Better Call Saul
“Smoke” (Episode 401)
August 6, 2018
At the end of Season 3 of Better Call Saul, HHM faced an astronomical increase in malpractice premiums (following Jimmy’s dropping the dime to their insurance carrier about Chuck’s condition). Chuck, recently on the road to recovery and back at work, wanted to fight the increase while Howard, finally having had enough of the Chuck Liability, gives Chuck $3 million (of his own funds) in severance and announces Chuck’s “retirement” to the firm. That night, disgraced and in full mental illness regression, Chuck kicks over a lantern setting his house ablaze.
Elsewhere, Kim, who was burning the candle in 7 different places, fell asleep behind the wheel of her car causing her to crash and break her arm. She was on the way to a client meeting and client files were strewn about the road. Hector Salamanca, after learning that Gus will be handling all smuggling work, as per the big boss (Don Eladio), suffers the heart attack we had been waiting for. Nacho is able to replace his fake heart medication pills for the real ones before the ambulance takes Hector away. Gus witnesses this exchange but says nothing … for now. Jimmy, in a final attempt to rehabilitate Irene with her friends, blows his sweet Sandpiper deal and his status with the senior citizen crowd. And Mike Ehrmantraut? He’s still working for Madrigal.
Oh, and in the future Cinnabon Jimmy (who goes by Gene) passes out while at work in his Omaha Mall Cinnabon.
Welcome to Season 4.
The long cold open focuses on Cinnabon Jimmy (Gene Tekevic is his alias – not sure we knew the last name before). We watch him be taken to the hospital and checked for signs of a possible heart attack. After ruling that out, Cinnabon Jimmy is super anxious to get out of the hospital. He’s also super anxious to avoid any police officers and isn’t terribly jazzed when the medical billing receptionist asks him for his Driver’s License and Social Security Number. After a clerical error, she is able to get his numbers to go through but not before he almost has a real heart attack.
In the cab, Cinnabon Jimmy tries to regain his composure after the close call in the hospital only to notice that his taxi driver has an “Albuquerque” air freshener. Interesting. More interesting? The taxi driver is eye fucking Cinnabon Jimmy hard in the rearview mirror. Cinnabon Jimmy notices and decides he can get out right where they are … it takes a minute but the taxi finally pulls over and Cinnabon Jimmy heads in the opposite direction as fast as possible. Unfortunately, as Cinnabon Jimmy ducks behind a corner, the taxi hasn’t gone anywhere — also problematic, Cinnabon Jimmy had given the Mall as his destination when he first got in. Cinnabon Jimmy’s past may be creeping up on him and fast.
Howard calls Kim (arm still in a sling) and Jimmy to tell them of the fire at Chuck’s house. Arriving on the scene, Howard implores Jimmy to not get too close – the house has been burned down to its frame. Later, Kim walks Jimmy through the fire based on the investigation – Jimmy assumes they are just making it up that it was probably over so fast, Chuck wouldn’t have suffered long.
On the other side of town, Mike finishes his last shift as a parking lot attendant and returns home to find a “paycheck” from Madrigal for $10,120.51. Not a bad pay day. As he sits around the house, the amount of money sitting next to him begins to make him paranoid and clearly uneasy. He makes a call to get the address for Madrigal.
Back at the apartment, Jimmy takes a call from Howard regarding Chuck’s obituary. Its detailed and glowing and a testament to Howard’s feelings for Chuck that we see he is reciting large swaths of it by memory. On his end, Jimmy has heard enough and sets the phone down while Howard drones on. Kim picks up the receiver and tells Howard it’s great and to run it.
In a shady part of town, Nacho and Gus finish getting Hector loaded into the ambulance and Nacho hands over the real heart medication pills to the EMTs. before he can trash the fake pills, Gus gets off a call with a message that Don Bolsa wants to see him. At a Los Pollos Hermanos warehouse, Don Bolsa tells Nacho and a guy who’s name I should know but am blanking on that Hector Salamanca’s territory and operation needs to continue to run exactly as always – and if it doesn’t, well, I don’t think anyone needs to be told the penalties. Alone, Don Bolsa asks Gus what he thinks and Fring lays it out in his Fring-way. Someone will move on Hector’s territory, which will bring war, which will bring chaos, which will bring the DEA. Hmm, seems like someone is making a formal play for Salamanca’s territory.
At a bridge, Nacho reflects on what he’s done while he tosses the fake pills into the water. Unbeknownst to him, Nacho is being tracked … presumably by Fring. But unclear.
The next day, Mike heads to work at Madrigal using the purloined badge of a hapless warehouse inventory manager. Mike has a field day compiling a list of lax security and procedures at the Madrigal warehouse. When he finally begins to word vomit his list of complaints to a Manager on duty, said Manager has no idea about any “security consultant.” Mike informs him that he should call Lydia Rodarte-Quayle at Corporate – Mike seems to have found himself some gainful employment at Madrigal, or rather, created gainful employment at Madrigal.
Chuck’s Funeral. Jimmy (with Kim) sits in the front row of the church while he (bitterly?) accepts condolences from a myriad of Chuck admirers – it seems like he wants to puke. The really broken up one is Howard who we see is almost fighting back tears.
In the final scene, post-funeral Howard has joined Kim and Jimmy at their apartment. Howard lays out his belief that Chuck intentionally knocked over the lantern — he was too careful and proficient in their use for it to be an accident. And, he did it because of Howard! In a fit of weepy guilt, Howard confesses how he forced Chuck out of the firm earlier that day due to the malpractice premium increase. This is the first Jimmy has heard about the insurance increase (of which he laid the ground work for) and tells Howard that Howard’s actions and Chuck’s resulting actions are Howard’s cross to bear (Kim gives him the ultimate “what the fuck?!?” look). And then Jimmy, positively giddy now, bounces up to feed his fish and make coffee.
Thoughts. I missed this show so much – it’s so well done. From the crisp, on point writing to the dynamic performances across the board. There are no small parts in Better Call Saul – everyone makes the absolute most of their screen time.
The final scene of the episode represents a real turning point for Jimmy – whether it’s troubling or not depends on your point of view. Allowing Howard to take the blame and guilt for Chuck’s “suicide” certainly seems to have made Jimmy buoyant. My theory, right now anyway, is that Howard’s guilt frees Jimmy – it frees him from the Chuck-shaped albatross which has hung around his neck for so long. The downside, again from a certain point-of-view, is that Chuck’s death, from which he can now assuage himself of guilt, maybe also presents the death of the last vestige of “do-gooder Jimmy” — Jimmy no longer has to impress his brother and play by the rules to do so … are there any roadblocks to giving in to his darkest demons? We know Kim is not in Breaking Bad so it’s always been a ticking clock on when Jimmy will go to far in becoming Saul Goodman … so far that he loses the love of his life and maybe his last tether of “goodness.”
Also, with Howard so deep in his guilt, will he be apt to continue paying out Chuck’s “severance” to Jimmy? There was no mention of the $3 million tonight but I have to mention that’ll come up soon.
The other hot button issue tonight is Nacho and the fallout from his attempt to take out Salamanca; Fring knows and Fring will certainly use that knowledge to maximize his leverage and power – I like Nacho so I am curious to see how this plays out.
Last, what about Cinnabon Jimmy? Who is the taxi driver? How does he know Jimmy – what is the end game with this future Jimmy?!? So many questions, I can’t wait for the answers!