Better Call Saul “JMM” (S5E07)

“Is my flower in danger of speedy disappearance? Certainly it is.” – The Little Prince

Jimmy is faced with his most morally-compromising decision yet in regards to something which hits closer to home than he’s willing to admit.  All in good or perhaps horrible timing, as Kim takes the next step closer to Jimmy with an acquired marriage license and a rushed wedding ceremony at the downtown courthouse.  The notion of maintaining their relationship with more freedom to disclose anything and everything will now be protected. Married couples can’t be compelled to testify against each other in court.  It also prevents them (but mostly Kim) from getting caught off guard with their respective partner’s actions.  The stipulations of transparency going forward with their relationship isn’t fool-proof, but it’s a thoughtful effort when it comes to nurturing the bond they cherish with one another.  That said, Kim is now pursuing a life with a man who’s getting into more dangerous trouble with every passing day, regardless of how much she’s in the know.

While their relationship is more protected, legally and intimately, the pressure of Jimmy’s wrong-doings has now become heavier.  Jimmy’s conflicted.  He’s flattered with the lengths Kim is willing to go to stick by him even if  it’s at the sacrifice of the ideal wedding a younger Kim might have dreamed of.  At the same time, he’s getting absorbed into the more deplorable world of the cartel, which means Kim is along for that ride and her acceptance of him will continue to be tested.  Jimmy loves Kim and he’s always questioning her desire to be with him (for better or worse), but lines are being presented to him that even he is unsure he’s willing to cross.

The most relieving moment during the wedding ceremony for Jimmy is when the judge replies “okey-dokey” in regards to there being no rings involved, in which Kim smirk-laughs in response.  The long-standing practice of wedding rings is a tradition emblematic to the love and devotion a married couple shares. Society has instilled rings as something that should be exchanged, but Jimmy doesn’t always live in the ‘should’, even if he’s mindful of the value it might hold for a self-respecting woman like Kim.  When she playfully smirks, it’s an expression of joy and a loving reminder as to why he’s drawn to her to begin with.  As considerate as Kim is of the impact of meaning towards things, she’s willing to toss that aside if it means they can get a little more distance towards being together.  For Kim, that’s all that matters.

Rings bring a sense of hope and security in a marriage so while it’s sweet that Kim is fine with that convention falling by the wayside, it’s still worrying in the long term.  The declination of exchanging rings stays more honest to the uniquely paradoxical nature of their connection, but is also an affirmation that their marriage is more of an experiment in short-term preservation than one that’s meant to last. Their love for one another is real but they’re expecting extremely complicated bridges of conflict ahead and are only willing to cross them when they come to it.  As Lalo (or Jorge de Guzman) becomes more demanding of Saul Goodman’s services, those bridges might as well be wired with explosives.

When Lalo asks Jimmy what the JMM stands for on his briefcase, Jimmy recites the same bumbling acronym he tries to pass off to Kim as his motto in the season premiere: “Justice Matters Most”.  Lalo scoffs, being someone perceptive enough to see Jimmy for the crooked guy he is, just as many characters have in the past.  Even Jimmy knows the motto is a crock, but it’s a better answer than sharing his original name to a cold-blooded, high profile member of the cartel. Going forward, Lalo doesn’t want to cut a deal with the prosecutor for the murder at TravelWire or have his case go to trial, but he wants Saul to get him off with bail.  It’s a hefty, nearly impossible request which Jimmy sheepishly tries to explain away, but Lalo hits him with an unexpected offer of becoming a “friend of the cartel”.

In other words, if Saul Goodman wants to get the job done and make a boat-load of money to boot, he needs to do away with a motto he doesn’t even practice and “Just Make Money”.  Better Call Saul has emphasized Jimmy valuing money over all else ever since the pilot in his first scene with Chuck (“Money IS the point!”) and that theme has rang true ever since.  It’s what got him on the Lalo train to begin with when a meager $8,000 was dangled before him to rat out Gus’ operation.  Lalo knows money is Jimmy’s carrot and if given enough, even the deepest core of Jimmy’s morality will have trouble saying no. This is especially true considering what’s left of Jimmy morality is infected with spite against his brother and a world that’s always tried to put a lid on him. Imagine that? An innocent, hard-working, young citizen getting murdered and disposed of through arson, leaving a family in ruin wondering how such a horrific thing can even happen.  It’s not the same as what Jimmy had experienced with his brother’s suicide, but the fire aspect must bring up some empathy for their grief.  The idea that Jimmy needs to defend the evil responsible for something like that so he can reap the financial reward is incredibly gruesome.

Jimmy despises every second he needs to play the antagonist to a grieving family and more notably, he despises that the spite he holds towards his brother has pushed him this far over the edge.  He can’t stop himself.  The events that lead him here were set in motion long before he could take back control.  That’s not to say he doesn’t feel bad for the family who now have to live with an uneven outcome in the case against their son’s murder.  After all, Jorge de Guzman has bail set at $7 million, which he can afford.  Jimmy’s remorse is clearly demonstrated as he peers behind the courthouse wall like the snake he’s become, but what is he to do with that sense of regret?  This is a feeling Chuck challenged him to do away with. When Howard, (who has served as Jimmy’s stealth punching bag all season and remains an associative reminder of Chuck’s judgement towards him) shows up to not only call out the injustices inflicted on him by Jimmy, but the true reason behind it being derived from the pain and suffering of Chuck’s death, it sets Jimmy off.  Not to mention, while he’s caught at his most vulnerable.

Beforehand, Jimmy tried projecting his own state of unbalance onto Howard, calling him unhinged despite the hypocrisy that Howard’s accusations towards Jimmy are true.  Howard doesn’t give him an inch and continues to rightfully pity him, not as an adversary but as a friend willing to help. This only makes Jimmy angrier because with his current situation, he’s long passed from being helped.  He doubles down on the delusion that Howard is responsible for Chuck’s death and reinforces his stance on being above everything, including remorse.  He hates the fact that Howard has become so clear-headed and doesn’t have to live in the same nightmare as he does.  The more Howard doesn’t give in to Jimmy’s vitriol, the more ferocious Jimmy becomes, and therefore the more prepared he is to not consider the next morally right thing to do.  It’s in this very moment, that Jimmy remembers why his alter-ego exists.  Jimmy’s contempt for the establishment that kept him down helps clear his conscience from anyone who bears Saul’s wrath.  It’s a momentary resurgence of intensity that helps Saul Goodman ascend and for Jimmy to move on.

Jimmy had the option to turn back but it was never going to happen.  To his credit, he shared his plight with Kim, who is appropriately concerned, but surprisingly open to what he decides to do going forward.  “Do you want to be a friend of the cartel?” she asks, in which Jimmy, almost half-confidently, tells her no.  Kim doesn’t rebel against this news as much as she should, most likely because it’s the first bad news Jimmy has shared with her since they established their agreement to disclose everything.  She might be more relieved that he’s honored the agreement to the extent of sharing the most concerning news possible to the point where she’s willing to accept it as their first bridge to cross.

Kim has no idea how devouring and intricately connected Jimmy’s client is to the Breaking Bad world, let alone the destruction that awaits from it, but she needs to meet Jimmy halfway over an agreement she proposed.  If Jimmy’s “Just Make Money” motto is what puts him to the test, Kim’s test above all else is her relationship with Jimmy mattering most. (“Just Maintain Marriage”).  Clumsy acronyms notwithstanding, the point is she’ll brush potential danger aside, as long as she’s not alone and can pursue the fallacy of sunk costs with the man she knows. Plus, she’s no stranger to envying a richer life going all the way back to dreaming of a house in the country back in season 2’s “Cobbler”.

The thing is, while we have never seen Kim held at gunpoint or going head to head with a criminal adversary out in the desert, we know she can hold her own against the big wigs, regardless from what side of the law.  When Kim and Rich take the brunt of their failure in defending Mesa Verde against Saul, they apologize for not taking better control of the situation, but Kim marches bravely back into Kevin Wachtell’s office to shift the blame back onto him.  She’s right in pointing out that he ignored their legal advice several steps along the way, which helped lead to the mess they got in. They did their job but getting the job done requires both attorney and client to cooperate and that failed cooperation lands more on Kevin’s end.  It takes a lot of guts for her to lay that truth out for him, but it’s this exact level of honesty from a great lawyer that Kevin admires.

For Kim to revive Kevin’s faith in her after the fallout of Saul’s actions, it says a lot. Sure, it’s not the same thing as dealing with murderous drug kingpins and their cronies, but if a stammering Jimmy can use his lawyer skills to prevent a hot-headed Tuco from skinning the skater twins alive, Kim’s chances are a little more promising.   Fearlessness combined with a more studied ability to argue and a greater awareness of her limited options when put in a tight spot, proves that given the day, Kim has some serious metal at her disposal.  That day nears closer and closer as Mike takes it upon himself to wait for her to leave the apartment before showing up to give Jimmy vital information in helping Lalo get off with bail.  Like Mike’s decision to work for Gus, Kim has decided to play the cards the universe has dealt her so when the day comes of her possibly meeting someone in that world, it will be because of the choices she made along the way that lead her there, just as much as it was Jimmy’s.

Nacho is getting restless and demands Mike help him with his father now that Lalo is seemingly out of the picture.  Nacho wants out but when he tells Mike that Lalo has ordered him to burn down Los Pollos Hermanos, Mike angrily reinstates that Lalo’s not out of the picture.  It’s at this point that Gus realizes that Lalo must be dealt with in a more nuanced way that doesn’t attract suspicion.  He can’t be killed in prison as Lydia suggests (foreshadowing of her own form of problem solving) because any murder committed against a Salamanca on the North side of the border will only point more fingers towards Gus, leading to a chaotic war.  In the meantime, he must allow the destruction of his restaurant to lull Lalo in a false sense of control.  Thankfully, for Gus’ sake, Saul Goodman was able to get Lalo out with bail, but with Jimmy being caught in the middle of this tug of war, it can only get more messy from here.  Jimmy might be more of a cog in this dangerous game of manipulation but it doesn’t guarantee his or anyone else’s safety.

Gus meets with Madrigal Electromotive’s subsidiary companies and pitches his new product line to Breaking Bad’s Peter Schuler, the man who funds his operation and ultimately the man who will commit suicide once Gus and his operation collapses. It’s here where we learn more about their history and bond as Gus visits him in his hotel suite. Mr. Schuler is growing paranoid and doesn’t appreciate how hot their situation is with Lalo but Gus serves as a calming presence and most likely the only confident figure standing between Peter and a defibrillator.  It’s possible Lydia is fueling Peter’s paranoia with her own and using Peter as the catalyst for Madrigal Electromotive’s disengagement from business with Gus.  Lydia almost feels like an invasive third wheel to this party and you can tell Gus isn’t happy about it.

What’s most interesting about this scene is how Gus reminds Peter of the strong man he was back when their backs were against the wall in Chile. Once again, the show nods to Gus’ past like it did earlier in the season when Lalo expressed resentment over what happened in Santiago, the country’s capital.  It’s rare when we get to see Gus in this form, free of the false facade as smiling owner of Los Pollos Hermanos or the brutal, dead-eyed composure when driven by the death of his partner, Max.  Peter comes off more than just another asset Gus can take a liking to, but there’s a deeper connection here, that pre-exists his quest for revenge.  It’s a connection Gus values most genuinely and it’s because of something Peter did that Gus isn’t willing to forget.  We’re at a point where Better Call Saul is either creeping closer to uncovering the bigger picture to a mystery that has existed since Breaking Bad or the show is seeing how much bread crumbs it can leave us without revealing anything.  It’s quite an intriguing balance between being too coy and leaving viewers with enough to form their own theories.

Some tidbits:

Jimmy’s previous two marriages are established here, explaining away the conflicting throwaway line used in Breaking Bad before Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould knew they would be exploring Saul Goodman’s character with a spinoff series.  One of his marriages was mentioned back in season 1’s “Marco” when Jimmy tells the story of the “Chicago Sunroof”.  It’s good to know that Kim is not one of his wives that Jimmy catches sleeping with his step-dad as that would have never made sense.

Kim has no middle name which the judge finds interesting.  It seems like more of a quirk, given how much emphasis the show has on character identity.  There’s probably nothing to it, but it evokes intrigue to an audience who is always trained to question “why?” and “who are these people, really?”

Speaking of names, Lalo seems confident that his false alias Jorge de Guzman won’t get found out.  Does Lalo know Ed the Disappearer?  Also, now that Lalo is aware that the key witness in his case has been manipulated to ensure his imprisonment, it wouldn’t be too far off to expect he’ll be looking into that.  He definitely must know Gus and Mike are behind this.  The main question Lalo should be asking is how did anyone know where he was if Nacho was the last guy to know Lalo’s whereabouts?.  And how did Saul learn this information without being contacted by those responsible? The line of deception is about to break.

Last episode gave us a closing scene that Rhea Seehorn knocked out of the park.  Now Bob Odenkirk gives one of his best explosive performances as he unleashes on Howard.  What more do Emmy voters want?

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