Published on February 25th, 2015 | by Michael0
Better Call Saul – Hero – Review
Once again the timeline in Better Call Saul is playing silly buggers. Indeed, we’re treated to another vignette from Jimmy McGill’s past (and the sight of Bob Odenkirk in another ludicrous wig) as Jimmy and a new found friend walk along rain slicked streets (to indicate that we’re in Cicero, not Albuquerque, I suspect). As they walk down an alley, Jimmy introduces himself as Saul, ‘as in, s’all good, man’, for anyone for whom the penny has yet to drop. In the alley, they spot a wallet, stuffed full of cash, belonging to a foul mouthed, near-comatose drunk. The following scene should be familiar to anyone to has seen The Sting or similar con films – essentially, the conmen use the mark’s own greed against them. Jimmy and the drunk are in cahoots, using the drunk’s watch as a way of getting cash out of the mark’s wallet. Slippin’ Jimmy clearly had some moves, although getting stoned surrounded by Rush posters detracts from his cool, somewhat.
After a typically out of kilter title sequence, this week featuring a bag of burner phones which will feature heavily in Saul’s future, we’re back where the previous episode Nacho ended. Jimmy is talking to the awful, awful Kettlemans, having rumbled their ill-conceived fake kidnapping scheme. White collar criminals are often portrayed as the lowest of the low and this pair are no exception. Their attempts to justify the embezzlement by claiming that Craig was merely working overtime are skin crawlingly terrible (‘Slavery used to be legal. Human slavery.’) but strangely they become marginally more appealing once it becomes apparent what rubbish criminals they are. As Jimmy remarks to Mike later (in Mike’s sole scene after a bigger role last week) ‘you assume criminals are going to be smarter than they are. It breaks my heart a little’. That’s a little nod and a wink from Vince Gilligan, I think, after all the man who caused Saul’s eventual exile was nothing if not smart. And criminal. Betsy Kettleman offers Jimmy a significant amount of money to forget to mention he’d seen it. They still won’t take him as a lawyer (‘you’re the kind of lawyer guilty people hire) but after much deliberation, Jimmy does indeed take the money, much to my disappointment if not surprise. To his credit, he did look genuinely taken aback that the Kettlemans considered not returning the money to the city, as if he considered it a given at this point.
Jimmy has big plans for the money though. He’s only had it ten minutes and he already has far more of a clue than the Kettlemans ever did. First, he embarks on some creative accounting at the Nail Salon to launder the money. Then he gets himself an expensive tailored suit. At first I thought his reading of specifications from a list was because he didn’t have a clue about style – Jimmy doesn’t seem familiar with fine tailoring at this point – but it turns out there’s another reason. We get another nod to the future, while Jimmy’s suit is in a smart dark blue, he also admires some garish orange suits. The second stage of his plan to get his hair done ‘like Tony Curtis in Spartacus’ in yet another misplaced pop culture reference. Sadly we don’t get to see the result – after learning that bleach can’t be washed out, he decides to photoshop his hair anyway. Seriously, who doesn’t know that bleach bleaches the hair? Seems like Jimmy could do with someone teaching him some chemistry. This is all in aide of Jimmy’s master plan – a billboard that whole-heatedly rips of the Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill billboard with Jimmy looking so much like Howard Hamlin that Hamlin thinks it like the Groucho Marx mirror scene. Unsurprisingly, Hamlin slaps Jimmy with a Cease & Desist (delivered by go-between Kim, apparently the only person alive who can stand both men) but this is merely the next step in Jimmy’s plan.
In a private meeting, a Judge decrees that while Jimmy can continue trading under his own name, the billboard must come down within 48 hours. Jimmy is incensed, and tries in vain to find some support in the local media. Alas, none of his lengthy list of contacts wants to take the story, despite Jimmy’s rapidly developing gift of the gab – ‘It’s a David and Goliath story… Yes the war is important as well’. A woman’s hoody provides a brainwave though, and Jimmy is soon set up in front of his billboard with two college kids and their school’s film making equipment. If Jimmy has shown one talent consistently so far, it is ensnaring duos of clueless kids into his crazy schemes. Jimmy is in the middle of delivering his heartfelt speech on the merits of the free market and the self-made man when disaster strikes – the poor man charged with taking the billboard down has slipped and dangles perilously over a forty foot drop. Cometh the man, cometh the hour. With nary a thought for his own neck, our heroic Public Defendant races up the cherry picker, up the ladder, ‘don’t look down!’, and pulls the man to safety in front of an appreciative audience (and a camera, of course). There’s a twist, though. A clasp of the hand between Jimmy and the man he saved, which calls back to how Jimmy greeted the fat man in the alley in the cold opening, shows us that once again Jimmy has pulled the wool over the eyes. Like any good con film, the opening scene showed us that Jimmy was a conman, the rest of it is all one elaborate set-up. The caper earns Jimmy a spot of the front page of the Albuquerque Journal along with the title of Hero, though Howard Hamlin doesn’t fall for his tricks.
That’s the plot of Hero but I think more importantly are the relationships it spotlights for us. Mike takes a back seat this week after the apparent breakthrough of last time out, but up steps Kim Wexler. I’ve got to be honest, I’m a huge fan of Kim. From her take-no-shit demeanour to her genuine fondness for Jimmy and the fact that she asked him out on a date to see the fucking Thing, it’s clear Jimmy is on to a winner here. Why he likes her is obvious, what is less so is what she sees in him. In a rendezvous in the Nail Salon after hours, Kim tells Jimmy that he’s much better than a petty feud with Howard. Jimmy responds with a furious tirade of his own – can’t Kim see how great she is, and how she too is better than Howard? Why can’t she work somewhere where she is appreciated? Once again the curse of the prequel rears its ugly head. Kim of course was no-where to be seen in Breaking Bad so this whole thing is probably not heading where I (and Jimmy) hope.
The other great relationship is of course that between brothers Jimmy and Chuck. Like Howard, Chuck is not fooled by Jimmy’s tricks. His suspicions are aroused by Jimmy’s sudden increase in clients after the billboard stunt, and the fact that his copy of the Albuquerque Journal is mysteriously missing. Jimmy is full of the stuff Chuck wants to hear – he attributes his upturn in fortune to elbow grease and clean living – but Chuck is having none of it, even if he lets Jimmy believe he believes him. To test his theory, Chuck must brave the great outdoors, with just his space blanket for protection. With the harsh soundtrack making us feel the sun’s rays hits Chuck, and a camera attached to Michael McKean, we really feel that this experience of going outside is really harrowing for Chuck, an effect comically undercut when the perspective switches to a perplexed neighbour who is observing. Chuck is clearly a very decent human being (he leaves money for the paper he pilfers) which is why Jimmy tried to keep him in the dark about the billboard. Jimmy clearly figured that a) Chuck would see right through it and b) wouldn’t approve. He’s proved right on both counts. Also, I like a show that can have a man looking a tad disapproving at a newspaper article as an episode ending cliffhanger.