‘Better Call Saul’ Review: ‘Rico’
Better Call Saul isn’t a thriller in the categorical sense, but tonight’s episode is wonderfully thrilling. Watching Jimmy piece together his first major case and swing into full-on respectable lawyer action is enervating and offers a particular level of suspense. But it’s not just the exciting possibility of a class action lawsuit coming together that offers up something substantial in “Rico,” but the interesting parallels between Jimmy and Chuck as they’re both invigorated by the case.
Jimmy (and Saul) is the kind of guy who often happens upon the right problem at the right moment, but Better Call Saul has given us a more honest and well-meaning opportunist in Jimmy McGill. In “Rico,” he just happens to acquire information indicating that a local nursing home is defrauding its elderly residents, and while it certainly provides a monetary opportunity, it’s the thrill of building such a substantial case that gets Jimmy all fired up.
We see both Jimmy and Chuck transformed by the case, which quickly balloons from a little fraud into a class action lawsuit. Jimmy leaving his boxes at Chuck’s place has paid off, and although his older brother pushes against it, he cannot ignore those innate lawyer senses — especially as Jimmy’s new case continues to grow. Chuck can fool himself and claim that he’s just helping his less seasoned brother, but the truth is that he misses the work, the challenge and most of all, the satisfaction of having the upper hand. He’s been confined in this feeble version of his life for too long.
Jimmy has grown comfortable drafting documents and wills for the elderly, but he’s also got that keen lawyer sense, striking at the opportunity when it arises and finding himself more than ready to meet the challenge. The opening sequence introduces us to Jimmy as a mail clerk for HHM, where, upon passing his bar exam, he’s promptly passed over for a job. He receives the news in the mail room, the dialogue droned out completely by the copiers to heighten a gnawing sense of anxiety — repetitive, hypnotic and grating in equal measure.
At that moment, Jimmy feels what Chuck must feel each time he has an episode. It’s anxiety and defeat. Framed against the later sequence in which Jimmy excitedly rushes to draft a demand letter on cardboard and toilet paper in the nursing home bathroom, HHM looks foolish for passing him up. Jimmy (and eventually, Saul) will succeed mostly because he’s underestimated and undervalued.
Through the new case, Jimmy becomes the best version of himself he can be and the version he always envisioned for himself, but even Jimmy underestimates Jimmy, as we see later when Chuck asks him to draft a TRO and his little brother stands almost slack-jawed, not sure that this could actually be happening. Chuck is similarly slack-jawed and dazed during their meeting with the nursing home’s lawyers, as if he can’t believe he’s actually working (to an extent) again.
Chuck also becomes a better version of himself — last week, he was trying exposure therapy to build up an “immunity” to electromagnetic currents, working slowly up from two minutes standing outside to five. In “Rico,” the interest of the class action lawsuit becomes full-blown excitement when it transforms into a multi-state, federal case with “a RICO kicker.” Chuck is so blissfully lost and caught up in the work that he doesn’t even realize that he’s totally okay and completely unaffected when he goes out to get some papers from Jimmy’s car — a moment that’s so telling, not because we didn’t already know that his ailment was psychological, but because it indicates why and how it began. Chuck clearly lost interest in the work he was doing for HHM. With more time on his hands to think, his anxieties seized him.
It’s such a brilliant conclusion to the episode: Jimmy is at his most focused and productive, committed to doing whatever it takes to succeed in this case and prove himself as a skilled lawyer. Chuck is at his best, entirely forgetting his self-imposed ailment long enough to do what needs to get done. In the final moment, Chuck realizes he’s outside, but it’s unclear if he’s having a panic attack or if he just realized that his ailment never really existed at all. Two brothers stand, staring at each other in amazement, afraid that if they move they’ll shatter what must be an illusion. It’s a curious scene to an outsider, which is right where “Rico” leaves it.
- “I guess it’s like losing your virginity. Third time’s a charm.”
- “Let’s not fixate on the medium, okay?”
- Jimmy enjoys the opera, specifically The Magic Flute. Speaking of which, “Blow my magic flute.”
- “You can’t say it’s private if a hobo can use it for a wigwam.”
- I’m really into scenes in which people piece together shredded documents, and there was nothing I wanted more than for an exhausted Jimmy to fall asleep on that pile of shredded paper. Better Call Saul delivered.
- This week in Mike: he babysits his granddaughter and advises her mom that she can spend the money however she sees fit. And so it begins.