Better Call Saul, Episode 9

I worked my ass off to get where I am, and you take these shortcuts and you think suddenly you’re my peer? You don’t slide it into it like a cheap pair of slippers and then reap all the rewards. — Chuck McGill

Sometimes in the world of television, a specific program has a recurring theme. Occasionally, the theme manifests itself in a variety of ways. On Monday night, Better Call Saul took its theme of self-realization and cognitive dissonance and transformed it into an hour of duality. “Pimento” was a bit of a contrast from the last few weeks, but was extremely effective in its goal.

On this show, we don’t just see a two-sided coin. On this show, there’s a second coin.

“Pimento” opened with Jimmy McGill sitting on a park bench with his brother, Chuck, attempting to help him chip away at a fear of the outdoors and of electricity. This is a side of Jimmy that Saul has been very keen on illustrating to the audience at every turn, because in the end, the writers want us to like and root for this man. It doesn’t hurt that uber-fun Bob Odenkirk is the embodiment of the role, but in general, while Saul might do some shady things, his damage is innocuous at best.

Mike Ehrmantraut, one of the more compelling and well-constructed characters in this golden age of the small screen, had another standout evening, which began as he gave his daughter-in-law and, by proxy, his granddaughter, a dog for their home. He said all the right things and did all the right things; then he got a telephone call. It was a job; the kind of work he tried his best to evade but when his extended family needed financial help, he fell back into quickly. One moment he’s talking about the furry new addition to the Ehrmantraut family. The next minute, he’s taking a protection gig to help a thief sell prescription medication to Nacho and his secondary drug cartel.

Duality.

Jimmy McGill has done the legwork, deciphered the treachery, and discovered what turned into a five-state multi-million dollar class action lawsuit. Through it all, Chuck has assisted him and encouraged him at every move. This is the career-maker Jimmy has craved for ages. As the Sandpiper Crossing assisted living facility’s attorneys first waste McGill’s time with a weak restraining order lawsuit and bury him under mountains of paperwork, Chuck decides it would be best to hand the case over to HHM. The fact that he is a named partner there is important, but if it hadn’t been HHM, it likely would have been somebody. The rationale is that the clients in this case need resolution with some rapidity and a prolonged legal struggle would be good for no one. Jimmy, again just as much because the show wants its viewers to see the human side as any other conceit, obliges and calls Kim Wexler. He thinks it’s his ticket into HHM. One moment Jimmy is on the precipice of something enormous in his life. The next minute, he’s handing it over to a firm run by a man he despises.

Duality.

Chuck, unbeknownst to his brother, uses Jimmy’s phone at 2 AM and calls Howard Hamlin. The call’s details emerge in the episode’s final moments. Chuck called Howard to tell him not to hire his brother. Chuck, who struggled to make the call because of his issues with electricity, is seemingly on Jimmy’s side, helping him to build this lawsuit, while simultaneously ensuring his brother’s ultimate disappointment and lack of employment. Jimmy has helped Chuck through a mental illness for quite some time and has done everything he could for him. One moment Chuck is partnering up with Jimmy. The next minute, he’s making a phone call that could ruin his life.

Duality.

Mike Ehrmantraut is at times a good man who cares about his family and loved ones. He wants to turn his life around. He’s also very smart, but he’s dumb as shit in his biggest decisions. He’s quite adept at a life of crime, but it’s still a life of crime. He’s willing to risk everything and everyone for the paycheck. If that’s not duality, what is?

Chuck McGill is the mentally unstable guy who also happens to be a brilliant lawyer. He’s afraid of electricity to the degree that when he goes to HHM, they take every phone, shut down every device, and turn off every light in the building. He’s terrified and he’s cutthroat. Again, refer to the question in the previous paragraph.

Jimmy McGill is the crafty, funny attorney who did the slip and fall gimmick and who cuts corners, but also takes care of his brother for the right reasons. He’s willing to fall on someone else’s sword for Kim Wexler. He keeps fighting anyway, despite never seeing much in the way of a return on those investments.

I could continue on this path through at least three more examples, but in the interest of your time (and for that matter, mine), let’s boil it down a bit. Jimmy is the guy who wants to be a successful attorney, gets close and then gets knocked back down. When he finds out he won’t be taking office 312 next to Chuck, he’s crushed and takes the case away from HHM. Kim goes to Howard to ask why – is viciously browbeaten – then in a closed-door conversation that the audience doesn’t hear, he convinces her to try and talk Jimmy into the deal. Whether Howard threatened her job or told her that the issue was Chuck McGill’s request, we don’t know. Kim waits for Jimmy at the nail salon and tells him to take the deal of 20% on the back end and a 20K set-up payment for the time spent building the case. She has very watery eyes, but doesn’t tell Jimmy the reason. Jimmy figures out it was Chuck that ended any chance of a job at HHM through a dead cellphone in a mailbox and asks for the why.

“You’re not a real lawyer.”

Ouch player. Why so serious?

Chuck lays it out for him with the correspondence law school argument; basically insinuating Jimmy was a geek, then a borderline criminal, and now just jokes his way through everything. Chuck works his ass off and Jimmy falls into some horseshit degree, passes the bar, and wants a job at the real firm? Hell no. Jimmy is crushed, but not about the job. He realizes Chuck wasn’t proud of him. At the end of every list, what Jimmy McGill craves most is the professional and personal respect of his hero. As he drives off after leaving Chuck enough to survive for four days before having to fend for himself against the evil forces of electric current, he’s emotionally destroyed. Chuck is a figurative stack of cash, in the form of respect, which Jimmy thought he had and now knows never actually existed. One problem though, which he tells Jimmy and simultaneously tells the audience: “You know I’m right.”

Jimmy realized and had to deal with the new (or quite old) duality of his brother. He also recognized that the man he hoped people saw when they looked at him might indeed be a fantasy. He’s falling apart all over again, just like he did sobbing in the office space and just like he did in last week’s flashback sequence after Hamlin wouldn’t hire him after he passed the bar exam. Chuck was the main culprit in that instance as well This pattern isn’t going to change. It’s consistently compelling and it’s hard to watch Jimmy McGill fail as he struggles for even a foundation of some semblance of a reputation.

I could write an entire piece on Mike’s protection scene, from the parking deck and the “Pimento is a cheese. They call it the caviar of the south” line all the way through the job itself, but it doesn’t require much exposition. It was as good a sequence as Saul has provided since episode one. Banks crushed it yet again. Mike explaining to Price why the latter is now a criminal, what that means, and why he should consider the truth of that life before deciding to commit to it, is some ridiculously epic stuff.

The name of the episode, “Pimento,” taken from the sandwich Mike has for his day on the job, illustrates one more instance of duality. Mike, playing the bodyguard role, doesn’t have a gun until he takes it from the fool who thinks he knows everything. He carries a sandwich. Here’s Mike, the intelligent, savvy, clever guy…about to get involved with an amateur pharmaceutical thief for a 500-dollar payday. He’s like Harvey Dent in terms of the two sides of the personality. For Mike, however, there’s a reason for his risk, but we have to question whether he’d still find a way to the alleyway even if his daughter-in-law were swimming in scrilla.

Thus far, only one character has displayed virtually no duality in his activity or his behavior: Howard Hamlin. That guy’s a dickwad in a pinstripe suit. The audience has seen no middle ground from the character. We’ve seen him get extremely petty with Jimmy, demote Kim, and walk around with the kind of arrogance and douchebaggery not even a mother could love. His LACK of duality is what makes him the villain, because there’s no “well maybe he’s actually an okay guy” to be found. It might come later, but right now we know who the antagonist is in our story, which is a good thing. Howard Hamlin is the very embodiment of who Jimmy might secretly love to be, but we’re happy to know he isn’t.

When it’s time for Jimmy’s struggle to end, when he’s had enough, and when he finally gives up on earning the level of respect he dreams of, we’ll be talking about Saul Goodman and “McGill” will be nothing but a memory. This is Saul Goodman’s story; a creation and an alias generated through rejection and dejection. What Better Call Saul has done so well throughout its inaugural season is create a stage where we don’t just understand Jimmy’s dilemma, we actually begin to think we might have done the same thing.

One more episode this season…say it ain’t so. We’ll get through it together.

By the way, I absolutely despise pimento cheese. Thought you’d want to know.

You know the drill. @GuyNamedJason on the tweets. Come follow me there. We can Erin Brockovich the shit out of this thing.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.