‘Better Call Saul’ 2×09 Recap: Collateral Damages

Mike and Jimmy’s parallel plans for revenge have unintended consequences

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill. Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/AMC

The parable of the Good Samaritan is in effect our culture’s first tale of AAA roadside assistance. After several more respectable types pass by a man who’s been mugged and left to die by the side of the road, a Samaritan, seen as an outcast demographic by Christ’s audience, stops to rescue him. Tonight’s episode of Better Call Saul is a rare case in which a Good Samaritan is true to his namesake. Nacho, Mike’s man in the cartel, uses the moniker to describe the nameless do-gooder who pulled over and came to the aid of the trucker and drug courier Mike Ehrmantraut hijacked and hogtied on a remote stretch of highway. For his good deed, he gets killed and buried out there, so that the cops Mike was counting on investigating the Salamanca outfit won’t be alerted to the hijacking. Do right and suffer for it? Hmmm. Put aside the homemade spike strip Mike pulls across the road like a snake-charmer to stop the truck—there may be another, more biblical reason this episode is called “Nailed.”

The knowledge that his revenge scheme got an innocent bystander killed weighs heavy on Mike’s big bald head, even just in the few seconds we stay with him after he gets the news. Before that he was as close to happy as we’d ever seen him outside the context of his granddaughter and daughter-in-law. Rolling in $250K worth of dough from the truck, he breaks his usual rule of laying low at all times and buys a round of drinks for everyone in a very crowded bar, even turning and raising his hands in triumphant acknowledgement as they cheer. The next morning, he—hand to God—flirts with the waitress at his regular breakfast stop, or at the very least realizes she’s flirting with him and enjoys it enough to smile about it. The smiling stops when he catches up with Nacho, though not because he’s unhappy—far from it. He’s adamant that the driver wasn’t in on it, proud to have pulled it all off himself, a bit gleeful about rubbing the cartel’s face in their own stupidity, absolutely certain the driver learned nothing about him during the hijacking, and more than willing to own up to his grudge against Hector Salamanca. “He forgot all about you!” Nacho fumes. “I haven’t forgotten him,” Mike replies so sardonically it’s laugh-out-loud funny. At least until he discovers the end result of his actions. Nacho was able to ID him because he’s “the guy who won’t pull the trigger.” Sometimes all you need to do is light the fuse.

A firecracker of a scene on the other side of the story helps set up a parallel victim of one of our dueling protagonists’ bad acts. After a humiliating meeting with the banking board in which the documents that Jimmy doctored last week cost his firm a client, Chuck—seated on a lone chair with his tinfoil cloaked wrapped around him, like the Mad King of Westeros summoning the soon-to-be-executed—confronts Jimmy about the deception; he’d planned simply to tell Kim, but his brother’s presence allows him to kill two birds with one stone. “We don’t have to listen to this,” Jimmy says in a half-hearted simulacrum of outrage. “She does!” Chuck replies, turning to Kim. “You do. For your own good.” He’s right, of course, no matter how crazy it makes him sound, no matter Jimmy’s denials or Kim’s disbelief. Asked for evidence, he responds with what ought to be a slam dunk: “My evidence is knowing my brother for his entire life.”

But Kim isn’t having it. She lambastes Chuck for repeatedly hurting Jimmy, who only ever wanted his approval and admiration. “You never believed in him, you never wanted him to succeed. And you know what? I feel sorry for him. And I feel sorry for you.” It’s a powerful indictment of the elder McGill, who indeed has done at least as much to undermine Jimmy’s career as the other way around. But more than that, it’s a truth to which Kim can cling amid what is clearly a lie: that she believes Jimmy didn’t do it. Once they return to his car, she punches him repeatedly in the arm, growling and grunting. The big speech was for Chuck’s benefit. She knows who’s really to blame.

If Jimmy doesn’t get that message right away, he picks up on it soon enough. “You wanna talk about this?” he asks as they settle in for bed that night. “Not now, not ever,” she responds. Sensing a need to defend himself without actually, you know, defending himself, he adds “I’m just gonna say, you are meant for Mesa Verde, and they are meant for you, so all is right with the world.” Not quite. In the guise of praising Jimmy’s down but not out older brother, she calls him “the kind of adversary who’d find even the smallest crack in your defense. Going against him,” she continues, her tone growing more pointed even as she avoids eye contact, “you’d really want to make sure you got all your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed.” The coup de grace: “Nothing for him to find.” In seconds Jimmy’s out of bed and reaching for his car keys. There’s a chilling Walt-and-Skyler vibe to this exchange: The wrongdoing Kim’s been asked to sign off on for the man she loves isn’t nearly as awful as Heisenberg’s, but this is still the sound of a woman resigning herself to complicity in a criminal act she had no part in yet cannot escape. Put it together with the scene in and outside of Chuck’s house and it’s impressive, rigorously controlled work from actor Rhea Seehorn.

It also leads us to the episode’s grim climax. Anticipating his brother’s next move, Jimmy returns to the all-night copy shop where he performed the forgery, only to discover the presence of his and Chuck’s well-meaning young go-between with HHM, Ernie. Waiting until the kid leaves, he bounds in and bullshits his way into a successful bribe of the shop’s graveyard-shift employee. Sure enough, when Chuck shows up with Ernie in tow to get the guy’s story for himself, he stonewalls the lawyer, who’s growing more distressed by the hum of the florescent lights and whirring of the copy machines by the second. With tense crosscutting between Chuck’s attempt to get the truth from the employee, Ernesto’s pleas for McGill to leave the store and recuperate, the choppy and deranged internal perspective of the ailing man himself, and his first gleeful, then concerned brother Jimmy, spying from across the street, the scene builds to a sickening climax: Chuck passes out, cracking his skull on a table on his way down. We witness the aftermath from Jimmy’s vantage point: Chuck lying on his side, face frozen, Ernie and the copy-shop guy doing frighteningly little to get medical aid. All Jimmy does is whisper encouragements to call 911 they can’t hear. Like Mike, he’s discovered that some choices can’t be rescued in retrospect. There’s no Good Samaritan in sight.

‘Better Call Saul’ 2×09 Recap: Collateral Damages