his misery over Werner’s murder.  Mike is indeed saved through Gus’ surveillance and transported across the border to treat his wounds.  Frustrated that he can’t escape being held under Gus’ wing, he marches down the road in hope to find any conceivable path to lead him home.  A security cart whizzes down the dirt road like something out of a science fiction movie, bringing more emphasis to the strange land Mike finds himself in, but when it’s revealed to be driven by Gus’ doctor, he informs Mike of his orders to take care for him.  Gus’ doctor, Barry, gives Mike a choice to allow this to continue until he gets better and Mike begrudgingly accepts.  Human contact is not something Mike usually embraces outside his family, so it’s quite the step to witness him willingly surrender to someone else’s care.

What’s most important is he’s not being forced to stay.  It just makes sense for him to until he gets better and Dr. Barry even gives Mike detailed directions on how to get home once he is.  After his son’s murder, it’s hard for Mike to trust anyone again, but this small community thrives on innocence and altruism as he’s provided food and shelter while on the mend.  He’s reminded of the tenderness in humanity when a group of school children frolic past him when dismissed from class.  When determined to build a phone charger of his own accord to revive his dead cell phone battery, we’re reminded of the GPS tracker he meticulously arranged in order to meet Gus to begin with.  As the audience, we’re expected to see Mike independently solve his own problem in the way he always does, but that’s undercut by his caretaker simply handing him a new phone charger.  Mike is so used to being self-efficient and trusting only in himself, that he’s forgotten that people are willing to help him.  The world hasn’t given up on Mike and he shouldn’t give up on it.

However, this doesn’t take away from Mike’s serious qualms with Gus.  When he calls Gus on the phone, Mike sums him up as a man who doesn’t do anything without a reason.  Unlike the good people Mike is currently surrounded by, there’s always an ulterior motive at play.  When Gus finally visits, Mike questions what that motive might be and calls out Gus’ potential strategy of manipulation.  Showing Mike there’s a brighter side to Gus? Or that his anonymous donations to this secluded community is a sign that he’s not a remorseless monster unwilling to compensate for his actions?  Gus stays truthful though and owns up to the man he is.  He knows he’s guilty of despicable and outright evil things.  He doesn’t pretend otherwise but he does distinguish a difference between himself and the people he’s up against (namely the Salamancas).  By showing Mike in full transparency that’s he’s come to terms with himself and what he’s done, he’s showing Mike there’s hope for him to do the same.

Gus has already given Mike the leg up in taking the moral high ground against him.  Maybe it’s a blessing that Mike can still feel bad about the things he does, but I don’t think Mike wants to suffer from it anymore.  If the alternative to suicide is working for Gus, there needs to be some merit behind it.  Gus needs a soldier and particularly one who understands the pains of revenge.  As bad as Gus is, Mike can at least commiserate in helping another man correct something that can’t be corrected.  It’s not a question of morality, but an opportune quest of coming to peace with oneself.  Mike is a killer.  That’s who he’s always been and killing doesn’t solve anything, but when directed at the right people, it gives him purpose and satisfies that undying need for payback.  That’s a quality Gus cherishes in Mike. It might be the very bridge in getting Mike on his side, but the bridge is incomplete as of right now.  Mike doesn’t know Gus’ story and if he’s to fully understand their connection, Gus might have to share his horrific past.  Unless Mike is so desperate to get back on his feet, that the memorial fountain that lies before them is enough for him to put two and two together.

Other thoughts:

Document tampering was once a scam consequential to a multiple season story arc leading up to Chuck’s demise and integral to Jimmy’s transformation into Saul.  In the fight to help Mr. Acker keep his home, it’s only a mere kickoff to a series of throwaway schemes involving a fake ancient artifact excavation, orchestrated concerns of radioactivity, and a parade of religious fanatics pouring onto the property over a mock-image of Jesus on Mr. Acker’s fence.  This goes to show how careless Saul Goodman is to a consequence Jimmy has already payed heavily for in the past. Before you can even make the connection to season 2 and think about what bad can come from one scam, he’s already on to the next one.  This is rapid-fire behavior that’s not going to end well.

The head of the construction crew was played by Futurama’s John DiMaggio.  Took me a second viewing to notice!

Howard calls Jimmy with no clue as to what happened with his car and wants to know if Jimmy has mulled over the options of his proposal to work at HHM.  He tells Jimmy he’s ready to go over the details and Jimmy responds with a “sounds good”, hanging up with Howard in mid-sentence.  Surely this is the end of the proposal, putting a final period on how far removed Saul Goodman is from Howard’s world.  Or is it?

Your thoughts?

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