It begins with an ant. As Alpine yodeling band Jodlerklub Bärgblüemli Schattdorf’s ‘Jänzigrat-Jüz’ (say that five times fast) plays, the insect scuttles toward the towering wreckage of the ice cream cone Saul (Bob Odenkirk) dropped at the end of last week’s episode. In the space of a few minutes the entire cone is swarming, workers struggling through the sticky, melting soup to feast on the glut of sugar. It’s an evocative image, this frantic scramble to strip the sidewalk equivalent of a whale fall. Waste, frenzy, and the world’s indifference to both filth and those associated with it are all wrapped up in a single frame.
The ants at their banquet reflect Saul’s new life as a bottom-feeding thing, a creature which sustains itself on the wreckage left in the wake of organized crime. Director Michael Morris (Halt and Catch Fire, Billions) and Breaking Bad alum Marshall Adams, the episode’s cinematographer, shoot the scene like a mountain expedition, replete with close-ups of adventurous insects clinging to melting slopes and a memorable shot of one ant summiting the cone, a lonely pioneer at the terminus of its strange world. It exemplifies the decompression, the patient focus on the world’s tics and minutiae, that makes Better Call Saul so rewarding.
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On the other side of the law, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) celebrates a full day of pro bono work only to be pulled away from it by her corporate client to assist in snaking an old man’s home out from under him. At first she tries talking turkey with the abrasive Mr. Acker (Barry Corbin), offering him her sympathies over his lackluster compensation and pointing out that he’s unlikely to receive a better deal. He hears her out, then rips her open with a few deft words. “I see you,” he says. “You’re one of those people who gives a little bit to charity every month.”
It’s a morbidly fascinating scene, and timely too, a sharp jab at the world’s landlords and the people who make a living beating on tenants on their behalf. She fires back at him that he isn’t special, that rules are rules and if he doesn’t go willingly she’ll have the cops drag him out. The rubber of her pro bono crusade on behalf of New Mexico’s under-served meets the road of her corporate job and blows like a bad tire.
The final scene between Kim and Acker is the episode’s most cutting, more brutal than a spiraling Mke’s intentionally provoked throwdown with street kids or the tense confrontation between Nacho (Michael Mando) and his father Manuel (Juan Carlos Cantu). A guilty Kim shows up at Acker’s house after dark, a binder full of real estate options in hand, and divulges the story of her own childhood of abject poverty, recounting midnight flights from landlords in weather so cold her bare feet went numb. He looks at her for a while. “You’ll say anything, won’t you?” he asks her. “To get what you want.” Kim’s story, so moving just a second before, feels suddenly crass and ugly, a manipulative retreat into sentimentality relayed not because it pertains to Acker’s refusal to sell but to curry his sympathy and salve Kim’s own conscience.
The rich, Better Call Saul seems to say, live in a world as alien to ours as is that of the ants who boil over Jimmy’s ice cream cone. Their wealth and privilege and elaborate systems of laws don’t expand their minds or give them a broader view, they just hem them into their own myopic world of work, money, and meaningless achievement. The world of human society is vast and complicated, full of echoing loss and great passions, of violence and generosity, of sacrifice and hubris, but the world of the rich is small, selfish, and squalid, no matter how well it pretends at being otherwise.