Episode 2×08: In which the Wexler and McGill enterprise hits a bump in the road and Mike gets ready to strike back at the Salamancas.
Episode 2×08: “Fifi” (written by Thomas Schnauz; directed by Larysa Kondracki)
The teaser for “Fifi” is so impressive that I’ve watched it about 15 times already and I just never get sick of it. It opens with a single shot that lasts for four minutes and twenty seconds. Nothing much happens—it’s simply a truck crossing the Mexico/New Mexico border and getting inspected—but it’s so impressive (and Dave Porter’s music is so catchy) that I can’t stop watching it. It’s the kind of thing that you would find in a movie, not a 45-or-so minute long episode of television, yet here it is. This is one of the reasons I love Better Call Saul (and why I loved Breaking Bad before it): they take risks like this and do stuff that other shows aren’t doing. Show me another television show that opens with a 4+ minute one-shot with no dialogue or familiar characters. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Anyway, the man in the Regalo Helado truck manages to pass inspection, but once he crosses into New Mexico and reaches the ten-mile marker, he stops and walks into the desert. He’s going for a specific rock, under which is a box holding a gun. He puts the stick from the ice cream he’s been eating in the ground where there are many others. We don’t know who he is (although IMDB tells me his name is Ximenez Lecerda) or what he needs that gun for, but we do know that this is clearly not the first time he’s made this trip, nor will it be the last.
We find ourselves at the Dog House—one of Jesse Pinkman’s favorite locations for selling meth and buying illegal firearms. Maybe during the BCS timeline, the Dog House had not yet been taken over by the criminal element of Albuquerque, because Kim and Jimmy are seated at a table outside, having an innocent, cheap date night. Jimmy is trying to convince Kim that she has to get to Mesa Verde before Howard does, and to do so her only option is to put her resignation letter in his office while he’s not there and then get on the phone before he even has a chance to read it. Kim says no, because while Jimmy is probably right about the fact that it’s the best way to keep Mesa Verde, this is not Kim’s way of doing things. She believes that the right thing to do is to show Howard and HHM the respect of giving notice in person. Even though he’s been an absolute monster to her recently, she does have a very long history there and she tells Jimmy that she needs to leave HHM in a way that feels right for her.
What feels right to Kim is to hand Howard her letter, in person, but when she goes to meet him, he’s barely willing to give her any time and she has to ask to meet with him in his office instead of doing it right in front of his assistant. This is made worse by the fact that Howard already knows why Kim is there—at least he thinks he knows. He has heard through the grapevine that Kim is going to Schweikart & Cokely, and he tells her to just “rip off the Band-Aid.” Kim shocks him when she tells him that she is going to start her own practice.
Howard is shocked but he’s also suspicious. He knows Jimmy just quit Davis and Main and that it’s likely no coincidence, which of course it isn’t. Kim tells him that she plans to split costs with Jimmy but that her practice will be her own, separate enterprise. Howard, knowing the kind of collateral damage Jimmy is capable of, approves of this approach.
There’s more to this exchange than just professional courtesy and we finally get a little tidbit of Hamlin backstory. He’s a bit wistful and admittedly envious of Kim, and he tells her a story about how his father (the other ‘H’ in HHM) stopped him from going out on his own after he graduated law school. It would seem that Howard Hamlin was not always the Hamlindigo-clad, corporate poster-boy that he is today, although I do wonder exactly how hard Howard fought his father on it. I’m fairly certain that it didn’t take much to convince young Howard that a guaranteed partnership at Daddy’s firm was a better career move than a solo practice. Idealism doesn’t pay the country club dues or the lease on a Jaguar. Regardless, I’d love to hear more about Howard Hamlin’s daddy issues in any upcoming episodes because I think it really informs the dynamic between him and Chuck.
Even though Howard offers to gift Kim the remainder of her law school debt and they part well. Kim is relieved at how well it went but then she hears Howard immediately telling his assistant to get Kevin Wachtell from Mesa Verde on the phone and clear his schedule. Business is business and, however much Hamlin may like and respect Kim, she’s competition now. Kim knows it’s on and she busts ass running across the building (in her heels, no less) and she gets her girl Paige on the phone to confirm their lunch so she can get to them before Howard does. Kim may have done things her way, but Jimmy was right about what would happen if she did.
Mike is staking out the ice cream shop again. Ximenez, the driver we followed across the border, is making a delivery at El Griego Cuinador—which is controlled by the Salamancas. It sort of went without saying that the ice cream delivery guy was gonna end up at the Salamanca-friendly ice cream shop, but now we know for sure that there is a cartel connection. Hector and Arturo arrive and Mike takes down Hector’s plate number. It’s no real surprise that Mike isn’t willing to let this business with the Salamancas go—not after they threatened Kaylee. I’m not sure exactly what he’s got planned for the Salamancas, but it ain’t good. (There’s been some speculation that whatever Mike is planning on doing is going to be what puts Hector in the wheelchair, and I have to say I am 100% okay with that.)
Kim meets with Paige and Kevin to give Mesa Verde her best pitch. She starts off by saying, “I am not the safe choice,” which is forthright and true and I respect that about her. Her pitch, which revolves around a tailored-suit metaphor, is not actually all that different from Jimmy trying to sell himself to the Kettlemans in season 1. It’s the above-board version of Jimmy’s pitch—one that doesn’t include a bag of stolen cash and end in bribery. Kevin likes her can-do attitude but he has doubts that she can handle the workload of their case all by herself. Kim truly believes that she can do it on her own and she tells them she would never throw her hat in the ring if she didn’t think she could handle it.
Now, I love Kim and she’s brilliant and she’s got hustle, but I don’t honestly think she can do this all by herself. It’s not about competence. It’s more that there is only so much time in the day. It’s not unlike Chuck’s reasoning for the McGill brothers bringing the Sandpiper case to HHM instead of taking it on themselves. Mesa Verde may just be too much work for a solo practitioner, and I think that she’s blinded herself to this fact because she needs their business to start her practice.
Kim meets up with Jimmy at the new office space he’s found for them—a suite with two dentists offices and a shared reception area. It’s not exactly an appropriate space for two lawyers but it’s something. Kim looks very distracted and Jimmy asks the real estate agent to give them a minute. He assumes that she lost Mesa Verde but as soon as they are alone, she breaks out into the biggest smile and we see one of the rare moments of physical intimacy between these two characters—just a hug and a kiss, much like the scene in season 1 where Jimmy passes the bar. It’s sweet, but even sweeter is the look on Jimmy’s face while Kim tells him that she did it and gives him all the details about the meeting. She’s just so happy and excited and hopeful and proud of herself, and it makes Jimmy happy to see her this way. On another show, he would have said, “I love you,” but this is Better Call Saul, so he says, “I love seeing you like this.” Bless the BCS writers. It’s like a breath of fresh air.
But she’s not out of the woods yet, because Howard is determined to get Mesa Verde back and he goes to Chuck to enlist his help. Apparently, Howard is not super great with compliance law, and he needs Chuck’s input ASAP because he’s got a meeting with Kevin and Paige that day to try to get them back. Chuck is shocked and disappointed to hear that Kim has left HHM and that she’s managed to take Mesa Verde with her. Chuck knows that it’s Howard’s fault that she decided to leave but when he asks Howard how she could possibly be starting her own practice, he tells him that she’s pooling her resources with Jimmy. Of course, the second he knows Jimmy “Svengali” McGill is involved, Chuck is determined to get Mesa Verde back.
I think that maybe, if it was just Kim, Chuck wouldn’t have gone to the lengths he does to get Mesa Verde back. After all, HHM is a huge firm and they make plenty of money. It’s a loss, sure, but it’s not breaking the bank over there. But it’s not just Kim; Jimmy will indirectly profit off of this, and Chuck can’t allow it. Howard tries to talk Chuck out of coming into the office because he doesn’t want Kevin and Paige to see Chuck’s condition. Chuck is willing to go the extra mile for this one, though. He tells Howard that the lights stay on and everyone keeps their electronics; he doesn’t even wear the suit with the space blanket lining. He’s determined to appear “professional and not crazy” in order to get Mesa Verde back to HHM.
And Chuck is a real rockstar in the meeting. There’s absolutely no sign that he’s in any physical discomfort. He’s firing on all cylinders, using reverse psychology to get across his point that HHM has the experience and resources to handle their case and Kim Wexler, however bright and hard-working, does not. In addition to being a brilliant legal mind, we see that Chuck is kind of a shark when it comes to business. From the second he starts talking, we know that HHM is going to get Mesa Verde’s business. Paige knows it, too. Howard goes from being concerned that Chuck isn’t up to the task, to confused by his method, to absolutely awestruck by his game. The two of them play off each other well and we get a glimpse of what their professional dynamic must have been like back in the day. But even though Chuck wins Mesa Verde back, it comes at a cost. He collapses in the HHM lobby after Kevin and Paige leave and ends up catatonic on his couch.
Jimmy and the film students are back at it again and I’m assuming this will be Jimmy’s first commercial for his solo practice—a proto-Saul Goodman ad with an even lower budget (and I, for one, cannot wait to see the finished product). What we know is that it involves “Fifi” the B-29 bomber and a World War II vet (who is actually just one of Jimmy’s old clients—a public masturbator who couldn’t pay and owes him a favor). The film students are supposed to be the grandsons of veteran Major Theodore “Fudge” Talbot, and the guys look really uncomfortable going along with Jimmy’s lie. This is obviously what they were talking about at the end of last week’s episode when Jimmy said that he didn’t care about getting permits. Jimmy manages to get the officer to leave them alone at the plane and they do some guerilla filmmaking out on the tarmac, although “Fudge” isn’t the best or most cooperative talent.
Jimmy’s directorial efforts are interrupted by a call from Ernie, who is freaking out about Chuck’s condition. Jimmy assumes it’s the usual and tells Ernie to throw an extra space blanket on him and make him some soup. They almost get caught by a group of officers but it turns out they just want to get a picture with ol’ Fudge in front of Fifi. It was a close call, but Jimmy got away with it.
Instead of going home to check on Chuck, Jimmy goes to meet Kim at the office space to sign their lease. He finds her sitting on the curb outside. She tells him that she lost Mesa Verde to HHM—specifically to Chuck—and that maybe they should slow down with this whole private practice thing. She was really counting on that Mesa Verde money for her side of the expenses and she thinks it’s a mistake to move forward without having a single client, but Jimmy tells her that this is the reason they are doing this together—so they can pick up the slack for one another. He tells her that he still wants to sign the lease and Kim agrees, but after she walks inside there’s a look on Jimmy’s face that says maybe he’s not so sure.
Mike is still all over Hector Salamanca and he tails him to a garage. Soon after he arrives, the Regalo Helado truck pulls in and backs into the garage. Hector is outside smoking and the garage doors are closed so we don’t know exactly what is going down inside but I think it’s safe to assume that some kind of cartel-related criminal activity is going down in there. Mike is watching from a distance with a little smile on his face. He knows he’s got Hector now.
Jimmy finally goes to check on Chuck and relieve poor Ernie, who has been fretting over Chuck for hours and who is not getting paid enough for this shit. Chuck is totally out of it on the couch and Jimmy knows it’s because he went above and beyond at the office to get Mesa Verde back from Kim. He’s pissed and he could care less about the state Chuck is in. He sees boxes of Mesa Verde case files and he decides it’s time for some good old-fashioned sabotage.
Jimmy has done a lot of shady shit but this, I think, takes the cake in the series so far. Forget skateboard scams and squat cobbler videos. This time, it’s document forgery, and as wrong as it is, I have to say I was damn impressed. Jimmy painstakingly and meticulously changes the address on every single Mesa Verde document from 1261 Rosella Drive to 1216 Rosella Drive, working through the night at a local copy shop. He works through the night and then returns to Chuck’s, where he replaces the originals with the forged copies. Chuck never wakes up and Jimmy falls asleep in the living room chair with a satisfied smile on his face.
Chuck doesn’t wake up until the next afternoon, and the second he does, Jimmy is itching for a fight about Mesa Verde. Chuck refuses to engage, though. He just thanks Jimmy for staying and then, in a rare moment of sincerity, tells Jimmy that even though they have issues, if the situation were reversed, he would do the same for him. I have a hard time actually believing this from Chuck, but I do believe that Chuck believes it. He walks away and Jimmy starts to feel guilty. He looks at the Mesa Verde boxes like
But of course it’s too late. This is not going to end well.
At Mike’s house, Kaylee is having some Pop-Pop time, helping Mike with a project. The “soaker for the rhododendron” they are creating involves Kaylee marking up a hose and Mike drilling holes in it every three-quarters of an inch. Kaylee wants to use the drill (because she’s a kid and power tools are cool) and Mike lets her try it. Could you say no to this face?
Neither can Pop-Pop. Stacey comes to pick Kaylee up and doesn’t seem stoked to find her with a power drill in her hand but it is what it is. Mike finishes up the “soaker” on his own and I’m not at all surprised to find out that it isn’t meant for his garden. He makes sure to use gloves as he washes it clean and then settles in on the couch, putting nails through the holes while he watches His Girl Friday and drinks a PBR—just another casual evening at Mike Ehrmantraut’s house, making terrifying revenge devices while watching classic films.
Whatever Mike’s plan for Hector Salamanca is, it involves that spiky death hose. I’m thinking something to do with popping tires, maybe on that sketchy truck. Whatever it is, shit’s about to go down. All the tension that has been building up this season—both in Jimmy’s storyline and in Mike’s—is about to come to a head. I think Jimmy went too far with the Mesa Verde document forgery and now that he’s linked with Kim in more ways than one, this is going to come down on both of them. Mike is ready to strike back at the Salamancas, which can only make things worse and drive him further into the criminal underworld. There have been a lot of rumblings about the possible return of Gus Fring, which would make sense since we know that Mike ends up working for Gus. Is this attack on the Salamancas the thing that puts Mike on Gus’s radar? I kind of hope so, because I’m always down for more Gus Fring.