This week, on Better Call Saul: an episode titled “Amarillo,” in which Jimmy McGill discovers his filmmaking abilities and Mike Ehrmantraut admits that he just might have to start killing people to make a living. That is to say, this week, on Better Call Saul, our characters take a few more distinct steps in the direction of their inevitable conclusions, as seen on Breaking Bad.
The episode begins with Jimmy in Amarillo, off on some client acquisition duties for Davis & Main. He commandeers a shuttle from a Sandpiper home and charms two dozen senior citizens into signing up for his firm’s class action, a strategy of acquiring clients that is, apparently, against the law. This is a thing that newfound gadfly (and Jimmy’s brother) Chuck feels the need to point out in a meeting of Jimmy’s peers, and rather than fight his brother, Jimmy relents, opting instead to pitch the idea for a commercial, which he then makes and sends to a TV station without checking for approval of the higher-ups.
The B plot of “Amarillo” focuses strictly on Mike, who is dealing with some sudden paranoia on the part of his daughter-in-law, who thinks that someone is tromping around her neighborhood at 2 a.m., shooting guns at nothing but her brick exteriors. Mike stakes the place out overnight and finds that a newspaper man is sending the would-be gunshots into the night air, and when he tells his daughter-in-law that, hey, maybe you’re dreamin’, she insists that no, she isn’t dreamin’, and that she needs to move. And so Mike heads back to his veterinarian/thug headhunter who offers Mike several jobs, most of which involve probably “breaking legs.” Mike opts for the $200 bodyguard position. Later in the night, he receives a call — someone has asked for him specifically.
At this point in both of these stories, our two mains are cornered into making choices that take advantage of their strengths and compromise their morals. For Jimmy, he’s going to make the best damn commercial ever seen by old folks who love Murder, She Wrote. He’s embracing this talent to schmooze, finding a way to use his charisma to further what he, for now, sees as a legitimate career. Mike, on the other hand, has been trying to escape from the murders he committed in Baltimore, and that he might be forced to dive back into that world doesn’t seem to sit well with the man.
We don’t get to see what Mike has to do in this new job, which was, of course, ordered by Nacho, who closes out the episode with this ominous, very Breaking Bad line: “There’s a guy — I need him to go away.”
We do, however, get to see the conclusion of the film shoot. Jimmy’s foray into directing finds him reconnecting with the film crew that recorded his first season billboard caper, and he has big plans. “Welles, Fellini, Bergman, what do they all have in common?” he asks, only to answer, “they all worked in advertising!” So Jimmy goes ahead and explains his commercial, which ends up looking like something that would fit right in to the Murder She Wrote commercial break he hopes to advertise in. It’s quiet, subtle, and totally what a bored grandmother would respond to. It even uses the old lady’s people mover as a dolly. It’s the exact opposite of the flashy commercials he would later use to entice potential criminal clients.
Honestly, it’s impressive, and Kim — who, earlier in the episode, spurred his footsie advances — also seems impressed, not only at the fact that Jimmy made the commercial, but that the partners approved it to go to air. Jimmy, of course, hadn’t had it approved ahead of time, further proving his recklessness, and also further proving that he subscribes to that tried-and-true dude method of “ask forgiveness, not permission,” and it’s very likely that this one instance won’t end up biting him in the ass. Because the commercial worked.
And it should have. It’s a good commercial. When it goes to air in Colorado, the scene that follows is like the severe climax of Spotlight, in which, following the publication of their massive article, the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe waits quietly for lines to start lighting up, and, inevitably, they do. It’s a rare moment of legitimate victory for Jimmy, one that is later undermined by a call from his boss, who is rightfully pissed that a commercial bearing the name of Davis & Main was run without first being approved.
Earlier in the episode, inside Jimmy’s corporate apartment, Kim makes fun of him for having a big bowl of fake balls on his table. It’s an apt metaphor for Jimmy’s upfront bravado, his charm overwhelming those with only superficial cynicism, while only someone like Chuck, who is intimately familiar with Jimmy’s shtick, can sniff out the phoniness. Kim hates the balls, though, and over the first three episodes of this second season, Kim’s becoming more and more privy to the fact that his balls are, indeed, phony. But Jimmy isn’t looking for something long-lasting — the thrill of the success overwhelms whatever small voice inside of him tells him to approve his actions with whatever appropriate authority. His figurative balls may just prove too big for Kim, and, in the end, may — I apologize — drive her away from his literal balls.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Mike saw a car with a flat tire, which, when in motion, sounded like gun shots. The piece has been updated with the correct information, which is that it was a newspaper man, further proving that print should be dead.