Better Call Saul Season 2, Episode 6 is called “Bali Ha’i,” taken from the song in South Pacific. Early in the episode, Jimmy McGill sings the tune pathetically into Kim’s answering machine, trying to get her attention after yet another incident where his hubris has made him seem ridiculous and undesirable. Since it gets the honor of inhabiting not just Kim’s answering machine, but also the episode’s title, there’s a clear reason this particular show tune was chosen (besides the obvious humor of a cynical criminal/lawyer singing it into an answering machine). Bali Ha’i is a mystical clump of land visible from the island where most of the Rodgers and Hammerstein-scored action unfolds in South Pacific. It’s a place that evokes desire by being off limits.
The world of lawlessness resting just beneath the codes Jimmy now makes money upholding is his Bali Ha’i. Last week, Kim actually had to challenge him not to break a law. But the show posits criminality for him — and even in momentary lapses for Kim — as an addiction fueled by the mundanity of the bureaucratic structures they’ve resigned themselves to. Unlike Walter White, Saul doesn’t have a particular illegal product he can make — there’s no locus of his drive toward rule-breaking barring an abstract love of rule-breaking. But in this episode his relapse doesn’t come from where you’d expect it: it’s goaded by Kim.
The episode opens with a hilarious montage of Jimmy having trouble abiding even the rules of his domestic space. Jimmy now lives in an oversized town home, and it’s almost uncanny seeing him legally wandering among middle class amenities — he clearly sees it as uncanny, too. Alone in his home, tiring of watching commercials for Chia Pets (though watching Jimmy watch TV never grows tiring for me) and remade versions of his scorned Davis & Main Sandpiper commercial, he begins kicking decorative wicker balls around his house, then flinging them off a landing, rolling them down the stairs. It’s a scene of goofy entropy that — if and when the season emerges from its (sometimes too) slow-burning series of metaphors — will obviously escalate to far more serious, and likely detrimental, rule-breaking.
Meanwhile, Kim is defending a Sandpiper resident, and goes in front of a judge with the lawyers representing Sandpiper — who hail from a larger and more established firm than the already-reputable Hamlin Hamlin and McGill. She argues well, and though she completely loses, her gumption impresses a partner (Rich Schweikart) at the other firm whose name is at once sillier (Schweikart & Cokely) and taken more seriously than her firm. He approaches her and invites her to a drink. At first, it seems he may be interested in her romantically, and is using professional flattery for other purposes, but it soon becomes clear to us and to Kim that this is an impromptu recruitment meeting. He’s caught her at a vulnerable moment: she’s just lost, and Hamlin didn’t show up in court to support her on this big case. When Kim realizes she’s being recruited (because it’s ultimately stated very plainly), she emphasizes her loyalty to Hamlin, explaining how she spent six years in their mail room and that they ultimately sent her to law school. But her loyalty is obviously waning as she speaks. Schweikart offers to pay off all her debts, and promises to take her off of the Sandpiper case to avoid ethical issues.
In a perfect last-minute subtle display of power and ease, Schweikart intimates that they’re “talking partner track” if she were to join, while, without missing a beat, subtly subordinating his server by gently joking about whether the restaurant had to get their Moscow Mules all the way from Moscow. But as was visible in the first episode of the season, Jimmy may be awakening a dormant appreciation for lawlessness in Kim — at least, one that’s amplified by both the pressures and comforts of conventional success. She goes to a bar in the middle of the workday to ponder her imminent decision, and is hit on by an engineer. We wonder why she’s accepting his offer of free drinks until she steals away and calls Jimmy. Her peace treaty: “I’ve got a live one.” She summons Jimmy in the middle of his own workday, and suddenly here are two lawyers playing hookie to con an engineer to invest in their groundbreaking online dating startup. (Kim ends up keeping his check as a souvenir rather than cashing it.)
Meanwhile, while Jimmy’s plot sees him sinking into a comfortable life that makes him uncomfortable — and while Kim questions her own comforts that have seemed, for her, like necessities — Mike Ehrmantraut’s quiet, comfortable life adjacent to the two people he cares about (his daughter-in-law and granddaughter) continues to be uprooted against his desires. In the last episode, a shockingly spry and verbal Hector Salamanca offered him $50,000 to say the gun Tuco was carrying when he was arrested was his; after sitting on his decision, it’s clear that Hector is growing impatient. A man shows up on his doorstep as a quiet threat. Then, one night, Mike comes home and realizes that something’s amiss; that something happens to be two men with guns loitering in his apartment. Of course, Mike is more skilled than any two men with guns, and scares them away as they meanwhile confess, “we were told to just scare you.”
But it becomes truly serious when he takes his granddaughter Kaylee swimming, and two figures appear on a nearby rooftop, gazing down at them, ominously. When one of them makes a gun out of his thumb, pointer and middle finger and aims it at Kaylee, Mike knows he can’t rely on inaction any longer. For audiences, someone sculpting a gun gesture with their hand may seem like a hackneyed and empty threat. But these two figures, you see, are no typical drug lord’s minions: and their hands are figuratively soaked in blood. They’re none other than “the Cousins” — the ruthless twins from Breaking Bad. If one of them makes a tritely mimed gun with their fingers, the threat is real. Mike visits Hector and agrees to the deal, then clandestinely splits the money with Nacho as an apology for the fact that Tuco’s time-out will be much shorter than Nacho had hoped. (Since Nacho, after all, initially wanted it to be eternal).
The episode’s close is almost reminiscent of the juxtapositions and facades from which The Americans draws so much tension. After all of these loosely intertwined exposures of regional and moral underbellies, Jimmy and Kim wake up one morning resting within the comfort of their life on the… overbelly. After their con, here they are, immersed in middle-class luxury with nothing but static, systemically approved promise ahead of them.
Kim recalls the moment when Jimmy was in the pool at the hotel where they conned the man into ordering them exorbitantly expensive tequila in the first episode of the season: the purity of his existence as an entropic, lawless being, she now realizes, seems compromised. She wonders if he took on this new lifestyle solely because of her, and whether it doesn’t fit. This reminiscent image of Jimmy, floating and unfettered, is the series’ own Bali Ha’i. In direct response to her question, when they part ways in the morning — off to their respectable jobs like a respectable suburban couple — Jimmy cannot fit his 2nd Best Lawyer cup into his Mercedes’ cup holder. This has been a running problem, and of course, a running metaphor. He takes a crowbar from the back of his car and violently extracts the cup holder, exposing the car’s own underbelly, and fitting the cup comfortably into that new hole.