Better Call Saul: Amarillo

 Posted by on March 2, 2016 at 5:16 pm  Better Call Saul
Mar 022016
Better Call Saul _ Season 2, Episode 3 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/ AMC

Better Call Saul _ Season 2, Episode 3 – Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/ AMC

Hey, don’t be jealous of my big bowl of balls, it’s unbecoming.

Very late in Amarillo, Episode 2.03 of Better Call Saul, I realized that this series is not about Jimmy McGill becoming compromised, and thus becoming Saul. It’s about both Jimmy and Mike Ehrmantraut becoming compromised, and thus becoming the men we’ll meet in Breaking Bad.

We don’t think of Mike that way, because even as a guy working for criminals and doing criminal things, Mike has always oozed integrity. But obviously he’s compromised, and obviously that was a journey for him. It’s a sadder journey, a counterpoint to Jimmy/Saul’s comedic one. But isn’t Mike’s underlying sorrow a commentary on Jimmy?

At the end of the episode, two phones rang. Jimmy got a call from Cliff Davis/Main, angry about the commercial that aired. He pivoted from that call to a lie to Kim Wexler. Mike, meanwhile, got a call for a “higher level” job, a job that he must know will compromise him utterly, a call from Nacho. There is no way to look at this episode without understanding that at some level, this is the same phone call. Don’t be you, this phone call says, be the other guy–the one you have to be.

I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. McGill.

Who is Jimmy McGill? He’s a very good con man, and he’s a very smart lawyer. He wants to please people; he wants people to be proud of him. Having focused all his energies on making Chuck proud of him, and failing (because the game was rigged–Chuck was never going to be proud of him), he’s now focusing his attention on Kim. Kim must be proud of him. But whether because he doesn’t trust himself, or because he has ADD and/or just doesn’t have the patience, he wants to do things the con man way. He wants fast, loud, and spectacular.

You and I both know you can do this job, but please you just have to do it right.

I’m going with “doesn’t trust himself”, at least in part, and I’m concluding that because of the scene with the video. Jimmy made a good commercial, although, given the mesothelioma commercial, and the conversation about long hours in meetings debating the swirl, it’s doubtful the partners would have signed off. But Jimmy, who sells everything spectacularly, was too scared to try. Too scared to confront Cliff, too scared to confront Kim, he is glib only when he’s sure he’s on top.

Amarillo is a move-pieces-on-the-board episode, not a lot of thrills or sharp interest, although it was plenty good enough.

Here’s the big question of the night: Is Mike’s daughter-in-law suffering from post-traumatic stress, or is she faking?

Here’s some bullet points for you:

  • Am I crazy, or is “the highly lucrative, creatively rewarding field of advertising” a Mad Men reference?
  • Mike’s eating a pimento cheese sandwich in the stakeout scene. It’s the caviar of the South.
  • Jimmy and Kim are watching Ice Station Zebra.
  • Unfortunately, Jonathan Banks is noticeably older in these “pre-Breaking Bad” scenes than he was during Breaking Bad. Nothing to be done about it, alas.

  10 Responses to “Better Call Saul: Amarillo”

  1. I’m of the opinion that Stacey is suffering from PTSD and Mike sees it. He’s done the math and knows he has to take “higher level” jobs for what he expects to be an increased financial need to support his daughter-in-law and granddaughter. This also creates another parallel for the Jimmy/Mike story arc: both have family members suffering from a mental illness (Chuck/Stacey).

    FWIW, I love ICE STATION ZEBRA. Whenever there’s a discussion/debate about whether or not a gay actor can effectively play a “macho” character, I point people to that one. Rock Hudson more than holds his own against actors whose machismo bona fides are unquestioned (Ernest Borgnine, Patrick McGoohan, Jim Brown).

    • Good call on the parallel between Chuck and Stacey; both relatives drive the action of our characters.

      People pretend we just invented “gay” in the last 30 years. Just because actors were closeted doesn’t mean they weren’t gay.

      • Not to beat it to death, but this topic is one that’s particularly irksome to me (NOT because of anything you said, Deb).

        I remember watching ISZ with my dad as a kid. Despite what some folks think, Rock Hudson’s sexual identity was known at the time– at least it was in the Maul house and I don’t think we were particularly “hip.” 🙂

        That said, Rock Hudson’s personal life NEVER entered into our mutual enjoyment of the film. My dad just accepted it as a “good movie” (and he was hardly someone who’d be labeled as “Progressive” 🙂 🙂 ).


        • I think it was Matt Damon, when asked about a gay role and how he felt about doing that, who remarked that no one asked actors about how they were able to shoot guns on-screen, since they weren’t really murderers.

  2. Re Mike’s daughter-in-law, at first I thought that I had missed something, or Mike had, when she showed him the evidence of gunshots, or whatever, on the wall the next morning. I don’t think she’s faking, but even if she is, wouldn’t that be a sign of PTSD ? In any case, she’s scared, and Mike has to take action. His sense of responsibility, and guilt, demands it.

    As much as I wanted to learn Mike’s history, I was also worried that the revelation would destroy his mystery. I don’t worry about that anymore. Everything he does traces back to what happened between him and his son, and he will never be free of it. It gives his character a tragic dimension of enormous power.

  3. I found a blog that identifies the source of Jimmy’s office art (linked in my URI).

    One comment suggests it is another Mad Men call-back (falling man)

  4. Perhaps because I was not in reviewer-mode, Jimmy’s lucrative/creative line did not evoke a Mad Men callback for me – it was just one of many Saul lines before and after the persona integration. Very smart to hire film students to make that ad – so long as they are the smart film students. I’ll take bets that Jimmy wrote the copy for that first ad that Jimmy/Saul produced.

    A little irony occurs to me that this ad had no comic elements as the Better Call Saul ads did.

  5. This doesn’t have anything specifically to do with this episode, but I can’t wait until we find out how Jimmy McGill changes his name to Saul Goodman and keeps practicing law in the same city. I’m sure the writers have it worked out, at least I hope, but I can’t see how we get from A to B. Should be a fun ride!

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