After the death of Chuck McGill at the end of season three, I didn't really understand why Better Call Saul needed to keep Harry Hamlin Patrick Fabian around anymore, much less allow him to continue on as a series regular. I assumed after Chuck's death that Hamlin would beat a hasty retreat from the series, just as Chuck's assistant Ernesto has where is Ernesto, anyway?
Hamlin, however, has managed to stick around, and Peter Gould and the writers have quietly played the long game with his character, who has a minor role but an increasingly outsized influence on the storyline. Season four, which came in the wake of Chuck's death, was basically set-up for what came at the end of this week's episode, “JMM.” What season four needed to establish, so far as Hamlin was concerned, was two things: 1 To show that Howard blamed himself for Chuck's death, after having forced him to retire because his insurance premiums went up never mind that Jimmy was responsible for those increased premiums; 2 To demonstrate that — thanks to a tough love speech from Jimmy — Howard eventually pulled himself out of an emotional black hole, and his firm out of a financial one.
That brings us to season 5, where Hamlin's appearances have been sporadic but crucial. In season 5, Hamlin is back on his feet and successful, and I think that Hamlin attributes a little of that to Jimmy's tough-love speech, but also in his own ability to forgive himself for Chuck's death and move on. But Jimmy doesn't want Chuck to forgive himself for Chuck's death, because the only way Jimmy has been able to avoid responsibility for what was clearly more his fault is by allowing himself to believe that Howard was responsible. Jimmy does resent that Howard feels compelled to offer him a job, but Jimmy is more resentful of the fact that Hamlin has managed to move past Chuck's death.
Crucially, however, Hamlin is also Jimmy's relief valve at the moment. Jimmy is under an immense amount of strain from Nacho, Lalo, and the cartel, as well as his tumultuous relationship with Kim, and he has no outlet for it. He obviously wants to be honest with Kim now, as a part of their marriage/legal arrangement, but even that feels stressful for Jimmy, who had to interrupt a rare moment of physical affection with Kim to shamefully confess that the cartel has him over a barrel.
Notice how, in that moment, however, that Jimmy was hoping against hope that Kim might surprise him and approve of his relationship with the cartel and the potential money it would bring. He craves approval. He did with Chuck. He does with Kim. Only Howard, his sworn enemy, has really offered it. Howard's presence, moreover, has allowed Jimmy to be occasionally be Jimmy. Bouncing bowling balls off of Howard's car, and framing him up with prostitutes are the kinds of scams that Slippin' Jimmy loves to pull off.
But those moments or relief aren't enough for Jimmy, and in this week's episode, Howard's earnest, nice-guy schtick finally sets Jimmy off, not because the schtick is fake, but because it is genuine. Ultimately, that's what upsets Jimmy the most: Howard may be a corporate schmuck, but he's a good person. Jimmy, however, needs for Howard to be a slimy, corporate weasel he can pin Chuck's demise upon, and the nicer that Howard is to him, the more Jimmy feels guilty not just about his brother's death, but about putting all the blame on Howard for it.
Indeed, when Howard approaches Jimmy again at the courthouse this week and re-ups the offer, even after knowing what Jimmy did to him, Jimmy loses it.
“Jimmy, I'm sorry you are in pain,” Howard says to him, which is doubly painful for Jimmy because Howard is the only person who sees his pain, including the woman he just married. Jimmy had no other choice but to throw it back at him. “You kill my brother, and you say you're sorry?”
This is when Jimmy completely loses it. Make no mistake, however. It isn't about trying to hurt Howard. It isn't about trying to embarrass Howard. It's about Jimmy trying to convince himself that Howard is the bad guy, that he really is responsible for Chuck's death. This is part of a pattern for Jimmy. Whenever he gets too close to acknowledging his own role, he runs from those feelings. The last time, after regaining his bar license by sentimentally acknowledging the influence of Chuck on his legal career, Jimmy ran straight into a new identity. It's what Jimmy does: He spends much of his time running from Chuck, quieting those memories, chasing away those demons.
I don't know what role Hamlin has left to play now in Better Call Saul except possibly as Kim's future husband, but if Howard has served his purpo
Better Call Saul is a show with range. Some characters like Jimmy/Saul lie constantly, others like Mike tell the truth to a fault. With that in mind, our coverage this season will be structured as a collection of true and false statements about each episode. Welcome to Better Call Saul Truth And Lies.
TRUTH — Nothing good happens in the desert
When did you realize things were going to go bad for Jimmy?
Actually, wait. I should be more specific about this. A reasonable argument could be made that things have been going bad in one way or another, in the singular as well as cumulative fashion, from the day we met him. Probably before, too. His whole life has been murky shortcuts and questionable decisions lined up one after the other. No, we need to really laser in here. We need to focus. Let's try it again: When did you realize things were going to go bad for Jimmy in his quest to pick up Lalo's $7 million in bail?
Was it when the Jeep pulled out behind him? That was really the last moment where you could have thought it might be okay, in the seconds before the ambush. But you're smart. You probably caught on before that.
Maybe it was when he wasted the water to clean off his shoes. That was pretty brutal foreshadowing. I saw him do that and I was like, “Welp, he's definitely running out of water now.” I didn't leap all the way to “and he'll have to gulp his own urine,” but that's why Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould make this show and I just make jokes about all of it.
Was it even earlier than that, maybe when he kept insisting to Kim that everything would be okay? Or when he almost walked out on the whole thing before doubling back to do it for a $100k fee that Lalo agreed to very quickly? Those were pretty solid tipoffs. It was all in front of us for so much of the episode.
But I'll tell you when I realized it, and I say this not to toot my own horn as much as to make an important point: I knew as soon as Lalo said the drop would happen in the desert. Nothing good happens in the desert. Ever. Especially on Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad, but also in general. If someone says to you “Hey, let's meet way out in the desert,” you should say no, because one or both of you is going to die or face a harrowing near-death experience. Same goes for the woods. Nothing good ever happens in the woods, either. Or the ocean. “Hey, let's you and me get on a boat and head out to sea for the day.” Nope. No, sir. I've seen movies and television shows. I know how this ends. You are going to shoot me and fling me overboard, on purpose or by accident. Absolutely not. Zero chance. Same applies to cornfields and any building with gargoyles on it. Not gonna catch me sleeping.
The point here is that you should stay inside. In your house. Even when there's not a pandemic. Just to be...