Episode: 103
Airdate: February 16, 2015
Directed by: Terry McDonough
Showrunners: Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould
Written by: Vince Gilligan (creator) & Peter Gould (creator); Thomas Schnauz (written by)

Last week, Nacho [Michael Mando] gave Jimmy [Bob Odenkirk] an offer Jimmy felt he could refuse – but that doesn’t mean Nacho is forgetting about his plans for the Kettleman family. Jimmy, who is desperately trying to stick to the straight-and-narrow, finds himself suffering a major case of conscience, and the decisions he begins to make could have some pretty major consequences…permanent consequences. Click through for my complete review.

<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss Better Call Saul Season 1, Episode 3 “Nacho” at length, as well as discussing ongoing storylines.>>

The episode opens with a hand dumping personal objects into a bin – keys, a brick of a cell phone – and the camera pulls back to show us that the hand belongs to Chuck [Michael McKean], Jimmy’s older electro-magnetic phobic brother. It’s a flashback: we’re at the Albuquerque county lock-up, where Jimmy is incarcerated and facing the potentiality of a sex offender listing, after having done something he calls “a simple Chicago Sunroof.” I’ll leave that one to your imagination, but it does result in Jimmy facing assault, destruction of property, and a possible sex offense charge – doesn’t sound too simple, after all. Chuck is obviously tired of Jimmy’s slick act, and gets up to go, until Jimmy agrees to completely put himself in Chuck’s hands, admitting that this is his last chance.

Skip forward, and we see Jimmy pouring himself some “customer only!” water at the nail salon his office/apartment is in. He’s unable to sleep, looking at Nacho’s number. He picks up the phone – I thought at first he was calling Nacho, but he speed dials, and it’s Kim Wexler [Rhea Seehorn] on the other end. She’s the smoking woman he met up with in the underground parking at Hamlin, Hamlin, & McGill in the pilot. Sure enough, there’s something between him. After finding out it’s 2am (he woke her), she tells him, “Jimmy, I’m not talking dirty to you.” He begins to skirt around the Kettleman issue, asking her where they might stash their stolen money. Turns out she’s a lawyer at the HH&M firm, and she’s due to sit second chair if the Kettlemans go to court – she’s not going to tell Jimmy diddly. Before he hangs up, he tells her that the family might be in danger. She presses him, but he claims he’s drunk, and ends the call.

Again in bed, he still can’t sleep. Lying there, he says, “I’m no hero.” He gets up, makes a make-shift voice changer out of a paper towel roll, some thin perm paper, and an elastic, and heads out to a payphone. He calls the Kettlemans, getting their way-too-cheery “You’ve reached Team Kettleman” sing-songy message several times, before Mr. Kettleman [Jeremy Shamos] finally picks up. He tries to tell him that he’s in danger, but the voice alteration is a little too good, with Mrs. Kettleman politely suggesting that he call back on a better line. Frustrated, Jimmy drops the act for a brief moment, and tells them in his own voice that they’re in danger, that someone is coming.

After the call, the Kettleman’s look outside into the street, where we see Nacho in silhouette – he’s staking out their place in his van.

We next move to the courthouse bathroom, where Jimmy is trying to plea bargain with the always negative prosecutor – DDA Oakley [Peter Diseth] – who just happens to be doing his morning ablutions. To every offer Jimmy makes, he replies that he “can’t do it,” and Jimmy gets more and more frustrated. When Oakley comes out of the stall, he tells Jimmy it isn’t going to happen, that the defendant killed three people when he drove into a mall. Jimmy just about screams – Oakley is looking at the wrong case. Finally, Jimmy gets him to agree to a reasonable plea deal, his first minor victory in the courthouse that we’ve seen so far.

Kim calls – something has happened, and she’s at the Kettleman house. Jimmy hurries to meet her, but of course, this means he didn’t get enough parking stamps. The attendant, Mike Ehrmantraut [Jonathon Banks] tells him it’s $9.00, or he has to go back to get stamps. Jimmy offers him everything he’s carrying – five bucks – but Mike just turns back to his crossword. Jimmy reaches in and opens the gate himself, and Mike just kind of stares after him with his magnificently dead eyes.

At the Kettleman residence, Kim looks perturbed that Jimmy’s shown up, but he tells her boss, Howard Hamlin [Patrick Fabian] that he was just there due to hearing about activity on the police scanner. Hamlin fills him – it appears they’ve been kidnapped. Kim accuses him of having more knowledge than he’s letting on, but he denies it, claiming it was merely happenstance that something happened the same night he told her the family was in danger.

Jimmy heads to a dilapidated part of town, to another bank of payphones. He’s muttering to himself: “Everything is going to be A-Ok, everything is going to be fine.” He calls Nacho, getting voice mail. He tells him that he wants to help clear things up as best as possible, hinting that he knows Nacho has taken the family, but that he would like to help negotiate their release. Jimmy does, after all, have something of a conscience at this point. He calls at least a half-dozen times, each time asking Nacho to call him back, leaving messages along the same lines, as well as telling Nacho that he didn’t snitch (“There are no rats on this boat”).

Finally, the phone rings – dead air. He goes to his car, but it won’t start, and he notes two men approaching him from different directions. He gets out and starts walking, turning down an alley and then making a run for it. He figures these must be Nacho’s men, and he’s done for – but suddenly a cop car pulls in front of him, and the two men chasing him tell him to get on the ground – they’re all officers.

At the station, they take him to see Nacho, who’s sitting in an interrogation room. Turns out a neighbor lady saw Nacho’s van outside the Kettlemans’ house two nights running, and she took down the license plate. This led the police to Nacho, and when they checked the van, they found blood in the back. Now they’re leaning on him trying to find out where the family is, and they want Jimmy to get this information from him. Turns out, Nacho has told the police that Jimmy is his lawyer.

Jimmy’s got everything worked out. He tells Nacho that if he tells the cops where the family is and, granted that they’re still alive, he should be able to plea Nacho down to the minimum sentence for kidnapping, which is eighteen years. The problem for Jimmy is that Nacho doesn’t really want him for his legal expertise – he tells Jimmy, “You get me out of here, today, or you’re a dead man.” Nacho knows that if the cops snoop too much into his life, they’re bound to find something, so he wants out before then – and he insists that he didn’t take the Kettlemans, that they were fine when he left. The blood in his fan? Jimmy’s and the wonder-twins.

When Jimmy comes out, Kim’s waiting for him. She and the cops ask him to cooperate, pointing out that the family has two kids. He insists that Nacho is innocent, and that he wants to take a look at the crime scene, in case anything was missed. The cops deny him access, but Kim asks them to take him – she wants to try to guilt him into helping. They go to the house, and Jimmy notices that the Kettlemans’ seven-year-old daughter’s doll is missing, not the sort of thing a home invader would take. He tells the cops that he believes that they’ve left on their own, that they’ve taken the embezzled money and run. The cops don’t buy it – Nacho is patently obvious as the perpetrator. Jimmy asks Kim to come outside with him. He tells her about his warning call, and explains away his inability to tell her more earlier due to attorney-client privilege. He lays it out for her – his life is on the line with Nacho – but even though she now believes him, she won’t corroborate his story with the cops. The Kettlemans are, after all, clients.

Back at the courthouse, Jimmy can’t get a parking ticket out of the machine. He yells at Mike, and then decides to park his car right in the entry lane. Mike gets out and warns him not to do that, but Jimmy gets right in his face, calling him a geezer and asking him if he’s “going to throw a poop-filled diaper at him.” He pushes Mike in the chest – big mistake. Mike grabs Jimmy’s thumb, twists, and puts him on the pavement in a single, well-practiced maneuver. Inside, the two cops on the case talk Mike into threatening to press assault charges against Jimmy. Mike agrees reluctantly – he gives of a massive “can’t be bothered” attitude toward all things – but he really doesn’t like the cops, giving them the same dead eye he gives Jimmy.

They threaten Jimmy with the charges, which he tells them are trumped up, and he tells them to go ahead, because his client didn’t do it, the Kettlemans are on the run. As they are walking him down to booking, Mike changes his mind, telling the cops he wants to drop it. They’re pissed off, but their hands are tied. Jimmy quips, “Hey Cagney and Lacey,” telling them he’ll want a fruit plate as a gesture of their apology when the Kettlemans show up.

He chases down Mike in the stairwell, who tells him to not stretch his luck. Jimmy presses, suggesting that Mike dropped the charges because he believes him. Begrudgingly, Mike admits as much. Curious, Jimmy asks him if he has any theories as to where they might have gone. Mike tells him that when he was on the job in Philly, there was a similar case where the guy who’d run away was literally two doors down for six months with no-one the wiser. Jimmy’s taken aback – Mike’s an ex-cop, for one thing – but it gets him thinking. He heads to the Kettlemans. He looks around the view from the home, then goes to the backyard, noting a rear gate facing off to the hills and desert behind their property.

He heads out, and up the hill, coming to a sparse forest. After walking for an hour or two, he hears a family singing “BINGO” – sure enough, it’s the Kettlemans, set up in their tent. Jimmy calls Kim, and lets her listen to the singing for a moment. He tells her that he’s going to bring them back to the house, and to meet him there in a couple of hours. Inside the tent, the parents are all glee-club perky, but their two kids are obviously wanting to end this impromptu camping trip early. The zipper shoots open, and Jimmy pokes his head inside, saying, “Here’s Johnny!” The family screams, and he apologizes, but he tells them they have to go home.

The parents look mortified, and refuse at first, despite their children being quite happy to return. Jimmy insists that they pack up, and starts trying to help them, grabbing a duffle bag. Mrs. Kettleman [Julie Ann Emery] fights him for it, pulling it in a tug-of-war that ends in the inevitable: the bag splits opening, dumping stacks of money on the ground.

No surprise, then – the Kettlemans were indeed embezzling. This leaves Jimmy in an interesting position. Kim will be meeting him back at the house, but as we could see in the brief preview for next week shown at the end of the episode, the Kettlemans will try to bribe Jimmy – and he is definitely cash-poor. In addition, Nacho told him he had to get him out of jail that day, and being that it is now night, it would appear that Jimmy might be running into problems there. What a fine pickle Jimmy finds himself in.

This was another great episode in what is quickly becoming my second favorite television show currently running (right after The Walking Dead). Odenkirk is manically hilarious, always on edge, always playing everyone he meets, but never really in control. There is a fine desperation to his every move, to his every sentence, that clearly shows us that his facade is almost entirely patched over and ready to break.

There was some excellent character building tonight, especially with Mike. He’s a regular from Breaking Bad, working as Saul’s PI, so it’s really interesting to see their burgeoning love/hate relationship at this early stage. Seeing Chuck in a pre-phobic period was a great way to contrast his space-blanket hugging present, showing us that he was a serious and respected/respectable lawyer not that long ago. Most importantly, we got to see the Slippin’ Jimmy from the past, the scam artist before he became a lawyer. I’m betting that we’re going to be seeing more of these flashbacks as the season continues, as it gives up insights we wouldn’t otherwise have into the characters’ pasts. This is meta-narrative at its television best: a prequel series – really, in essence, an extended flashback – that is itself going to rely on flashbacks to tell us even earlier parts of the narrative. Gilligan is a very strong advocate of the cause and effect approach to storytelling, dropping us into the mise en scene, but then giving us little tantalizing tastes of where things came from, what caused people to be who they are, where they are, and doing what they’re doing. The opportunities here are really endless – they could give us pre-backstory backstory on any number of Breaking Bad characters, including not only those we’ve seen so far, but perhaps even Walter and Skylar, or their brother-in-law Hank.

Of course, as we’ve seen so far, it will have to be in the context of Jimmy/Saul’s character. This is, after all, his story, and even those snippets we’ve seen of backstory have directly involved him. The only flashback is his, with other tales coming in the form of exposition rather than visually.

Three episodes in, I have extremely high hopes for this series. Gilligan is painting us a picture of a little man caught up in events bigger and faster than he is prepared to face, and yet somehow finding a way to draw on his street-smarts and quick mouth to get himself, at least temporarily, out of the fire and back into the proverbial frying pan. Not that the frying pan is ever all that much better than the fire – but it sure is entertaining to watch Odenkirk’s Jimmy dance as he tries to avoid getting burned.

Steve’s Grade: A
A smart, strong third outing for Jimmy, as his conscience wars with his sense of self-preservation. It will be interesting to see where Gilligan, Gould, and Odenkirk take this show going forward – but for now, it is one of the strongest new series of the last couple of years.

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