Monday, July 15, 2024

Better Call Saul Continues the Moral Divides

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I know, I spent most of my review for last week’s episode of Better Call Saul talking about the moral divide between Jimmy and Kim. I’m going to do it again. “Piñata” continued this thread this week and has established it as the main thematic plot for both characters this season. Jimmy and Kim have started down very different roads that will make their continued relationship unsustainable. I’m so sad right now. Well, and happy for Kim. Get away from him, Kim.

The Straight and Narrow Path

For the second episode in a row, Better Call Saul used its opening scene to brilliant effect. It focused very much on this moral divide, as we got a flashback to Jimmy and Kim’s glory days in the mailroom at HHM. The sheer amount of information given to the audience about both characters is astounding considering the uneventfulness of the scene.

In fact, if I were to pick one scene perfectly defining both characters, this innocent little opening would be it. Kim Wexler’s drive, intelligence, and moral ambition stand out starkly. So does Jimmy’s dissatisfaction, moral flexibility, and pattern of taking things on to please others. Their reactions to Chuck’s legal victory tells you everything you need to know about both of them. By the way, so does Jimmy’s sudden interest in use of the HHM library.

Turns out Kimmy might have inspired Jimmy’s law career even more than Chuck did.

After last week established what both characters really want for their lives, “Piñata” put their plans into action. Kim’s proposal to head up a banking division at Schweikart and Cokely was a move I could never guess, but it’s a wonderful plot move. Kim would never give up on Mesa Verde. She knows doing so would be career suicide, for one. She is also not the type of person to give up. Time and time again, Kim proves her determination. It’s probably her defining personality trait.

And yet, she was clearly second-guessing a career defined by banking law. Like she told Jimmy, she’s good at public defense work and likes doing it. She wants to make a difference for the common man. Competing determinations pulled at her and I wondered how she would resolve this conflict. Now we know. She’s taking her business over to become a partner for another big law firm.

In the process, she basically killed the dream Jimmy had for their legal futures. I can’t help but wonder if Kim did this with exactly that intent.

As Kim begins down this increasingly rigid moral and ethical path, Jimmy continues straying further from it. The end scene with the three teenagers was the darkest thing we’ve ever seen Jimmy do. He straight up threatened the lives of these kids. I know he had no intent of actually hurting them. If they had surprised him and stood strong, I’m not sure what Jimmy would have done. But that doesn’t change the darkness of the scene. Jimmy crossed over into a type of violent thuggery surpassing anything we’ve seen before.

Kim has to notice Jimmy’s moral decline. She has to be suspicious about his late nights and excuses. There must be some part of her that took her business to Schweikart and Cokely specifically to end Jimmy’s dream of the two of them working together. I think she both wanted a reason to break their future partnership while also inspiring Jimmy to rethink what he wants. I’m not sure she realizes the full extent of Jimmy’s recent schemes, but she has to suspect some of it.

Jimmy, as seen in the opening, tends to follow others down respectable paths by piggybacking off them. He never truly commits. He’s always wandering off to the side and looking for shortcuts. Jimmy took the mailroom job at HHM to please his brother and prove his willingness to “go straight,” then began his law career in order to impress Kim. At no point does he choose a morally or ethically straight path of his own desire. His own desires always distract him, and eventually he wanders off them.

What he never seems to realize is how he holds others back. He makes those he was inspired by stop on their paths to wait for him, or even wander off in search of him. Kim has wandered off her path time and time again to help Jimmy. Multiple times she suffered the consequences. Chuck’s death (and Jimmy’s reaction to it) has seemingly opened her eyes to a truth she was blind to. She now recognizes the truth of Jimmy’s behavior and how she enables him. She recognizes how he has and will hold her back.

Does that mean she wants out of their relationship? Hell no. Again, Kim Wexler gives up on nothing. I think she made the deal with Schweikart and Cokely in order to inspire him anew, or at least make him truly consider what he wants, not what he thinks others want of him. We know the dark path this leads Jimmy down. I wonder what Kim would do if she knew as well.

Ehrmantraut’s Krauts

The moral divide was not exclusive to Jimmy and Kim. Mike has officially linked up with Gus and begun helping him in his criminal enterprises. It’s remarkable how quickly he becomes a trusted, valuable member of Gus’s organization. The superlab is no small project. It sits at the heart of all Gus’s ambitions and plans. That he trusts Mike not only to advise, but basically oversee its construction and protection, says a lot.

While Mike throws himself into the criminal world, however, he continues down his own immoral path dividing him from his daughter-in-law and granddaughter. The therapy outburst created a distance between them that, while in the initial steps of reparation, is still fresh. I imagine that Stacey will start to feel the same change in Mike that Kim feels in Jimmy.

I think we all expect Mike to kill at least one of the German workers brought in to build the superlab. Now that he works for Gus, his inevitable moment of cold ruthlessness must be impending. Better Call Saul certainly established Kai as a goofball who will threaten the project. I expect by the end of the season Mike will have multiple bodies on his hands. At the very least he will have one, and it will solidify the criminal path he takes moving forward.

With the introduction of Stacey and Mike’s determination to help her, combined with what we know about Mike’s financial help in Breaking Bad, the relationship between these two has always fascinated me. Now that Mike is fully in the criminal world, I wonder just what Stacey knows and what she will know moving forward. Des she have any idea of the path Mike takes? Does she approve? Will she suspect and at some point make clear to Mike that she can never know? I don’t think Stacey is stupid, and she’ll notice changes in his behavior.

I expect this will create the same kind of moral divide currently widening between Kim and Jimmy. The difference, of course, being that while Kim is nowhere to be found in Saul Goodman’s life, Stacey and her daughter are very much a part of Mike’s life. Mike will continue visiting them, continue spending time with his granddaughter, and seems to be on friendly terms. What does this mean for Stacey’s knowledge of her father-in-law?

Whatever the case, I hope it means an increased role for Stacey in the show. I love a good thematic parallel, and Kim/Jimmy and Mike/Stacey definitely qualify.

The examination of the moral path has always stood at the center of the shared Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul story. Walter White’s entire story was basically one giant question of how long someone could use moral justifications for decidedly immoral behavior. Better Call Saul has continued down much the same path. We’ve watched both Jimmy and Mike slip further and further into immorality, knowing the dark paths their actions eventually lead them down.

It’s no surprise that moral conflicts have come to the forefront of season 4. All I can hope for is that Kim, Stacey, and all the good people of this show keep their eyes forward while those they love stray off into the bushes.

Other Thoughts:

  • I don’t know why, but I thought Jimmy was making something with eggs when he used the juicer for orange juice. Kind of weird how eggs and orange juice looked so similar.
  • I went this entire review without mentioning Gus’s amazing, terrifying monologue about the kind of vengeance he wants to take on Hector Salamanca. Giancarlo Esposito is so damn scary when he wants to be. And we know how his story ultimately describes Hector’s life in the coming years.
  • Good touch by Mike to include that mini-football field for the German workers. They are Germans, after all.
  • Jimmy used the veterinarian again! I love how the vet always asks about the animals. It might seem obvious for even the guy using his vet work to cover for criminal networking to love animals, but I don’t think it was a given.
  • It’s interesting how Jimmy visibly grieved his deceased former client more than Chuck. For all his moral and ethical failings, Jimmy does care about his clients. Like Chuck says, he does love people and when tragedy strikes, he will be the loudest and saddest in his grief. Yet he can’t help but repeat his mistakes again.
  • We have an uncensored “fuck” on AMC! It finally happened! And from Hamlin of all people. I didn’t expect it from him.

Images Courtesy of AMC

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