Better Call Saul, Season 1, Episode 8: “Rico
Written by Gordon Smith
Directed by Colin Bucksey
Airs Mondays at 10PM EST on AMC
After the events of last week’s morally challenging Better Call Saul, Saul/Jimmy is forced to climb back on the horse and deal with the fallout of his (expensive) decision to do the right thing.
This week begins with a very revealing flashback, one that finds Saul working as the mail boy, of all things, at the very law offices of Hamlin Hamlin McGill. For all its brevity and lack of dialogue, it is a very telling sequence, one that manages to convey Saul and Kim’s friendly affections, the beginnings of Saul’s hatred for Howard Hamlin, Saul’s complex relationship with his brother Chuck, and some of what occurred in between Saul’s time as “Slipping Jimmy” and his current rise as an attorney. It’s one of the show’s most confident and successful info drops, and it works seamlessly within the context of the episode.
Next, we find Saul back in the elder law game, focusing once again on the honest work of building wills and the like for his senior clients. Alas, it lacks the thrill of accepting bribe money and sticking it to Hamlin, or helping Mike out of a cop-killing charge, but it’s a hell of a lot safer. However, even this small game is looking like it might possibly reap major benefits, as Saul begins to find evidence of a senior home defrauding many of his clients. This revelation, something that even slipped by Chuck when he was “painting the fences”, has set Saul up for the opportunity to file a class action lawsuit.
After something of a condescending conversation with his brother, Saul agrees to cover all of his bases rather than going off half-cocked (“Full cocked!” marks some more hilarious delivery for Bob Odenkirk). Instead, though, he does just that, hastily writing up some legal documents on cardboard and toilet paper, which he then ramblingly serves to a staff member before being removed from the premises. So much for not going off half-cocked. The scene shows the writers’ unwavering desire to delve into the absurdism of the world Saul inhabits, full cocked, and is an easy episode highlight.
Mike makes his return to solo duty this week, free of being tethered to Saul and the central storyline. His first moment has him receiving a call from his daughter-in-law Stacey, asking him to watch his treasured granddaughter Kaley. Mike seizes upon the opportunity with a shocking desperation that shows how eager he is to be part of a family again, even tangentially. When the stoic and unflappable Mike grows so consternated as to wave a parking customer through for free, you know it means a lot to him.
After a cute playdate with Kaley, Mike is faced with the financial hardships of his only related family, and you can see the cogs turning in his head when Stacey tells him that the money he gave her is only a drop in the bucket. When we see him next, talking turkey with the veterinarian who sewed up his gunshot wound, our suspicions are confirmed, and the great tragedy of Mike’s rise and fall is officially set in motion.
Our favorite lawyer is next seen sinking to a new low, even for him. When dumpster diving seems like a viable option to get ahead, especially into a bin that is filled with both excrement and medical waste, there is a certain pathetic dedication made apparent, but luckily it only endears Saul more to the audience, especially when he deftly handles a legal call while buried in trash (“Blow my magic flute!” is another contender for quote of the week). The audacity of the sequence is pushed even further with the reveal of a nearby recycling bin, obviously home to the shredded documents that Saul is seeking, making his abhorrent trash swim wholly unnecessary.
Luckily, the results prove fruitful, as Chuck and Saul paste together the beginnings of what could be Saul’s first major case, and the real beginnings of his career. Its easy to start rooting for these downtrodden legal aces, and a touching moment where Saul wins his brother’s respect at last is warming in a way that the sardonic series rarely allows for.
When we next see the brothers McGill, it’s in a stirring and triumphant meeting, one that begins with Sandpiper’s lawyers sucking up and offering a meager $92,000 in damages, and ends with Chuck countering with $20,000,000. It’s a grippingly intense confrontation, one that is anchored by the fact that Saul does almost all of the heavy lifting, with Chuck still feeling somewhat out of his element. Seeing him snap back into action at the end of the meeting, and his subsequent talk with Saul, shows a tempestuous glimmer of what Chuck must have been capable of back in his prime.
On that precise note, the camera follows an enthralled Chuck right out of the door from here, and into direct contact with all of that which his mental malady has caused him to fear. Only, with his mind occupied by other matters, he doesn’t even realize it until he sees Saul looking at him with a look of abject surprise on his face. It’s a fantastic cliff-hanger, and one that will force new treatment of Chuck next week, especially as his role grows in the Rico case.
Ending Note: A special mention must go to the opening titles, which are always inventive, and always different. This week’s entry, a tarantula crawling from underneath a tie, may be the best yet. The cheesy music, cheap video effects, and crummy 8-bit graphics of the Executive Producer credits all fit perfectly with Saul’s grimy world, and are always a welcome addition to an already gratifying mix.