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'Better Call Saul' recap: 'Bali Ha'i'

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Ursula Coyote/ Sony Pictures Television/ AMC

Better Call Saul

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
1
performer:
Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks
broadcaster:
AMC
genre:
Crime, Drama

Turn him to any cause of policy,

The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,

Familiar as his garter

Henry V

Jimmy, Mike, and Kim are all on the losing ends of three long, arduous, not-dissimilar fights. Jimmy, depressed, lies sprawled in a bed that’s too big for just him, in a house intended for a lawyer with a family. His is a fight fought with pens and paper, with ink the color of bruises, the color of Mike’s face, of Kim’s dress and the basement walls that sheathe her.

Jimmy gets out of bed and shambles in blue boxers down the hall. He sits in front of the big boxy television, wearing its luminous glow as a comfort blanket. He scrolls through channels, past late-night commercials (“Ch-ch-ch-Chia!”) and American flags waving goodnight as channels sign off. He gets to a Davis & Main/Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill commercial, his commercial, mutilated into an emulation of the same bland thing he didn’t want to do. White text plastered onto an amorphous, bruise-colored background, a monotone voice droning monotonous words.

Anyone who’s ever had the artistry and passion expunged from their work can relate to Jimmy. There’s no worse feeling than having an inspired idea, something you really care about, and taking a risk to bring it to life, only to have your superiors (inferiors?) sap the life out of it. He’s putting the “aw” in “lawyer” right now.

He gets that big bowl of balls that comes with every lawyer’s house and starts throwing them around, going balls to the wall. The spiky orbs look like Ensō versions of Jesus’ thorny crown, bouncing down the stairs. The house is pervaded by existential banality, from the cartons of Chinese food assembled like packing crates in his fridge to the utter lack of clutter that would suggest life. It’s all corporate artifice — pre-arranged and curated to be seen but not used.

Jimmy returns to the spa, to the stifling confines of clutter that he used to call an office, a home. Sinking into the folding bed, a look of calm finally washes over him.

We’ve seen several possible moments that could be considered the inception of Saul Goodman — Chuck’s confession, “Smoke on the Water,” squat cobbling, meeting with the Sandpiper residents on the mini-bus in Texas — but really every episode since the pilot has been another brief glimpse of Saul’s three-decade-long embryonic phase. Jimmy has always been Saul the same way Mogwai are always gremlins just waiting to eat after midnight.

NEXT: Jimmy, Kim, and Mike get wake-up calls

[pagebreak]

Kim, like Jimmy, seems to be spending her free time sitting around and staring at her once-promising future. Better Call Saul hasn’t delved into depression and mental health as deeply as Mad Men or Hannibal or some of the other shows that have vied for the title of Great American Show in the last few years, but it does something that those other shows didn’t: It gets at the crushing weight of boredom and the horrible decisions people make when in the throes of ennui.

Kim doesn’t crack any semblance of a smile until Jimmy calls and sings “Bali Ha’i,” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific into her answering machine, with an Irish accent. (“Bali Ha’i” was super popular and covered by pretty much everyone with vocal chords, including Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Harry James, and Perry Cuomo. The song also makes appearances in Sphere, American Beauty, and Northern Exposure. Bali Ha’i is also: a brand of Indonesian beer; a brand of clove cigarettes; a euphemism used by steampunk musician and Dr. Horrible-inspiration Doctor Steel; a cocktail; an unfortified American Italian Swiss Colony fruit drink; and a pier in Pattaya, Thailand.)

Mike’s wake-up call is less romantic: He gets a visit from one of Hector’s men. He “respectfully declines” Hector’s offer to take the gun charge and get Tuco out of jail. Mike buys carbon copy paper and a welcome mat.

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Jimmy wakes up to the rapping of knuckles on the door and is greeted by his once-and-always landlord at the spa. “You don’t like your job?” she says, acerbically. “Boo hoo, poor baby.”

Jimmy asks for coffee. She tells him he can afford his own. He tells her the faster he gets coffee, the faster he leaves. She gets him coffee.

Kim’s situation at HHM isn’t much better, and she doesn’t even have a World’s 2nd Best Lawyer thermos. She and Howard trek through the halls, his face contorted into a severe frown; as if flicking a switch, his face converts the frown into a beaming smile just as they round a corner and pass the other lawyers. Howard, like Jimmy’s house, is all artifice, precise and calculated.

Howard later doesn’t show up for what Kim learns is a losing battle in court, as the Sandpiper lawyers convince the judge to disclose the residents’ medical files, an obvious intimidation tactic. Rick Schweikart (off-Broadway great Dennis Boutsikaris, who has unfortunately faced a dearth of good roles onscreen), lead lawyer of Schweikart & Coakley, the firm that represents Sandpiper, is impressed with Kim’s moxie. He takes her out for a bite and a drink, telling her that her bosses left her to fend for herself in a losing battle, which she did with unexpected dexterity. The same thing happened to him years ago, what he calls his “trial by fire.” Last season Schweikart’s brief appearances suggested an oily-smooth charmer, more of a mercenary than a villain; that hasn’t changed, but he now represents an opportunity for Kim. He wants her to leave HHM and join his firm. He’ll pay off her student debt (DO IT, KIM!) and treat her better than HHM has in her decade of service. (Like Jimmy, she started in the mail room — where she dwelled for six years.)

NEXT: Mike gets visitors                       

[pagebreak]

Better Call Saul has turned the world of lawyers and lawsuits into a scornful metaphor for modern job anxieties — the burden of student debt shrouding Kim, the way bosses treat employees like props, glass ceilings everywhere. It’s so Cheever, this malaise-mottled world in which Jimmy and Kim live. She can’t even take a lunch break without her bosses shackling her to her desk, throwing slabs of paperwork at her.

In season 1, Kim felt occasionally bland, a milquetoast model for sanity in a commercial world that doesn’t want any. This season, she’s become the other face of the coin Jimmy used to hustle a guy in “Marco.” Jimmy and Kim, or maybe Saul and Kim, have one of the most enthralling relationships on TV right now because of the way their “flaws” enmesh, like sheet-wrapped lovers. The closest Breaking Bad ever got to this kind of emotional earnestness was Jesse and Jane, and that didn’t end so well for anyone.

Season 2 Kim goes to a bar for a liquid lunch, which is paid for by a horny gray-haired engineer. “I’m ready,” she tells the bartender, after he informs her that the man has bought her next round — ready to swindle this guy.

“I’ve got a live one on the hook,” she tells Jimmy over the phone.

They grift the guy for a fat check, but Kim doesn’t want to cash it — it’s better as a souvenir, another one of those Cheever-esque emblems to frame on the wall.

When Mike gets home later at night, he lifts up his welcome mat, under which the carbon copy paper is festooned with a footprint. Gun in hand, Mike opens the door, enters the house.

He stalks from room to darkened room, the Steadicam following him like karma. A quiet, two-minute bravado scene, Mike prowling, gun metal gleaming, Mike’s eyes steady. He figures out where the hitmen are, uses the remote to turn on the TV. “Hi, Billy Mays here…”

Two gunmen sidle through a door; Mike disarms them, breaks their faces.

“We were supposed to scare you,” one of them says through bloodied teeth.

“Try harder next time,” Mike barks, throwing them out of his house.

He tears off a few paper towels and puts his trembling, blood-stained hands under the faucet. “Don’t just get it clean — get it OxiClean!”

Later, when Mike throws a beach ball back and forth with his granddaughter at the motel pool, he sees Hector’s two twin hitmen, the ones who shot/will shoot Hank, watching him from a rooftop. They raise their fingers, aim them at the little girl. Mike has to make the deal with Hector. Nacho’s problem is coming back.

Jimmy gets in his company car, again struggling to fit his World’s 2nd Best Lawyer thermos in the cup holder. So he takes a screwdriver to it, breaking the cupholder.

“Ya know what? It’ll never stop me again.”

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