Better Call Saul Review: “Bingo” (Season 1, Episode 7)



One of the joys of tuning into Better Call Saul, the best new show on AMC, is to catch snippets of Mad Men, the best old show on AMC, in the ads leading up to that series’ final episodes. A shot that is always included among the show’s most iconic is that of several Sterling Cooper partners with their backs turned to the camera, looking out the window from their new floor of office space. (It’s one that concludes the show’s fifth, and arguably best, season.)

I kept coming back to that image from that series’ season five finale during “Bingo,” a thrillingly paced, surprisingly tidy episode of television. It is probably due to a line Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) says in the episode right before about happiness: “it’s only a moment before you need more happiness.” Just as the Manhattan ad men and women worked their way up to a second floor of space, one Jimmy McGill is hoping for a similar room expansion. But will moving up make him happy?

“Bingo” director Larysa Kondracki divides the various scene locations this week into two varieties – the ones that belong to the haves and those that belong to the have-nots. Every character on the series wants to move on, but on to higher things. Now that Jimmy’s outfit is expanding in the elder law domain, he aspires for more office space. That creaky shoebox of a room, cluttered to the point of near-overflow, is not enough to sustain him. He has his eye on a clean, spacious office suite that has the room for a receptionist’s desk, a fine-sized office for the man at the helm and some extra space. (“Room to grow,” he deadpans.)

The new office also has a sunny view of the highway, while the only view from the nail salon closet is of the opened vent above his desk. DP Arthur Albert shoots both rooms – the suite and the not so sweet – with an overhead shot as Jimmy looks around both interiors. This high-angle positioning doesn’t just illuminate the obvious size difference, but how Jimmy has such little control over the space he is currently in.

Quite generously, Jimmy wants to give the established corner office to his pal, Kim. She accepts the gesture but cannot commit, due to her current standing at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. Jimmy feels he is just on the cusp of big business, just as Kim is hoping the goodwill and loyalty she has with her firm can make her a partner within a couple of years. However, in many of the shots during her meeting with the Kettlemans, the focus is also on the curvy, although vacant, leather chair next to her. She hasn’t yet reached a place where she can be filmed on her own – unlike Jimmy, often filling the center of the screen when speaking to the Kettlemans.

Another character yearning for mobility this week is Chuck, going through great strain to acclimate to an electro-magnetic atmosphere. The tin foil is out of sight. He is trying to build up a tolerance to the outside world, while Jimmy is now planting case files and testing his brother on legal sections, likely with the hopes of spurring him to practise law again. One missed opportunity in this episode was to show the outside world through Chuck’s dizzied point-of-view, getting inside his head as past episodes have done. However, maybe Better Call Saul doesn’t even need to do that any more, given Chuck’s quick adaptation to the fresh morning air.

While these three characters seem to be gaining ground, there is one family threatening to push the first two back. Boisterous Betsy and reticent Craig Kettleman get a remarkable deal from Kim: Craig has to plead guilty to embezzling all of the funds and her close ties to the DA will ensure he is in jail only for a year-and-a-half. But that is a year-and-a-half too much for the family man – and Betsy, rather adept at both finishing and starting her husband’s sentences. So, they fire Kim, in a move that she later laments to Jimmy will spare her from partner panache for a good decade. Instead, the criminals decide to take their business to the newfound elder enthusiast.

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