JMM. James Morgan McGill. Justice Matters Most. Just Make Money. The monogram on the briefcase Kim bought Jimmy to inaugurate his return to practicing law has had an unusually wide-ranging life for a simple set of initials. Like Jimmy himself, it’s constantly being reinvented for the sake of convenience, of comfort, of desperate necessity. Is it the briefcase of the man who looks with profound love into Kim’s eyes at their courthouse marriage, a marriage he called a matter of legal preparedness just moments before? Or does it belong to another man, one who springs a remorseless murderer on bail in front of that man’s victim’s family?
The incoherence of Jimmy’s life, largely the product of his own compulsive behavior, has become a mounting source of tension within Better Call Saul. Every scene he occupies or influences is animated by the divide between the things he does out of greed, perverse competitive spirit, and sublimated guilt and grief, and the basic humanity which still clearly exerts its pull on him. For much of the past two seasons actor Bob Odenkirk has portrayed Jimmy/Saul as someone living as externally as possible, avoiding his own inner life as an inconvenient tangle. Now, finally, it’s erupting out of him as we see when his spiteful attacks on Howard Hamlin, his late brother’s law partner, culminate in an unhinged public outburst.
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The Man Behind the Curtain
Earlier, when Mike visits Jimmy at home to demand he get Lalo Salamanca out on bail, Jimmy snaps that he doesn’t take orders from “the man behind the curtain”, a reference to the titular character in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. But Lalo’s hardly a mysterious figure, or a weaver of fabulous falsehoods. He’s as direct as drug kingpins come, and his power is frighteningly tangible. No, the man who best fits the Wizard’s mold is Jimmy himself. He practically says so out loud. Near the episode’s close, Jimmy lashes out at Howard after the other man tries to extend an olive branch. “I’m so far beyond you, I’m like a god in human clothing!” Jimmy shouts as Howard walks away. “Lightning bolts shoot from my fingertips!”
It’s trash talk, sure, the kind of wild hyperbole that spills out of your mouth when you hate someone so much that hurting them feels as urgent an imperative as escaping a burning building, but it’s also Jimmy buying into his own bullshit. The glitz and thunder of his emerging role as a cartel lawyer has to be enough. It has to mean that he’s a big man, that he’s moved past his brother’s death and his own life of playing second fiddle to an arrogant blowhard who nonetheless had his number, because behind the curtain of his glib con-man tricks and considerable street smarts, he’s no more substantial than Baum’s wizard. He’s just a man playing tricks on himself and everyone around him, not for any real purpose but because it’s the only way he knows to act.