‘Better Call Saul’ Recap: Chuck’s Magnum Opus of Lawyerly Oneupmanship and Sibling Rivalry

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Do dreams come true on Better Call Saul? In Breaking Bad, Walter White’s twisted ideal lifestyle was certainly realized, but there’s a sense that Jimmy will never achieve the lawless heights of White. At every turn, it seems there’ll be something or other that’ll bring him down, and keep him down until we ultimately meet him in Breaking Bad in that strip mall — and then later, post-Breaking Bad and back in the future world of Better Call Saul, in a Cinnabon, listlessly smearing goop onto dough lumps ad infinitum, fearing (or hoping?) that someone from his past will show up and reignite some sense of danger — or just kill him.

If Walter White got to lead an over-the-top lawless existence and die an over-the-top semi-redemptive death, Jimmy aka Saul, it seems — especially from the happenings in the excellent “Fifi” (Season 2, Episode 8) – will lead a life that, despite his charisma and flair for brilliantly goofy cons, keeps him on a relative plateau. So far, that’s one of the best, saddest aspects of the show – seeing this character flail to leap off of it, seeing so many briefly realized opportunities to do so, and then finding him right back where he was, mired in the paralyzing disdain of his brother as well as his shit luck facilitated by shit decisions. Whenever Jimmy succeeds, we are painfully aware that it’s a temporary fluke.

Which is why “Fifi” is so emotionally gripping — Jimmy’s on the verge of soaring, which means he’s also on the verge of being beaten down. After having been intentionally fired from Davis & Main by using a stampede of disruptive tricks to make the office despise him — and getting to keep his bonus because he didn’t quit — he and Kim are finalizing plans for their strange his/hers adjacent private practices. Jimmy already severed ties from his promisingly dull life last week, and now it’s Kim’s turn: she insistently asks Howard Hamlin to sit down with her in his office so she can give him her resignation letter.

It turns out Hamlin expected this — though he thought she’d been scooped up by a larger firm, rather than that his impressive protégé had decided to start her own business alongside her boyfriend, Jimmy — who happens to be both a laughingstock and an enviable adversary to the more rigid likes of Hamlin. (During their meeting, Hamlin expresses with surprising openness how his trajectory was somewhat predetermined by Daddy). Hamlin is rather merciful, and even says Kim doesn’t have to pay the firm back for the rest of her law school tuition. “I always pushed you harder because I knew I could expect more,” he says, in a particularly earnest delivery of the cliché; we believe it, but we also wonder if there isn’t something else to it.

The second Kim finalizes her resignation she realizes the weight of what she’s done, and that she has to fight to keep her big client, Mesa Verde. She calls a meeting with them to secure them as her client once she’s gone solo — asserting that they would be her sole concern with a metaphorical pitch about tailored suits. “I am not the safe choice — I am, however the right choice,” she says, explaining how she’s essentially a tailor with one jacket perfectly designed for them while Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill is, say, the Men’s Warehouse. “Either you fit the jacket or the jacket fits you,” she says, asserting that the latter would be the case at her private practice… which, in the next scene, we see may happen to be in a converted dentist’s office.

Kim and Jim are being shown said office — with dentist’s chairs still in place. Kim seems slightly off to Jimmy, who worries she’s having second thoughts. When he pulls her aside, she bursts into an ecstatic Kimdom like nothing we’ve ever seen before: she’s pretty certain she won Mesa Verde over, and is absolutely certain she nailed her pitch. Rhea Seehorn commands the show. They decide they’ll do it — they’ll rent the place, be a power couple who maybe occasionally cons people at restaurants — they’re soaring!…and then.

And then, Howard goes to Chuck, the person most likely to be offended by Jimmy’s law-related happiness — whether Jimmy finds it through working at a corporate law office like Davis & Main or working solo. He informs him that Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill are losing Mesa Verde to another practice — which doesn’t really get a rise out of Chuck until he finds out it’s affiliated with Jimmy. And once he does, we pretty much know what’s going to happen. Chuck abdicates his space blanket and decides his ire will overcome his electromagnetic hypersensitivity — he says he’ll attend a meeting with Mesa Verde and try to win them over and that no one in the office will have to turn off the lights or hide their cell phones.

Commanding the room with his acute sense of sibling rivalry, Chuck undermines Kim’s pitch by using her own vocabulary — he says she is indeed the “right” choice, she’s young and exciting, but then starts listing the lawyerly minutiae that “boring,” more established lawyers might be better versed in, ironically yawning and saying “blah blah blah” while listing facts that could be imperative to representing Mesa Verde; between Kim’s pitch and ecstatic response and Michael McKean’s flaunting of Chuck’s professionalized desire to keep his brother down, “Fifi” contains two of the best-acted scenes in BCS history — which is saying something.

But within the realm of the show, it’s Chuck’s performance that beats Kim’s — HHM wins over the account, throwing Kim and Jim’s plan into crisis. (Which is a shame, because in the hilarious scene following, Jimmy has basically infiltrated an air force base by pretending to be with an incapacitated war hero — actually a man Jimmy once defended for public masturbation — and his grandkids, and then using said “war hero” and “grandkids” to shoot a commercial for his firm while the soldiers on the base run off to fetch water for the retching hero.)

Kim informs Jim of the news that she lost the clients that were going to give momentum to their business, and asks if Jimmy still wants to make the commitment to rent the dentist’s office — he assures her that there will be other Mesa Verdes, but once he turns away from Kim, we see he’s equally uncertain — and feeling vengeful against his brother. Luckily for him, right after Chuck delivered his masterful speech, he passed out immediately from the fact that he’d been powering through the effects of his condition. Jimmy goes to “take care of him,” but in a montage that amusingly recalls Breaking Bad — but with adjusting tiny letters on law documents rather than adjusting the chemistry of crystal meth — he changes all of the addresses in Chuck’s files on Mesa Verde while Chuck, as Jimmy describes it, “does his best imitation of a baked potato” beneath his space blanket on the couch. It seems Chuck never notices. We can only imagine what happens when this scheme eventually takes effect.

Meanwhile, throughout the episode, we’ve been taken through the stops along the New Mexico drug smuggling path, as a truck driver carries popsicles (and beneath said popsicles, ostensibly drugs) through inspections and eventually straight into Hector Salamanca’s garage — with Mike watching with his binoculars from afar, trying to get a read on the ins and outs of their business so he can, presumably, bring it down. In the episode’s final scene, Mike crafts an odd hose — full of holes — for his rhododendrons, with his granddaughter. It turns out in Mike’s language “for the rhododendrons” means to beat up members of a drug cartel, because immediately following this scene we see Mike calmly filling each of the holes up with nails.

This is where we’re left as we realize that the ideal partnership between Jimmy and Kim — which they desperately want and which their Albuquerque law foes desperately want them to never achieve — will likely end up filled with so many spiked holes. Jimmy will probably never achieve the terrifying grandeur of Walter White – his upward mobility will always find a way to be punctured, deflated and sent back down to goofy, scrappy lawlessness.