AMC’s Better Call Saul
5×06: “Wexler v. Goodman”
Directed by Michael Morris
Written by Thomas Schnauz
A young girl’s waiting to be picked up at her junior high school after dark. Her mother’s late. This is a glimpse of Kim Wexler’s past with an irresponsible, likely alcoholic mom. Little Kim decides to walk home 3 miles rather than get into a car with her mother. Mom tries to say it was “only one beer” but it’s obvious there was, at this point, already a huge rift between mother and daughter. Nice to take a look at Kim’s past, to see where she comes from, and to put in context the person she is now. Also, we see that she can walk away from a bad situation, even as a child. It’s more about the damage that happens before she gets there, and how long she’ll stick with Jimmy before she walks away from him, too.
We see an old commercial from Mesa Verde Bank and Trust. It starred Kevin Wachtell’s father and even young Kevin himself. It’s a a very old school American Wild West thing. We’re seeing it because Jimmy’s going to get his Saul on and recreate the time period for his own commercial. He’s making use of his film school friends. They tell him it’ll take at least a week to shoot. Jimmy wants “shock and awe” in as little as time possible, so they’re going for a green screen technique rather than shooting on location at a bunch of different places. Jimmy’s definitely not what you’d call a natural director, though he does relatively know what he’s doing, ushering a number of different people in and out of frame while he and the film school crew work whatever magic is available to them. Later, Kim turns up asking Jimmy about settlement possibilities. She tells him she wants to “move on” because of Schweikart’s accusations, she’s questioning her own judgement. Jimmy reluctantly shuts things down. Will he let this lie? Hard to tell.
“You never listen”
Elsewhere, Nacho’s at an old warehouse, pacing and waiting for the arrival of Gus. When Fring shows up he’s got Mike in tow. Nacho tells them about Lalo uses his connections to rat out Fring’s dealers, giving up times and locations. He goes on about Salamanca’s potential plans to fuck with Fring’s business— Lalo wants the cartel in Mexico to get sick of Gus and edge him out. Now, Gus has Nacho reporting to Mike, who’ll be handling some of the trickier, nastier, BLOODIER aspects of the business as we’ve already seen in Breaking Bad. When Nacho and Mike are alone the former explains to the latter what kind of man Gus really is re: the situation with his father. Mike seems to have a soft spot for the younger man. They might be able to help each other.
Mike is at the library buying books for his granddaughter. He’s also posing as Dave Clark, private investigator. He chats up Lillian Simmons, the librarian, claiming he’s looking for her. She was involved in an investigation about Travelwire. She sends money back to family in Taiwan. She saw a suspicious “man with a moustache“— Lalo. Remember in the Season 4 finale? Mike visited the Travelwire agency, and right after Lalo showed up to kill the employee Mike spoke to, and so it all comes full circle. He’s trying to jog her memory about Lalo’s “grey 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo” to get her to put a call into the Albuquerque Police Department. Things are heating up in the meth business.
Mike shows up at the department and intimidates a young man into getting a police report he’s created himself to the boss. This report tracks back, again, to Season 4 when Mike cut Lalo off from tailing him and the angry Salamanca— in his ’70 Monte Carlo— rammed another car in frustration. All on the same day of the Travelwire murder. This ensures the cops will be all over Lalo and his car.
Another Saul strike on Howard occurs when Jimmy sends a couple sex workers he represented in court to the restaurant where “Howie” is having lunch with Clifford Main. The ladies make it look like Howard owes their pimp money and things escalate to the point where he tries to usher them out and they start screaming about assault. Outside, Jimmy’s watching with binoculars, enjoying his handiwork. Yet he still feels like he’s outside of the system, as well. He’s sitting in that beat up car while Howard and Clifford are in the fancy restaurant. Problem is, he’ll do anything to make that much money— anything at all.
At the negotiation table, Saul is pressing to get $4-million for Mr. Acker’s “pain and suffering.” This really pisses Kim off after their conversation. She feels betrayed, especially given she came to Jimmy in confidence about the settlement and they seemed to have come to an agreement. Now, Mr. Goodman is doing this in front of Kim’s client, as well as her boss, and it’s not a good look for how it’ll reflect on Jimmy. But Saul keeps pushing, popping in a DVD of edited footage from the old Mesa Verde commercial, featuring Kevin’s dad, and actor reenactments based on supposed real client testimonies from customers screwed over by the bank. Mostly sideshow nonsense, verging on libel. Middle of the day TV lawyer stuff. Saul’s trying to use the power of reputation to push Mesa Verde into settling before anybody sees the commercial. Pretty ugly blackmailing. Saul brings up the picture used for the Mesa Verde logo, claiming the bank doesn’t own the rights to the photograph on the basis of infringement of “intellectual property.”
While Kim and Schweikart are mulling over options Kevin’s boiling over. The big man in charge calls Saul and meets him in the parking garage. He wants to know what the “third–rate huckster” will need to walk away from this mess. Saul wants money and compensation, on top of a public apology to Mr. Acker. His whole argument, particularly about the Indigenous photographer, would be MUCH MORE full of morality were he not doing it out of nothing but greed. He doesn’t care about Acker, or Ms. Bitsui, he just wants to make a name for himself so he can buy another tacky suit.
There’s no end to the lengths Mike will go to fix the problems that need fixing. He uses a radio to call in to the police and get the cops after Lalo’s Monte Carlo. Soon, Salamanca finds himself surrounded by several different patrol units and he decides it’s better to not try blasting his way out of an arrest. Crazy how Lalo seemed like such a big problem, then one 24-hour period with Mike at the helm and he’s about to be in police custody.
Things gets proper awful between Kim and Jimmy when they have to go back to the same home and live together. She’s not thrilled by his bullshit. She doesn’t want to do the Kevin voice, nor does she want to rejoice in the whole plan Jimmy/Saul pulled off. All Jimmy cares about is victory, no matter what the cost. Who cares about Mesa Verde— they’re a bank, they’ll survive. But morality’s the cost here, too. Not to mention there’s other things like Kim’s resentment. She no longer trusts Jimmy: “You played me. You made me the sucker, again.” She’s getting to that same place she once arrived with her mother, and one step closer to walking away for good. Except she’s suggesting two things: break up or get married.
Oh, my. Kim, honey: get out of there.
“You turned you and me versus the bank into you versus me”
Better Call Saul is, for me, even better than Breaking Bad, which was an excellent series in its own right. But this show looks even deeper at some of the things the original series was looking at, because though Walter dragged MANY people into his shitty hemisphere, Jimmy/Saul has an even wider reach and there are deeper implications due to his connection with the institution of American justice. Plus, as bad as things got for Skyler, things are getting a whole lot worse for Kim, as she continues to lose herself, and maybe someday her career as a lawyer, through her relationship with Jimmy.
“JMM” is next time.