REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “JMM”

The following is a recap and review of the seventh 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 seventh episode of the fifth season — JMM — Lalo Salamanca (played by Tony Dalton) hires his trusted lawyer ‘Saul Goodman,’ and Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) and Kim Wexler (played by Rhea Seehorn) are married at the courthouse. JMM was written by Alison Tatlock and directed by Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul producer Melissa Bernstein, who, with JMM, makes a glorious directorial debut.

“If I have the urge to not tell you something, then I’ve gotta tell you.”

At the end of the previous episode, Kim Wexler proposed in a frustrated but honest way to the series’ protagonist, Jimmy McGill. It was a proposal that didn’t just shock Jimmy, but also us as viewers. It, frankly, came out of nowhere at a moment when Kim looked ready to leave him in their apartment. But it did happen, and, as we should know as fans of the show, Jimmy would not be able to turn down Kim, the love of his life, even if her proposal was made at the most inopportune time. In this episode’s cold open, however, we are reminded that their marriage is nothing more than a way to secure spousal privilege. Jimmy’s good-natured acquaintance Huell was their witness, and even though he was happy for Jimmy, his happiness was by no means infectious. Neither Jimmy nor Kim got particularly emotional. Theirs is a marriage out of convenience — a legal arrangement. It is an unromantic courthouse marriage, even though Huell does his best to document it as if it were more significant. And when it’s done, they say goodbye, go their separate ways, and go back to work. It’s odd, but it does happen. They both have a lot to do that day.

“If you continue to ignore us then this is the wrong relationship.”

Kim Wexler and Rich Schweikart approached Mesa Verde Bank & Trust to apologize for the problems that they ran into with the Tucumcari expansion that Jimmy basically destroyed. When Kevin Wachtell, the CEO of Mesa Verde, says he is disappointed that Kim was ‘rolled over’ by someone like Jimmy, who, Kevin adds, is not good enough for her, Kim snaps. She has had enough. She convinces Rich to go back into the Wachtell office to sternly explain that while Schweikart and Wexler perhaps mismanaged the situation, it was Kevin who ignored their advice time and time again. In the end, while this is absolutely about putting her foot down and telling Kevin off, I suspect that this also has a lot to do with the way he talked about Jimmy. Kevin seems to have a lot of respect for Kim’s courage. Not every lawyer would have had the confidence and courage to reprimand their client like she did here, and Kevin, once again, seems impressed. I want to focus on a Kim Wexler quote now. Kim tells Kevin that: “if you continue to ignore us then this is the wrong relationship.” First, this seems like an attempt by Kim to end her involvement with Mesa Verde. Throughout this season she has been more interested in Pro-Bono-work than Mesa Verde, and I suspect that Kim tried to end their professional relationship here. But since Kevin respected her courage, her attempt was not successful. Secondly, I also think it is interesting to note that this is pretty much what she told Jimmy. Jimmy ignored her in the previous episode, and yet she stayed with Jimmy. I think this is another example of just how much Jimmy means to Kim. In any case, Kim has come out of her shell, if she were ever in any. She is willing and able to lambast all of the people in her life. But Jimmy means so much to her that she’s willing to get more involved with him, even when he messes up.

While Jimmy and Kim went to work, Lalo’s frustrations forced Gus Fring’s hand. Lalo, still angry with Fring, asked Nacho, who is still secretly an informant for Gus Fring, to burn down one of Fring’s fast-food restaurants. So after having met with the representatives of the rest of the Madrigal subsidiaries (including the hilariously named breakfast restaurant ‘Luftwaffle‘) and its CEO (played by Norbert Weisser), who, like Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (played by Laura Fraser), you may remember from Breaking Bad, Fring was met with the choice of either blowing up his own restaurant or blow Nacho’s cover. Since Fring doesn’t want to lose his asset, he was forced to see the fast-food restaurant that he frequents go up in smokes.

“Do you want to be a friend of the cartel?”

Who is Jimmy McGill? That is a question that reviewers, recappers, and essayists have grappled with since the first episode of the prequel series. For quite some time, we have known him as his alter ego Saul Goodman, the colorful and crooked lawyer from Breaking Bad, and, for the longest time, the central question with Better Call Saul has been when Jimmy McGill would cross the line and become his alter ego. I think that McGill has already become Goodman, but that Saul is more of a shell, a facade, than anything else. In the episode that is appropriately titled JMM, we start to understand the internal make-up of the lawyer that criminals hire. At the start of the fifth season, Jimmy’s partner and now-wife, Kim Wexler, gifted him a briefcase with his initials, JMM, on the front of it. It seemed like she was a moment too late now that he had effectively thrown away the shackles of Chuck and the family name. In an effort to not disappoint Kim, Jimmy, or ‘Charlie Hustle’ as he has also been affectionally dubbed, was quick to mention that ‘JMM’ could refer to his new motto: “Justice Matters Most,” which, as all Breaking Bad fans know, should not be the motto of Saul Goodman.

In this episode, Jimmy’s latest client, the dangerous Lalo Salamanca, points out the initials. Jimmy, in an attempt to disguise his true identity, is quick to mention his laughable faux-motto. Lalo laughs in his face and suggests that “Just Make Money,” would be a more apt description. He’s right. Jimmy knows he’s right. But perhaps the ‘tin-man,’ who has gone out of his way to show no remorse for his actions to Chuck long ago, still has a heart. While Jimmy defends Lalo, he zones out for a moment while he looks at the grieving family-members of the individual that Lalo killed. Lalo pays them no mind, but it clearly bothers Jimmy that he is about to make them hurt even more. The writers of Better Call Saul and the episode’s director do something incredible here. Right as Jimmy seems to have lost concentration, as he focuses on the family, he snaps out of it, and, in the next shot, he is standing upright after having delivered most of his argument in favor of his client off-screen. It is an excellent way to show an out of body experience. Because this has become second nature to Jimmy. He can turn this on in his sleep and lose his sense of morality while doing his job. And yet, at the end of the episode — when Hamlin confronts Jimmy — our main character is caught off-guard while staring remorsefully at the aforementioned family.

Once again, I have to commend the Better Call Saul crew as they perfectly capture the character’s internal struggle with the shot of Jimmy peeking out from behind the corner. His face is reflected on the wall, and, as a result, Jimmy looks misshapen. Jimmy McGill is shown peeking out from his external immoral facade, and he looks shell-shocked. It is a reminder of the shell of a man that he has become, whether he will admit it to Hamlin or not. Jimmy is not all-powerful or incapable of being wounded. Jimmy has not healed. He is still deflecting blame, and when he blows up into Hamlin’s face publicly, we, as viewers, look on with despondency as the man we once cherished has changed into someone almost unsightly due to internal heartbreak that he refuses to deal with. Now, with the help of Mike Ehrmantraut, Jimmy has succeeded in getting Lalo what he wanted in this episode. But Lalo now also wants Jimmy to pick up the $7 million that will get him released, and that may be a too difficult task for Jimmy to pull off. When you watch a prequel series to a tragedy, it is almost like watching a car crash in slow motion. Right now, in season five, it’s starting to get as ugly as it is entertaining.

A

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.