REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Namaste”

The following is a recap and review of the fourth episode of the fifth season of Better Call Saul, available on AMC in the U. S. and on Netflix internationally. Expect story spoilers. 

In the fourth episode of the fifth season — Namaste — Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) has a meeting with Howard Hamlin (played by Patrick Fabian), Kim Wexler (played by Rhea Seehorn) tries to make Mesa Verde reconsider their plans, and Mike (played by Jonathan Banks) tries to make things right with his family. Namaste was written and directed by Gordon Smith, who has previously written several episodes of Better Call Saul. This is Gordon Smith’s directorial debut.

A lot of Namaste, to me, felt like an episode from the early days of Better Call Saul. The title of the episode, of course, refers to Howard Hamlin’s personalized license plate. Perhaps it is his return to the main plot that makes me think about the episodes of yore. His influence on our main character also makes our main character feel more like the younger Slippin’ Jimmy, the one that Chuck was almost justified in thinking of as a ‘chimp with a machine gun.’ What Jimmy does to Hamlin in this episode reminds me so much of the story about the so-called Chicago Sunroof, which, of course, refers to the story about how Jimmy ‘defecated through the sunroof’ of a car because he hated its owner. As Jimmy has said in a previous episode, the ‘Chicago Sunroof’ was not his finest hour. He shouldn’t be proud of his actions in Namaste either, though, because I’m sure I’m not the only one who was a little bit disappointed in our main character. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We’ll get to Hamlin in no time, however, because the cold open, or teaser sequence, is a direct result of Jimmy and Hamlin’s meeting later in the episode. The teaser sequence is, at first glance, very strange. In it, we see Jimmy looking at various random items to see what is easiest to throw and, as we find out later in the episode, what can do a lot of damage at the same time. I’m honestly a little bit surprised he didn’t think of bowling balls sooner. For what he intends to do, bowling balls seem absolutely perfect. On the other side of the cold open, it’s actually really nice to see that Jimmy and Kim have apparently been intimate last night. We care about these two people, and they have been going through some hardships as of late, so to see them lying naked in bed together is good to see. Unfortunately, this may be one of their last truly good moments together, if Better Call Saul becomes a tragedy just like Breaking Bad did. But I digress.

“He’s the last line of defense for the little guy. Are you getting sold down the river, he’s a life raft. You getting stepped on, he’s a sharp stick. You got Goliath on your back, Saul’s the guy with the slingshot. He’s a righter of wrongs. He’s a friend to the friendless. That’s Saul Goodman.”

In this episode, prior to meeting up with Hamlin, Jimmy McGill continues to be very entertaining and efficient as Saul Goodman. In this episode, the two low-level criminals who were so excited about Jimmy’s fifty-percent off-deal have finally called their lawyer, who has to let them know that even though they may have different expectations, they will have to spend some time behind bars. When they consider turning to another lawyer, Jimmy, or Saul, talks them to their senses. Jimmy knows what he’s doing, and he absolutely is their best chance. In the first shot of the very next scene, we see Jimmy touch his pinky ring — Marco’s ring (Marco, Jimmy’s old friend) — and I think it may be intended to signal that the two low-level criminals remind him of him and Marco back in the day. But the shot may also be intended to remind us that deep-down Jimmy likes doing the dirty work. This is a good thing to keep in the back of your head as Jimmy gets an offer from an old acquaintance. From the courthouse to the restaurant, and now I’m ready to really talk about Hamlin and McGill. When Hamlin offers to hire Jimmy at HHM, it probably has more to do with how bad Hamlin feels than with Jimmy’s ability as a lawyer. This moment of clarity now that Hamlin is finally ready to offer ‘Charlie Hustle,’ as he likes to call him, the thing Jimmy once desired is simply too little and too late. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sting to see. We know immediately that Jimmy probably won’t accept Hamlin’s offer, but I think many fans of the show, myself included, wish he would. This is a prequel series to Breaking Bad in which we see Jimmy be a criminal, be put in danger, and eventually be uprooted. It would’ve been nice if Jimmy had just let go of Saul, but alas that just cannot happen. I do feel bad for Howard, though. I don’t think he deserved to have his car wrecked by Jimmy and his bowling balls.

I do want to mention one extremely funny scene with Jimmy that had nothing to do with Hamlin. In this scene, which is arguably one of the funniest scenes in the series, Jimmy, as Saul Goodman, is defending one of his clients in court. However, he has done something truly ingenious but also quite devious. Jimmy has switched out the defendant with someone who looks just like him so that the plaintiff, who is asked to identify the person who committed the crime, looks untrustworthy. It’s so smart and yet so dirty but Jimmy gets what he wants, which is a mistrial. This is one of those classic Saul Goodman moments that fans will remember for a very long time, just like the hilarious ‘squat cobbler’ scene from season two.

Let’s now talk about Kim. She has a very simple plan in this episode: she feels bad about Mr. Acker, and so she has decided that she will fix the problem. Though as we see in the episode, messing with what works can lead to distrust. One very telling character moment comes right as Jimmy and Kim get ready to leave for work. Jimmy says they shouldn’t worry about the broken bottles in the parking lot, which are there because of Jimmy and Kim, because someone else will probably take care of it. But Kim is not that type of person and so she gets rid of the broken glass. So while Jimmy just walks away from the mess he made, Kim goes out of her way to clean it up. But, and I cannot stress this enough, Mr. Acker’s messy situation with Mesa Verde is absolutely not something Kim should meddle with. But Kim cannot help herself. Kim clearly oversteps when she makes the suggestion to Paige (played by Cara Pifko) and Kevin (played by Rex Linn) that they should consider moving the call center elsewhere. She is exhibiting questionable judgment that could end up biting her in the ass down the line, because even when Kevin politely and indirectly tells her to back off, she cannot turn her head away from the injustice. Asking Jimmy to help her with Acker is really not a good idea. His involvement could result in a conflict of interest that could make Kim lose her job.

But none of this is as anxiety-filled as the scenes between Gus Fring and Lyle (played by Harrison Thomas), who Gus tortures by making him clean the frier over and over again until sweat is literally dripping from his forehead. I hope guests at Los Pollos Hermanos tip well, because Lyle deserves a good, long vacation right about now. Gus is understandably upset, though. Gus is about to lose a lot of money to the DEA, who have been informed of the ‘dead drop’ locations from Krazy-8. Gus simply has to let the DEA take the money. His hands are tied, and it is extremely frustrating to him.

Meanwhile, Mike also had some anger issues. After his daughter-in-law would not allow him to babysit his granddaughter since Mike had yelled at her, Mike begins to seek out danger so that he can ‘use’ his anger on someone. Mike is on the warpath as he returns to the street where the young thugs who have confronted him previously live. Mike knew that they would gang up on him, he knew that he would have to fight, but I’m not sure he expected them to use a knife on him. The last thing we see in the episode is Mike waking up in what I’m guessing is Mexico. I suppose either Fring or Salamanca’s men were secretly following him and that they rushed to his aid when they saw what happened.

Namaste is a strong set-up episode that further complicates Kim’s job security. But, as should be evident by now, Namaste is an episode about frustration and anger. It’s not an accident that the most happy-go-lucky guy in the episode has his car ruined by bowling balls. In Namaste, we see Kim wiggle her way further into trouble because she cannot let go of Mr. Acker’s problem, and when her clients aren’t swayed by her appeal to move the call center, her frustration leads her to invite the ‘chimp with the machine gun’ to go head-to-head with her own client. Mike is so angry that he asks to be punished, Gus’ anger makes him torment his employee, and Jimmy’s frustration with Hamlin makes him act out in a way that is really difficult to watch. In Namaste, several frustrated characters — Kim, Jimmy, and Mike — make decisions that have come, or may eventually come, back to haunt them.

B+

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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