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Slippin' Jimmy

Better Call Saul is AMC’s follow-up to Breaking Bad. It’s a look at lawyer Saul Goodman six years before he becomes connected with Walter White. As in Breaking Bad, he’s an opportunistic, comic figure but he hasn’t devolved into the darker person who will become counsel for a huge meth operation, helping to launder drug money and targeting people for murder. Better Call Saul peels away several layers to provide us with an earlier look at who he was and presumably (I’ve only watched the first season) show how the seeds were developed that would produce Saul Goodman.

We find out that Saul’s real name is James McGill. He grew up in Cicero, Illinois where he was known as Slippin’ Jimmy—a nickname he received as a result of his proficiency for falling on ice and collecting lucrative settlements. But all of that is history. He got into legal trouble in Cicero and had to be bailed out by his brother Chuck, a lawyer with a prestigious firm in Albuquerque, NM. After his problems are straightened out, Jimmy moved to Albuquerque and took a job in the mailroom of his brother’s firm and started eking out an honest, if meager living. Unknown to just about everyone, he earned a law degree online and on the third try passed his bar exam. His dream was to work at the firm but one of the partners made it clear that he wasn’t considered the right material for their practice.

Jimmy goes into business for himself. As the series opens, his law office (and home) is located in a supply room of an Asian nail salon. He’s barely scratches together a living as a public defender. Chuck has suffered a breakdown and is confined to his house because he believes he is allergic to electrical waves. Visitors to his house have to put their phones and watches in the mailbox and “discharge” themselves before going inside. The electricity in his home has been disabled and he depends on Jimmy to supply him daily with ice, food and newspapers—all of which he faithfully does.

Jimmy drifts into elder law—helping older people with wills, setting up trusts, and other legal matters. While doing this he discovers some nursing home irregularities which eventually spawn into a class action suit. Chuck initially helps Jimmy with it but then persuades him to partner with his law firm due to the enormity of the lawsuit. Jimmy does this believing that at last his dream of working for a prestigious firm will be realized. Not only is he again rejected—he finds out that his brother is behind it as well as his original rejection. When he confronts him, Chuck says, “You’re not a real lawyer . . . I know what you were—what you are, people don’t change—you’re Slippin’ Jimmy.”

There you have it, betrayed by a brother. Betrayed by someone to whom he had shown tremendous loyalty. Yet Chuck’s ultimate treachery wasn’t keeping Jimmy from working with his law firm, it was refusing to believe he could change and become a different person. It was Christ who told Peter “when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Paul writes that love “always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Make no mistake about it, in the end everyone is responsible for the person they become—but we’ve missed the teaching of texts like Matthew 18:6ff is we think we have no culpability. We are our brother’s keeper and we neglect that to his and our peril.

I’m wondering—who is it in our lives that need to know that someone believes in them?

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