Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Better Call Saul Features Bad Consequences Abound

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I suppose that’s the theme of the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul world. All their stories derive from the negative consequences resulting from the decisions their characters make. Walt selling meth, Chuck sabotaging Jimmy, Kim leaving HHM, Nacho swapping Hector’s pills, over and over we see them struggle with the consequences of the actions they take and the decisions they make. I suppose we wouldn’t have an interesting show otherwise?

Let’s look at the latest consequences resulting from their latest decisions.

A common variable among the consequences characters face on Better Call Saul is the fact that these decisions tend not to be healthy. Whether emotionally (as with Kim hiding Chuck’s letter) or physically (Nacho putting his life in danger during the Hector scheme), they tend to do things that cause pain. You often understand exactly why they make those decisions. You may even agree with them.

Unfortunately, this is a show about decline; morally, ethically, legally, physically, and so on. You know none of these decisions will work. At best you lose a relationship. At worst you lose a vital piece of who you used to be, or even your life.

With Jimmy, we know where his decline eventually lands him. He continued his trajectory towards filthy rich criminal lawyer for the great Heisenberg in “Something Beautiful” with his decision to rob the copy place for a quick 8 grand. I suppose this isn’t so much a decline as a return to form. This was Slippin’ Jimmy born again, looking for a quick, easy payout. In theory it always sounds great. Jimmy knows this game and knows an easy mark when he sees one.

To his dismay and the audience’s delight, though, it predictably went awry. The figurine robbery was a very early-season Walt-and-Jesse-type scene, where they had no idea what they were doing and looked like idiots, only saved by the matching incompetence or gullibility of their target. Jimmy cooked up a half-baked scheme that he didn’t fully research. That’s why Mike passed. Mike would have watched the place for a night or two and realized the owner was sleeping in his office. Jimmy didn’t bother. The resulting consequence nearly got his hired burglar in trouble that either lands them in jail or ends some innocent schmuck’s life.

This fits Jimmy McGill’s life to a tee. One thing we’ve learned through 8 seasons watching this character exist is his lack of foresight. The man is an improvisational master. He can come up with good ideas on the spot. The problem comes when he looks for the easiest path to accomplishing his good ideas. Inevitably this lands him in trouble with someone or something and/or leads to loss of those he loves. Chuck may be an asshole, but he was spot on when he said Jimmy can’t help himself. When things go bad he will be the most earnest, sorrowful, heartbroken person in the world, but he won’t learn anything from his role in the tragedy.

Besides the obvious legal risk of his return to a life of felonies, he doesn’t see how this will cost him with Kim. You know it will. When he eventually loses her, he will cry and profess himself changed and for a time, perhaps he will course-correct. Then he’ll go back to his old behavior. He truly can’t help himself.

Nacho faced a much more present, mortal risk as a result of his actions. You knew things would go bad for him when he swapped Hector’s pills. Last week Gus made his move and blackmailed Nacho. This week he faced the consequences in the form of two gunshots that nearly killed him, all to make a faked ambush on him and his dead friend look real.

I said last week how Nacho’s ordeals increasingly resemble Jesse Pinkman’s. This week was basically something Jesse went through at least once a season on Breaking Bad. How often did Jesse spend an episode in a hospital or somewhere else because of a beating of some kind? We saw him physically suffer almost to the point of the show’s detriment. By the time he ended up in Neo-Nazi chains in season 5, it felt like too much.

Nacho is nowhere near that level of suffering yet, but this was bad. The surgery to treat his gunshots was filmed and edited like a horror movie. It was dark, blurry, dirty, and washed in grimy colors. This obviously struck me as intentional, since Nacho very much lives a horror story right now. He’s stuck in an awful place, and the gunshots were almost like a karmic backlash for what he did to Hector.

I feel awful for him, and yet he ended up in this situation for the same reason Jimmy ends up in his; he chooses to involve himself in a dangerous world with dangerous people. He’s deeper than Jimmy in this world. Jimmy could theoretically set himself straight, get a normal job, and live a normal life. Everything Nacho does has to take into account the criminal life he undertook. Even the decision to go straight would involve mortal consequences.

Of course, it’s not just bad people doing obviously bad things that lands them in trouble.

Last week, Kim let her adoption of Jimmy’s mindset and grievances influence her into hiding Chuck’s letter from his brother. Like Jimmy, she assumed it was one final twist of the knife from beyond the grave. Who can blame her? She saw, up close and personally, the toxicity between the McGills. When she finally hands the letter over, she expects to comfort an angry or depressed Jimmy.

Instead he reads a loving goodbye letter that gradually breaks her down into a crying mess. Just like that, she regrets her decision to hide it. It’s a perfect example of how even the smallest decisions have consequences Better Call Saul’s characters don’t expect. That letter brought a lot of the history between the McGills, and her role in the nature of said relationship, to the forefront. Was she crying because she was so wrong about the letter? Because she realized Chuck did love Jimmy? Because of whatever small part she played in the deterioration of their relationship?

The answer to all of this is probably yes. The full brunt of it smacked her head on.

This episode also introduced the idea of Kim’s dissatisfaction with her legal work. Again, you have to wonder what role her growing affection for Jimmy plays in her seeming hesitance over the Mesa Verde expansion. Kim talked in season 1 about her interest in elder law. She left HHM and turned down Schweikart and Cokely because they were part of the same rigid legal machine she had soured on. I got the sense that the same misgivings lay behind her attitude during the model tour. She’s considering whether she wants to truly spend the next few years, and probably the rest of her working years, helping companies swallow other companies as part of the great capitalist machine. Would she rather focus on something more intimate and personal that helps the normal everyday citizen?

I think we may be heading in that direction. What role did helping Jimmy in his recent legal troubles play in her new dissatisfaction? I don’t know, but there’s definitely the beginnings of a deep dissatisfaction with the path she is about to take. Knowing this universe, whether she leaves Mesa Verde or gives into the machine, things won’t go like she hoped.

Life, of course, always has consequences we didn’t expect. Gale Boetticher doesn’t have any idea what lies ahead when he offers to cook meth for Gus out of misguided appreciation for his scholarship. Gus couldn’t know Gale will eventually champion Walter White, leading to Gus’s death. Hamlin didn’t know that kicking Chuck off HHM’s insurance would be the final straw leading Chuck to suicide.

And while it sucks to know things won’t work out for these characters (yet, anyway), damn if it doesn’t make for fascinating TV. I suppose things can work out for Hamlin, Kim, and the other characters who don’t appear in Breaking Bad. Many fans assume they die, but I don’t think so. Nacho may find a way to escape the criminal life. Kim may get away from Jimmy in time and find happiness somewhere else. Jimmy may rediscover some kind of personal peace at the end of these flash-forward “Gene” scenes kicking every season off.

All I know for sure is that Better Call Saul continues to be a fascinating, incredible show to watch. Negative consequences for the people I like and all.

Other Thoughts:

  • As happy as I was to see Gale, he may be a prime example of my fears about linking more directly to Breaking Bad. There’s a fine line between natural links and outright laziness. Gale’s “I could cook meth for you” might cross that line, depending on where the storyline goes.
  • I can’t believe I didn’t recognize the copier seller’s owner as Uncle Jack from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I should have known by his small…I mean, huge hands.
  • Is it weird that I immediately love Kim’s new paralegal? I just hope Viola doesn’t suffer negative consequences just for getting a needed job somewhere.
  • Going into this season, I worried about the void left by Chuck’s death. Specifically, how they would deal with losing Michael McKean. Rhea Seehorn has stepped into that void and then some. She’s been spectacular this season.
  • I got a kick out of Mike of all people trying to talk Jimmy away from the criminal path.

Images Courtesy of AMC


  • Bo

    Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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