30th Mar2016

‘Better Call Saul 2×07: Inflatable’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“It’s exactly what I would have done.”

So that’s where his suits come from. Jimmy’s odious wardrobe, part of a calculated campaign of self-sabotage meant to force Cliff Main into firing him without cause so that he can keep his fat corporate signing bonus, are a master class in how to connect the dots between a prequel and its originating work. The suits, as seen in Breaking Bad, scanned perfectly well as just another part of Saul’s half-cultivated, half-inherent gaudiness, but seeing their origin in both a bout of petty rebellion and a sudden burst of honesty in packaging puts a whole new layer to it. That they were weighted equally between “cheap trick” and “genuine expression of self” is a smart, affecting piece of storytelling.

Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band’s ‘Scorpio’ scores the montage in which the suits are introduced, a wonderful visual treat where bite-sized split screens spool down like slides in a projector and more traditional 70s-style splits confuse and inflate the action of Jimmy’s intentionally disastrous week. Bagpipes, a sustained blitzkrieg of unflushed poops, and the world’s loudest juicer finally drive Ed Begley, Jr.’s Cliff Main to pitch Jimmy into his briar patch of choice. And it’s fun to watch it unfold, too, after Jimmy’s naked “guuuuulp” moment when he realizes quitting would leave him penniless, but the buzzkill at the end is a hell of a thing. Cliff, worn out by Jimmy’s antics, fires his ass, but Jimmy doesn’t just get to waltz out, check in hand. Cliff wants to know why he inflicted himself on Davis & Main, why he felt the need to jam himself into such an obviously poor fit. Jimmy doesn’t really have an answer. It bothers him, momentarily, before he offers a shrug and a platitude about square pegs and round holes and then slinks out. It feels like a death.

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‘Inflatable’ is a slow burn, though visually and thematically it moves us closer to Saul Goodman than any of its predecessors. The season itself has kept the lights low and the camera slow, a move which has distanced the show from the gut-churning tension of its Breaking Bad roots while establishing a look and feel all its own and attracting considerable critical acclaim. Better Call Saul lives in small moments much in the way its predecessor did, but in keeping the stakes studiously low it permits itself a chance to focus on things like the inflatable mascot swaying in the wind, and on Kim’s post-interview cigarette atop a parking garage. The way the camera slips over the ledge to paint her against the street below, an infinite channel leading out of her dead-end Midwestern life and into an uncertain future, is something rare and special.

Jimmy’s pitch to Kim that they go a-lawyering together feels destined to fail, but that feels so much more survivable than Kim’s crushing plan to go into parallel, unconnected business with her paramour. Jimmy, newly committed to being himself, opens up and admits that he’s going to be a “colorful” lawyer, in his own words. Kim, unable to stomach this, first turns him down, then comes back from her interview with one of his promo business cards torn unsubtly in half and proposes moving into the same building but remaining professionally unconnected. It’s a merciless one-two punch of a scene, the two of them crammed into Jimmy’s pitiful office in the nail salon, Kim smiling without apparent awareness of how painful what she’s suggesting must seem. It ends with Jimmy looking down at their initials on the torn halves of the business card, his gesture of committment brutally repurposed in a way that shows Kim loves only the parts of him she finds acceptable.

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It’s hard to blame her, just as it’s hard to blame Jimmy for being what he is after watching two-bit crooks and con men push his charitable father around for years. The beauty of Better Call Saul is its simultaneous simplicity and complexity, its willingness to answer hard moral questions like “is being a little shady for yours or a client’s good okay?” with a definitive “no” while presenting a world that breaks along different lines. They might have different commercials and billboards, but the good and the bad are all under one roof.

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