Home Is Where the Dark Is
In this week’s Better Call Saul, Jimmy’s got ants in his pants, Kimmy’s breaking bad, and little Timmy’s stuck down another well! Okay, one of those things is false, but two of those things and a whole lot more actually do happen in…
Better Call Saul, Season 2, Episode 6: “Bali Ha’i”
Jimmy and Kim repair their broken bond over Rodgers, Hammerstein, and the inadvertent invention of match.com while each struggles individually with their increasingly dissatisfying work lives. As our story begins, Jimmy is wooing Kim, trying to win her back, but she’s giving him the cold shoulder (even though she is secretly enjoying his efforts and is disappointed when she thinks they’ve stopped). This, on top of living under the watchful eye of the least-cool second-year associate ever, leads Saul to commit an act of slight rebellion against his old foe, the freakishly small cup-holder.
And speaking of cold shoulders, Howard is still punishing Kim and is now additionally peeved that Chuck has stepped in to liberate her from the barbed wire and guard tower confinement of Doc Review. She’s already considering a job offer from HHM’s rivals in the Sandpiper Case, Schweikhardt & Coldcock (I’ll be honest with you, I did not fact check the firm’s name while writing this), when Howard breaks the final straw by trying to strong-arm Kim into having some goddam fancy salad for lunch! So the voice of morality tumbles into her own moral decline and finally returns Jimmy’s calls to invite him along for the ride.
This Week’s Best Bits
Island in the Sun
The Bali Ha’i motif that begins with Jimmy serenading Kim via answering machine (an answering machine?! Is this show set in 2002 or 1902?) recurs throughout the episode as each character ponders in one way or another the locale of their true happy place. In the teaser segment, Jimmy is restless with insomnia in his lap-of-luxury townhouse but ends up sleeping like a baby when he crawls into the crummy little hideaway bed in his old shoebox office in the backroom of the mani-pedi salon. Ultimately, he just doesn’t care about tastefully decorated rental properties, offices so big and fancy they’d make Donald Trump say “that’s a bit much,” or cars that are all one color. The world he’s been running from, he seems to be realizing more and more, is where he most wants to be.
Kim, meanwhile, is beginning to question the world she’s been fighting so hard to stay a part of. The scene where she and Howard put on their game faces for a determinedly friendly-as-hell meeting with Cowboy Kevin and his sidekick Paige from Mesa Verde is another perfectly poignant moment of melancholic realism in Vince Gilligan’s ongoing campaign to depict the American workplace as a bitterly bleak prelude to your inevitably violent office killing spree and public suicide.
Bali Ha’i, by the way, as depicted (and sung of) in South Pacific, the musical from whence the tune originates, is an ideal place, an uninhabited island just off shore, always visible, always calling the names of lost souls and wayward sailors, but always, forever, just out of mortal reach. (Oops, I probably should have opened this section with that paragraph. Oh, well. Now you know.)
Cup Holder & Coffee Mug
No, that’s not the name of some new Japanese cartoon airing at 2:10 in the morning for seven minutes on Adult Swim; it’s a reference to the return of the cup-holder metaphor! How appropriate to revisit the theme in an episode that is essentially about a bunch of Square Pegs looking for their square–holes, I guess.
Turning ordinary, everyday items into symbols of the human struggle against ennui and malaise has become a Vince Gilligan specialty, and the season-long distraction of getting that damn cup into that teensy goddam socket has provided a tragi-comic underscore to Jimmy’s existential grappling. In the end, he takes up his tire iron and finally eighty-sixes the offending accessory (and its attendant angst).
While life at Davis & Maine is slowly squeezing the spirit out of our favorite sleazy son, life at HHM is likewise proving to be a soul-crushing anvil for the put-upon Ms. Wexler. She made good on her promise to save herself by landing a big client but is still dealing with the lunch-sabotaging passive-aggressiveness of Grumpy Von Man-Hurt. So she goes out for a little day drinking and debauchery, soon finding herself eyeing a mark, breaking out her Giselle alter ego, and calling in big brother Viktor to help her stick it to a lyin’, cheatin’, mean mistreatin’, two-timin’, double dealin’ –I forget how the rest of that goes, but he’s a douche. She gets all geared up to con another douche.
How far Kim’s walk on the wild side will go and where it will take her isn’t clear, but it is intriguing to watch her, after weeks of pulling Jimmy toward the light of a rule-abiding life, begin to slide back into the darkness herself. The perverse bent of their relationship, too, is proving fascinating. They’re like one of those teenage thrill-killing couples who murder their parents as foreplay. Only here, the thrill is in getting some smarmy jerk to write a big check. That they don’t even cash them speaks more to their kinkiness than to their moral code.
The Welcome Mat
The theme of “home” has been prevalent all season and is revisited in every storyline this week. As Jimmy and Kim struggle with their place in this crazy old mixed up world, Mike deals with home invasion, both literally and figuratively; the Salamanca family tightens the squeeze they’re putting on the old man in an effort to get Tuco’s time in the slammer reduced. I’m guessing the urgency of the matter hinges on the fact that Skinny Pete (as we know from BB) is currently Tuco’s cellmate and is likely forcing him to endure hours of Babylon 5 fan fiction.
When Mike refuses his offer of $5,000 (curiously the same amount Mike’s son accepted to keep from rocking the Corrupt Cop boat back in Philly), Hector moves on to more persuasive efforts.
After disposing of two would be goons with a welcome mat and some carbon paper, Mike soon finds himself face to face with The Cousins, a.k.a. Leonel and Marco Salamanca, a.k.a. America’s favorite axe wielding maniacs, a.k.a. the cartel twins who once had a hankering for Walter White’s blood and nearly killed that guy who makes Schraderbrau! The appearance of The Cousins and their direct threat to harm what’s left of Mike’s family if he doesn’t wise up and play ball forces him to negotiate, but, Mike being Mike, still plays it tough and manages to make things go his way. Kind of.
I’m Thinking the Headline Here is…Ice Station Zebra Associates
Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to see those crazy-ass scary Cousins show up, but, for me, the real star of Breaking Bad tie-ins this week was getting the origin story of Ice Station Zebra Associates, a fugazi holding company where Saul Goodman will one day hide a hefty sum of Walter White’s Heisenberg money. That the name began between our favorite larceny-loving twosome as an inside joke–and that it is a tribute to Kim’s inherited love of the Guys On A Mission at a Pole or Possibly Antarctica movie subgenre (a subgenre so esoteric, by the way, that Quentin Tarantino just wrote a 590-page North Pole screenplay)–is a dimple-inducing detail that will forever make its mention on the original series a fun inside joke of our own.
Stop Using TV as a Weapon
TV figures somewhat large in “Bali Ha’i” as well. Jimmy tries to battle his pre-credits insomnia by catching up on some early 00’s infomercials and gets a collective “ch-ch-ch-fuck-you” from Davis & Maine when he sees they’ve bastardized his commercial idea with a classier, watered down, typically Windows 95-y version. The look on Jimmy’s face when he sees what they’ve done is of a man embittered, because they claimed the case wasn’t significant enough to care about, let alone spend time and money on its marketing, but it is also of an artist whose vision has been compromised.
And loud, oh so very loud, infomercials also factor into Mike’s story as he uses the subtle charms of the late Billy Mays to lure two uninvited houseguests into the living room for some cheese, crackers, and pistol whipping. But as Bart Simpson once said on the subject of being fooled by television, “It’s just hard not to listen to TV. It’s spent so much more time raising us than you have.” Indeed it has.