Better Call Saul has turned out to be several different shows in one: a character-driven drama, a high-concept comedy, a Breaking Bad prequel, a crime show, and more. Going into any given episode, you never know which one (or combination) you’re about to get. But as the season has progressed, Better Call Saul has begun to feel most like an exceptionally eccentric lawyer procedural, with the mood of each episode determined largely by the case or client in question.
The problem is that, so far, the clients aren’t nearly as fascinating as the daily struggles of Jimmy, Mike, or even Chuck. While we’ve yet to see a bad episode of Better Call Saul, the past two have suffered somewhat from their focus on Jimmy’s cases. And if the obnoxious, one-dimensional Kettlemans were at least good for comic relief, the assisted-living elder abuse storyline that dominated last night’s installment got too bogged down in paperwork and legalese. (Even the episode’s title, “RICO,” comes from a federal law.)
That isn’t to say there weren’t some great moments. “RICO’s” cold open was characteristically strong, and telling. A flashback to the days when Jimmy worked in the HHM mail room, it reveals that he attended correspondence law school and took the bar (three times) in secret. We see him break the news to Kim, who at that point is still relegated to a dark, closet-like office. They kiss. And though Chuck is taken aback by Jimmy’s secrecy, he agrees to talk with Howard about finding a place for his brother at the firm. The sequence ends with a heartbreaking moment where Jimmy, Kim, and a few other guys from the mail room are celebrating with cake. Howard walks in and sends everyone but Jimmy out. We can’t hear what he’s saying over the sounds of the photocopier, but when he reaches the door, he’s audible again: “Let’s reassess in six months.”
So, apparently there’s no place at HHM for one partner’s fuck-up kid brother. It’s a scene that seems to illustrate not only why Jimmy hates Howard and how his first honest attempt at redeeming himself was foiled, but also how little sway Chuck holds over his own firm.
Other highlights from “RICO” include the scene where Jimmy crouches in Sandpiper’s revolting dumpster, only to have another load of putrid garbage poured on top of him, pretending he’s whispering because he’s at the opera when the facility’s lawyer calls to scare him off. (Throwaway line of the episode: “Blow my magic flute.”) And whose heart wasn’t warmed by the sight of Mike Ehrmantraut “playing sculptor” with his granddaughter, who he adorably refers to as “Michelangelina.” Now that we have his backstory, after what might end up being the best episode of the season, it’s entirely clear why he’s so focused on Kaylee throughout Breaking Bad: she’s truly all Mike’s got.
Finally, of course, there’s the last scene of the episode. After a long night spent taping shredded Sandpiper invoices together and then researching case law and threatening the facility’s attorneys with a class-action suit, Chuck is apparently so invigorated that he forgets his “affliction,” walks out into the sunlight, grabs Jimmy’s car keys out of the mailbox, and takes a box of papers out of his trunk. When Jimmy spots him, he calls out, concerned. Chuck suddenly becomes aware of what he’s doing, and go all wild-eyed. In a wide final shot, we see him freeze and drop the box.
The question here is whether Chuck is remembering his “condition” or responding with shock because it’s lost its hold on him. I suspect (largely because of the promos for next week’s episode) it’s the latter, which makes me wonder what the future holds for the crusading McGill brothers. Obviously, something is eventually going to have to happen to split them up again — and my money is on Howard, who will surely be suspicious when he sees that someone used Chuck’s code to print out thousands of pages from Westlaw.
This is the problem with focusing on Jimmy’s cases, though: it’s the characters and their relationships and trajectories that hold all the drama and suspense on this show. I assume we’ve got at least one more Sandpiper episode to go, but I couldn’t be less interested in the nuts and bolts of how Chuck and Jimmy resolve it. It’s not that I want Better Call Saul to be all tight, suspenseful scenes or dead-serious character development; in general, I like its looseness. I just want to see the show meander in a way that’s more consistently fun and entertaining.