At the end of last week’s Better Call Saul!, Jimmy’s loafered toe had grazed the legal and moral banana peel that will ostensibly slide him — by chance or choice or a complex combination — into Saul-dom. Having been made an offer he’d love to refuse by Tuco’s business associate Nacho, Jimmy realizes that, in saving his own life in the desert, he’s put those of the conniving Kettleman family in some serious danger by blabbing. They might be crooks, but they don’t deserve to die for it because of some bungled street corner shakedown of the wrong person’s grandma.
But we start with a peek as far into the past as we’ve had to this point on either Bad or Saul. A fully functional Chuck arrives at an Illinois prison to visit a prospective client — youthful, mullet-haired Jimmy McGill, who’s gotten himself into a fix via something called a “Chicago sunroof.” (Anybody who wants to clue me in on what that is, be my guest. Google was no help at all.) The brothers haven’t seen each other in five years, something the older McGill reminds the younger McGill, who fidgets like a kindergartener in need of a bathroom break and works his gift of gab.
“Only thing I know about Albuquerque — Bugs Bunny should have taken a left turn and give me a hundred tries, I’ll never be able to spell it,” he jokes of Chuck’s lengthy journey.
Chuck will not be charmed.
“I know I’m a lousy brother and a big screw-up and if I were a better person, I’d not only stop letting you down, I’d stop letting me down,” a moist-eyed Jimmy tries next. Chuck rises to leave. Jimmy says the magic words — “If I don’t get out of here, my life is over.” He means it. Chuck informs his little brother that his Slippin’ Jimmy days are over, instead. Or else.
Cut to 2004 Albuquerque, 2 a.m., in the darkened nail salon lit only by a glowing fish tank. Gulping cucumber water without fear of retribution, a restless Jimmy dials his phone and wakes Kim. “I’m not talking dirty to you,” she tells him, with a tinge of amusement in her voice — clearly this is not the first time these two have had late-night conversation. “And you’re not talking dirty to me,” she adds.
It’s not why Jimmy is calling. Jimmy wants to chew the fat about the Kettleman case. Let’s say bygones are bygones on HHM stealing his clients (“We didn’t steal them — they made a choice,” she grumbles. “So did the Donner party when they took that shortcut,” he retorts) but gosh, just for the sake of discussion, where would people like that stash that much stolen cash, anyways? All this publicity could put bad ideas in bad people’s heads. Kim’s alarmed at what he’s insinuating and wants to know what he knows. He stonewalls. She ends the call.
“I’m no hero,” Jimmy tells himself.
But he’s trying. Or at least trying for an end result that leaves everyone alive. Fashioning a homemade voice-changer from a paper towel tube and a square of wax paper, Jimmy heads for a pay phone and does his best to warn Team Kettleman! that danger looms. The unflappable Frank and Betsy in their sensible jammies ask him to call back on a better line. Exasperated, he drops the tube and hollers a fast warning without it, then hangs up fast.
The Kettlemans gaze blankly out the window at the dark, dark night.
The next day, Jimmy is back to battling his courthouse adversaries — and the Kettlemans are missing, cars still in the driveway and their house a ransacked mess. The cops are there and Kim and Howard, too. They’d like to know what inspired Jimmy’s own arrival on the scene. Chasing the police scanner, he says weakly, but Kim knows better. His help isn’t needed here.
Jimmy escapes to another payphone, calls Nacho and says he wants to help “de-escalate the situation, legally.” No answer. He calls again. And again. Then he sees dangerous looking men approaching on either side of him and gets back into his car. The Esteem is dead. Fearing he is, too, Jimmy makes a run for it and is brought down in the alley — the men are undercover cops. And Nacho is already in jail, asking for his lawyer, one Jimmy McGill.
On the way to the jail, the cops enlighten Jimmy on what they know. Strange van parked outside the Kettlemans’ two nights in a row. Neighbor lady took down the plate. The van’s Nachos, and there’s blood in the back. Of course, there’s blood in the back, Nacho seethes — it (and whatever other bodily fluids Jimmy happened to leak while he was back there) belongs to Jimmy and the Skater Twins that got them all there in the first place. And Nacho isn’t real excited that Jimmy seems to have given his grab for big cash to another crew, because he was never in the Kettlemans’ house.
And one more thing: “Get me out of here today, or you’re a dead man.”
Jimmy does his best, but Kim takes him back to the crime scene, hoping the sight of the ransacked children’s rooms will move him into giving up Nacho. Instead, Jimmy notices that the family dog and little Jo Jo Kettleman’s dolly are gone, too, and deduces that the Kettlemans made themselves disappear. Is it bull or intuition? Either way, Kim isn’t buying it — until he tells her about his warning to the missing family the night before.
With so much on his mind, a punchy Jimmy’s in no mood for his daily battle of wits with Mike Ehrmentraut at the parking booth. This time it could get physical. Parking his car so it blocks the lot, Jimmy takes off and an exasperated Mike follows him. Jimmy pokes Mike in the chest. Mike drops Jimmy to the pavement. Bad day meet worse.
Convincing Mike to press assault charges so they can force Jimmy’s hand, the cops ask him to bargain for Jimmy’s cooperation, but Mike sees something in Jimmy’s resolve that makes him change his mind. Turns out Mike was once Officer Ehrmantraut of the Philly P.D. and he thinks Jimmy is right about the Kettleman’s, save for the part where they’re on their way to Europe. Citing past experiences, Mike thinks the family is not far from home. Everyone wants to be home, he tells Jimmy. It’s just human nature.
As Elvis’ “Find Out What’s Happening” (“If you don’t find out what’s happening
You’re gonna find out that I’m gone”) plays in the background, Jimmy heads back to Casa Kettleman and notices the “camping family” stick figures on the back window of the station wagon. He heads around back and notices a trail leading from the backyard up into the mountains. Slinging off his jacket, he begins his trek. And as darkness falls, he hears exuberant voices in the distance. B-I-N-G-O. The Kettlemans are there-o.
Holding up his cell so Kim can hear her “kidnapped” clients warbling away, safe inside their tent in the mountains, Jimmy takes a moment for himself. Then, just as we’re about to launch into a bit of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” before bed — isn’t this fun, kids?! No?! — here’s Jimmy. And he’s come for the cash. And maybe one more chance to be a hero, before it all falls apart like backpack in which the Kettlemans have hidden their loot.
New episodes of Better Call Saul premiere Monday nights at 10/9CT.