I’ve known the evenings, mornings, and days alone,I have measured out my life in Mesa Verde awards and burner phones.
[8.7/10] With my sincerest apologies to T.S. Eliot, it’s amazing how Better Call Saul can move so slowly, and then so quickly, without missing a beat. It’s hard to know how much time has passed up until this point in the show, but season 4 picked up right where season 3 left off, and has more or less crept along in the aftermath of Chuck’s death and Hector’s “accident” ever since.
Until now. I spent a great deal of time talking about how the last episode set Jimmy and Kim on diverging trajectories, to the point that it was even occasionally literal. “Something Stupid” takes that idea up a notch with a cold open set to the titular crooner melody. The show’s unrivaled montage abilities depicts the passage of time with unwrapped statuettes, file cabinet labels, and holiday sale signs. But Better Call Saul once again gets a little formally creative, using a well-placed split screen to show how both Kim and Jimmy are flourishing in the new lives each has embarked upon, but also how those lives are slowly but surely pulling them further and further apart.
It’s an interesting choice, since Better Call Saul is very much about the slow burn. But it’s part and parcel with one of the most noteworthy creative decisions the show consistently makes -- how Jimmy and Kim are meant to be a real relationship with slow ups and downs rather than the constant shocks and fireworks of romance on a standard network drama. When this season started, I feared for Kim, because the show seemed poised to concoct some grand accident, some big mistake on Jimmy’s part, that either scares her away or worse.
Instead, “Something Stupid” gives us the death of a thousand cuts, and it gives us small scenes and the changing of the seasons to make it happen. The show may still be building to that grand incident and gesture, that will sever the only couple it’s ever truly put together. But Jimmy and Kim didn’t start with fireworks on this show, and rather than end them with something explosive, Better Call Saul is content to just show them drifting apart, more and more living separate lives, until that division just happens without either of them realizing it, or wanting to admit it.
Because “Something Stupid” isn’t just about the passage of time. It’s about the little signs that things have changed or are changing, the ones that are almost imperceptible but nevertheless tell the story. That comes through in our glimpse of Hector. Time has been kind to the old man after the incident with Nacho. During some rehabilitation exercises with the expensive doctor Gus provided, Hector knocks over a cup of water. The medical staff writes it off as an involuntary reaction from a man still trying to regain control of his motor functions. But the perspective shots and editing let the audience know otherwise -- that this was a minor stunt from Hector so he could leer at his nurse.
Gus, observant man that he is, sees it too. He recognizes more than that his longtime foe is still a lech. He recognizes that Hector, the awful man Gus wants revenge, is still in there. Vengeance is no good if there’s no one but the shell of a man to appreciate. Gus too has his own almost impercetible moment, a slow malevolent smile, that conveys his recognition that the man he wants to punish is still awake and aware enough to appreciate it.
So Gus turns the knife a little. He sends the doctor onto her next assignment. In effect, he halts Hector’s progress, despite the doctor’s protestations that there’s more recovery to be had. Hector has recovered enough to appreciate what Gus has done, while still being limited enough to hate it. The simple flick of a cup sets in motion a series of events that changes Hector’s life, and lays the groundwork for Gus’s death.
That’s the interesting thing about the passage of time in “Something Stupid.” It can either elucidate how much progress has been made and imply the trajectory that’s being halted, or it can show how much things have deteriorated. When we see Mike and the Germans, it’s very clearly the latter. The crew that Werner the engineer hired have made great strides in constructing Gus’s underground meth lab, but there’s miles to go before they sleep, and it’s starting to get to the workers.
When an accident on the job sets them back months, on a job the whole group knows won’t be finished anywhere near on schedule, tempers flare, scuffles break out, and it becomes clear to both Mike and Werner that things can’t continue on as they have. There’s more suggestion than development here, as we see more of the restlessness bubbling under the surface for the workers than anything actually coming to a head. But we see a growing camaraderie between Mike and Werner, a shot down suggestion that things might flow easier without Kai that feels portentous, and the slightest change in expression from Mike to show us his acceptance of the idea that the workers need some “R&R”, lest things spin out of control.
But bad feelings are bubbling under the surface for Jimmy and Kim as well. Jimmy and Kim have growing resentments about one another, but are either too ensconced in the status quo to rock the boat or, more charitably, care about each other too much to make an issue out of them, so they come out in odd ways.
When Jimmy tags along with Kim to a Schweikart office party, he can’t help taking a powder in her office. And there, he starts to get a little jealous. He walks the floor and finds out that her office is almost twice as big as his. He looks at a framed note from a pro bono client, and sees that Kim has already had more success, engendered more appreciation, in her spare time as a substitute public defender, than he had when it was his regular gig. Jimmy is scraping by and seeing his partner soar. It bothers Kim, but he loves her, so he lashes out in other ways.
That means causing trouble at Schweikart, using his small talk expertise to “spitball” a fantastical company trip to Mr. Schweikart himself, with all the employees in eartshot. After Jimmy finishes laying out this extravagant ski trip and creating expectations, Schweikart will either have to break the bank to pull it off or disappoint his employees when the real trip fails to live up to the image of a winter wonderland that Jimmy creates. It’s Jimmy’s way of stomping on the Schweikart sandcastle that Kim’s helped to build, a quiet little F.U. and “you’re not so big, huh?” His little conversation has plenty of plausible deniability for the trouble it’ll cause, but Kim knows better, even if she’s unable or unwilling to call him on it. The icy trip home says as much.
But they’re still a team. So when a misunderstanding with a bag of sandwiches, a pair of headphones, and a plainclothes cop leads to Huell facing jail time, Jimmy goes to Kim for help. It’s a well constructed conundrum because it has good and bad elements to it. There’s some real injustice in Huell potentially having to go to prison because of a legitimate misunderstanding as regards a less-than-legitimate business. But there’s something questionable at best about Jimmy’s wilful blindness and obstinance to the cop about his burner phones, and something mixed about Jimmy’s motives, even if it seems unfair for Huell to have to take the fall.
And then there’s Kim’s role in all of this. The most striking reaction, in an episode full of them, is Kim practically suppressing a gag reflex when Jimmy suggests solving this problem by making the policeman crack on the stand. It’s too close to what she helped Jimmy do to Chuck, too much like the sort of life destroying ploy to save one’s own bacon that she’s been trying to make amends for since. So she takes the case but rebuffs Jimmy, resolving to do it her way -- with facts and precedents rather than hustles and manipulation.
But that fails. The prosecutor not only rejects Kim’s tactics, but questions why Kim’s even doing this, and unwittingly slags Kim’s partner in the process. It’s a tense scene, of Kim trying to do everything in her power to make this work, the right way, to help Jimmy even as she’s seeing more and more the ways that he is not the kind-hearted soul with rough edges she once thought. The edges are starting crowd out the parts of Jimmy she always appreciated, even as, in true Breaking Bad fashion, the show puts her in a tight spot and dares the audience to find out whether and how she’ll escape it, and what it will cost her and Jimmy, to do so.
The close of the episode seems to be setting up the sort of dramatic, high stakes moments that drove Breaking Bad. But Better Call Saul has been a show about slower burns, about more gradual, softer transformations than the collection of inflection points that pushed Walter white from “Mr. Chips to Scarface.” And it’s taking the same tack with Jimmy and Kim. Even as the seasons shift, there’s not some big moment that changes everything. There’s just a gradual winnowing of the trust and mutual admiration they once shared, until the image each had of the other is too tarnished to go on.
The opening montage was just stunning, and so sad.
That opening montage is a beautiful and terrific way to both do a time jump and show two people's growing distance. With that party scene and the conflict unresolved at the end of the episode, I suspect this is the season where their turning (…breaking?) point for Jimmy and Kim will occur. I feel though that if it continues in this trajectory, there might be at most one season left after this?
Gus' one scene is so chilling, and is the good kind of Breaking Bad connectivity that really adds to both series.
Kim has become the Jesse Pinkman of this show for me: I very badly want to see her escape everything unscathed, but fear the worst.
The opening scene shows a time lapse of many months passing by in which Kim has settled into her new firm and she no longer has to wear a cast and Jimmy continues selling his phones. Lots of progress has been made on the construction project under the warehouse and Hector wakes from his coma and receives intense therapy. Gus invites the doctor working on Hector to his house for dinner and when reviewing videos of Hector's progress, he decides to stop Hector's treatment fearful he might make a huge recovery. An accident under the warehouse causes a major setback and Mike worries about how to keep these guys from making things worse. A man comes to see Jimmy while he's selling phones and reveals he's a cop asking Jimmy to stop selling to lowlifes. Jimmy says no claiming it's a legitimate business. Huell, while listening to music, sees the confrontation and hits the cop from behind on the head with a bag of sandwiches. Huell is arrested for assaulting an officer and faces possible jail time. Jimmy turns to Kim for help and she says she has a plan.