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The thing you folks need to know about me, I got nothin’ to lose. Christ, you should see my office.
Finally, reality hit the Kettleman family directly in the face, and it was glorious, mainly because Betsy Kettleman, played beautifully by Julie Ann Emery, was such a loathsome creature. “Bingo” wasn’t Better Call Saul’s best hour, but it might have been the most important episode of the seven that have aired on AMC. For the first time on the show, Jimmy McGill actually did have something building, optimism was in the air, and even Chuck began fighting against his illness. As the episode faded to black, Jimmy was fighting back tears after losing that “nothin” he adamantly proclaimed to the Kettlemans, and he was right back where he started.
Better Call Saul is a show about failure; make no mistake. It’s about failure, it’s about trial-and-error, it’s about delusion, and it’s also about self-realization. In “Bingo,” Betsy Kettleman played her final card and lost on the river. Craig might have been the patriarch of the family, but Betsy made every decision, from declining McGill’s services in “Uno” to walking out of HHM once Kim Wexler revealed her husband would lose in court and needed to take a plea on the embezzlement charge. Even as the couple leaves HHM, Betsy is quietly telling her husband, “Don’t look backward. Always keep moving forward.” That’s the only way to rationalize stupidity in the present. All one needs to do is overlook the past and no decision seems foolhardy. Betsy didn’t know it then, but she’d learn it soon enough.
Jimmy McGill took a Betsy-bribe a few weeks ago after discovering the family hiding out in the woods a few miles from their home. That money, somewhere around 30-thousand dollars, was meant to be the start of, well, something. He found a perfect office, with a view that even impressed his blonde colleague, and business was picking up as a result of the shift to “elder law” and no doubt the Matlock suit that I’ll mention at any opportunity I can, because it’s so freaking awesome.
One thing the show could stand to improve on in order to fully flesh itself out is to make the audience give a damn about its supporting cast. While the highlights will likely emanate from Odenkirk and Banks, Better Call Saul’s greatness as an overall program may well be created or destroyed by the rest of the cast. Walter White was an incredible character, but there’s no Breaking Bad without Jesse, without Skyler, without Hank, without Marie, without Gus, and of course, without Saul and Mike. The Chuck storyline is one people will likely love or hate, because it’s direct and in your face and comes across like an unnatural television convention. Also, Chuck immediately generates sympathy for Jimmy, a character known to be a sleazy cheap-suit with a scheme a second and morality, at best, in the rear view, but potentially further than it appears. Luckily, Michael McKean is playing the role so the talent is there, and thus far, the chemistry has been strong between Jimmy and Chuck. It’s not the best part of the show though, and probably never will be.
“Bingo spotlighted the Kim Wexler character, who should be central to the series going forward. It isn’t the love interest angle, because that’s a given on a TV drama. It has to be there, whether you want it or not. Watching Jimmy and his friend/phone sex partner/occasional lover/potential secret girlfriend will be fun, but Wexler has to mean something on her own. Monday night, the writers let us step into her world a bit more. She’s a lawyer, a fact we knew, but she’s also in the “prove myself to this pinstriped-ass clown Hamlin” phase. When the Kettlemans fire her and leave the firm, she’s banished to the “East Wing,” which Jimmy calls a cornfield. Her job security isn’t on solid ground, but she’s still unwilling to leave HHM to partner with McGill at the new office, which vanishes in the final minutes of the episode anyway, so bully for her.
Last week was a “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you” moment for Mike Ehrmantraut, who we knew, but we didn’t REALLY know. It was a smart decision because up to that point, other than just a bit of Chuck and the slightest bit of Kim and a few glimpses of Hamlin, Better Call Saul was ALL Jimmy McGill. “Bingo” was a proper introduction to Kim Wexler, the three-dimensional television construct. Rhea Seehorn was great throughout the hour. Additionally, through Odenkirk’s facial expressions, his acting actually revealed to the viewer that Wexler mattered. It also illustrated Kim to be Jimmy’s weakness, a dent in the immorality, a major bruise on the old “Slip and Fall” motif. He gave up tens of thousands of dollars to restore her professional reputation. In no way does that resemble the Saul Goodman we know well and the Jimmy McGill we’re getting to know in 2015. That fact, by itself, makes “Bingo” unique and memorable.
The Kettlemans wanted McGill as their lawyer and attempted to threaten him into doing it, but rather than take the loser case with psycho-Betsy, he called in his Ehrmantraut chit and had Mike steal the cash back from them, ship it to the district attorney, and leave them with no choice but to return to Kim and take her deal. How much of that had to do with Kim’s subtle reminder that these two pieces of cheese had two children they could ruin, we’ll never know. Hell, back to the Kim-as-weakness argument, he even drives them to HHM and presents Craig and Betsy to her in the parking garage. All that was missing was a big red bow, but after giving back his bribe money to make sure every cent was accounted for, he probably couldn’t afford it. Seriously, you should see his office for fuck’s sake. If you don’t believe me, just ask him, or read italicized quotes in reviews.
By the way, how pathetic were Craig and Betsy Kettleman? To call them entitled, stupid, and living in an illiterate fairytale would be far too kind. These two, particularly Betty, continued to insist they were innocent, even to Jimmy, who they had bribed after a tug of war with the very money Betsy claimed they never stole in the first place. It was unbelievable, almost to the point of comedy, but it was compelling as hell because – just like Howard Stern’s biggest detractors – we wanted to see how far these dill holes would go with their insanity. They nearly Thelma & Louise’d that ish; unfortunately we’d have gotten no gratuitous Geena Davis cleavage. But I digress…
Two other quick things we should riff about from “Bingo,” which did indeed feature Jimmy as a bingo-caller, no doubt to try and score more elderly clients. The cold open showed Mike and his fearless, or maybe more accurately fearful, but full of braggadocio, attorney receiving the riot act from Abassi and Sanders. Mike stole Abassi’s notebook, and the young detective is chock full of piss and vinegar about it, but is still foolish enough to think Ehrmantraut actually gives a crap. Jimmy gives the book back, has an implausible excuse — but what else is new — and Mike has a private talk with Sanders (Barry Shabaka-Henley), a veteran investigator who Mike knew well. Sanders knows Mike well also, and the two say plenty without actually saying anything.
Abassi breaks out “Hopefully whatever you are didn’t rub off on the rest of your family” on Ehrmantraut before he walks away. Considering Mike sobbed the words “I broke my son” last week to his daughter-in-law, that one might get Abassi punched down the line. But, Abassi is the fresh-faced, by-the-book officer of the law. Remind you of anyone? And, because Philly is Philly in Better Call Saul’s world, Sanders tells Mike, “He’s alright. He’s got to learn…some rocks you don’t turn over.” Ouch.
Finally, there’s Jimmy’s office, the one we saw that looked like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce before Don and company actually put desks in the place, and the one in the back of the Albuquerque nail salon. McGill so badly wants to be that plush view, but at the end of the episode, sitting in the office space he now can’t afford, without the partner he hoped to woo, he cries and he kicks the walls. He was so close. But, he’s still Jimmy McGill. He’s still the comb-over and the cucumber water. He’s still just “A” guy who’s always looking up at “THE” guy.
Once again, he’s also a guy without the money to dream big without Zoloft-level depression. And…well, he needs his crank to work, so that’s not an option. So it’s back to handling wills and declaring which Marty Robbins vinyl goes to which son and where the Little Boy Blue pewter statue ends up when grandma’s body decides it’s had enough.
But, at least Betsy Kettleman’s fantasy came crashing down – because if anybody had it comin’ — that broad (said as if I was Burgess Meredith) had it comin’. When we met her in the pilot, none of us had any idea her story would be THIS instrumental to the movement of the entire season. Three episodes left in this year’s portion of the story and I have no clue where they’re headed. What I can say without any hyperbole, however, is I can’t wait to find out.
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