Better Call Saul, Season 1, Episode 9: “Pimento”
Written by Thomas Schnauz
Directed by Thomas Schnauz
Airs Mondays at 10PM EST on AMC
In the wake of last week’s slam dunk case, and the revelations concerning Chuck’s mental ailment, “Pimento” was set to be the hour where the brothers McGill finally rode the high country. But alas, things are rarely that simple in this particular variation of New Mexico.
The episode begins with Saul/Jimmy and Chuck enjoying the simple unadulterated pleasure of just being outside, a feeling which Chuck in particular is a bit of a stranger to at this point. Chuck, who was not miraculously cured as some had speculated (and thank your nameless higher power, or lack thereof, for that) twitches at the sight of a power box, but eventually yields to the advice of his younger brother, easing his bare toes into the grass below. It’s a nice moment, soothing even, but there is a careful wordless dialogue being spoken beneath it: that it’s likely to be the last one the audience will see between these siblings.
On that note, it’s not long after that Chuck suggests they pass their Sandpiper case off to Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. While it initially seems somewhat suspect, it’s easy to see where Chuck is coming from as he lays out his reasoning, and as Jimmy comes around during the scene, so too does the audience, albeit with a touch of reluctance, like Jimmy. The points Chuck makes are very good, and for all we know, they are 100% sincere, but a sneaky night time phone call throws everything into question not long after.
It’s pretty clear that the person on the other end of the phone was going to be Howard Hamlin, and that note of menace carries throughout the whole episode, right down to the bitter end. Why would Chuck betray his brother like that? What is he planning, and what are his motivations?
Well, we get our answer to that particular query in the final scene of the hour, though it is telegraphed countless times throughout “Pimento”; once via Chuck’s much delayed reaction of surprise and outrage during the Hamlin meeting scene, as well as when Hamlin tells Kim to quietly close the door after she stands up for Jimmy (and good on her for that), and finally when Ms. Wexler herself comes to visit Jimmy later on. Eventually it becomes obvious to everyone, no matter how much or little attention one has been paying to the signals: for some reason, Chuck has a problem with the idea of Jimmy working at HHM, something that ties into a brief scene during the prologue from two weeks back, when Jimmy passed the bar in the first place.
The ending scene, which lays out, in unflinching detail, just why Chuck lurches at the idea, is devastating to watch, particularly as Jimmy needs to practically pry it out of him with a crowbar before he finally yields. It turns out Chuck, like the audience once upon a time, sees Jimmy as a bit of a joke. “You’re not a real lawyer!” he spits in exasperation, and the truth comes out behind it. Jimmy is forced to see that his brother, who he has spent his whole life trying to impress, and the better part of a year taking care of diligently, looks down upon him as less than scum, as a man unworthy of all that he has earned for himself since he turned his life around. It’s a crushing, cruel, and brutal moment for Jimmy, especially with Chuck’s smirking cadence of buddy-buddy solidarity as his monologue comes to an end. “You know I’m right Jimmy, you know I’m right!”. In a few short sentences, Jimmy handily washes his hands of Chuck, and the audience is right behind him.
Elsewhere in “Pimento”, Mike takes on his first real criminal job, running a protection gig for a pharmacist who is illegally selling stolen Oxycontin pills to none other then Tuco’s cohort, Nacho himself. This series of events lends Jonathan Banks the opportunity to relish in the general badassery of Mike Ehrmantraut not once, but twice. The first instance comes in the intro scene for the job, wherein a cocky hire seeks to intimidate him for not bringing a gun (“Look, I made it easy”/”You can make it a little harder than that.” is an amazing exchange, and the kind of thing which entire series, like FX’s Justified, are built upon) and then again when he easily holds his own during a stare down with Nacho at the exchange. That his charge, a portly and pleadingly polite character, is lacking in even the most basic form of confidence, charisma, or criminal mentality, only adds further charm and humor to the proceedings. In their ending exchange, Mike lays out his code and gives the kind of advice that makes it clear why and how he eventually survives in this dangerous world for so long.
As a sidenote, it’s worth mentioning that channels like AMC have an agreement with the FCC in which they can drop one F-bomb per season, and Bob Odenkirk’s delivery of a line in which he indecorously accuses Hamlin of being a molester of farm animals is an easy comedic highlight, as is the following scene, where he calls Hamlin not just an asshole, but an unshaven one at that! In fact, all in, this may be the finest episode performance-wise for the entire crew, with literally every single title card cast member given at least one shining moment to reside upon, if not several.
With a metric tonne of a revelation and a lot of balls still in the air, “Pimento” is a fine hour of television, and one that leads nicely into next week’s finale.