Mike Faces Down an Old Favorite as ‘Better Call Saul’ Heats Up (TV REVIEW)

[rating=8.00] “Bali Ha’i”

There’s this parallel in Better Call Saul right now matching the storyline we’ve been following this season. So far, we’ve been teetering on the acceptance and excitement of new characters, new plot, and new crime, while also openly pining for the characters of Breaking Bad. While we wonder if we should hate ourselves for relying so heavily on this line, we’re also watching a severely interesting rise in the story of Mike. Mike as of late has been acting as the conduit for the Saul and Breaking Bad worlds, a role originally cast by Jimmy himself until his recent attempts to steer straight. So while the rise in crossovers continues, we also get the rise in Mike’s storyline away from anything Jimmy has to offer. It’s bold in terms of taking away from the titular character, but it works.

Where does that leave the viewer? It’s been understood as season two sweeps on that the beauty in the series comes in its ability to captivate a diverse crowd while seemingly doing nothing. For instance, one of the most interesting shots we saw this week was following Jimmy’s briefcase through the x-ray machine as he enters into the courthouse. Dark, grainy, and suddenly overtaken by the incessant incandescent lights that tend to wash out everything but fine lines and despair. Under any other circumstances an audience would revolt at the monotony; the “action” pay-off is generally minimal. However, the majestic shots and tireless efforts of the show runners to keep things slow are coming in with a steady pay off.

This week we were again subject to a pearl clutching gasp at the addition of The Cousins to this season’s cast of miscreants. After Hector (Tio’s) insistence on Mike taking $5,000 to help shorten Tico’s sentence, we knew Mike would refuse. For one he made a deal with Nacho. Two, he’s never one to be told what to do. We’ve seen this time and time again, and while Mike has a family to think of as he dabbles in this dangerous work, he would also rather die than be bullied around. The Cousins’ sudden appearance on the roof across from where he is currently housing Paranoid Patty and his granddaughter was haunting, though intoxicating. The shot was literally breathing new life in a set of characters that have every right to regain memorability in the eyes of a new audience.

Jonathan Banks as Mike in Better Call Saul.

Part of Mike’s charm is his insistence on keeping his word. Though he deals with criminals, he’s also not one to go back on a deal if it’s been made. His choice to stand up to Tio at first felt misguided, though admirable. As he continues to delve down this path, it’s becoming clearer that Mike has been doomed from the start. Though, he was able to talk $5,000 into $50,000 so it seems his “cojones” are enough to keep him from the wrath of the Salamancas. Giving half to Nacho for not being able to keep up his end of things was also a smart move. Keeping up appearances with all sides is what will help Mike as he moves forward in the hired goon business. Can we talk about his brilliant welcome mat trick for a second? Because that deserves an Emmy in itself.

As for Jimmy, his inability to hold on to “normalcy” is causing him to crack. The open of the episode was a reminder that he’s still uncomfortable in this world he’s been working to climb into. It’s contrasted early on as he watches TV to try and fall asleep. As the nighttime programming rages, we see an updated commercial calling for folks who may have been a part of the Sandpiper case. It’s dull and droning, same as the life of a lawyer at Davis & Mane. After another few hours of fuckery, Jimmy heads to the nail salon where he’s able to fall asleep in his old office in a matter of seconds. Jimmy thrives on chaos; even as he talks to the Assistant DA about his fancy life, he misses the toiling in the dregs of society. What’s more is Kim also seems to crave this life. Interesting, considering her position in Jimmy’s newfound world.

Kim’s demotion has left her with no option but to claw her way out of her early grave back into the favor of the law gods. She spends days finding something, anything, to get her name back on the map. Just as she is able, she is quickly brought back down by Howard who for some reason hasn’t quite forgiven her. Kim’s problem is she craves the attention brought by the favor of Howard, and even Chuck. But at the same time, she despises herself for needing it at all. There’s a fantastic moment where the two walk down the hall together for an important meeting. Kim thanks Howard, assures him she didn’t ask for the remittance into his favor, and he stays completely silent. It isn’t until right before they reach the room that he dons a huge grin, quietly getting into character for the client. Kim’s reaction is poignant; as she closes the door, her frown quickly lights up and she does the same.

We see the similarities between Jimmy and Kim not just in their quick witted ability to get marks’ money, but also in their struggle to keep a self-identity. Even her waiting for Jimmy’s phone call every morning is charming and infuriating. She could be late digging her a deeper hole, but instead she chooses this moment of esteem building as Jimmy serenades her before work. God forbid she answer the phone, but she listens. Though Chuck continues to blame Jimmy for the failings of everyone around him, we’re rapidly finding that most of these characters can tank their own lives without the help of Jimmy. Kim should take the job at the new firm, she’ll be on partner track and probably make a whole lot more money. But, she won’t, because she’s decided to prove something to herself and Howard. Jimmy is not the one holding her back, she is. After they spend another night together, Jimmy and Kim seem to be back in one another’s favor. Try as he might, he just can’t shake the inability to follow the rules. We get this is corporal form as he trashes the cupholder in his fancy company car in an attempt to fit Kim’s mug into his lif…I mean, car. Way to metaphor there, guys.

Jimmy struggles to fit Kim into his life. Wait. We mean cup. Kim's cup.
Jimmy struggles to fit Kim into his life. Wait. We mean cup. Kim’s cup.

Next week teases us with Jimmy’s wardrobe change. He’s not one to fit into any box, so it will be imperative that he feels comfortable in his own skin if he’s ever going to make the Davis & Mane job work. It’s like his coming out, he’s now a beautiful butterfly who can argue any garbage case. We’re likely to start seeing more connection between Mike and the impending Saul, moments we’ll treasure along with the continued nothing that will continue to be such a riveting watch.

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