By Matt Berry
He’s A Rebel
This week’s Better Call Saul wants to know if you’ve been the victim of an accident at work, if you’ve suffered adverse side effects from a doctor-prescribed medication, or if you’ve ever been taken advantage of by a charismatic yet compulsively unscrupulous con-man/attorney. If you answered “yes” to any of the previous questions, you may be entitled to compensation. And if you want the cash settlement you deserve, you better call the prestigious Davis & Main! Also, Jimmy makes his first TV commercial, Ed Begley Jr. plays a few bars of “Oh, No You Didn’t,” and we learn more and more that Chuck may not be so crazy when it comes to quality-checking his little brother’s every slippery move. All this plus the return of the Alpine Shepherd Boy in:
Better Call Saul, Season 2, Episode 3: “Amarillo”
“Amarillo,” like most of Season 2 so far, divides its time between Jimmy’s efforts to fly straight and live the boring, rule-laden life and Mike’s slow descent into the Albuquerque underworld and his eventual entanglement with the Juarez drug cartel and the Pollos Hermanos crystal blue persuasion operation.
In a nutshell: Jimmy is recruiting plaintiffs for the Sandpiper case through creative song and dance routines. He decides to up his level of showmanship by making a sleazy proto-Saul television spot which, when he airs it without the authorization of Tall Freaky Albinos & Associates, lands him in potentially hot water with both his bosses and Kim. She warns Jimmy that his hijinks reflect as badly on her as they do on him and who appears to genuinely want him to be a legitimate law-abiding man. Meanwhile, Mike has to ask the Veterinarian for higher paying criminal gigs in order to supplement his slowly unraveling daughter-in-law’s need to get out of the old neighborhood and into something across town, above sunset, and a little closer to the corner of calmness and sanity.
This Week’s Best Bits
“Does anybody like you?”
The Breaking Bad-verse is full of pitch-black funny and instantly quotable one-liners. This was one of my favorites ever. I’m already looking for opportunities to use it in real life.
A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Golden Corral
Jimmy conning old folks is my new favorite thing to watch. It’s not that I don’t like old people, either. I mean, I don’t, but I also don’t want to see them bilked by a bunko artist. But when Slippin’ Jimmy does it, it’s even more fun to watch than Sawyer from LOST selling medicine to sick folk for all their little bottles of airplane tequila. Seeing Bob Odenkirk work his smarmy magic is always a pleasure and a half, but seeing him work it on the Murder She Wrote set is Guilty with a capital G.
The reason for Jimmy’s eventual, full transformation into the construct known as Saul Goodman and for his inevitable downfall is becoming abundantly clear. Jimmy is addicted to hustling. Jimmy is addicted to hustling the way that Walter White grows addicted to power and the way that Jesse Pinkman gets addicted to all drugs ever. The embattled Mr. McGill, for whatever reason, is a compulsive con-man. He wants to be successful, and like most people hell-bent on being rich and semi-famous in the greater Southwestern tri-state area, he’s tempted by short cuts, ethical leapfrogging, and schemes that yield quick results. He lacks impulse control and seeks immediate gratification. He’s also bored by doing things the “right” way (as Kim asks him to do) and doesn’t respond well to toiling away anonymously in an office while building a solid and ethically sound case, brick by brick (by brick). All these factors will lead to his glimpsed fate in Omaha, but none of them are as significant a factor as his need, want, and constant craving to outsmart, outwit, and outlast whomever he sets his steely sights on.
Even as he strove in Season 1 to impress and prove to Chuck (as he’s trying to prove now to Kim) that he could be as sturdy a lawyer as the next, he was easily lured away by the thrill of fast talk and cheap publicity stunts. It’s the same reason he jumped at the opportunity last week to spin his tale of “Two Cheeks, One Pie” to the police to save Pryce. Jimmy is addicted to the hustle.
Maybe for every person he cons, he feels himself besting Chuck, or his parents, or some kid who talked him out of his juice money on the playground. For some reason, whatever it is, he just can’t help himself and he will always (whether he’s Jimmy McGill, Saul Goodman, or Gene the Cinnabon Guy) return to his true love.
Sunset Boulevard 2: The Soliciting
Finally, an origin story worth telling: the birth of Saul’s proclivity (and proficiency) for flashy, spectacularly sleazy ambulance-chasing television commercials. The one he directs in this episode is comparatively tasteful (not tasteful, mind you, compared to actual tasteful stuff) but still not a good fit for a law firm that once hemmed and hawed over words scrolling over a very subtly swirling screen-saver from Windows 95.
Beyond the cultural significance of the moment, though, watching Jimmy play Scorsese and staging his own reboot of Sunset Boulevard was a hoot. It tells us much about his mentality to see him striving for P.T. Barnum over Clarence Darrow and to witness the seriousness with which he approaches his little opus. This, to Jimmy, is art.
And his face as he watches Kim watching his finished piece is priceless. He’s as proud of his 30-second spot as Orson Welles screening Kane for the first time, and it’s adorable.
(And one thing I love about Jimmy is that he actually knows and isn’t ashamed that he’s more Ed Wood than Billy Wilder. He subscribes to a showbiz that is flashy, trashy, and gets paid attention.)
The Dark Heart at the Center of the entire Breaking Bad Universe…
…is Kaylee Ehrmantraut.
Mike’s B-story, like most good noir, has been a slow-building potboiler. Not much has happened, but at the same time, lots has happened, and it’s all leading past pending dread to a sudden burst of violence and irreversible badness. And at the center of it all is sweet little Kaylee Ehrmantraut.
Mike, in my opinion, is the lynchpin to all worlds in the Breaking Bad universe. If you were to make five separate series, each one focusing on a character’s own adventures beyond Heisenberg, Mike would co-star in all of them. He’s the R2-D2 of Breaking Bad. It’s his need to make good on the murder of his son and to protect and care for his widowed daughter-in-law and granddaughter that sees him delving further and further into the criminal underbelly of New Mexico. This will lead him to Tuco Salamanca and the Juarez drug cartel, to Gus Fring, and eventually to Walt and Jesse. And his association and reluctant relationship with Jimmy/Saul will, in one way or another, send Jimmy packing to Nebraska. All so one little girl can someday go to college. So, so senseless.