Better Call Saul: “Talk” (S4E4)

In “Talk” (written by Heather Marion and directed by John Shiban) the main characters do anything but. When they are talking, they are talking around their problems and not addressing them directly. This season has been characterized by the inability of our main characters (most notably Jimmy) to give voice to their emotions. Kim, too, struggles to communicate her needs and concerns. Nacho has been suffering in silence for a while now. He’s in way over his head—with the cartel and now with Gus—but he has nobody to turn to except his father, who wants nothing to do with him. And then there’s Mike: the epitome of stoicism, never one to talk about his feelings.

This week’s opener is brief: just a scene of a much-younger Mike, pouring concrete for the carport in the driveway while his son, Matty, watches. He’s in awe of his father’s skills (as he would always be) and Mike allows him to write his name in the concrete. It’s a story we’d heard from Stacey in “Off Brand” (S3E6), after the first time Mike attended her bereavement support group meeting. Mike didn’t remember it then, but he certainly remembers it now. Cut to the present day, at a support group meeting. Mike says, “You wanted me to talk. I talked.”

The context for this becomes clear later in the episode, but initially I thought that we were getting a tiny glimpse of Mike actually opening up at one of these meetings instead of just sitting there as silent moral support for Stacey. I thought that perhaps he was finally talking (as much as he is able, given the circumstances) about his guilt over Matty’s death—the fact that he “broke” Matty by talking to him about his own moral failings. I should have known better, of course, because this is a room full of (mostly) strangers and Mike Ehrmantraut would never talk like that.

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The dilapidated Westward Ho Motel (which looks like a mini version of Hamsterdam from The Wire) is the location of the Espinosa stash house as well as a free-for-all for those who partake in their product. We learn later that part of Gus’s plan involves taking over this territory and whatever else the Espinosas are in charge of. For now, we just see one of Gus’s men deliver drugs to the stash house in exchange for money—providing a small bit of context for the location that makes the massacre to come all the more horrifying.

Jimmy is sleeping in when he gets a call offering him a job as shift supervisor at CC Mobile, one of the places he has interviewed on his half-assed job hunt. Jimmy couldn’t be less interested and he declines the position, telling them that his “plans have changed.” Kim is about to leave for work and decides that it’s time to suggest to Jimmy that he talk to a therapist. She’s already got one in mind and, after a moment of hesitation, she gives him the post-it with the number on it and asks him to call. She’s been unable to get him to communicate with her since Chuck’s death, and after Chuck’s letter seemingly had no effect on Jimmy, Kim seems to have resigned herself to the fact that he isn’t going to open up to her. She hopes that maybe a professional might be able to get through to him but I think in her heart she knows he won’t call.

Jimmy seems genuinely hurt at her suggestion that he needs to talk to someone and he decides to change the direction of the conversation by lying to her and telling her he got a job that starts that very day. He claims that he “forgot” to tell her, which is absurd since that’s not the kind of thing one forgets to tell their significant other. Kim’s response is supportive but she seems to doubt if not the validity of his statement, the fact that he just so happened to remember to tell her at the exact moment that she suggested he needs professional help. Jimmy mocks the sales job and makes it clear that it’s just a temporary thing until he can resume his law career in ten months time. Of course, I doubt it will be as easy as “Poof, I’m a lawyer again,” and I think Kim knows this as well given that his reputation is pretty much destroyed, especially among Albuquerque’s elderly community. Still, she is cautiously optimistic about Jimmy’s new job because she wants to believe him. As soon as Kim leaves, Jimmy gets on the phone and turns his lie into a truth by accepting the job at CC mobile—another job he doesn’t actually want but takes because of Kim. But it’s not just Kim’s influence that makes him take it; he also takes the job because he needs to occupy himself with something to avoid dealing with his emotions.

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Last week we saw Kim ask Viola to take her to the courthouse for some unknown purpose. This week we learn that she’s spending time in court, observing, instead of working on the Mesa Verde expansion. She goes to Judge Munsinger’s court to watch. Munsinger notices her sitting in court and asks if she has any business there but she says she’s just observing. He gives the bailiff a message for Kim: meet him in his chambers at the next recess.

Munsinger questions why Kim is there without any real reason given her position at HHM and she informs him that she’s left the firm and is working as a solo practitioner. After she tells him she’s working as outside counsel for Mesa Verde, he pretends to have a case for her but it quickly becomes apparent to Kim—a movie buff—that he’s just reciting the plot of The Verdict. Munsinger has seen this kind of thing before and tells her she won’t find any “save-the-broken-lawyer cases” in the real world. Kim is not the first disillusioned lawyer trying to rediscover their passion for the law by trolling his courtroom and he tells her that she should just stick to Mesa Verde and make a lot of money. Kim chooses not to take Munsinger’s advice and, to his surprise, she returns to his courtroom after recess.

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Last week we saw Kim feeling trapped and overwhelmed by the Mesa Verde expansion—something she fought hard and dirty for—and now (through Munsinger) we can we see that she’s completely lost. Kim Wexler, the broken lawyer, wandering through the courthouse wondering what she’s doing with her life. I don’t necessarily agree with Munsinger that she’s trying to rediscover her love for the law so much as figure out her place in the field. HHM wasn’t it and, she’s discovering, neither is taking on Mesa Verde alone. She fought for both of those things and really thought she wanted them, but neither one turned out to be right for her. And, sadly, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the same can be said for her relationship with Jimmy.

The emotional distance between Kim and Jimmy is widening and that casual effortless intimacy that we have always seen between them is practically nonexistent these days. In a relationship, when one partner suffers a trauma, one of two things can happen: it can bring the pair closer or it can tear them apart. Jimmy’s inability to acknowledge that he needs help in his personal life isn’t so different from Kim’s inability to ask for and accept help in her professional life. In the last episode, we saw Kim finally accepting help from Viola but that doesn’t seem to have lightened her load (at least not emotionally). In this episode, Kim gave Jimmy a chance to accept help in the form of seeing a shrink. From his response, she knows he won’t do it, and if he doesn’t, there’s no hope for them going forward. They both need to evolve in order to fix what is broken but Jimmy’s evolution is not going to be what Kim needs it to be.

Mike is at his diner doing a crossword, where he is joined by Anita, his friend (as much as Mike has friends) from the support group. Judging by waitress Fran’s knowledge of Anita’s usual order, this isn’t the first time these two have met up for a meal. They seem to have formed a friendship and Anita goes so far as to ask Mike to go with her to see her friend’s band play. He tells her that he’s promised Stacey that he will go to group with her but says maybe he’ll stop by afterward, which is as close as we’ve ever come to something near-unfathomable to me: Mike Ehrmantraut on a date. I can’t see their relationship as anything but platonic, at least on Mike’s part, but there is a bit of a flirtation there and it is clear that Mike has come to care about Anita.

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Anita tells Mike that she wants to reach out to Henry, a man in their group, but Mike has the guy’s number and tells Anita that he’s a fake. Mike may not be talking in group but he’s definitely listening. The details of Henry’s stories about his dead wife are inconsistent and, in some cases, impossible and it’s clear to Mike that he’s lying. Anita can’t fathom why someone would do that (so I suppose she’s never seen Fight Club) but Mike is insistent. He tells Anita to watch out for Henry’s tell—when he lies, he rubs his wrist—and they make a bet that when Henry talks about his wife Judy at group that night, his story will be different.

Jimmy starts his job at CC Mobile, where he wears a neon green vest and tends to an empty store with that horrible soft jazz music playing. Anyone who has worked a retail job knows how excruciating it is listening to that crap all day and it’s the perfect soundtrack to Jimmy’s personal hell: no customers, nothing to do but tidy up and fuss over displays of products that nobody is there to buy. He asks his boss Robbie if he can be moved to a store with more traffic but he’s new and he’s got to put in his time there. Robbie tells him that the lack of traffic is normal and to just “bring a book,” which to me seems like an ideal scenario (getting paid to just read all day!) but to Jimmy is absolutely unbearable.

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As I suspected last week, the silver car that Nacho told the Cousins was involved in the “attack” on him and Arturo is part of Gus’s plan to expand his territory. The Cousins and Nacho are watching the Westward Ho motel when they spy a silver car, which Nacho falsely identifies as the one that ran them off the road. Nacho suggests they wait until nightfall and attack with a bigger crew but the Cousins are ready to go to war, just the two of them in broad daylight with a bag full of guns. Nacho waits in the car and listens to the massacre going on inside, but when reinforcements show up, even though he is still recovering from his gut shot, he takes them out and goes inside to assist Marco and Leonel. With the exception of the two guys Nacho dropped outside, Marco and Leonel have single-handedly taken out all the occupants of the motel—both the innocents and those involved in the Espinosa business.

Nacho is barely able to walk but he goes in as backup for the Cousins because he has no choice but to make sure that they come out alive. If they die, Gus has no more use for him as the inside man in the Salamanca operation. The fact that he is willing to kill to keep them safe (and keep himself on the Salamancas’ good side) shows just how deep into this thing Nacho is. There’s no escape for him and it forces him to dig in even deeper when all he wants is to be free of all of it (and ensure that his father and family are free of it, too).

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A seriously-injured Nacho meets up with Gus to give him the rundown on what happened, but he’s also too smart for his own good and can’t help but let Gus know that he’s figured out that his elaborate plan is all a move for territory. Gus knows that Nacho is smart enough to figure it out but he still doesn’t look pleased that he had the nerve to bring it up to him. He doesn’t confirm or deny what Nacho has suggested, just tells him to get some rest because he’s got more work to do. Given Nacho’s obvious injuries and Gus’s considerable resources, I was surprised he didn’t send him to his doctor. Instead, Gus is allowing him to continue suffering from his injuries—perhaps as a constant reminder to Nacho that he is one wrong move away from seeing the business end of Tyrus’s gun again.

At the support group meeting, Stacey shares with the group that she had gone about her normal routine that morning without thinking about Matty, which is disturbing to her because she is afraid of forgetting him. Mike is visibly pained to listen to his daughter-in-law’s story and it left me wondering how long Mike can go without thinking about his son. He certainly doesn’t talk about it, but I believe that he spends many a silent moment thinking about Matty, although unlike Stacey I don’t think that Mike fears forgetting him. He could never forget, nor would he want to. Matty’s death is Mike’s cross to bear and he carries that weight silently. It’s the reason he can do the things he does—he’s resigned to being the bad guy because, in the end, he thinks that’s how Matty saw him.

As soon as Henry chimes in, Mike is barely able to contain his rage and disgust. He calls Henry out as a fraud in front of the group and after Henry leaves, he turns his wrath on the group. He accuses them of being blind to Henry’s lies because they are “all wrapped up in [their] sad little stories, feeding off each other’s misery.” Then we hear him repeat the part of the conversation we heard in the opener (“You wanted me to talk. I talked”), which places that sequence in context. While it is absolutely fair of Mike to go off on Henry for being a fraud in front of people, like Stacey and Anita, who use the group as a way to process their pain, it is especially harsh and unnecessary for Mike to attack the group after Henry leaves. He basically calls everyone there self-absorbed and self-indulgent, content to wallow in their own misery. Mike isn’t one to talk, and when he does (as we see here) he uses his words as a weapon. His feelings of grief are locked up tight, like Jimmy’s, and while we did see him crack once in “Five-O” (S1E6), he’s showing us here that that was a one time thing, not to be repeated. Mike is no longer in a position where he can allow himself to be vulnerable in any way, and he’d rather pick apart the details of someone’s sob story in group then try to empathize with the emotion driving that story. Again and again, we see Mike is never off the clock, always the detective with the suspicious nature, and he always has to have some case to solve. Like Jimmy, he needs to be doing something to distract himself from his grief and guilt.

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With no place else to go, Nacho breaks into his father’s house. When Manuel comes home, he knows that Nacho is there and demands he leave until he turns on the lights and sees him bloodied and gravely injured. His demeanor immediately softens and he wants to get Nacho to a hospital but Nacho tells him it isn’t safe for him. It’s really painful to watch this father-son relationship and how damaged it is, especially because Manuel Varga is a genuinely good person. It’s why Nacho wanted to keep him as far away from his business as possible, and it’s ultimately how he got himself into his current situation. He would never have moved against Hector (or gotten Gus’s attention) had Hector not dragged Manuel into things, but what’s done is done. It’s obvious how much it pains Manuel to push Nacho away but his moral code won’t allow him to enable his son’s poor decisions. But seeing him so completely broken, Manuel allows him to stay, because how could he not? Nacho wants to keep his father out of danger but he has no choice but to go to him because he has no one else, which may put his father back in the line of fire.

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Jimmy takes a break from bouncing a ball against the wall to go meet up with Ira at his day job for a beverage delivery service. Ira gives him his share of the Bavarian Boy sale, which is much larger than expected due to a bidding war. Jimmy respects the fact that Ira didn’t just pocket all the extra cash and they seem to have a good thing going. Ira asks if he’s got a line on any more Hummels and Jimmy (thankfully) says no. For a moment I thought he might decide to go after some of Mrs. Strauss’s collectibles, which would have been right up there with his sabotaging of Mrs. Landry last season on the list of Jimmy McGill’s most unforgivable sins. Still, Jimmy wants to work with Ira again and and Ira says once he’s got something to contact him through the vet. “New job, new phone,” he says, “You never know who’s listening.”

There might as well be a CGI lightbulb going off over Jimmy’s head at this point because if there’s something he’s got in spades at the moment, it’s cell phones. (It’s no coincidence that the opening theme song of this week’s episode played over the shots of the Saul Goodman cellphone collection.) He returns to CC Mobile and busies himself painting the storefront window in bright yellow and red letters that read: “Is the man listening? Privacy sold here.” Jimmy may have found a solution to his location’s low foot-traffic problem. Again, we see him taking some initiative to bring in business without corporate approval, and I doubt his new boss Robbie will be too thrilled, but it is a valid strategy. It may as well say, “Are you a criminal who dumps a lot of cell phones? Shop here!” At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who the customer is; their money still spends—the same concept that Saul Goodman will build his business on.

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Mike is throwing himself back into his security consulting work at Madrigal, this time inspecting a truck and noting the many things wrong inside. He gets a call from Stacey, which he ignores. I can’t imagine she’s too pleased with what happened at group but I also can’t imagine Mike has much more to say on the matter. Mike gets a call from one of Gus’s people telling him that Gus wants a meet that night. At the meet, Gus calls him out for having known about Nacho and not telling him but Mike isn’t interested in being reprimanded by him. He could have brought this up with Mike before now as it seems he has known for a while, but Gus is trying to use it as leverage to get Mike to do something. Mike is no-nonsense, though, and he isn’t intimidated by Gus or his guys. He tells him to just tell him what the job is, but the episode ends before we get that answer.

“Talk” wasn’t exactly a “Mike episode” but it did give us quality Mike content with its balance of no-nonsense Mike and a more vulnerable and emotional Mike. Every now and then, we need that reminder that Mike Ehrmantraut has feelings, and we definitely got that this week. This season is also giving us a lot of Nacho, who was woefully underutilized in previous seasons. Michael Mando has been consistently excellent throughout the series and, while I don’t want to say it’s great to see Nacho in emotional and physical agony, we’re really getting to see what Mando is capable of this season. Kim is also getting the screen time she deserves and using every second of it flawlessly. The least present main character so far has been Jimmy but it makes sense given that he’s barely present in his own life at the moment. I’m looking forward with an equal measure of anticipation and dread, to what is to come for all these characters, but I’m most invested and interested in Jimmy and Kim’s relationship. It’s become obvious that they are no longer on the same page, maybe not even in the same book, and I both want to know and really don’t want to see what happens between them as Jimmy moves ever-closer to Saul Goodman.


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