BETTER CALL SAUL, S1E3: Who is Jimmy McGill?

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By Sy Mukherjee

While watching last night’s “Better Call Saul” episode, “Nacho,” I couldn’t help but think about how Vince Gilligan likes to explore the (often) inevitable disappointments of being part of a family—how we do things we know we shouldn’t do for those who are close to us; how we manage to let them down; how deluded we can be about them; and how, even in the most trying circumstances, a small part of us can call out for reconciliation with them.

“Better Call Saul,” photo courtesy http://www.ign.com

“Nacho” begins with a portrait of a family moment. A much younger Chuck McGill, fully in control of his faculties in a cold open that appears to take place a considerable amount of time before the main series, is visiting his brother Jimmy in prison. Jimmy’s managed to get himself locked up and faces a potential sex offender charge (we don’t get too many details other than that it involves a “Miami sunroof”) that would pretty much trash any future professional prospects he has. Chuck, outwardly defiant towards Jimmy’s pleas that he bail him out at first, eventually relents and agrees to help his brother beat his charges, on the condition that Jimmy stops being such an overt shithead.

This flashback sequence adds some meat to two of “Saul’s” most compelling overarching storylines: the Jimmy-Chuck relationship, which is ripe for drama and plenty of familial disappointments, and Jimmy’s history. We’d already gotten hints that Jimmy wasn’t always the intrepid, mostly-on-the straight-path public defender that he’s trying (trying) to be. What makes last night’s episode interesting is that we now have a much clearer lens into the extent that Jimmy wants to embrace his moral compass.

Much of “Nacho” centers on Jimmy trying to, in his words, “de-escalate” a bad situation. He’s racked with guilt over the possibility that Nacho will follow through on his plan to rob the Kettlemans by employing, er, “full measures.” He tries to warn Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), an attorney from Chuck’s former firm (and someone who Jimmy obviously has a history with) that someone may want to target the Kettleman family, before trying to warn the Kettlemans directly from a pay phone.

Later, Jimmy tries to contact Nacho to convince him to simmer down and re-think his planned caper. But as it turns out, the Kettlemans have disappeared and Nacho is already under arrest for it (and he’s adamant that he didn’t do anything, and is so very, very pissed off at Jimmy for potentially selling him out).

Jimmy, fearing for his life at this point, shows off some fairly impressive deductive skills and figures that the Kettlemans actually kidnapped themselves to abscond with their illicit cash. This theory gets confirmation from none other than Mike (I won’t go into details about his interactions with Jimmy in this episode—it’s worth watching fresh), and Jimmy manages to trace the embezzling county treasurer and his wife (who seems to be the more hardened criminal of the two) to a tent in the middle of the woods. And in a final scene that teases plenty of Faustian deals in next week’s episode, a tussle between Jimmy and Mrs. Kettleman causes a big old bag full of stolen cash to rip wide open.

It’s worth noting that “Saul” has, from both a backstory-building and an immediate plot fulfillment standpoint, done an astonishing amount in just three episodes. At this point, there’s no doubt that it has a distinct feel from “Breaking Bad,” and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch it continue to grow into itself. But it’s been especially refreshing to see so many compelling plot vehicles in motion this early into the season—story arcs complemented by character mythology sequences are made all the more fascinating by our (limited) knowledge of some of these characters’ fates. If the pace keeps up, we could be in for some serious fireworks by the season’s end.

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