Published on March 21st, 2016 | by Michael0
Better Call Saul – ‘Amarillo’ & ‘Gloves Off’
A double dose of Better Call Saul this week, as the Sandpiper case ramps up, Jimmy’s descent begins in earnest and Mike starts making the connections that will define his future career as an all-purpose fixer.
‘Amarillo’ begins in the titular Texas town, with Jimmy having bribed a coach driver to ‘break down’ so that Jimmy can talk to the seniors on board and get them to sign up as Davis & Main clients against Sandpiper. Which they all do. But there’s a piper to be paid (no pun intended) and it comes in the next board meeting of Hamlin Hamlin & McGill in the form of Chuck. What is behind Jimmy’s astronomical client outreach numbers, he wonders? After all, only they only received a handful of responses to the mail-outs. Jimmy looks momentarily flustered but as usual manages to blag his way through. But as Kim patiently explains to Jimmy, what he did was illegally solicit clients and while it worked, his behaviour reflects not only on himself, but on her and Howard as well. It’s a relatively minor incident but it sets a pattern that plays out across the two episodes – Jimmy sees an opportunity and takes it, hang the consequences. And while his schemes work, he doesn’t realise that results are the only thing that’s important to the two big law firms for whom he now works.
In retrospect, Jimmy worming out of trouble for his solicitation is the worst thing that could have happened to him, because buoyed by his success he takes and even bigger risk. His biggest strength has always been that he knows how people work and he knows how to make a deal. But when it comes to the senior partners at Law firms, his compass has repeatedly failed him. He didn’t see that Chuck would be disgusted, not elated, when he passed the bar. He didn’t realise that Howard, far from being a tyrannical monster, was merely Howard’s patsy and crucially in ‘Amarillo’ his misinterprets Cliff’s friendly word in the lobby as tacit approval of his TV advert idea.
To be fair to Jimmy, his advert is fairly well conceived and execute. He brings in those two film students from the billboard stunt in season one, convinces the owner of the Alpine Shepard Boy to star and even rigs up her Stannah Stairlift for an improvised dolly shot. He chooses the perfect time to show the ad (during Murder She Wrote, naturally) and furthermore runs it once on one territory as a test balloon. The only flaw? He completely fails to get Davis & Main to sign off on an advert which carries their name and number. What’s more, he makes the enormous error of telling Kim (making her culpable) while letting her believe his bosses already know (so she doesn’t report it herself).
In ‘Gloves Off’, the advert goes out and the client numbers go through the roof. Unfortunately so does Cliff when he finds out. ‘This is strikes one and two’ he tells a humbled Jimmy. Indeed, Cliff is the only one of the senior partners who doesn’t want to fire him outright which shows quite how badly Jimmy has fucked up, because previously his work had been beyond reproach. Worse is Kim’s fate – for the crime of not warning Howard/Chuck and by extension their oppos at Davis & Main, she is banished by a furious Howard to document review. Jimmy of course is horrified that his actions have caused her fall and thinks he sees a resolution. He goes to Chuck and in a heated confrontation offers to resign if Kim is restored to her proper role, but only if Chuck says that what he wants. Chuck for once turns the tables – if Chuck is really punishing Kim for Jimmy’s actions in order to get Jimmy to quit, then that would be extortion, a felony. It’s hard to see through Chuck’s layers of pomposity and rage – is he still trying to outmanoeuvre Jimmy, is he genuinely above extortion or is it his own ego that has blinded him to what he’s actually doing? At this stage it’s hard to tell, although the way he purses his lips constantly makes me want to punch him in the face more than ever.
Better Call Saul is remarkable in these days of the prestige drama in that it only has two storylines – Jimmy’s and Mike’s. Sure, characters like Chuck and Kim get a lot of fleshing out but it’s all in the service of Jimmy’s story. Whereas Jimmy brushes shoulders with a brand new cast of characters, Mike associates with familiar faces from Breaking Bad as well as the surely doomed new boy Nacho. In ‘Amarillo’, Mike finds himself in need money so he can move his daughter-in-law into a nicer neighbourhood. As his veterinary middle man tells him though, ‘you want next level pay, you’ve got to do next level work’. That’s right, no-more babysitting idiot baseball card enthusiasts, Mike is going to have to cook a fool or two to get the big bucks. Fortunately an opportunity arises almost straight away. It’s next level pay and the customer asked for Mike by name.
In ‘Gloves Off’, Nacho tells Mike that he needs Tuco gone. He tells Mike about how Tuco does a ‘lie detector’ routine, staring into someone’s eyes and god help you if he doesn’t like what he sees. That happened to a biker associate of Tuco and Nacho, with Nacho still carrying a bit of the man’s skull around in his shoulder. Nacho is understandably weary that Tuco won’t take kindly to his extra-curricular activities and wants him taken care off.
To do such a job, Mike needs tools which brings in our old friend Lawson (Jim Beaver), the calm, polite and reserved gun seller, another Breaking Bad alumnus. He and Mike are of a pair – both unfussy professionals who excel and their jobs without glorifying in what they do. Lawson sells guns, yes, but he never forces a sale and he never fetishes his products either. It’s a good job, too, because Mike reconsiders the hit on Tuco altogether.
Instead, Mike conspires to have Tuco sent down. Having gleaned from Nacho that Tuco loves his car beyond reason, Mike clips it with his own car and plays the clueless senior as Tuco tries to shake him down for money. Mike ends up taking one hell of a beating but when the cops arrive they find Tuco beating an old man with a gun out that he doesn’t have license for. Prison must do wonder for Tuco though, because Raymond Cruz looks 15 years older here than he did in Breaking Bad. Meanwhile Maximino Arciniega (Krazy 8) makes a cameo in the same scene looking younger, if anything, than he did eight years ago.
Mike pockets only half the money but avoids killing anyone and getting the Salamancas involved, but will he regret it. After all, he’s the man who told Walter White ‘no half measures’.