As it’s surely been stated, unlike Walter White — the antihero who transitioned from complete law-abiding meekness to egomaniacal cruelty in Breaking Bad — Better Call Saul‘s Jimmy McGill has always been enchanted by seedy, lawless underbellies, both of society and of self. His eventual transformation into Saul Goodman will see him get seedier, but there’s nothing as drastic, it would seem, in this shift as in Walter White’s metamorphosis into Heisenberg. As such, Jimmy also has far less to lose: he’s never abided by societal standards in the way Walter White did, and so he’s not quite as entrenched, really, in anyone’s life — at this point, not even his brother’s. While Walter White was risking his whole family’s lives to fulfill an extreme masculinized power ideal, Jimmy’s always had far less to risk to become more of a serial accomplice and enabler than a direct menace. With stakes lowered in all directions, the show could thrive on being a character study unfettered from the plot exigencies of Breaking Bad-ish thrillers — but it could also seem just too aimless. However, season 2’s second episode — “Cobbler” — begins to mine what’ll ultimately be at stake: Jimmy’s most authentic human connection — Kim.
The beginning of the episode reminds us of just how few people matter in Jimmy’s life by beginning on his brother, Chuck, who’s a little less tinfoil-ed than last season, and who’s playing piano in his home with his curtains open when Hamlin shows up to announce to him that Jimmy has taken a position at Davis & Main in Santa Fe. (We’ll soon see that he’s also been given a company Mercedes). Chuck of course says that’s great, but we know that Chuck’s relationship with Jimmy has been defined by his attempts to stunt him so that Jimmy’d never steal his brotherly/lawyerly thunder.
Jimmy’s relative isolation means that he almost exists in a bubble where he could do “right” or “wrong” or something in between and it’d all mean the same thing. (In the world of corporate law, it often means the same thing, anyway). However, now he has this new job the pressure to abide by strictly lawful forms of unscrupulousness is on. And this new job is more meaningful than any old new job — it’s also something of an equalizer between Jimmy and Kim. At a meeting, we see them rubbing feet under the table. Their relationship is looking like it’ll thrive in proportion to Jimmy’s rising respectability. (Though she still jokingly rubs it in that she’s the veteran: she gives him a cup that says “World’s Second Best Lawyer.”) They still hide and gossip in the same parking lot, but now they’re pretty legitimately “seeing” one another – with Kim even referring to them as “we” when Jimmy discusses plans for his new corporate Santa Fe home. Everything’s looking up for Jimmy — albeit in the societally acceptable manner that often turns him off; he’s even leaving the nail salon, whose back room he used to occupy with his “law office.”
Meanwhile, a separate plot line is building that’ll lead Mike to call Jimmy (perhaps an indication that we’ll soon be able to start saying “call Saul”) and ask, “Are you still morally flexible?” The lead up to this clearly important phone call began last week, when new drug dealer/old geek Daniel’s drugs — and more importantly, his baseball cards — were stolen by Nacho. The newly-Hummer-driving dealer (who’s like an inept, bizarro Walter White) stupidly went to the police so that they could track down his baseball cards, without worrying abut the fact that surely said cards would come with incriminating evidence about his — and Mike’s — recent dealings. And so Mike now becomes entwined in the aftermath of his stupidity, and as Daniel’s hummer rumbles up to Mike’s parking lot booth, one gets the feeling that these petty disputes will completely ripple — incidentally, like the surface of Mike’s coffee, captured with seemingly deliberate symbolism, as the Hummer approaches.
Mike visits Nacho’s father’s business, pretending to need to get his car reupholstered, while sneaking asides with Nacho to convince him to return Daniel’s card collection. He admonishes him about the police suddenly being involved, and how that certainly wouldn’t please his drug lord boss, Tuco Salamanca. He promises that if he returns the cards, he’ll make a profit of $60,000 — because, it turns out, he’s promising Nacho Daniel’s Hummer. With that all settled, the only problem left is closing up the police investigation, and informing them that the cards have been found without arousing further suspicion. And this is where that irresistible question is posed to Jimmy, and from that irresistible question comes Better Call Saul‘s second funniest scene (the first still being the one with the talking toilet that gives positive reinforcement pooping infant), in that it allows Bob Odenkirk to display his knack for deadpan delivery of the ridiculous.
In order to quell police’s suspicions about a hiding place in a baseboard in Daniel’s home, Jimmy at first very delicately insinuates that it was the place he used to store a certain kind of “digital media.” Given his tone, the police deduce he’s talking about porn. Jimmy makes a slight correction: “They were videos intended to titillate the senses. Technically, fetish videos.” Improvising, he then references something called a “Hoboken Squat Cobbler.” When this doesn’t resonate with the police, he gives another name, which his tone implies is well-known: “Dutch Apple Ass. Am I not speaking clearly here? It’s when a man sits in pie and he…wiggles around. Maybe it’s like Hellmann’s mayonnaise and has a different name west of the Rockies. Technically he does Cry Baby Squats — there’s tears, which makes it more special… The world is a rich tapestry, my friends, and trust me, you don’t want to see it.”
The beauty of this lie is that it exonerates Daniel while also punishing him for his stupidity: in order to substantiate this wild story, Daniel has to make one such video. Later, Jimmy and Kim are cozying up together in private, and Jimmy recounts the story to her. As she was in the season premiere when the two conned a businessman into buying them exorbitantly expensive tequila, she’s initially exhilarated by his fabrications. But when he explains the video tape — thus admitting to falsifying evidence — we see when she hits her threshold with lawlessness.
Kim suddenly becomes stern, and the joke is over. When Jimmy tries to toss it aside, claiming that the police “are never gonna find out,” she says Jimmy sounds like “every dumb criminal out there,” and tells him never to talk to her about anything like this again. And so, in a show known for its unpredictability and narrative freedom, “Cobbler” has, through the tale of a sexualized dessert, shown a very clear potential narrative through-line for the season. If Season One was about the tensions between Saul helping his brother/fitting into his brother’s extremely narrow idea of his potential and his more rebellious side, this season seems like it’ll play out more as a tension between Jimmy’s desire to make a connection and his mischievous desire to undermine anything that seems like a given. For Kim, the struggle will likely come from her own curiosity about rule-breaking and her more stable, built-up life. How many elaborate lies about pie fetishes will it take to turn her away?