Ever since it premiered six weeks ago, Better Call Saul has done what few expected. The drama has not just crawled out from the shadow of its AMC forerunner, Breaking Bad, but taken the keys and driven across the border. When one recalls the climaxes to that show, it makes one wonder if there is any chance Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould could even give a half-hearted attempt at the final two episodes (of 10) that will air in the coming weeks.
The big surprise about Gilligan and Gould’s latest series is how it has reached so many high points by going in the opposite director of its predecessor. Breaking Bad stunned audiences with its macabre humor and dark thrills. On the other hand, Better Call Saul has used humanism and pathos to give viewers a more emotionally investing experience week after week. The bond between Jimmy and Chuck McGill – probably the show’s weakness heading into this Monday’s episode – is further solidified in what may be the sweetest episode of television ever written where much of the dialogue is legal jargon. (Even the title is an acronym, standing for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.)
Just as the series opening at Cinnabon did so effectively, the cold open this week introduced us to the protagonist’s vulnerable side. In a flashback, Jimmy tries his best to boast about how he passed the bar on his third try – through “distance learning” at the University of American Samoa – yet the reaction is mixed. Kim gives him a long smooch but Howard makes sure to clarify that Jimmy does not have what it takes to be on the firm’s staff. Meanwhile, a healthy Chuck is too shocked that Slippin’ Jimmy is no longer slipping that he barely realizes how short his support stock runs. The only moment from the dimly lit cold open where the lights seem to catch Jimmy at a glow is in the mailroom. It makes sense for a man who gets a huge kick out of being an underdog.
It is just that sleeper status that Jimmy is most comfortable with. He is still a long way away from Saul Goodman territory. Working with a disadvantaged group of seniors connects him to that underdog spirit, giving him the chance to schmooze with a community that sorely needs representation. Nevertheless, a routine last will and testament signing with one Ms. Landry brings up some interesting questions when the senior reveals she doesn’t yet have the “allowance” to pay Jimmy for his time. After a beat, the elder lawyer agrees to a lower sum – but this “allowance” fascinates him. It turns out that the assisted living center where Ms. Landry and dozens of other seniors reside, run by a company called Sandpiper, is earning a lot each month to provide basic necessities to an elderly population. However, such demands – $14 tissue boxes, for one – reek of what Jimmy classically terms as “fraud.”