Whether they are cons, sabotage, or acts of emotional terror, Better Call Saul’s Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) is a creative master. The man once known as Slippin’ Jimmy, and who became Saul Goodman, is a master of workarounds. He could sell sawdust to a lumbermill. The only thing that thwarts him are his personal connections, which AMC’s excellent series examines with potent detail. But in between its more sobering moments, the series is full of wonderfully innovative cheats and bluffs that are marvels to behold.
Below, Paste TV writers Whitney Friedlander (who had the idea), Liz Shannon Miller, Jacob Oller, and I recall our favorite Better Call Saul cons (in season order) in anticipation of the Season 5 finale—and yes there are some spoilers regarding major series events.
Season 1, Episode 4: “Hero” (to start)
Since nearly the beginning of the series, Jimmy has called upon the services of a crack team of film school students to help create commercials and other visual aids to enable his schemes. And perhaps the most insidious element of this is that he’s gone from conning the kids in question into helping him to them becoming his willing accomplices. The fact that the show no longer feels the need to show us Jimmy explaining the game plan to them—that all we need to know is that Drama Girl and Sound Guy are on board for whatever is happening—is further proof of the dark powers of Saul Goodman. —Liz Shannon Miller
Season 1, Episode 10: “Marco”
The first finale Better Call Saul ever weathered contains a con that serves as both origin story and backslide. Jimmy runs away to the comforts of home in Cicero, to Marco. Like any old friends, they fall back into familiar patterns with a poignancy and joy found when trying to recapture a moment. For these two jokers, of course, it means pulling the same scam they ran in “Hero” earlier in the season, where Marco pretends to be a passed out drunk, prime for looting. Jimmy takes his watch, a “Rolex,” and convinces the mark to trade him the drunk’s wallet and the cash difference for the high-priced (fake) item. Mel Rodriguez plays Marco as the consummate sad sack Chicago-area barfly—a designation that comes with an expiration date. When the “passed out” Marco dies, seeing the con inevitably become ironic truth, it’s a resonant tragedy. Jimmy taking his big pinky ring is a symbol of the lawyer’s complicated relationship with the grift.—Jacob Oller
Season 2, Episode 1: “Switch”
Setting a dangerous precedent for Jimmy and Kim’s relationship, “Switch” reignites the show’s previously dormant love story with a bit of play-acting between the one-time couple. Teaming up to rack up a massive bar tab with the legendarily annoying KENWINZ, the official con being pulled here is the consumption of an insanely expensive bottle of Zafiro Añejo tequila. But the more affecting con to watch is Jimmy and Kim, tricking themselves into thinking that being together won’t eventually blow up in their faces (the way we’re all worried it will). —Liz Shannon Miller
Season 2, Episode 2: “Cobbler”
It’s probably a good thing that this is an example of a con that’s told instead of shown. In an attempt to protect Mike from any unwelcome police attention, Jimmy represents Hummer owner/amateur pharmaceutical drug salesman Daniel Wormald (What We Do in the Shadows’ Mark Proksch) when the guy goes running to the cops about a home invasion. Jimmy argues that everything’s fine and the detectives needn’t waste their time. When they’re like “yeah, right,” he improvises that this is all just a misunderstanding due to a romantic relationship involving a Hoboken Squat Cobbler. A what? Obviously that’s when one party sits on various pies and cries. There’s even video evidence! (That Jimmy totally has his client fabricate).
This is a comparatively small con, but it’s noteworthy not just because of its ridiculousness. Jimmy tells Kim the sordid details, giving her an early taste of just how unethical he can be. Bonus points to this episode for also introducing the now-useless World’s 2nd Best Lawyer travel mug, and for allowing the audience a rare glimpse of Kim sans pony tail. —Whitney Friedlander
Season 2, Episode 7: “Inflatable”
We’ve all had jobs where we’ve thought “How can I get out of here in a way where I still win?” For Jimmy, Davis & Main had become that job by “Inflatable.” Bob Odenkirk flexes every annoying comedic muscle in his physique for the montage that follows, as he becomes a genuine Roy G. Biv in a business professional environment. The funk music, the side-by-sides with the wacky waving inflatable arm guy—it’s all hilarious and crafted with clockwork precision. The throwback editing style looks like an Austin Powers gag in the best way, walking the tightrope between aesthetic perfection and grating silliness. The hypercolored antics, including running a blaring juicer with a rainbow assortment of fruits, climaxes with a series of turds: and there are few descriptions of Better Call Saul than a series of turds.—Jacob Oller
Season 2, Episode 8: “Fifi”
Occasionally, one of Jimmy’s cons takes the form of sabotage, as was the case when he pilfered Chuck’s Mesa Verde documents and meticulously copied and altered them by changing one number on the address forms. Better Call Saul is often at its best (when not related specifically to Kim, of course), when it details a process. The montage of Jimmy laboring beneath flickering fluorescents in the middle of the night while casually chatting with the the graveyard shift employee was both perfectly diabolical and anxiety-inducing. By setting up his brother for what looked like immense ineptitude, Jimmy gave Kim the opportunity to be considered again as Mesa Verde’s legal counsel. But, it also cemented a war between the brothers that ultimately had terrible consequences. —Allison Keene
Season 3, Episode 10: “Lantern”
One of the ways that Jimmy McGill differs from Breaking Bad’s Walter White is that Jimmy has a code. While pretty much everyone was collateral damage once Walt entered full Heisenberg mode, Jimmy has shown tremendous guilt when innocent parties get hurt by his schemes. Consider poor Irene Landry (Jean Effron).
Irene was one of the many senior citizens whom Jimmy represented in a case against retirement home chain Sandpiper Crossing when he had briefly gone legit and was working with the law firm Davis & Main. After he left that firm, Irene told him about a settlement with Sandpiper. It’d be a lot of money now—for her and for Jimmy, who would still profit from the case—but it’d be even more if they waited it out. Since he needed the payday, Jimmy got his former clients to settle. But, in doing so, he turned all of Irene’s friends against her. Guilt-ridden, he later pretended to badmouth Irene while wearing a hot mic, and she reconnected with her support group. Sometimes the simplest cons are the most effective. —Whitney Friedlander
Season 4, Episode 5: “Quite a Ride” / Season 4, Episode 6: “Pinata”
There is technically nothing illegal about Jimmy selling burner cell phones to the Albuquerque criminal underground (except of course for the fact that he’s buying in bulk and likely adding a considerable upcharge to each individual sale). But what pushes this enterprise into the grey area is how he reacts to getting mugged by a trio of punk teens; in tying them up and threatening them with ever threatening his enterprise again, the con might, in some ways, be considered the idea that Jimmy would actually do them harm. Then again, we don’t truly know what he’s capable of. —Liz Shannon Miller
Season 4, Episode 10: “Winner”
This one stings. After a full season of Jimmy avoiding processing the death of his brother Chuck after their feud escalated to immense heights, “Winner” suggested that perhaps he was finally acknowledging his emotions. In a heartfelt appeal to have his law license reinstated, Jimmy tearfully speaks about his brother and honoring the name McGill. Everyone—the board, Kim, viewers—were moved by the monologue. Jimmy wins the appeal, and he joyfully tells Kim that it was all a con, and that he’s changing his name to Saul Goodman. It’s really one of Jimmy’s worst cons in that it was a devastating emotional ruse. If you look at it cynically, it was always his play. But if you cling to some hope for Jimmy’s soul, as I foolishly continue to do, there’s a suggestion there that what he said was true, and it’s one of the reasons he chose to no longer practice as a McGill. Or, that he didn’t dare acknowledge the real feelings behind his statement. Either way, a helluva season finale with implications for the rest of the series. —Allison Keene
Season 5, Episode 5: “Dedicado a Max”
Jimmy brings out his full bag of Slippin’ Jimmy tricks to stall Mesa Verde’s eviction of Everett Acker in this episode, after Kim (feeling bad about the ethics of the eviction) brings him on board. Often, Jimmy’s best cons are ones that the show can fit into a detailed montage. Given where this plot ultimately goes as it escalates (and how Jimmy ends up betraying Kim’s trust that he wouldn’t cross a certain line), the events of “Dedicado a Max” are wonderfully low-stakes. It starts with a simple change of a house number, then moves on to creating false artifacts and burying them around the yard, prepping enough lead to sprinkle into the dirt to be considered a potential biohazard and—the pièce de résistance—falsifying a religious icon that makes Acker’s home a destination for miracle-seekers. Though it ultimately didn’t thwart Mesa Verde, the creativity was incredibly fun, as was the recurring gag of the sheriff sighing and saying to the construction foreman with a shrug, “…I gotta make a call.” —Allison Keene
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