How long did it take you to realize that “Saul Goodman” was a play on “It’s all good, man”? I’m ashamed to admit that I breezed through four seasons of Breaking Bad and three episodes of Better Call Saul without it ever occurring to me — until last night’s cold open. (And judging by my Twitter timeline, I’m not the only one.) The flashback not only explains the joke behind the alias, but also reveals that its use dates back to the Slippin’ Jimmy era.
“Hero” is framed by two classic Jimmy McGill cons: The first one takes us back to the ’90s, where “Saul Goodman” lures a new drinking buddy into a dark alley. They happen upon a wallet stuffed with cash and soon find its owner, a portly gentleman in a suit, semiconscious next to a dumpster. After an elaborate negotiation over what is obviously a fake Rolex, Jimmy leaves with over $500 of his acquaintance’s cash, though the stranger is convinced that he’s the one who tricked Jimmy into giving up a valuable watch in exchange for a comparatively tiny sum of money. Back at home, our hero and his not-actually-intoxicated accomplice smoke a bong and lament that their schemes are barely paying the rent.
Meanwhile, in 2002, Jimmy fails to convince the Kettlemans that his “passion” and “commitment” make him the perfect attorney to represent them. “You’re the kind of lawyer guilty people hire,” says Betsy. (She also says, by way of explaining why she and Craig deserve the money he embezzled, “You want to talk about legal? Slavery! That used to be legal! Human slavery!”) So, instead of taking on the family as semi-legitimate clients, Jimmy accepts a sizable bribe from them to keep quiet — and uses it to fund the episode’s second, much more elaborate, scheme. “Upon this rock, I will build my church,” he says.
We watch Jimmy show up at a fancy tailor and order a very specific custom-made suit. Then, at the spa where he lives and works, he requests to have his hair curled “like Tony Curtis in Spartacus.” His endgame becomes hilariously clear when Howard Hamlin drives Kim out to see the billboard Jimmy has posted — a spot-on ripoff of HHM’s own ads, in which Jimmy is styled to look exactly like Howard.
Later, while they’re bullshitting at the spa, Kim hands Jimmy a cease-and-desist. “Why are you making this personal?” she asks. “This is a declaration of war.”
Jimmy and Howard eventually end up in front of a judge, dressed identically. (Howard’s description of his proprietary color “Hamlindigo blue” made me laugh out loud.) This is a hint that Jimmy has always wanted the judge to rule against him, a decision that gives him an excuse to call up the media and complain about “Big Law” intimidating the little guy who’s just trying to grow his fledgling practice.
The montage of Jimmy’s hours spent calling up journalists suggests that he would have preferred not to take his final and most extreme step. He recruits a few kids to help him shoot a video in front of the billboard, as it’s being taken down. Ostensibly, he’s here to explain his plight. But then the man removing the billboard slips off the edge of his platform and dangles perilously by his harness. Of course, the man is Jimmy’s accomplice, and his fall allows the amateur filmmakers to catch the brave lawyer saving the day.
Everyone who knows Jimmy sees through the scheme. “This whole thing was a publicity stunt,” Hamlin sniffs, watching the news coverage. And it’s heartbreaking to watch Chuck find out, after his brother boasts about new clients and then conspicuously fails to bring him the local paper, and the recluse makes a harrowing trip out into daylight to exchange $5 for a neighbor’s copy. We’ll surely see this play out in subsequent weeks, when it will be interesting to see how Chuck (not to mention Kim) navigates the escalating feud between Jimmy and Howard.
There is some symmetry to the two cons in “Hero”: Jimmy’s use of a well-placed accomplice, his willingness to make himself look like a dupe in order to win out in the end, the fact that both rely more on effort and risk than expertise. It may have taken me a while to catch on to “It’s all good, man,” but the revelation that the “Saul Goodman” alias predates Jimmy McGill, Attorney at Law couldn’t be a clearer sign that we’re about to see a man come full circle.