Better Call Saul: “Piñata” (S4E6)

This week’s “Piñata” (written by Gennifer Hutchison and directed by Andrew Stanton) opens by showing us the way things were—where it all started, at least in terms of Jimmy and Kim’s relationship as we know it—and then proceeds to tear it all down to the studs. Over the course of this dark, tense installment of Better Call Saul, Mike and Gus get closer as Jimmy and Kim move farther apart.

This week’s teaser is a flashback to 1993, when Kim was still working in the mailroom while at law school at UNM. Jimmy is working his way from cubicle to cubicle, collecting the ballots for that year’s Oscar pool and chatting up the employees. Kim takes a much more serious approach to the job, getting her work done twice as fast as Jimmy. She gives him some good-natured grief about wasting time but their conversation is interrupted by a round of applause for Chuck, who has just won a case that Howard had thought unwinnable.

Kim excitedly explains the details of Isaacson v. Vakarian Holdings, Inc. to Jimmy, who knows nothing about it and doesn’t particularly care. She is especially impressed with Chuck’s ability to use obscure case law and when Chuck comes over to them, she’s awestruck by him. Though they have probably seen each other a million times around the office and probably even met before, this is likely the first time that Chuck will actually remember Kim’s name. She asks him questions about the case, demonstrating her intelligence and depth of legal knowledge, and Chuck is as impressed by her as he is indifferent to Jimmy.

Jimmy is more concerned with how Kim reacts to Chuck than he is about any of the legal mumbo jumbo they are discussing. This is taking place pre-University of American Samoa and Jimmy knows nothing about the law. They may as well be speaking in a foreign language and it makes him uncomfortable. Jimmy is beginning to realize that Kim can relate to Chuck in a way that he cannot and, more importantly, that she respects him in a way that she could never respect him. So, he decides to do something about it. He enters the HHM law library and we witness the moment where Jimmy McGill decides to become a lawyer. I always thought Jimmy went into law to gain his brother’s respect, but here it would seem that Kim’s respect is the driving force. It’s all tied up in his Chuck issues, of course, but the opening of “Piñata” shows us that, even back in the mailroom days, Kim was the most influential person in Jimmy’s life; he decides to play it straight for her, not for Chuck.

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Back in the present day, we find Kim still struggling to find a balance between her Mesa Verde work and the PD work she finds more professionally fulfilling. She knows that she has to focus on Mesa Verde to make up for her recent mistake and keep the promise she made to Paige that it won’t ever happen again, but it’s hard for her to focus on the mundane task of getting a Mesa Verde cowboy statue approved when she’s got a stack of case files filled with PD clients who need help.

She retires for the night and finds Jimmy asleep with a notepad on the bed. On one page, he has written “Kim Wexler, Banking Law” several times, and next to it “James McGill,” but each time with a different specialty. Jimmy’s possible options include insurance law, immigration law, bankruptcy law, gaming law, and intellectual property law. While Kim struggles to find the right path for herself, it’s clear to her and to the viewer that Jimmy is even more lost than she is. Even worse, when she turns the page she sees that he’s started drawing potential signage for the joint practice he’s dreaming of. The style of the signs is pretty flashy—very Saul Goodman and not at all Kim Wexler—and her face tells us all we need to know about how distasteful she finds them.

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In the morning, Kim asks Jimmy if he scheduled his therapist appointment and he finally admits to her that he has no intention of going. She’s disappointed but she doesn’t pressure him, just asks him why he’s made that choice. Jimmy tells her, “I need to be moving forward”; he doesn’t feel that rehashing the past in therapy is going to make him any better and the whole concept of therapy just isn’t for him. She accepts his decision, telling him, “you have to do what’s best for you,” which is a piece of advice she is about to take herself.

Kim meets with Rich Schweikart of Schweikart & Cokely. She almost accepted a partner-track position at S&C in “Inflatable” (S2E7) but ultimately decided to join up with Jimmy as “solo practitioners, together.” After her accident, finally realizing she couldn’t handle Gatwood Oil, she referred Billy Gatwood to S&C. Rich thanks her for sending Gatwood their way but Kim isn’t there to talk about old business. After Rich gives Kim his condolences, and reminds her that everyone grieves in their own way, she gets down to business: she suggests that S&C needs a banking division, and she’s just the person to run it.

While Kim is making moves, Jimmy is still sketching away (including a doodle of a WM bus bench) and calling around to see who in town will make him the biggest sign for his as-yet-nonexistent firm with Kim. He’s getting way ahead of himself here but I think that it’s cathartic for him to plan for the future, to make plans to move forward, even if those plans are really just a bigger, flashier version of what he had in the past. Jimmy’s dream signage plans are interrupted by a phone call from a relative of Mrs. Strauss—Jimmy’s first client and the star of his Davis and Main commercial—who has recently passed away. This news really shakes Jimmy, who still remembers the minute details of her will—including that Clarence must have finished college if he got that Alpine Shepherd Boy Hummel. Even worse is the fact that Jimmy can’t even help execute the trickier parts of the will because he’s not allowed to practice. He ends up referring him to Francis Sheff at HHM. Later at home, he watches the commercial with Mrs. Strauss, and we see more genuine grief in Jimmy here than we have seen in him with regard to Chuck’s death. I think that Mrs. Strauss’s death brings Jimmy to the realization that he really can’t go back to the way things were. That Jimmy McGill is just as dead as poor Mrs. Strauss.

Kim calls and tells Jimmy to meet her at Forque, which has been the site of many of Kim’s momentous career choices—“forques” in the road, if you will. It is here that she first had lunch with Rich Schweikart when he was trying to bring her over from HHM in “Bali Ha’i” (S2E6). Later in that episode, instead of calling S&C for an interview, she decides to have herself a Moscow mule and play a game of Viktor and Giselle with Jimmy. Forque is also the site of her lunch meeting with Kevin and Paige in “Slip” (S3E8), when she decided to take on Billy Gatwood as a favor to Kevin, which directly led to her car accident. It is fitting that she chose Forque (and more Moscow mules) to celebrate her partnering with S&C.

Jimmy is blindsided by Kim’s news, and not just because he didn’t know she was considering a change. He isn’t the only one that’s been keeping secrets. This is the first time that Kim has mentioned the fact that the Mesa Verde work is getting too big for her and also the first time she tells him that she’s been doing PD work. He can’t understand why she’s doing it but she tells him, “I like it. I’m good at it. And I’m helping people.” I think it’s interesting to note that when Kim tells Jimmy about the partner position at S&C, she frames it as if it was Schweikart’s idea, not her own. Perhaps she thinks it will be easier for Jimmy to stomach the news that Wexler McGill is not going to happen if he doesn’t know that it was all her doing.

Jimmy’s response is to tell her that he himself has been thinking about going into criminal law, which she knows is a lie since she saw his notepad with various other specialties. She knows he’s only saying this because she’s expressing interest in criminal law—yet another example, much like his foray into elder law, where Kim’s desires and goals become his own. When it comes to the law, Jimmy has no idea how to be his own man. He follows the paths of others and does what he thinks he should be doing, not what he wants to be doing. Of course, he’ll come to find that being a “criminal lawyer” is exactly what he wants to do, but at this point he’s only pretending that this is a thought-out plan. He’s still clinging desperately to the dream of Wexler McGill but Kim and Jimmy have reached an impasse. Kim has decided that it’s time to do what’s best for her, and what’s best for Kim is to move forward without Jimmy, at least professionally speaking. It remains to be seen how long it will take for her to move forward without him on a personal level, but it’s becoming painfully clear that that day is coming.

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Once Jimmy accepts that Kim’s decision is final, he has to excuse himself because the whole situation has made him feel physically ill. He goes to the kitchen to compose himself and returns to the table all smiles and supportive of Kim taking the job at S&C. I think they both know that he’s faking much of his enthusiasm and positivity but I don’t think Kim has any idea just how gutted he is. But at the end of the day, Jimmy loves Kim and I want to believe that he would never actively stand in the way of her pursuing her dreams, even if it means giving up on his. However, as we move toward Saul, I have a nagging fear that he may end up sabotaging her in some desperate attempt to save their relationship. For whatever reason, Jimmy has always believed that working together is crucial to their relationship. As we saw in the teaser, he went into law to earn Kim’s respect and get on her level; in order to maintain that respect—especially given some of his heinous behavior—maybe he feels like he needs to work side-by-side with her so that she sees his worth with her own eyes. Or maybe he knows that, without Kim as his anchor, he will become the worst version of himself.

Jimmy pays a personal visit to Howard at HHM to pick up his whopping $5K check from Chuck’s estate. Howard is an absolute wreck, which is the new normal for him, and he admits to Jimmy that the firm is struggling. Jimmy can see that there have been staff cuts and asks Howard what the plan is to get HHM back on track. But there is no plan; Howard is at a loss as to how to move forward with the firm’s financial problems and destroyed reputation. At one time, Jimmy would have loved to see HHM go belly up, but he chooses to make Howard angry in the hope that he can draw some strength from that anger instead of wallowing in his own misery as everything he’s worked for fall apart around him. Jimmy knows that he’s responsible for everything—including Howard’s current mental state—and I think he can’t bear the idea that HHM might be ruined because of him. He needs Howard to save HHM because if HHM comes out ok, then he can ignore the fact that he put it (and his brother’s legacy) in jeopardy. Jimmy’s standard “no harm, no foul” approach can’t really work if the firm goes under because of his actions.

His good deed done for the day, Jimmy returns to the nail salon and takes a huge delivery of phones, much to Mrs. Nguyen’s displeasure. Surrounded by stacks of phones, Jimmy is on a call with Dr. Caldera, organizing a plan which will come to fruition later in the episode. When Mrs. Nguyen comes in to tell him he can’t sell the phones out of the store or even keep them there—ostensibly because it’s a fire hazard, but more likely because she knows whatever Jimmy is up to is probably not entirely above board. She comes around with the offer of a freebie, but warns him on her way out the door that get-rich-quick schemes never work.

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Jimmy goes back out on the street in a glorious red tracksuit and confronts the group of punks who mugged him. He’s determined to have Slippin’ Jimmy-level street cred back and, in order to get it, he’s willing to put the fear of God in the kids that attacked him. Jimmy approaches the crew with an offer: he’ll cut them in on the phone sales if they let him go about his business unbothered. Of course, Jimmy knows these punks have no intention of accepting the offer when they can just rob him blind every time, but it’s all part of the plan. Jimmy knows they’ll try and roll him again and he flees from them, leading them straight into the trap he’s set (with the help of Huell and Mountain Man).

The three guys are strung up upside down in a piñata warehouse, and between the lighting and the fact that much of it is filmed upside down, it’s one of the creepiest and most menacing scenes—at least involving the Jimmy side of things—in the entire series to date. It’s a scene that could have come straight out of Breaking Bad, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just another reminder that we are a long way from where we started in season 1. This is a darker, more dangerous Jimmy McGill. Even though he has no intention of actually physically harming the guys, he lets Huell and Mountain Man push it right up to the edge before letting them off the hook. They definitely got the message: don’t mess with the cell phone guy.

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On the Mike/Gus side of things, the plans for construction of the super lab are progressing. They have hired Werner and he will soon be arriving with his German crew. Gus has arranged for them to stay in two trailers, set up in a secure warehouse building. Mike wants to make sure Gus understands that simply having a place to sleep is not enough; they have to keep these guys happy in their off time. He suggests setting up recreational areas and a bar and many other creature comforts for the men, who will likely be living there for about ten months, completely isolated from the outside world. “We can’t just keep them alive,” Mike tells Gus. “We’ve gotta keep them from climbing the walls.” Mike also has a plan for monitoring the men and keeping the facility secure, which will require 24-hour surveillance and lots of equipment. Gus seems a bit taken aback by how much Mike thinks they will require but he is willing to trust that Mike is correct and give him whatever he needs. Tyrus interrupts them with news that Hector is suffering from a bad infection and Gus leaves him to get the details from Mike.

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Things are strained between Mike and Stacey after Mike’s outburst at the support group meeting. He goes to Stacey’s house to apologize—not for what he said, which he stands by, but the time and place in which he said it. Stacey is still unhappy with him for it but she seems to forgive him and suggests he call Anita, who is also upset by the situation. Mike says no; he’s willing to let that bridge burn, possibly because he found himself getting too close to Anita. At a time when he’s digging in deep with Gus’s operation, I can’t see him wanting to bring someone new into his life. As long as Stacey and Kaylee are happy, Mike is happy. He’s even happier when Stacey agrees to let him pick Kaylee up from school.

Gus sits by Hector’s bedside in the hospital and tells him a long story about his childhood. He grew up very poor and always hungry, but there was a half-dead lucuma tree in his yard that he tended to and brought back to life so that it would bear fruit they could eat and sell. One day, a coati got to the fruit and Gus set a trap for the animal. He was able to ensnare it but it got free and, with a broken leg, hid under Gus’s house. He waited patiently for the animal to show itself, and when it finally did, he trapped it and kept it alive even though the merciful thing would have been to kill it. This story has fairly obvious parallels to Gus and Hector, with Hector in the role of the opportunistic and greedy coati who has wronged Gus. Here, Gus is reminding us who he is: a man who, with careful planning and patience, is able to shape the world around him, but whose fatal flaw is his inability to let go of his need for revenge. It will ultimately be his downfall, but here he is proud of it; he needs to let Hector know that he will always be waiting for him, and that death is a mercy he won’t be afforded.

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Werner’s crew arrives at the warehouse living space, which has been set up according to Mike’s specifications. Mike and Tyrus arrive and Mike calls the crew over to go over some details but there’s one guy, Kai, who is already a problem child. He makes Mike wait for him to get beers and has a major attitude problem. When he asks Mike about bringing in some women, it’s the last strike for him in Mike’s mind. He knows he’s a disaster waiting to happen and even though Werner assures Mike that everything will be fine once work begins, Mike wants his guys to keep an extra close eye on Kai. Something tells me that things are going to get worse with Kai before they get better, and he may not be long for this world if he keeps giving Mike trouble.

“Piñata” made it very clear that season 4 of Better Call Saul is not messing around. Jimmy is starting to break very bad, Kim is starting to break away, Gus is breaking ground on the super lab, and Mike is about to break some German punk’s skull. “Piñata” shows us that we’ve definitely passed the point of no return for everyone involved. There is no going back to the way things were: Wexler McGill is dead and Saul Goodman is coming; so, too, is the super lab that will bring with it Walter White and the downfall of Gus, Mike, and Saul. Kim’s future is more uncertain (and I hope brighter), but it seems clear that it will be a future without Jimmy in it in any meaningful way. There is still the off chance that they can maintain a friendly relationship during the Breaking Bad timeline, but my long-shot dream of Kim as Saul’s secret wife is pretty much out the window. Kim knows she deserves better and she’s ready to move forward without Jimmy. It remains to be seen what the breaking point of their romantic relationship will be, but their professional one is as dead as disco.


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