Warning: Spoilers ahead for the “Fall” episode of Better Call Saul.
In “Fall,” the penultimate episode of Better Call Saul’s practically perfect third season, Jimmy McGill finally went and did it: something so egregiously selfish and mean and unjustifiable that we aren’t going to be able to look at him the same way again.
Something so selfish and mean and unjustifiable that we no longer trust he and Kim Wexler are meant to be.
And it’s all because of another woman, a woman named Irene.
In “Fall,” Jimmy, law license suspended, desperate to earn cash to pay his half of his partnership expenses to Kim, decides to check in on the Sandpiper Crossing class action suit. He’s expecting a tidy sum as a partner in the suit, and he knows it could take years for a payout, but… he’s Jimmy, and that means if he really wants it now, there’s no ruse too elaborate — or, sadly, too destructive — for him to get it.
In this case, that means a plate of store-bought cat-shaped cookies and a pop-in visit to Irene Landry, the sweet senior who hired Jimmy to write her will in Season 1’s “Rico.” Irene was nearly $100 short on Jimmy’s $140 fee at the time, which brought up the subject of the allowance she was given by retirement home Sandpiper, and that led to Jimmy’s investigation of the gross system of overbilling — theft — the company was perpetrating against its residents.
Jimmy knows Irene is the class representative — i.e. the one who makes the decision about when to accept a settlement offer — for the Sandpiper suit, so he casually brings up the case while she happily enjoys his visit and tucks into the kitty cookies. She tells him she doesn’t have details; Erin Brill at David & Main — a Jimmy nemesis during his brief stint at the firm — is handling the case now. Irene leaves all the rigmarole to Erin and keeps the paperwork she receives in a box, which she shows to Jimmy.
“Of course, it’s you,” Irene says when he asks if she’s sure it’s OK for him to go peeking into her legal documents.
She means, “Of course it’s OK because you’re the one who filed this class action suit on behalf of me and my friends, and you’re the one who drove all the way here to see me and bring me home-baked sweets [or so he told her] that look like my cat, Felix. Of course it’s OK because you care about me, and I trust you completely.”
But if grocery store treats passed off as homemade and a short road trip to Sandpiper seem harmless enough when Jimmy’s on the hunt for little more than information, things take an ugly turn when he reads one of the letters and learns Sandpiper has made a $17.4 million settlement offer. A quick estimation by Mr. McGill means he’s in line for a $1.16 million share of that sum himself, and that’s where it all goes wrong.
Irene’s in no rush to settle because Erin told her it’s best to hold out for more. Irene genuinely doesn’t think about the money, because she doesn’t seem to care a lot about it, doesn’t think her friends care a lot about it, and is quite content with her DIY Sandpiper family, with her group chair yoga classes, group mall walking sessions, and bingo nights in the cafeteria with the likes of Rose, Myrtle, and Helen.
But Jimmy can’t, won’t, wait, so he uses orthopedic sneakers, manipulative gossip, and a rigged bingo game to make the other ladies think Irene is making poor decisions about the class-action suit. She’s only thinking of her own feelings, her own need or lack thereof, for the cash, Jimmy plants in their minds, and soon Rose, Myrtle, and Helen are striding the mall sans Irene and blocking seats when she tries to sit with them at bingo.
Her heart, her world — her small, but happy world—- is shattered, and as she sits in the lobby sobbing, begging Jimmy for advice on how to repair her relationships with her friends, he tells her they might be cutting her out because of the settlement, because she hasn’t accepted the offer. She had no idea that’s why they’re upset (and neither did they, before Jimmy’s conniving). But Jimmy is soon in the mood to celebrate with a bottle of the very expensive Zafiro Anejo, so we assume Irene has given a thumbs up to the $17.4 million.
This completely innocent woman was brought into Jimmy’s orbit in one of his money-making schemes, but one that, at least initially, was going to be nothing but beneficial to her, and her friends, too.
But when all other immediate options had failed, Jimmy turned to Irene, and her friends, and put what is most valuable in the trusting Irene’s life — the people around her — in jeopardy.
Chuck, we understand. We may not agree with every decision Jimmy has made — his “innocent” chat about Chuck with the malpractice insurer was harsh, and the smug look of satisfaction on his face as he left her office was chilling — but we’ve had three seasons of McGill family history lessons on the justifications of each brother for why he’s done what he has to the other. The Saul writers are masterful with many things, and one of the biggest continues to be their ability to make us see at least two sides to every story, and to shift our sympathies back and forth amongst the evolving characters, without making the audience feel manipulated. But now, those sympathies are dissipating, as we are left with this:
Jimmy is a capable, charming man with skills that will enable him to make a legal (or not so much) living for the rest of his life. He has a girlfriend who loves him, who takes the risk of being with him— personally and professionally — in the face of evidence that that might not be the savviest decision. A good, possibly the best, portion of his life is still ahead of him if he would get out of his own way.
But Irene… she’s a lady on the back nine, who’s built a life where her friends are her treasures, they are what matters. Money — more than what she needs to live on — clearly doesn’t. And for his own needs, Jimmy is willing to cause her great trauma, to potentially and permanently damage all that is important to her. He made Irene cry.
If Jimmy can do that to that to an innocent like Irene, there’s no doubt it’s inevitable he’s going to make Kim cry like that. He’s going to do something, something he’ll certainly be able to justify to himself, that will jeopardize what she values highly in her life. (You know, more than he already has.)
It’s not that Jimmy isn’t worthy of Kim. There’s still a lot to love about the guy, including the fact that, again, it was serving and showing respect for this underrepresented market of seniors that brought him into the Sandpiper Crossing world.
But we now know he doesn’t have a floor. He’ll lie to a stranger who welcomes him into her home and gives him her trust. He’ll pilfer money from the cash register of the loving people who brought him into the world, and mock them for being too trusting of other people. He’ll kick a mentally ill man when he’s down by trying to strip him of his livelihood, the one thing he values above all else.
And somehow, to himself, Jimmy can always find a way to justify his actions.
The Better Call Saul Season 3 finale airs June 19 at 10 p.m. on AMC.
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