Throughout the current five and a half seasons of Better Call Saul we the audience have seen our protagonist Jimmy constantly perform scheme after scheme to either make a quick buck or get his clients the best deal he possibly can, even if that means bending the rules. The series has rightfully called him out as a con man on many occasions. One character in particular who has called out Jimmy several times is Howard Hamlin.
Howard and Jimmy are as different as can be. Jimmy is loud and spontaneous even in the most serious of situations, always trying to talk his way out of problems that he causes and is even willing to break the law on several occasions. Howard meanwhile is always stern and serious in even the most hectic moments and appears to hold the law to high esteem. Also worth noting is that no matter how hard Jimmy worked he was never even hired at HHM while Howard had an easy entry to an immediate partner position as his dad was the co-founder.
During the Mid-season finale of Better Call Saul, a lot of things happened concerning the character of Howard Hamlin, the most noteworthy, of course, being how the episode ended. However there is another moment in that episode that stuck out to me as I was watching. Before going to the Sandpiper settlement meeting, Howard insists that Irene sit in a wheelchair and be pushed to the meeting instead of walking on her own two legs, why?
Well it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why a lawyer would want their client to look more dependent on others in front of a judge, so they would side with HHM. In a show about corruption this is an expected turn of events, but not from Howard. No, this is an action we would expect from our protagonist Jimmy and not the man who ends this episode by calling out Jimmy as someone who gets a thrill out of being corrupt. Why would Howard do such a thing? The answer is pretty simple, Howard isn’t all that different from Jimmy despite what either of them may claim. The difference in the Sandpiper case is that while Jimmy plays dirty to try and settle matters and get his money, Howard will play dirty to get as much money as possible in the long run.
Earlier in this same season we see a Q&A at a senior center about the Sandpiper case, things appear to be going well until a resident asks about how long the case will take as it’s entirely possible things won’t be settled until several of them die of old age. Instead of letting his assistant answer the questions, Howard takes the mic himself to change the subject; he cannot allow the thought of settling early to grow in the seniors’ heads.
The two of them aren’t only similar in their willingness to bend the rules though. Let’s turn back the clock and look at the other thing that links Howard and Jimmy: Chuck. To both Jimmy and Howard, Chuck was a person they needed to impress. To Jimmy he was his older brother who was always looking down on him, to Howard he was an inspiration who built the law firm from nothing with Howard’s father.
Both of them tried their hardest to please Chuck and stay on his good side. Chuck however thought very little of them, once again what Chuck thought of Jimmy doesn’t need to be stated as it’s the focus of the first half of the series. What he thought of Howard though is slightly more subtle. To Chuck, Howard was less of a friend and partner and more of a representative of HHM as a whole, an underling who represented everything he had built. No matter how many times Howard sided with Chuck or accommodated for his condition at work, Chuck clearly never saw him as a friend. When Chuck was told to stand down from HHM, he would rather sue and destroy both the firm and any respect Howard had for him than just stand down.
Once Chuck died, both Jimmy and Howard were to blame; if it weren’t for Jimmy, Chuck’s insurance wouldn’t have gone up so much and if it weren’t for Howard firing him, he may not have committed suicide. Both are aware of their contributions to Chuck’s death and handle it in different ways. Howard blames himself, Kim accuses him of bringing up that he fired Chuck in front of Jimmy as an attempt to bring Jimmy down but everything we see of Howard’s grief feels real. He has insomnia for the rest of the show after Chuck’s death and reminisces about him whenever he has the chance. Jimmy handles his own grief about Chuck’s death in this own way, by passing the blame, it’s just the type of person he is. He knows he’s responsible on some personal level for what happened but so long as someone like Howard is willing to take the blame, he’d rather go for that than accept his own role in his death.
This continued to fuel the animosity between Howard and Jimmy throughout the second half of the show. Jimmy deflecting all the blame for Chuck onto Howard has not only had a visible emotional effect on Howard but also has at least somewhat contributed to Howard trying to make amends with Jimmy and even offer him a job at HHM. Jimmy meanwhile has never properly dealt with his emotions over Chuck’s death and in his mind turned Howard into a symbol for all lawyers like Chuck. Jimmy wants to prove he is “so far beyond” people like him and that Howard is a “Teensy tiny little man.”
Howard’s final attempt to make amends with Jimmy wasn’t to make peace but rather invite Jimmy to a boxing ring so they can beat their frustration out of their systems. This did nothing of course, it may have made Howard feel a little better to beat Jimmy to the ground but emotionally nothing changed.
Things came to a head in season 6 with Jimmy and Kim’s scheme to get back at Howard and settle the Sandpiper case. Howard tried to calmly handle things but eventually he finally broke and appeared to be crazy in a meeting as he blamed Jimmy for everything. Then that night he went to Jimmy’s apartment for one last verbal beat down about Jimmy’s behavior, and the rest, well, that’s a mid-season cliffhanger.
Jimmy and Howard both had a conscience, but Howard never lost it. Howard and Jimmy are both better salesmen than lawyers, who came from dramatically different backgrounds, but both were trying to live up to the expectations of other people by turning on the charm. However Jimmy ultimately became resentful of that fact and lashed out, while Howard never fully grew out of the type of person that he was, but also never lost sight of his conscience.
That’s all I really have to say on the subject, I cannot wait for the series finale of Better Call Saul to release. It’s truly amazing how even though we know how Jimmy will turn out at the end of the series we have no idea exactly how these last few episodes will affect him character wise.