Recap Digest: Better Call Saul 1.6, "Bali Ha'i"

Mar 22, 2016 by Alex Castle

All this time, we’ve been assuming that the only thing keeping Jimmy McGill from totally embracing a life of situational ethics, a spinning moral compass, and a drawer full of burner phones is his dream girl, Kim Wexler, and that he would eventually, inevitably push her too far, lose her, and go visit Craig Sager’s tailor. But with this week’s episode, “Bali Ha’i,” Better Call Saul presents a much more interesting possibility: what if the Jimmy-to-Saul metamorphosis is actually Kim’s idea?

For the second episode in a row, Kim is elevated to main-character status, as her struggles at HHM – and Howard Hamlin, in particular – continue to chip away at her loyalty and her resolve to do things the right way. Howard has let her out of the cornfield but remains distant and impassive; after ten years at the firm, she is still like a schoolgirl hoping for the teacher’s approval, right down to her perfect ponytail.

Her encounter with Rick Schweikart, the lead partner of the firm representing Sandpiper in the class-action suit, who’s impressed with how vigorously she argues “an unwinnable position,” casts her lot at HHM in a different light. She’s loyal to the firm because they paid her way through law school while she worked in the mail room, but Schweikart, with his easy, sincere compliments and appreciation for her professionalism, his empathy for the plight of the unappreciated junior attorney, and his generous offer of a partner-track job with her student loans paid off – not to mention his long Moscow Mule lunch – makes it all seem so trite. The contrast is only underlined the next day, when Howard demands that she skip lunch to prepare him for a meeting. (The good news is, HHM has finally approved “that fancy salad place” as an acceptable working-lunch expense.)

To mull it all over, she goes back to the same restaurant to try that Moscow Mule – a cocktail whose name could easily describe her plight at HHM – and soon finds herself calling in Jimmy for backup in her scam on a would-be Lothario. She may not want to actually cash that $10,000 check, but she envies how clearly Jimmy sees himself, and feels guilty that he took the Davis & Main job to win her over. So what if they both chuck it all and do it Jimmy’s way? Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree may be like a chimp with a machine gun, as Chuck famously declared, but Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree AND Kim Wexler – or is it Gisele St. Clair? – as a willing accomplice could really do some damage.

Meanwhile, Mike Ehrmentraut continues to regret the half-measure he took with respect to Tuco, opting to get him sent to prison rather than killing him. Tuco’s uncle Hector wants Mike to take the gun charge to reduce Tuco’s sentence, and when Mike roughs up a couple of Salamanca thugs sent to scare him, sending them off with a gruff “try harder,” Hector does: in another, particularly satisfying Breaking Bad callback, he sends the murderous twins to intimidate Mike while he’s with his granddaughter. (Mike will get his revenge on one of the twins in season 3 of BB.) In the end, Mike agrees to take the gun charge, but for $50,000, ten times Hector’s initial offer, half of which he gives to Nacho as a refund. “Your problem is going to be back sooner than we thought.” Who says there’s no honor among criminals?

Mike’s deal with Hector means that a) he is officially in business with the Salamancas, and b) he is going to need a criminal lawyer to defend him against the gun charge. Emphasis on the “criminal….”

Observer’s Sean T. Collins loves the showcase the episode provides for Rhea Seehorn:

Visually speaking, [Kim’s] face was the image that defined the episode. This began early, with a long-held look at her as she sits on her bed, listening to Jimmy serenade her answering machine with a reedy rendition of “Bali Ha’i” from South Pacific. Saul’s a show that doesn’t mind sitting with a supporting character as she sits quietly and soaks in the goofball charm of its protagonist, a guy with whom at this point she’s both furious and, despite herself, infatuated. Using this as the payoff for her morning routine, during which it becomes increasingly apparent she was waiting for him to call despite having no intention of picking up, was a lovely idea, and director Michael Slovis’s execution was inspired.

Kim gets another key close-up later, during an unexpected lunch with the opposing counsel in the Sandpiper case. Dennis Boutsikaris, a marvelous character actor who looks like he was born to play lawyers who help people even richer than he is get away with shit, returns as Rick Schweikart, founding partner of the firm defending the crooked nursing-home corporation from Jimmy and company’s class-action suit. He’s impressed enough by Kim’s conduct in court, battling hard against a motion she knows she’ll lose, to invite her not just for a bite, but for a job. To make his point that her lack of support from her boss Howard Hamlin, a no-show at the hearing, is not the kind of to take lightly, he regales her with a tale of his first big case, when he was hung out to dry by his own superiors; they saw it as a “trial by fire,” but he saw it as a sign he could never trust these people. Considering the complete and total stonewalling she’s getting from Howard—seen this episode during an endless walk-and-talk shot with Kim on their way to a big meeting with their big new client, minus the “talk” bit—Schweikart’s probably right.

But rather than show her paying rapt attention to the story, the shots of her during Schweikart’s monologue reveal her as fidgety. Her eyes wander, her smile feels slightly forced, her effect gives the impression of a woman unhappy with similarities between his story and her own situation, unsure of where this is going and uncomfortable around people accustomed to being the most interesting man in the conversation, particularly when the power differential gives their interlocutors no choice other than to regard them as such. So when he finally makes the job offer, both her voice and her guard crack ever so slightly, as she realizes she no longer need be so cautious. It’s thoughtful acting on the part of Rhea Seehorn, who has a relatively thankless role amid the Jimmys and Mikes and Chucks of the world. It’s just as thoughtfully filmed and edited, taking the traditional shot-reverse-shot reaction setup and investing it with just a little uncertainty and novelty even as it echoes the closeup with the answering machine and a beautiful little zoom later on when she’s deciding whether or not to call Schweikart and take the job. And it all depends on Better Call Saul’s trust in the audience to appreciate quiet, to enjoy sitting still.

The A.V. Club’s Donna Bowman likewise admires the economy of storytelling in Kim’s plot:

…Kim and Jimmy are struggling to carry on as if their choices are simple, black and white, right and wrong. Kim listens to a spiel from Schweikart for a partner-track job, even though she protests that she owes her loyalty to HHM for funding her legal education while she worked her way up from the mailroom. (Watch how the camera lingers on Kim’s face listening to Schweikart’s monologue. Just like in the cold open, her expressions tell all the stories she’s hearing, imagining, and telling herself.) But what she really wants isn’t a different job. It’s the freedom that Schweikart displays—to drink a Moscow Mule in the middle of the day, out of a copper mug, just like when the drink was invented in the fifties. To be an interesting individual, not a wardrobe of pencil skirts hauling around her office in a document box.

And that freedom whispers its seductive song less in the prospect of a career upgrade and a partner track, than in the improvisational thrill of seeing an opportunity and grabbing it. When a handsome philanderer buys Kim a drink moments after putting another woman in a car outside, she knows—thanks to Jimmy—what he deserves and how to make him pay. Jimmy can’t bolt out from under Erin’s oppressive clipboard fast enough when he gets the call. Giselle and Viktor are back, and that old thrill now has a sharper, sweeter taste. Neither of them can lie convincingly, to themselves or each other, that they’re happy slaving away for hypersensitive, unappreciative bosses.

If the mug doesn’t fit, you must whack the tar out of the goddamned metric cupholder with a lug wrench until it does. Or ditch the company car and go for a float, metaphorical or otherwise. The cupholders on those pool loungers are mighty accommodating.

Kenny Herzog of Vulture muses on both Mike’s and Kim’s animating sense of obligation:

If Nacho found Mike to be an exotic sort of criminal up until now, he’s doubly puzzled by the old man’s hubris at the bargaining table. Later, he volunteers to drop the cash off at Mike’s place himself so they can talk. Mostly, he wants to look Mike in the eye and be sure he won’t blab about their little conspiracy to get Tuco behind bars. Satisfied, Nacho turns toward the door, but Mike stops him and hands him half his take, explaining, “We made a deal. I didn’t hold up my end. Your problem is coming back sooner than we expected.” Mike’s comeuppance for fessing to the cops isn’t clear, but the meaning behind his honorability is. Their business isn’t finished until after Tuco gets free.

Though, hey, who is ever entirely unaccountable to someone? At a certain point, relationships become obligatory. We’re always seemingly paying off a literal or more imperceptible debt, and in turn acquiring new foils and adversaries. Kim’s done everything short of shine Howard’s shoes, but he still kicks her when she’s down. She’s even got her own junior-associate babysitter, Julie (Manhattan’s Audrey Moore), to rival Jimmy’s do-gooder taskmaster Erin. It’s enough to make a woman bolt to the nearest bar for a Moscow Mule, slip into her alter ego Giselle, call in fictitious brother Viktor, and dupe some womanizing engineer out of $10,000 for a phony startup under the auspices of — what else? — Ice Station Zebra Associates. Or, in Jimmy’s case, keep a man up all night watching Chia Pet commercials and ultimately seeking consolation in the noisy, cramped confines of Day Spa & Nail’s boiler room (or perhaps seek out a new identity entirely, mwahaha). But as the on-again, off-again couple get dressed in Kim’s apartment and contemplate their latest ruse, the thought has to cross their minds: Is conning a wealthy lowlife out of $10,000 any less dubious than bilking elderly nursing-home residents out of their savings? Where do they each draw the line, and which side will they ultimately stake out? I think we know the answer with Jimmy. What remains to be seen is exactly when and why.

And Entertainment Weekly’s Greg Cwik relates to Jimmy’s (remember him?) frustration at Davis & Main:

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.

New episodes of Better Call Saul premiere at 10pm ET Mondays on AMC; recent episodes are available on-demand.

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