This week’s episode is named “Inflatable,” after a sharply dressed inflatable dancing man that inspires Jimmy to dress in technicolor suits similar to the kind later worn by Saul. But this episode doesn’t begin there; it begins, oddly enough, at the beginning.
Well, not at birth, but close enough: Jimmy’s childhood. We see young Jimmy reading Playboy and pretending to sweep floors in his father’s shop. Presumably he’s reading the articles, deep into some vintage Hunter S. Thompson, when a man dressed to the nines comes in and spins some sob-filled yarn to Jimmy’s father. His son his sick, he says, and he needed medicine, he says, and he came into town and bought the medicine, he says, only his car breaks down, he says, and no, no, he doesn’t want Jimmy’s father to look at his car, he just wants $5 for a cab, no time to look at his car, he says. Jimmy knows a con and tries to warn his father; his father doesn’t listen. In fact, his father gives the conman $10, and then goes to the back of the store to look for some spark plugs. The conman buys two cartons of cigarettes with the money he was just given, and tells Jimmy that there are wolf and sheep, yada yada yada, ruining Jimmy’s mind, corrupted to the point that he steals the $8 from selling the cigarette cartons.
This flashback is basically to say that Jimmy, though inherently lazy, was not a natural born conman — but he certainly is a quick learner, able to think on his feet. It’s a skill on display when Jimmy gets inspired by the inflatable dancing man. Just before that moment, we see Jimmy dictating a letter of resignation from Davis & Main to Omar. When Omar reminds him that Jimmy can’t keep his signing bonus if he quits before working for a year, Jimmy changes his mind. And in come the colorful suits.
In come the juicer, too, and the bagpipes, and the not flushing the toilet. All of this is shown in one of the strongest montages since the earliest cooking scenes in Breaking Bad, full of humor and color and that damn dancing man. Eventually, Cliff (Ed Begley Jr.) calls Jimmy into his office and fires him. He knows what Jimmy’s been doing. Jimmy says he’s just a square peg, and then tells Cliff, “For what it’s worth, I think you’re a good guy.” Cliff responds with, “For what it’s worth, I think you’re an asshole.” Which is fair.
From here, Jimmy has Omar bring his cocobolo desk — and a bowl full of Davis & Main pens — back to the nail salon, where he sets up shop for his own law office. He had asked Kim earlier if she’d be interested in joining him as a partner in a new firm, but she denied. “You have me,” she said. But not as a law partner.
That whole discussion with Kim was only really had because she’s all but left Hamlin, Hamlin, & McGill, thanks to being vetted by Schweikart & Cokely. In fact, this is partly to thank for Jimmy quitting his own job — he’d hoped to set up his own shop with Kim. When she turned him down, he was devastated. He was less devastated — and more confused — later, when she proposed that the two of them start their own respective firms and operate under the same roof.
This is pretty much where Jimmy and Kim are left at the end of “Inflatable,” and it’s a less than exciting place to be. While the two of them are bridging their professional lives, the path of Jimmy to Saul, which should be relatively short, seems to be longer, more gradual than Walt’s more radical transformation into Heisenberg. Of course, there’s no ticking clock of cancer. The constant comparisons to Breaking Bad, however misplaced, are annoying, I know, but it’s the easiest proxy here. This show is consistently enjoyable, and this week’s montage was one of the best things on TV this year, but I persist in my insistence that this character arc, its end result already known to us, is almost painful to watch play out. At this point, if the show were to focus entirely on Chuck, who was absent this week, or Mike for more of the time, things might be less excruciating.
And that’s not to say that this week’s bits with Mike weren‘t excruciating. He at first seems to have given in to the Salamancas’ plans, recruiting Jimmy to represent him at the police department while he changes his statement to say that the gun found in the struggle between him and Tuco did not belong to Tuco. Later in the episode we see him at his daughter-in-law’s new home, and then he’s seething outside of a restaurant, watching, I assume, the Salamancas. Not much happens, but the potential there — that Mike could be responsible for Hector Salamanca’s compromised health, as seen in Breaking Bad — is more exciting than anything happening in Jimmy’s world.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. This is as much Mike’s story as it is Jimmy’s, only the writers are showing us the minutia of Jimmy’s life and the CliffsNotes version of Mike’s. Each episode shows a different, minor part of Jimmy’s eventual personality as Saul, and I can appreciate that the creators want every facet of Saul’s eventual persona to be explained, traceable to some prior episode of his life (and the show). And while that’s admirable, and cool, and will, in the end, be very fun to have seen start to finish, that’s not really how lives work, or how personalities develop. It’s clever for a show and serves as a nice wink to the audience, but, especially in this season, Better Call Saul has been composed primarily of winking character development and the long, steady gazes in between. It’s the lamest kind of fan service because it’s barely satisfying in the moment and brings little new to the ultimate character of Saul. But the show is still fun, so fine, we’ll keep watching. And waiting, and waiting.