‘Better Call Saul’ Season 1 Episode 5 Recap: “Jello”

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Although Better Call Saul has kept the promise that it would be “lighter” than Breaking Bad, laugh-out-loud funny scenes have been few and far between. Or, at least, they were until the moment last week when we saw Howard Hamlin gazing up at a Jimmy McGill billboard that looked exactly like him. “Jello” upped the humor quotient with some of the show’s funniest dialogue to date — though, thanks to a parallel storyline, it was also Better Call Saul‘s most emotional episode.

Last night’s episode was a sort of triptych, telling three stories with very different focuses and tones. In the glacially paced cold open, police arrive to arrest Chuck after his neighbor calls to report him for stealing her newspaper. Through the door, he argues with them over probable cause, but when the officers mistake his odd paraphernalia for the accessories of a meth-head, they have all the reason they need to bust in and haul him away from his electricity-free sanctuary.

Jimmy is giving Kim a middle-of-the-night pedicure in the darkened salon when Howard calls to tell her that Chuck’s misadventure has landed him in the hospital. They show up at his bedside to find Chuck in a highly agitated state, and Jimmy tears the room apart, shutting off all the lights and other electronic devices to calm him down.

Until now, it’s remained unclear what exactly Chuck’s affliction is — and whether it’s physical or mental. I’ve always been suspicious it’s the latter, and was happy to see the doctor on duty (hi, Clea DuVall!) confirm it. Though Jimmy explains that his brother is “allergic to electricity” and Chuck names his illness “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” (a condition that, while not fictional in the way that last week’s “Chicago sunroof” was, remains highly controversial), she surreptitiously flips a switch on the hospital bed and he doesn’t react. The doctor pleads with Jimmy to commit Chuck for 30 days, out of concern for his safety, but after a stomach-turning series of pivots designed to freak out Howard, he decides to take his brother home.

“I think you got sick because you saw this story,” Jimmy says when they return to Chuck’s house and he spots the newspaper article documenting his billboard scheme lying on the floor. He knows his brother is worried that he’s reverted to his old, con-artist ways, but Jimmy protests that he was simply promoting his business — and now that it’s working, he’s returned to the straight and narrow. “Slippin’ Jimmy, he’s back in Cicero,” he insists. “Dead and buried.”

Jimmy’s relationship with Chuck is beginning to look like the emotional core of Better Call Saul; this is the guy who saved his ass when he was looking at a life spent in and out of jail, running scams to scrape by. Now, he’s a danger to himself, and Jimmy — while more successful than ever — is straying ever farther from the moral code Chuck instilled in him. These developments are inextricably linked, and “Jello” seems to foreshadow some dark moments for both brothers.

Thankfully, the second panel of the episode’s triptych brings more than enough levity to balance out the sad, serious Chuck storyline. In the wake of Jimmy’s moment of manufactured heroism, all kinds of kooks are calling him up to represent them. A wealthy taxidermy-and-cowboy-hat type summons him to his ranch, where he decries the “fly-swattin’ hand of the government” and enlists Jimmy in a plan to secede from the US. Our protagonist is, of course, happy to go along with it for the sake of a major paycheck… until the guy brings him $500,000 in cash he’s had printed for his new, sovereign nation.

It’s the next prospective client who had me in hysterics, though. A buttoned-up suburban type named Roland J. Cox ushers Jimmy into his garage to talk patent law — because, you see, he’s invented something. It’s called the Toilet Buddy, and it’s an attachment that coaches kids through the potty-training process. Except, wouldn’t you know it, everything the Toilet Buddy says is filthily homoerotic: “Gosh you’re big”; “Fill me up, Chandler [Cox’s son’s name; shudder]. Put it in me.”

At long last, Jimmy finds a client with a semi-reasonable request: an old lady who wants him to make her a will, which seems solely concerned with divvying up her figurine collection. Though he’s skeptical at first, she’s prepared to pay his fee in cash. Later, Jimmy mentions the transaction to Kim and she suggests that he become an elder lawyer. He runs with the idea in another hilarious sequence, where we see him copy Matlock’s outfit exactly and show up at a nursing home to kiss old ladies and pal around with great-grandfathers. That slow, revelatory shot of his elderly clients savoring Jello (ah, there’s that episode title) is one of the best, simultaneously gorgeous and comic, moments of the series so far.

The final panel in the triptych gives us something Breaking Bad fans have been waiting for since the premiere: some insight into Mike’s life. Jimmy symbolically hands the story over to him in a relatively civil exchange at the parking garage. There’s a beautiful, yellow light-saturated time-lapse shot of Mike working overnight. Then he eats breakfast alone at a diner and drives up to a house, where he watches a young woman in scrubs — probably his daughter — get in her car. She spots him, pauses, then wordlessly drives past. Mike finally returns to his own home, watches TV, cracks open a beer… and then the episode ends with a surprise: a swarm of police show up on his doorstep. “Long way from home, aren’t you?” Mike quips to the plain-clothes guy at the door. “You and me both,” is the reply.

This being a Vince Gilligan show, it might take weeks for us to return to Mike and find out what’s happening here. Whatever it is, though, it’s likely to be the catalyst that brings him and Jimmy together — not to mention a story juicy enough to be worth waiting for.