Better Call Saul season 2 premiere countdown: 7 days left!
Episode 1×04: In which Jimmy gets a makeover, Slippin’ Jimmy comes out to play, and Jimmy declares war on Hamlin.
Episode 1×04: “Hero” (written by Gennifer Hutchinson; directed by Colin Bucksey)
I was excited to meet Slippin’ Jimmy in episode 1×03 but it was even better to watch him in action. In the teaser of “Hero,” we bear witness to one of Jimmy’s scams. He comes stumbling out of a bar wearing a 70s style button down (an inspired fashion choice by costume designer Jennifer Bryan). We’re in Cicero, back in the Slippin’ Jimmy days, and he’s working his mark. Jimmy and the guy are howling as they walk down an alley and when the mark asks his name he says, “Saul… S’all good, man. Get it?” (And my inner Breaking Bad nerd has a mild-to-moderate freakout because apparently Jimmy has been using the name Saul Goodman for years.)
They find a wallet with over $1,000 inside. There’s an ID in it—“some fat guy”—who they find passed out behind a dumpster.
Jimmy pokes the man with a stick and he wakes up, humming “butthole” to the tune of “Smoke on the Water,” and threatening the two with a roundhouse kick to the head. Then flips them off for good measure, and Breaking Bad fans might notice Saul’s pinky ring gracing the finger of this as-yet-unknown man.
When he passes out again, Jimmy says he’s got dibs on the guy’s watch. The mark wants to know what kind it is but Jimmy plays dumb. When he sees that it’s a Rolex and worth way more than what’s in the wallet, he tries to get Jimmy to take the money. He adds $580 to the pot and then he takes off running with the watch yelling, “Later, sucker!” Back in the alley the “passed out” man stands up, walks over to Jimmy, and they high five.
Back in an apartment, Jimmy’s scam partner, Marco, puts the remaining six “Rolex” watches in a drawer. They are fakes, and these two (who I lovingly refer to as the ScamBros) just fleeced that dude for $580. Jimmy sits smoking a bong on the floor and Marco praises his scamming skills. He really seems in awe of Jimmy’s abilities, but Jimmy doesn’t seem to think it has any merit beyond bringing in beer money.
Jimmy takes a huge rip and exhales, and the theme song plays over Saul’s drawer full of cell phones.
We pick up where we left off at the end of “Nacho,” with Jimmy and the Kettlemans arguing over the money. Jimmy tells them they almost ruined an “innocent” man’s life, even though he knows that Nacho is anything but innocent. Still, he is technically innocent of the crime of kidnapping so it’s not a complete lie, but Betsy isn’t buying it. She assumes (correctly) that the suspect must have been the man in the van.
Betsy tells Jimmy that they can’t go back to civilization because it will make Craig look guilty and they’ll “crucify” him. The fact that Craig is indisputably guilty doesn’t seem to occur to her. Jimmy works up a defense for them: an “impromptu camping trip” and explains away the ransacked house and busted front door because “it’s a free country.” Betsy asks about the money and he tells them they can use it as a bargaining chip in Craig’s legal case, but Betsy is is determined to keep the money.
One of my favorite parts of this episode is Craig Kettleman’s face while Betsy rationalizes their felony theft. She compares Craig’s unpaid overtime work to slavery, and Craig looks like he’s thinking, “Please, Betsy, not the slavery analogy. Anything but the slavery analogy.”
Jimmy responds, “yeah, this is right up there with that,” and then he lets it go because Betsy Kettleman is clearly not operating in the same universe as the rest of us.
Betsy offers Jimmy a bribe of 30 grand to keep quiet about seeing the money. He says, “I can’t take a bribe… but I can take a retainer.” He pitches himself to the Kettlemans and tells them that even though he’s “a kiddie lemonade stand” compared to HHM, he will be “singularly devoted” to their case. Craig seems receptive, and for a minute you think he might go for it, but Betsy (as usual) puts the brakes on it. She tells Jimmy, “You’re the kind of lawyer guilty people hire,” and he is absolutely crestfallen—a word I very rarely get to use but which fits this face perfectly:
Betsy holds up the cash to Jimmy and… cut to Jimmy at the parking booth. He’s asking Mike if he’s seen the Kettleman story in the papers, and that Mike was right about the Kettlemans staying close to home. He says, “You always assume that criminals are gonna be smarter than they are… kind of breaks my heart a little bit” (and I immediately think of Walt and Jesse’s complete ineptitude when it came to the early days of their meth operation). Jimmy is babbling away at Mike who is characteristically silent and waiting for him to shut up and then this happens and it’s wonderful:
Nacho is being released from custody. One of the detectives brings him out, still in handcuffs, and Jimmy is full of righteous indignation for his “innocent” client. The detective has had enough of Jimmy’s mouth and says, “You really don’t want to push your luck with me, scumbag.” He tells Nacho that the police are going to have eyes on him from now on.
Nacho is still fuming and he tells Jimmy that he’s not buying the impromptu camping trip story. He knows Jimmy warned the Kettlemans and he tells him there will be consequences. Jimmy tells him that “if” somebody warned them, it was probably someone worried about the kids, and then he switches gears and turns it around on Nacho. He tells him that he was sloppy when he was casing the place, that he gave the cops “probable cause out the wazoo,” and that the mystery caller actually did him a favor.
Back at the nail salon we see a fat stack of cash on Jimmy’s desk. The scene with the Kettlemans left it open-ended but now we know: Jimmy took the bribe, and now he’s using it to cook his books. He comes up with $30K worth of BS—special circumstances, elite-tier pricing at $950/hour, travel expenses, storage fees, etc.—and by the time he is done he’s got a solid foundation for his business.
The first place Jimmy takes his newfound cash: the tailor shop, for a custom suit. Saul was a bit of a clothes horse (and, much as I love Jimmy, I really miss Saul’s technicolor dream wardrobe), but Jimmy is going for something more classic. He’s very specific and he has it all written down. His suit: single-breasted, super 170 Tasmanian wool, in a navy pinstripe. His shirt: Sea Island cotton with a white club collar and French cuffs, with real mother-of-pearl buttons. His tie: something in a light blue knit. This custom suit is going to cost him a small fortune but he doesn’t seem to care. When the tailor goes in the back, we see Jimmy pick up a very Saul-esque orange shirt and pair it with a pink tie.
In the nail salon we see Jimmy getting his teeth whitened, and arguing with Mrs. Nguyen over what color hair die matches a picture he’s holding (which we can’t see). He is insistent on “Sassafrass Glow” (a very blonde shade) and he almost goes through with it until Mrs. Nguyen tells him the color is permanent. He decides to Photoshop the color in later and tells the salon ladies to give him a “simple curling iron job,” a la Tony Curtis in the famous bath scene in Spartacus. (And now I’m wondering exactly how familiar Jimmy is with the bath scene in Spartacus…)
Kim is working in her office at HHM (it’s nice, she has a window) when she decides to call Jimmy. She gets his voicemail and we can hear the voice of his “secretary” on the message, which begins “You’ve reached the law offices of James M. McGill, Esquire, a lawyer you can trust.” Kim leaves a message for Jimmy, inviting him to dinner and a movie. It’s clear that she feels bad about how the whole thing with Nacho and the Kettlemans went down.
Hamlin comes into her office and Kim wants to run a few Kettlecase issues by him. She asks if she can hire a PR firm to represent them but Howard doesn’t answer; he’s distracted, and he asks her if she wants to go for a ride. Hamlin’s Jaguar pulls into a large parking lot and the two of them get out, looking up. And then we see it—Jimmy’s makeover in full effect:
He’s not only transformed himself into Howard Hamlin, he has copied the HHM logo almost exactly—the whole billboard is a complete rip-off of their brand, and Howard is furious. Kim can’t really make any excuse for Jimmy except that he’s a “free spirit,” and Howard wants her to know that he’s going to go after Jimmy for the billboard. He asks if she’s still friends with Jimmy but Kim is evasive. For whatever reason, she won’t admit to Hamlin that she’s close with Jimmy. Hamlin doesn’t care either way, but he tells her Jimmy is forcing his hand and it’s implied that he wants her to talk to Jimmy before the whole thing gets out of hand.
It’s nighttime at the nail salon. Jimmy is unwinding with a cucumber mask and a foot bath. He’s wearing a University of American Samoa sweatshirt—a nice little easter egg referencing the law degree hanging in Saul’s Breaking Bad office. (Also I 100% bought a University of American Samoa shirt after this episode aired and it’s awesome.) There’s a knock at the door: it’s Kim, come to deliver the news that Jimmy’s billboard stunt is not going to end well for him. He’s acting casual, offering her a seat in one of the pedicure station massage chairs. “You deserve a break today,” he says, and she smiles, but she’s here for a reason and it’s not a spa pedicure.
She hands Jimmy a cease-and-desist letter from HHM, and Jimmy is more amused by it than anything. He wants her to describe how pissed Howard was when he saw the billboard, and she indulges him for a second, but she wants him to understand the severity of the situation. Hamlin is not going to let this go. Kim doesn’t understand Jimmy’s angle; she knows it couldn’t have been cheap to get that billboard and she doesn’t get why Jimmy would want to be a “Hamlin clone” and rip-off HHM’s brand when he could have used that money to start building his own business. She says that what he did was not advertising.
Then Jimmy tells her that Hamlin is trying to keep him from practicing law under his own name. Kim feels for him on that score, truly, but she still can’t stand by what he’s doing. “You’re better than this,” she says, and Jimmy snaps back that she is better than HHM. He tells her that she should go somewhere where she’s respected and valued, somewhere where they care about her, but it’s clear that Kim’s been given this lecture before and has no intention of leaving HHM. She tells him that Hamlin is coming after him and that he can’t win, but Jimmy is unfazed. He just switches on his massage chair and Kim walks out.
The case of Hamlin vs. McGill unfolds in a judge’s office as Jimmy (in full Hamlin attire) bickers with Howard in front of the judge. He pleads his case against Hamlin’s trademark infringement charge, but Howard isn’t having it. He tells him that their font “in concert with our tri-rectangle graphic and Hamlindigo Blue, constitutes a trademarked brand identifier.” Yes, you heard that right. Howard Hamlin trademarked a color and named it after himself. Even Jimmy is surprised at that level of narcissism.
Hamlin points out to the judge the absurdity of the fact that Jimmy is dressed exactly like him (both in the billboard and at the meeting)—“Your Honor, I feel like I’m in the mirror routine with Groucho Marx”—but Jimmy plays dumb. Instead, he presses the name issue, telling the judge that Hamlin is trying to prevent him from advertising using his own name.
And we realize that this was part of Jimmy’s plan: he knew he’d never win the battle of the billboard, but he gets the judge to decree that he’s within his rights to advertise using his own name. As for the billboard, she says it has to come down within 48 hours. Jimmy has won a small victory, but the battle isn’t over yet. He heads out into the hallway to make some calls, but not before bidding Howard adieu.
Jimmy starts calling reporters, trying to get someone to cover his story as a human-interest piece: “lawyer pulls himself up by his bootstraps only to be ground under the heel of the old-money megafirm? That’s hearts and minds!” Nobody is buying what Jimmy is selling, but then a young woman in a UNM shirt walks by and he gets one of his bright ideas.
Jimmy hires two students to film his story. He takes them out to shoot in front of the billboard, where there is a worker already in the process of taking it down. Jimmy wants the billboard in the shot and he directs the two students, who couldn’t care less and are only there for the hundred bucks Jimmy promised them. Once Jimmy has the shot set up exactly how he wants it, he lets fly.
It’s his same old spiel, and he performs it wonderfully: the “self-made man,” raised on the idea of the American Dream, just trying to open a small law practice in a competitive market. He says he “scrimped and saved” to be able to afford the one billboard but the big money firm came after him. He bemoans the fact that his billboard must come down by court order, but says he won’t give up his fight. In the background we see the worker fall off the billboard ledge, held only by his harness.
The two students freak but they keep filming, and Jimmy takes of running toward the billboard. Time to be the hero. He climbs all the way up and manages to pull the man up to safety. The worker turns to him and says, “Took you long enough,” and the two shake hands. The entire billboard thing was a scam, soup to nuts, and Jimmy ran it perfectly.
Jimmy’s good Samaritan story is all over the local news, and Hamlin & Co. are watching at the office. Hamlin is on a tear about Jimmy’s “stunt”—he knows he got played and he’s not at all happy. He asks Kim if she thinks anyone is going to fall for it and she says, “Everybody loves a hero.” She’s looking at Jimmy on TV and doesn’t see that Howard is looking at her as if maybe he thinks she was in on it. As Jimmy continues with his “right place, right time” narrative, Hamlin storms out, and when he’s gone Kim finally lets herself smile.
Jimmy’ scam is paying off big time. He has seven new messages to his usual zero. Finally, some business he doesn’t have to chase. He goes to Chuck’s house the following morning with a spring in his step and when he picks up the Albuquerque Journal he finds himself on the front page of the metro section.
He’s pleased with himself until he realizes that Chuck is going to see the paper and smell something fishy. He tries to rehearse what he’ll say—“It’s just showmanship!”—but he knows Chuck will see right through him. He decides to hide the paper in the trunk and bring Chuck the rest of his newspapers and supplies. After the obligatory stop at the mailbox, Jimmy goes inside and tells Chuck that he’s got a busy day—three consults, and that’s just before lunch. He butters him up, telling Chuck he was right about hard work as a public defender paying off in the end.
Chuck is, as always, suspicious of Jimmy’s newfound success. He presses him for details about who gave him these referrals and Jimmy makes up some nonexistent anonymous staff member somewhere who referred a bunch of clients to him. Chuck’s not convinced but he lets it go, and he sounds almost sincere when he tells Jimmy, “I knew you had it in you.”
But any hope Jimmy had of the Albuquerque Journal’s absence going unnoticed was unrealistic. This is Chuck McGill. Of course he noticed. He asks after it and Jimmy lies and says it wasn’t outside, that maybe some kids snatched it (because kids these days love local print journalism). He tries to placate Chuck with his favorite paper, the Financial Times, but Chuck won’t let it lie. Jimmy is just trying to get to the door and Chuck follows him, telling him to call the subscription office if the paper isn’t there again the next day. Jimmy agrees and on his way out the door, Chuck wishes him good luck and says, “Hard work looks good on you!”
But Chuck knows something’s up, like he has a sixth sense for Jimmy’s shenanigans. He looks at his neighbors’ driveways and everyone has their paper except for him. And now Chuck makes a choice: he puts on his space blanket and braves the outside world to take the Journal from his neighbor (but he leaves five dollars, because Charles McGill would never steal).
The sound and the editing in this scene really put the viewer in Chuck’s head, and it’s a painful and terrifying experience for him to cross the street to get this paper. But then it cuts to Chuck from the perspective of the old lady whose paper he stole, and he looks absolutely absurd.
Inside, Chuck opens the paper and flips through the sections until he finds the evidence he was looking for. All he has to do is skim the article about Jimmy’s heroic act to know that every last word is a lie. Slippin’ Jimmy is back, at least as far as Chuck is concerned. He covers himself with the space blanket and takes a few deep breaths on the couch.
Better Call Saul is, on its most basic level, the story of how Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman. That transformation, much like Walt’s transformation in Breaking Bad, is going to come in stages. In “Hero,” we see Jimmy take some baby steps toward becoming Saul—Slippin’ Jimmy in the teaser turns into James M. McGill, Esq. (A Lawyer You Can Trust), who is slowly turning into Saul, who will ultimately turn into Gene. Jimmy is a chameleon; he can be anyone he needs to be, and that makes him both a good lawyer and a good con man. If you really think about it, the skill sets aren’t all that different.
One of the things I find interesting about “Hero” is that the teaser scene with the Rolex scam wasn’t originally in the episode. On the post-episode podcast (and if you’re not listening to the BCS Insider Podcasts hosted by the show’s editor, Kelley Dixon, you are missing out) the creators said that the episode came in short and they ended up shooting the teaser much later. I really can’t imagine this episode being as successful without Slippin’ Jimmy. Seeing him in action at the beginning makes watching Jimmy pull off the billboard stunt that much more satisfying. Jimmy has already showed us he’s willing to get his hands dirty to grow his business, but his literal transformation into Howard Hamlin for the billboard scam is something on a scale we haven’t seen from him before (at least in the Better Call Saul universe). It’s more believable that Jimmy could pull it off without a hitch after we’ve seen him running cons back in Cicero.
“Hero” gave us Jimmy’s first real step toward Saul: he took the Kettlebribe. Jimmy had a choice whether or not to take the money or do “the right thing” and tell Kim about it, and Jimmy took the $30K. We know that Jimmy is a good lawyer, and that he says he wants to go straight, but when it came right down to it, he chose a wad of cash. No one forced him to take it. Jimmy wanted that money and he took it.
Over the course of this episode we really start to see how other people see Jimmy. Nacho isn’t the only one who sees the “criminal” in this criminal lawyer. Betsy thinks he’s a scumbag, Hamlin thinks he’s small-time (but a huge pain in the ass), and his own brother doesn’t trust him. The only person who seems to see the good in Jimmy is Kim. She wants him to strike out on his own and stop making everything so personal between him and HHM. She sees the full potential of Jimmy McGill, but she doesn’t know that he’s already on his way to becoming Saul: he took bribe money, he cooked his books, and he’s withholding some key information about the Kettlecase (i.e. the fact that they are guilty as sin and in possession of $1.6 million dollars of the county’s money). As for Jimmy, he may not see himself as the sleazy lawyer that Betsy and Nacho (and even Chuck) see, but he’s already in the game, and he has been for a long time.