Two seasons in, I’m going to say it: Better Call Saul is how you make a spinoff. Sure, it reuses some characters from Breaking Bad, but it does such a brilliant job making us care about characters that aren’t in Breaking Bad that it doesn’t matter. Maybe even more important, Better Call Saul doesn’t reuse Saul Goodman or Mike Ehrmantraut. Those two characters are clearly different than they were in Breaking Bad, more innocent, more willing to attempt to do good, and it makes the show more unique, more interesting to watch. It might be a spinoff, but it’s so easy to forget that it’s a spinoff, considering how fascinating the characters are and how easy it is to get lost in the story and its strong thematic framework.
“Nailed” might be my favorite episode of Better Call Saul yet, and while I said that about many of this season’s episode, unless the season finale can top this one (which is entirely possible), this is certainly the high point of the series. Both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have been about the way that social systems constrict the freedom of individuals, but also keep individuals safe within it. Once somebody begins to operate outside of the system, those around that person have targets on their foreheads, vulnerable to collateral damage. Well, “Nailed” finally shows those dominos falling, that collateral damage exploding as actions produce unintended consequences.
Mike’s story reaches what it probably its most intense moment in this episode, when he steals hundreds of thousands away from the cartels, only to have his victory stolen away from him when he realizes that a Good Samaritan was murdered when he came across the tied-up driver. He wanted to stir up police interest in the cartel, giving them a cartel member to push in order to gather intel, but his plan fell apart when he realized that the cartel got away unscathed. It’s a fantastic moment in Mike’s storyline in that he realizes what happens when he operates outside of the system. He can find success, sure, but those that live within the system (helping everybody around them, living within the law) will suffer the consequences of his actions. He finds that freedom comes at a cost, only that cost isn’t always paid by the one gaining freedom.
Even better than Mike’s story, and maybe the pinnacle of the show so far, is the mess that Jimmy causes. He makes a fool of Chuck in court when a simple clerical error (changing the address) derails the Mesa Verde case, causing it to fall back into Kim’s hands. Of course, Chuck knows exactly what happened, as he knows his brother and knows how there’s no way that he would let a clerical error like that fly by him. And Kim, for the most part, knows it as well. But she has gone too far with Jimmy already, starting up this business with him, romantically involving herself with him. He is too embedded in her life for her to back out, so she doubles down and denies Chuck on the basis that he has no evidence to prove it, later implying to Jimmy that he has better make sure there is no evidence to gather. It’s the point of no return for her, basically becoming an accomplice to forgery. It’s also the point of no return for their relationship. Kim has to live with being Jimmy’s accomplice, adding tension so thick that there’s really no coming back from it. All of this drives Chuck to such extreme lengths, pushing himself so hard that his disease really begins to take its toll.
It’s the final moment of this episode that the season was building to, the moment where Chuck pushes himself too hard and passes out, hitting his head on a table as he goes down. Jimmy always tries to view his actions through a lens that makes them harmless and fun. It’s fun to essentially con a school principal into letting you film a goofy commercial for your business. But the show takes a critical look at Jimmy’s idea of “fun”, juxtaposing it with the real work that others have to do in his absence. Kim has to interview paralegals, running around to make sure that everything is taken care of, noting this in a way that makes Jimmy’s “check out my commercial” comment seem absurd. Sure, he’s fun, but that fun also tries to push away real consequence. Well, there’s no pushing away Jimmy doing serious damage to his brother, something that we’ve seen throughout the entire episode (Chuck’s reaction to having his professional image tarnished may be extreme, but absolutely makes sense). Jimmy may have been able to shrug it off before, but now Chuck is hurt, and there’s no going back.
Better Call Saul did a brilliant job playing the long game, setting up Jimmy, Kim, and Chuck for this final moment, the one where Jimmy sees the unintended consequences of his actions. Because we don’t realize the full ramifications of the things that we do, whether it be dismissing rather than validating a friend or leaving a piece of litter on the ground. Every decision is a turning point, moving down one pathway instead of another, and in the end, even if we don’t bear full responsibility for our actions, we do bear some responsibility. And it’s realizing that responsibility that allows us to do better.
What did you think of “Nailed”? Do you think Chuck is going to make it through the finale? Let me know in the comments!