Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Season 4? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episode here.
“Get your shit together,” Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) snaps at Howard (Patrick Fabian) in Episode 6 of Better Call Saul Season 4, an admonition that could easily be directed at himself. As we pass the halfway mark in the Breaking Bad prequel’s fourth run, we see all of the main characters doing just that – primarily by assembling teams of other people to help them.
Jimmy wastes no time in marking his patch, after last episode’s setback. Before you can say “teach those pesky kids a lesson”, Jimmy’s hired none other than Huell to intimidate the young whippersnappers who mugged him and ensure they leave him alone. He comes up with a crude, but effective, plan: assemble some piñatas in a warehouse, grab some duct tape and get Huell and another guy in a ski mask to bash things up with a baseball bat.
And so Jimmy ensures that he’s got no competition on his turf when it comes to selling cheap burner telephones – and, if there were any doubt about his commitment to his latest money-making scheme, he invests his pay-off from Chuck’s estate in a bunch of the pre-paid handsets.
To hit that poignant throwaway home, we also catch an unexpected glimpse of Chuck this episode, as Mike McKean returns to play Jimmy’s older brother in his younger days – back when Jimmy was working in the HHM mailroom (and Chuck, presumably, was penning that patronising letter to him). While Chuck’s nailing a big case, Jimmy is busy doing an Oscars sweepstake around the office – for 1993, one HHM employee is pluckily backing Howards End for everything. (Line of the episode: “I just love Emma Thompson. She’s so pragmatic!”)
Kim (Rhea Seehorn), meanwhile, is an eager law student, and is visibly excited to chat to Chuck – and show off some of her case knowledge to him. Fast forward to the present and Kim cuts a far more world-weary figure: weighed down by Mesa Verde, the client she no longer wants, she’s busy making notes to herself (and Viola, via dictaphone) on case law that can support Mesa Verde’s expansion, right down to the display of their giant equine statue – a “work of art”, rather than a piece of commercial branding. The episode may take its name from the animal punching bags that Jimmy uses to scare off is hoodlums, but the eponymous Piñata could just as easily be Kim, who feels like she’s almost literally flogging a dead horse.
And so she hits upon her own group strategy: she approaches Schweikart and Cokely and proposes a union that lets them take Mesa Verde on as a profitable client. “How’s your banking division?” she asks. “We don’t have one,” comes the reply. “Would you like one?” she retorts. It’s a typically smart suggestion, securing her future by joining their firm as partner (and head of a new division) but also giving her the vast army of assistants she needs to get the Mesa Verde work done – and, crucially, freeing up enough time for her to pursue her new passion of pro bono work.
At the same time, Mike and Gus are busy sorting their own army of helpers, in the shape of good old Werner and his crew. Unleashed underground in Gus’ future super-lab, Mike makes it his personal mission to ensure they don’t go crazy in their long-term home – he orders in everything they could want, from reclining chairs and TV to a bar with German booze on tap and even a basketball court. Gus gamely stocks the whole thing, trusting Mike’s instincts. Sure enough, when one of the workers (Kai – remember that name) acts out and tries to take advantage of the facilities, Mike is prepared, with CCTV all over the place and some security guards in a trailer outside keeping an eye on them around the clock.
Gus meanwhile, pays a visit to the unconscious Hector, where he recites a monologue about how he trapped a coati that was eating the fruit from a plant he grew as a child – and, rather, than kill it once its leg was broken, he did the inhumane thing and let it slowly die in pain. It’s a largely indulgent moment that’s there mainly so Giancarlo Esposito can flaunt his speech-delivering skills, and you can’t help but feel that this season is going through a slight dip in momentum. Such lulls in Better Call Saul, though, always emerge as a chance for the cast to shine, and from Seehorn nailing the contrast between young and old Kim to Odenkirk’s subtle tightrope of grief and denial, this episode doesn’t disappoint; we see him take a phone call that informs him of the death of an old client (the woman with the Hummel figurines, no less), and he’s perhaps more cut up about that loss than he is his own brother’s passing.
You suspect that’s partly due to the figurine being inherited by her next of kin – he drew up the will, remember – but it’s also because her death marks another tie to his well-intentioned, honest days when he was going straight. Indeed, we see another connection to the dream of a morally upright life get severed this week too – only a short while after he was doodling Wexler/McGill logos, Kim’s decision to team with the firm who defended Sandpiper in Jimmy’s hotly contested lawsuit is a clear sign that their partnership is destined to split.
It’s here that the episode really lands its biggest blow – away from the Breaking Bad cameos and the monologues. We see Jimmy, increasingly aware that his hope of a happy, stable life with Kim is slipping away, berate Howard for his similarly crumbling law firm. After referring someone to HHM, he discovers that the company is “right-sizing” and removing lots of employees to keep the books balanced. “Get your shit together,” he tells Patrick Fabian’s increasingly hollow-eyed figure – by now, a long way from his starch-collared, tanned former self, and closer to a mirror image of what life might be like for Jimmy very soon. (Patrick Fabian and Rhea Seehorn remain the MVPs of this season, each one stealing moments every time they’re on screen.) Even the lighting and costumes are faded compared to the bright, cheerful flashback that opens the hour. For the future Saul, this gloomy present spectacle is not just a sign of what happens if you give in to grief – Jimmy admits to Kim in this episode that he has decided not to go for therapy at all – but also a sign of how you get beaten if you play by the rules. In Albuquerque, everyone’s a piñatas. Howards End, indeed.
Better Call Saul Season 1 to 4 are available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive on Tuesdays, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.