One of the more enjoyable things about Better Call Saul (after only four episodes, anyway) is that one never knows what we’ll be focusing on each week. The producers are smart enough to devote at least one key scene to each of their ongoing plot threads, but so far the series seems intent on spotlighting one specific misadventure each week. By the time we hit episode 4 (“Hero”), the are several appealing possibilities: are we going to learn a little more about Nacho and his plainly illicit business dealings? Spend some more time with the obviously criminal yet adorably clueless embezzlers known as The Kettlemans? Or maybe a bit more character-based material involving Chuck, Kim, and/or Mike?
Nope. We get little sprinkles of all that stuff, all of it pretty great, but the bulk of “Hero” is dedicated to A) Jimmy’s ongoing feud with high-priced nemesis Howard Hamlin (the excellent Patrick Fabian), and B) Jimmy’s mastery of cleverness, chicanery, and the long con. The episode opens with a great sequence in which “the young Jimmy” works the streets as a back-alley con man; suffice to say we see how a lot of Jimmy’s old tricks turn into courtroom tactics later on. Right now, however, he’s been served with a cease and desist order for “stealing” all of Howard Hamlin’s advertising trademarks and tossing them up onto his own massive billboard.
“Hero” is basically about how Jimmy goes from a natural bullshit artist to a masterful one, and while it’s fun to watch our anti-hero bait, berate, and aggravate his much fancier nemesis, the real satisfaction comes in realizing that there’s more than one method to his madness. At first we think he’s simply trying to exact a little payback on the swanky law firm that caused so much trouble for Jimmy and his slightly demented big brother, but Jimmy has a bigger scheme brewing: it’s very dicey, it’s highly dangerous, and it’s basically a no-lose proposition: he’ll turn himself from a sad-sack underdog into a media hero by “rescuing” the very man who is assigned to tear his billboard down.
Perhaps even more importantly, “Hero” gives us Jimmy’s first truly criminal misstep. Until this point, Jimmy’s been a pretty noble guy who only sometimes dabbles in the grayer sides of morality, but in “Hero,” he straight up accepts a bribe — and even though, sure, he uses the money for something awesome, and while, yeah, the crook he took the cash from is pretty annoyingly stupid, it still felt a little bit bittersweet: Jimmy McGill is now a crook. Smarter, funnier, and obviously a lot more interesting than people like Nacho and the Kettlemans, but still a criminal.
The amusing irony here is that right after Jimmy dips his toe into straight-up criminality, that’s when things start looking up: new clients start calling, a little money starts rolling in, and even the frequently icy Kim starts to thaw out a little bit in Jimmy’s presence. (Their relationship is still one of the most interesting things about the series, and I’m in no hurry to see it all spelled out.) If episode 3 was an exploration of the theory that “no good deed goes unpunished,” then episode 4 sort of spins it the other way. It is now time for a few bad deeds and some big rewards.
It’s hard to say which will come back to bite Jimmy on the ass more quickly: that ill-gotten stack of cash, or the fake billboard rescue that’s now splashed across the newspapers, but my bet is we won’t be getting any immediate answers. For all we know, the next episode could be all about Mike and why such an obvious bad-ass spends his time working in a parking lot tollbooth. And that’d be just fine by me.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10/9c on AMC.