Better Call Saul: Bali Ha’i

 Posted by on March 23, 2016 at 5:05 pm  Better Call Saul  Add comments
Mar 232016
Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/ Sony Pictures Television/ AMC

Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/ Sony Pictures Television/ AMC

Over the course of recapping and reviewing Better Call Saul, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to talk about themes of corruption, of making choices, of doing what’s right versus doing what’s necessary. But with this week’s Bali Ha’i, we look at themes of authenticity, of fitting in, and of loyalty. Loyalty in particular is kind of a new conversation in the Better Call Saul universe.

When Kim gave Jimmy the coffee mug a couple of weeks ago, and then it didn’t fit into the cupholder of the Davis & Main-provided car, that was some pretty straightforward symbolism about whether or not Jimmy would fit in at his new firm. (Spoiler Alert: No.) This week’s episode, Bali Ha’i, ends with Jimmy taking a crowbar to the cupholder. So, metaphorically, we have to wonder if that’s going to work—if he can just force Davis & Main to play by his rules. With a dull-as-dishwater Sandpiper commercial airing, and Erin hovering over him with a checklist, that seems unlikely.

Sleep is a good metaphor for being at peace. Not really a metaphor—sometimes it’s literal—but Jimmy’s insomnia seems like more symbolism, or an extended motif about his frustrations.

I dictate notes into my phone while I watch Better Call Saul, and at one point, captured the following:

Golfing with the big bowl of balls. Playing basketball with the big ball of balls. Over the edge with the big bowl of balls. The big bowl of balls is bouncing down the stairs.

I’d have kept going, but Professor Spouse made me stop.

Jimmy is not at peace in his Davis & Main-provided condo, with his Davis & Main-provided big bowl of balls. He can sleep blissfully on the disgusting little fold-out in the back of the nail salon, and he’s just cautious enough to keep paying the rent for it. The shyster in the back of the nail salon is who he really is. That’s when I jotted down “it’s about authenticity”.

Meanwhile, Kim is in a pretty dark place, despite being out of the doghouse. She’s not even eager to unpack in her new-not-new office, to Howard’s surprise.

It seems to me that Kim isn’t answering Jimmy’s calls, but that she’s been quietly listening to him sing to her every morning. The complex feelings playing across her face are a joy to watch—Rhea Seehorn is absolutely amazing here, just sitting on the edge of her bed, amused, annoyed, delighted, hesitant, unhappy.

Later, we learn that she started in the mailroom at HHM, and eventually became an attorney there. It goes a long way towards explaining her affinity for Jimmy, and her belief in his journey. His success is hers, his journey is hers, and she wants him to win at it, to prove to herself that she can win. So, when she jumps into a con, she’s embracing his world, just as he embraces hers. But she doesn’t want to keep the money, because it’s not really her world.

Maybe “Giselle”’s little con is like a bride who has a one-night stand right before the wedding. Last chance to sow wild oats. Maybe it means she’s preparing herself to take Schweikart’s offer. It seems unlikely, since Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin is a regular cast member. On the other hand, Dennis Boutsikaris is such a distinctive presence that it seems unlikely he was cast as a throwaway character. (Although, how distinctive can he be when I invariably confuse him with Ron Silver?) (Ron Silver died in 2009, so I should definitely realize it’s not Ron Silver when I see Boutsikaris in anything new.)

We were just supposed to scare you, that’s all. –Thug

You try harder next time. –Mike

Is Mike authentic? He seems to walk a strange line. Yes, he’s grieving and guilt-ridden, and loyal above all to his daughter-in-law and granddaughter—largely as a result of that guilt, although his love for Kaylee is surely genuine. Yet, is he himself? He has a code to which he adheres, he tries to do right, he even gives Nacho back a hunk of money in the end. He’s smart and he uses his smarts to outwit self-styled tough guys. He’s also smart enough to recognize when a tough guy is the real deal, as when the murderous brothers from Breaking Bad appear. Their mere presence is enough for Mike to wake up and realize he cannot go up against a cartel boss single-handedly. But for all his welcome-mat tricks and his morality, he plays by his own rules, no one else’s—how well did that go over on the police force?

How you manage to live so long with a mouth like that?—“Tio” Salamanaca

After Mike pistol whips the thugs his hands tremble. Fear? Anger? Adrenaline? Who is he?

But about loyalty. Mike is loyal to Kaylee and to his code. Is Kim loyal to Howard and HHM? Is Jimmy loyal to Chuck? Finding a fit, and having that fit reflect your loyalties, is what troubles all of these characters.

Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/ Sony Pictures Television/ AMC

Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/ Sony Pictures Television/ AMC

And by the way, I rarely mention it, but the show is a visual feast. I’m including one more illustration, just to prove the point. Every shot is gorgeous.


  10 Responses to “Better Call Saul: Bali Ha’i”

  1. I’m loving this show too. Two observations:

    1) Neat juxtaposition between Jimmy in pool from an earlier episode and Mike by pool with grandchild. It’s where they really WANTED to be, but isn’t where they’ll end up.

    2) Rick Schweikart’s offer is worrisome. His Moscow Mule is served with a wedge of lime. In Breaking Bad, green was associated with cruel reality as contrasted with blue which was about one’s dreams and aspirations. I suspect he’s working a con on Kim to benefit his client.

    • Interestingly, Kim is wearing a blue suit (and pants…she’s always in a skirt!) whilst in court during the Sandpiper hearing as Schweikart watches on. She is even tapping a blue pen.

      • Kim almost always wears blue. Often blue-on-blue. It’s “Hamlindigo”.

        • Kim also has worn a Kansas City Royals baseball t-shirt, which is not only blue, but maybe is a sign that she roots for the underdog — Jimmy and the Royals!

          • Kim is wearing an Omaha Royals sweat-tee.
            Omaha is a farm club of the Royals.

            I wonder if Omaha is the city in Nebraska where Saul manages the Cinnabon.

  2. To reflect your riff on Jimmy and balls, near the end Tio comments approvingly on Mike’s enormous balls,

    The title song is an interesting comment on Kim and Mike’s stories. “Bali Ha’i” is all about being lured away from your normal life to some special place where everything will be wonderful. That’s Schweikart’s pitch to Kim, while Mike’s situation is the evil obverse: He’s being forced, not lured, to a new place, where he knows things are definitely not wonderful.

    You’re point on how well Mike’s sticking to his own rules ended up serving him on the police force is well-taken. We admire Mike so much because he remains his own man and stays true to his code even in the worst situations (I don’t know which I loved more this week: his facing down of Tio or his returning the $25,000 to Nacho.) But we also know how he ends up. It’s a sobering realization.

  3. […] Michael Slovis discusses working on Better Call Saul (in an episode I called out for its visual […]

  4. Totally agree Deb, the log shot cinema photography in exquisite and languid…early season Mad Men style but equal is the closeups (this week – Mike cleaning his gun and that trickle of blood going down the sinkhole)

  5. I don’t know if we’ll see it in S-2 of Better Call Saul, but I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of Gus Fring. It probably won’t happen in the remaining episodes, what with all the other appearances of Breaking Bad characters so far, but then, one never knows.

    I can’t quite recall who knew whom first, regarding Mike, Saul and Gus. I remember that Saul referred to Mike and Gus, in a conversation with Walt and Jesse (I know a guy who knows a guy), back when they were looking for someone to team up with, after Hank killed Tuco. It will be interesting to see how all that unfolds. I also find myself wondering what will ultimately become of Kim. I’m pretty sure she was never referred to in Breaking Bad, so anything’s possible. I don’t know why, but I suspect that things will not end well for Kim or Chuck, before it’s all over. I have nothing to base it on – other than an ominous feeling.

    A week or so ago, I watched all the BCS S-1 episodes on Netflix. After each one, I listened to Kelley Dixon’s Better Call Saul Insider Podcast, which is on You Tube or as an iTunes podcast. These add so much to the enjoyment and understanding of each episode, what with all the behind-the-scenes goodies provided by the actors and the production staff. Fun stuff! I expect to invest in the BCS S-1 Blu-Ray set soon, since the commentary tracks and extras also add to the experience of the show.

  6. After Mike pistol whips the thugs his hands tremble.

    Based on personal experience (narrowly avoiding car crash) I’m going with Adrenaline.

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