The recurring theme of AMC’s already excellent Better Call Saul is the protagonist’s constant struggle for relevance, credibility, and respect. The fourth hour of the series, “Hero”, continues to pound home the reality of Jimmy McGill, with just a glimpse of the fantasy he wants for himself.
Credibility doesn’t generally emanate from words, nor is it anything but short lived from even the most ingenious of schemes. It comes from hard work, legitimate, palpable diligence, and a sense of how to behave in public. Jimmy McGill isn’t a completely bad guy, but he’s a guy who’s willing to take the shortcut if he can’t see the end of the genuine path. “Hero” opens with a flashback to a scheme he ran along with an accomplice, one that left him fifteen hundred dollars richer at the expense of a cheap, fake Rolex watch. It plays out well on screen and at first, I bought it just like McGill’s mark (played by Kevin Weisman of Alias fame), the same guy who runs away and calls Jimmy a “sucker” for taking the money and allowing him to keep the watch. Of course, the husky gentleman who faked being nearly passed out and whose “dropped” wallet led to the scheme is part of the act. It was a very cleverly done cold open.
We ended “Nacho” last week with McGill’s discovery of the Kettleman family, camping a few miles from their home, hiding under the rouse of a disappearance or a potential kidnapping. Inside the tent is the 1.7 million dollars the adults embezzled that put them on Jimmy or any other attorney’s radar in the first place. Betsy Kettleman offers him hush money, which amounts to 35K, bundled in 5K stacks, even though it’s never specifically mentioned. McGill, again, would really like to find a way to do things the right way, at least I think so, but unfortunately he has a damaged, habitually underhanded mindset. However, in expected fashion, the morality is short-lived, because Jimmy can always see the money in any situation. In his mind, that money leads to the respect and the dignity he wants, rather than the nail salon home where he works and sleeps and the school bus yellow jalopy that he drives.
I can’t take a bribe (pauses, thinking)…you know what, I can take a retainer.
The retainer is the fantasy. In the pilot, we see McGill attempting to win over the Kettlemans as clients, coming dangerously close before Betsy stops her husband, Craig, from signing the agreement. She makes the decisions and she’s the one in full-on bargaining mode. To call her morally compromised would be a gross understatement. She’s much closer to morally repugnant respective to her own greed, comparing the legality of the money her husband “worked so hard for” to the idea that slavery was at one time legal in America. It is unbelievably audacious, but it’s done for comedic purposes and allows Jimmy to stare incredulously at Betsy Kettleman. I wonder if he’s thinking how insane this woman is or if he’s more upset he didn’t think of it first.
Then comes the reality. Betsy and her husband shake their heads at the retainer possibility, and the few sentences surrounding that reaction are another indication of just how far James M. McGill is from his goal of being…somebody.
Jimmy: Why not?
Betsy: I’m sorry. You’re just…
Jimmy: Just what?
Betsy: You’re the kind of lawyer guilty people hire.
While there’s plenty more in this, the fourth straight awesome episode of Better Call Saul, I want to examine Betsy Kettleman’s opinion of Jimmy McGill. When we think of an attorney hired by scumbags, which is the insinuation, we think of two distinct and completely different versions of a lawyer. One is Johnny Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Bob Shapiro, the slickster with boatloads of Benjamins, who doesn’t care about anything other than getting the client out of trouble and seems to almost relish the fact that they’re so good, they can make murder vanish into thin air. That’s not Jimmy McGill, who sleeps and works in the back of “Day Spa and Nail” in Albuquerque.
The other is the lawyer in the cheap suit with the comb over who can talk his way out of nearly anything but who no one could possibly respect as a reputable human being…reprehensible, yes. Those two words are in the same family but one is an emo mute and the other is Ryan Seacrest. They sound similar, but that’s where the comparisons cease. That second description is Jimmy McGill, it is Saul Goodman, and there’s no way to change it, not with a better wardrobe, which he tries, or a fancy billboard, or a ridiculous haircut designed to make him look appropriate for “the bath scene in Spartacus”. The truth is, credibility comes from action and often from circumstance.
(Author’s Note: The third type of attorney is what we at Outkick like to call the “Clay Travis God Archetype”. This perfect, magnanimous, omnipotent individual does everything right, all the time, and changes the world with every step he takes. He’s what we all hope to be, or at least to catch a glimpse of once in a while. He’s also a successful purveyor of the most comfortable pants on earth.)
(Second Author’s Note: I was forced to write the preceding blind endorsement. He threatened my children, including my newborn girl, Annie.)
(Third Author’s Note: I have no children. I am not married, but hopefully someday. Applications can be sent in under 140 characters to @GuyNamedJason, because @EndowedLoveDoctor was taken. I’m just scamming like my boy McGill. However, I do have a cat, Molly. She was not threatened.)
The scheme in the cold open comes full circle with another con job, this one the source for the episode’s title, “Hero”. McGill stages a woe-is-me video and lures a college crew to film an expose after Howard Hamlin goes after him for a blatant ripoff of logo, hairstyle, smile, and font. Incidentally, we find out the official color of Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill (HHM) is “Hamlindigo”, which is just as pretentious as it sounds, and even Howard seems to recognize how stupid it is. The video is timed to occur as a worker is taking down the billboard following a cease and desist order and a judge ruling in favor of Hamlin. The worker falls and hangs from a bungee cord and Jimmy jumps into action, eventually climbing up and pulling the worker to safety. A crowd gathers, filming the entire thing on their cell phones. It’s a scam. The worker is the accomplice, which we hear as they give each other a low five while sitting on the ledge after the “rescue”.
Jimmy McGill makes the front page of the Albuquerque Journal…D Section, entitled Metro & New Mexico. The headline reads “Local Laywer, Local Hero.” Jimmy is so proud of this newfound fame, he hides his brother’s copy of the paper in his trunk and doesn’t bring it in along with the other publications and items he delivers each morning. He lies to his brother, Chuck, saying it just wasn’t out there that day, and after Jimmy leaves, Chuck braves the outside, clad in a foil blanket, to take a neighbor’s paper, leaving five dollars under a rock. “Hero” ends with Chuck’s discovery of the article and his subsequent disappointed reaction.
A con opens “Hero” and a con and its first day results close Hero. McGill is almost ashamed, but at the same time, within the episode, he finagled his way to a nice chunk of hush money and made the newspaper, rattling his rival in the process. And, at the end of all of it, our impression of James M. McGill is actually worse than it was when this brilliant hour began. That is the lasting impression from “Hero”. Credibility doesn’t come from chicanery, although nice guys do finish last. His business card may say James, but we all know he’s Jimmy. Everybody in the show sees him as Jimmy, even Kim Wexler, the hot, smart, blonde attorney that does root for the guy, and also occasionally sleeps with him.
Not only do we know he’s Jimmy…
We also know what his business cards are going to call him real soon, just as he describes in a joke to his drunken bar mark on the street before the Rolex job:
Stevie: Hey uh, bro, I never did catch your name.
Jimmy: S’all good, man. Get it?
Follow me @GuyNamedJason on the Tweets. Please, just don’t tell anyone about the money. Just pretend you never saw the money, how hard is that?