Better Call Saul: Everyone Takes an Extra Step in “Slip”


The opening of “Slip” is a little more direct than episodes of Better Call Saul usually are when filling in some gaps Jimmy’s backstory and philosophy. When Marco presses Jimmy about his parents’ shop, about how they worked hard and everyone liked them, Jimmy admits that’s true, but questions the value of it. He protests that it got them nowhere; he characterizes his own dad as a sucker, and he takes the coin his father once planned to put in the poor box for use in yet another scam.

With that, Jimmy’s perspective on life becomes a little clearer, aligning with the prior flashback to his parents’ store. Papa McGill was someone who refused to bend the rules even a little, who wouldn’t take so much as a moderately-valuable coin for himself, let alone sell cigarettes to the kids from the local religious school to make ends meet. In Jimmy’s eyes, that approach got him nowhere. It’s a little too tidy and pat to account for Jimmy’s actions in the present day, but the man himself sums it up nicely — Papa McGill wasn’t willing to “do what he had to do,” and Jimmy assuredly is.

That’s the thrust of “Slip,” which is as much of an ensemble piece as any episode of Better Call Saul so far. Not only Jimmy, but also Mike, Chuck, Kim, and Nacho, are each willing to go the extra mile, to do the difficult or painful thing, not because they wish to or because it’s easy, but because each believe it’s what they simply need to do to go on. It’s what unites these disparate individuals and their very different challenges here — each of them strains a bit more, goes a little farther, in the name of biting the bullet and doing what needs doing.

For Jimmy, that means reverting to his old tricks. What’s interesting about his moral faltering here is that, initially at least, Jimmy tries to be good. He tries to build on the success of his first ad with the owners of the music shop, and in return, all they do is try to squeeze him. (Granted, it’s Jimmy, so he’s inflating his costs a bit, but still, the episode sets the duo up as jerks not giving Jimmy his due when he’s at the end of his rope.) So Jimmy lays out a drumstick. He asks the owners one more time if they’re truly committed to not paying him what they originally agreed to, and when they curtly rebuff him, he purposely takes a painful-looking spill in their store to gain leverage. Look out; Slippin’ Jimmy is back.

 

And this time, he's covering Deep Purple!

 

Jimmy lets that new (old) mentality ride when confronted with the community service supervisor who gave him grief last week, and manages to make a little scratch in the process. His big show threatening a potential lawsuit, and his deal with a fellow worker, become a little farfetched in terms of persuading his grumpy minder, but the purpose of these scenes is clear. Jimmy tried doing things his parents’ way (with his own Saul-ian spin), and it gives him only headaches and an empty bank account. Now, he’s back to taking the literally painful, less-than-savory steps to ensure he has enough money to hold up his end of his bargain with Kim.

But Kim’s willing to go the extra mile too, in her own, far more respectable way. When Jimmy offers her the money he scraped together, she hints that he might need time to regroup, offering to carry the load for the two of them for a little while. It’s not entirely clear whether that offer comes from a place of worry that without such assurance, Jimmy will return to conning people full time, coupled with a desire to alleviate his financial incentives on that front, or if she’s simply concerned that whatever his promises, unreliable Jimmy may not be able to come up with his portion on a monthly basis without a real job. Either way, she takes on a new client, one where she already seems pretty slammed, to make sure that they’ll be able to pay the rent, with or without Jimmy’s contribution.

That work came from a lunch meeting where she just so happened to run into Howard. When they meet, Howard, ever the politician, is plastically cordial. but Kim, unlike her beau, still has pangs of guilt, and offers Howard a refund on the law school tuition HHM paid for to assuage it. It’s only when the clients are out of sight that Howard lets the scales fall, rebuking Kim and revealing that he too is working overtime, having to reassure scores of clients after the incident with Chuck got out. Despite their differences, both are ready to go back to the trenches. Kim’s willing to take the (figuratively) painful step of handing over $14,000 dollars to calm her conscience, and Howard is out there hustling to preserve his firm’s good name after his partner’s public breakdown.

But at least some good seems to have come out of that breakdown. Chuck is back with his doctor and (self-)reportedly making great progress. He may be overestimating himself a little bit, but he’s persevering in his exposure therapy and, in his own way, accepting that his illness is a mental one, not a physical one. When Dr. Cruz warns him about taking it easy and not setting his expectations too high, Chuck remains optimistic and anxious to get better, and it’s one of the most heartening scenes featuring Jimmy’s big brother the show’s included in a long time.

 

That level of distress is what Chuck gets for trying to buy soy milk.

 

In a tremendous sequence, without a word of exposition, “Slip” suggests that Chuck might yet overexert himself in this effort. He uses the coping techniques Dr. Cruz suggested for him when standing in front of the blaring fluorescent lights of the grocery store. He details the colors and objects he sees before him, trying taking his focus away from the pain. Director Adam Bernstein uses the tools in his toolbox to underscore the severity of what walking through the freezer case does to Chuck: the zooms, the noise, the vertigo of it all. It seems like Chuck has pushed himself too far, that he’s about to suffer another attack.

But when we see him later, Chuck has the groceries and seems no worse for wear. These things are difficult for him, painful for him even, but he is ready and willing to push, to take that damn enervating step, to be one step closer to what he wants to achieve.

The same is true of Mike, who is clearly still haunted by Anita’s story of her husband dying in the woods without anyone ever finding the body. He digs and digs in the New Mexico desert, metal-detector in hand, until he finds the spot where the unfortunate Good Samaritan lies, having been killed and buried by the cartel. Mike calls it in anonymously, presumably in the hopes of ensuring that another family won’t have to go through the same sort of haunting uncertainty that Anita did.

But he’s worried about leaving his own family in a state of uncertainty too. Mike still has his cash from his various extra-curricular activities, but he’s concerned about how to ensure that it reaches his family if something should happen to him. It’s that concern that leads him to Gus Fring, with the idea that Gus can help him launder it.

 

"I assume you would simply like to purchase $200,000 worth of chicken, right?"

 

It’s a scene that shows the two men’s growing mutual respect. The meaningful handshake that closes the episode (along with Gus turning down Mike’s offer of a twenty percent commission to launder it) signifies the ways that these two men, from different walks of life, share the same values. They are both smart, decent men who are mixed up in indecent things, and they’re willing to do what it takes to make that work.

That just leaves Nacho, who has what is possibly the most difficult job of all in trying to take out Hector without anyone suspecting him. What I love about his scenes here is the way that Better Call Saul shows how meticulous, how careful, how deliberate Nacho is about all of his. There’s a nobility in Nacho instinctively wanting to protect his father from Hector, but he is not a reactionary, nor in any way reckless about it just because it touches on a deeply emotional part of the otherwise stoic man.

Instead, that motivates him to do the legwork. He takes the extra steps to make his operation successful. He is delicate and careful as he grinds the ibuprofen into dust and fills the lookalike pills under a magnifying glass. He practices, over and over again, the act of palming a pill bottle and depositing it into a coat pocket, so that when the moment comes, it will be second nature. And he even goes so far as to climb onto the roof of the restaurant that serves as Hector’s headquarters the evening before he plans to make his move, messing up the air conditioner so that Hector will have reason to take off his jacket.

 

"You know, you're right. When you look closely, he does kind of look like Tom Sizemore."

 

The follow-up scene, where he actually makes the switch is masterful. “Slip” holds the tension of each step in the process, from the would-be fake bill, to the probing of the wrong pocket, to the switcheroo. It comes to a head in the moment of truth where Nacho has to make the move he rehearsed so many times and land the pill bottle into Hector’s jacket without him realizing. When the bottle lands perfectly, the audience is as relieved as Nacho is. It’s a great outing for Michael Mando, who communicates how Nacho’s trying to exhibit an air of practiced, casual calm, but inside he’s anxious beyond words. His deep exhale and clenched fingers in the back of the restaurant after it’s all done say everything.

Each of the tasks taken up by the main characters in this episode — planting dummy pills, finding a dead body, braving the height of an illness, taking on extra work, and even breaking one’s own back — require something extra: more sacrifice, more pain, more difficulty. But when something important is at stake — your livelihood, your well-being, or your family — the major figures of Better Call Saul are the type of people who face that head on and take whatever measures the situation requires, even if that means drastically different things for each of them. Those steps are hard, tense, and even dangerous, but for better or ill, Jimmy McGill and the people in his orbit, are the sort that do what they need to do, even if they don’t always do the kinds of things that Papa McGill would approve of.


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