Better Call Saul: Lone Star (S2 E3 Recap)

bcs logoWe open with another country song because all country songs are ultimately about loss. Jimmy is standing in front of a wall with the lone star flag painted over it, and just to make sure we get that he is not in New Mexico anymore, Jimmy’s got the cowboy hat, and the bolo tie, but we may have seen the suit before. It’s Matlock-white.

Jimmy can't resist tipping that hat because he saw it in a movie

Jimmy can’t resist tipping that hat because he saw it in a movie

An accessible “Sandpiper” bus pulls up, and Jimmy is told by a staff person that he has five minutes, which is plenty enough time for him. The bus is filled with olds, and the olds have always been very, very good to Jimmy. He’s there to speak with Alma May Urbano. She responded to a mailing sent out by his firm and he’s there to sign her up personally, and to make sure he speaks loudly enough for everyone to hear his spiel, which includes references to his own nana and bobo of “the greatest generation.”

There’s another meeting at HHM. Jimmy is again seated next to Kim, and their feet touch under the table. Jimmy is being lauded by Cliff Main for his outreach efforts, but all is not good. Chuck, who now seems to have been miraculously cured of his affliction, (Hallelujah!) is there. Chuck has some questions about the twenty-two, oh sorry twenty-four, new clients that Jimmy signed up in Amarillo even though only one (Alma May) responded to the mailer. He’s not so subtly cross-examining his errant younger bro, who assures everyone that these are “close knit communities” (true), where everyone “heard the scuttlebutt before [he] crossed state lines” (maybe), and that he certainly “didn’t knock on doors” (technically true but misleading).

He's even thinking of getting a cell phone.

He’s even thinking of getting a cell phone.

Chuck is effectively shut down, but did he raise doubts about Jimmy? They all move on, but Jimmy interrupts and says he understands the need to go above and beyond, and he’ll find another way. No more meet and greets. Cliff again expresses confidence in the confidence man, telling him that outreach is his department.

After the meeting, Kim is not happy with him. She wants to know what happened in Texas and asks if he did “a song and dance” for residents “in the day room.” Jimmy says, “not in the day room.” She doesn’t ask for more details. She doesn’t need to. She knows him and knows what he meant, and she is not happy. He counters that Chuck had no problem with his stopping octogenarians with walkers in malls when they were first getting clients for the suit. Kim is someone who can see the lines clearly. Jimmy has a kind of moral dyslexia. It’s hard for his brain to keep tracking lines when they’re always jumping around.. She points out that not only could he get disbarred, but she was the one who put herself out by pushing for him. Her judgment is at stake. She tells him they both know he can do it, but he has to do it the right way. And we know he’ll try for, her just like the proverbial scorpion probably tried not to sting the proverbial frog.

Office romances can get awkward.

Office romances can get awkward.

And so, after discovering that the firm got zero mail responses from Colorado Springs, probably because staff at Sandpiper never let them get to the clients – highly illegal but hard to prove – Jimmy goes to Cliff Main with an idea: How about a television commercial? Cliff is “open” to it, but it’s not really the firm’s “thing” although they tried it once before. He leaves it as the “let’s talk” stage and mentions running it by the partners.

Jimmy has his assistant show him the old ad they ran which was a spot for an asbestos exposure lawsuit. If you think you may have seen the spot, you probably did because it looks like they copied one that a gazillion law firms were using, right down to the blue swirls, and it’s pretty awful, or as Jimmy asks, “Whatever happened to the showmanship?” His assistant mentions all the partner meetings they went through to debate the minutia, and anyone who’s ever seen their own ideas go through a committee’s grinder can only sigh in sympathy. If only there were some way to fast track this?

Cutting through the red tape, Jimmy brings in the two film students who helped him capture the moment when he “rescued” the billboard poster putter-upper who was dangling over the edge. They film the spot in the home of the awesome Mrs. Strauss, who you may recall as the woman who made a very slow entrance down the stairs in her electric stair chair last season, but who proved to be savvy, and sassy.

No casting couch involved.

No casting couch involved.

Can she be a regular please? There’s a reference to her beloved Alpine Shepherd figurine, the one an episode was named for, which is NOT the same Hommel figurine that Marie Schraeder picks up with a three-finger discount at an open house a few years later on Breaking Bad, but who knows? Perhaps the one Marie lifts, featuring a boy racing to a fire with a bucket and ladder, riding on the back of pig, came from the Strauss collection and was passed on to one of her lesser relations.

Uncatalogued in the Strauss collection.

Uncatalogued in the Strauss collection.

Jimmy describes the set up to his cohorts. Black and white. An old lady in a tattered shawl in a rocking chair. The fabulous Mrs. Strauss descends like Orpheus on her electric stair chair, or maybe more like Katherine Hepburn as Mrs. Venable in Suddenly Last Summer, and certainly like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, and announces with a knowing wink that she’s ready for her close up. Ah, Mrs. S if only Jimmy were a wee bit older. He always wanted to direct, and you’ve got star quality.

Is the shawl a cross-dressing homage to Ed Wood?

Is the shawl a cross-dressing homage to Ed Wood?

When he shows Kim the finished product, she is impressed, which is something considering that Kim is as much a film fan as Jimmy. She’s so proud of her protege/boyfriend. She tells him that she can’t believe Cliff Main went for it. He doesn’t bother to tell her that he hasn’t shown it to Cliff yet. Why ruin the moment?

The next day at work, Jimmy is in his office staring at the video in a box on his desk  because this is 2002 when they still had videos. He starts over to Cliff’s office. We hear the sounds of Cliff playing guitar, but then Jimmy turns around, and has his assistant check with Fed Ex about getting the video over to Colorado Springs. Why didn’t he check with Cliff? We can all see that this is BIG MISTAKE. Is it because Jimmy knows he’s right, knows that the bottom line is clients and this will get him the clients? Does he figure he’ll be forgiven for taking the shortcut if he gets the results? Does he feel he was already hemmed in by Chuck? Or is it that like turning the light switch? He simply can’t resist the risk?

Meantime, Mike continues on his own trajectory to hell. His daughter-in-law, Stacy, tells him she’s been hearing bullets flying in her not so great neighborhood that looks perfectly fine. Mike, without her knowledge, decides to stake the place out, hanging out in his car eating his pimento sandwiches and listening to a ballgame on his old-timey transistor radio. He’s got everything in their except a bathroom, and if you’ve got an old man in your life, you gotta be wondering, where he’s going to pee. Then again, Mike’s probably been holding it in for years. He doesn’t hear a peep most of the night until he sees the lights of a car slowly coming down the street and then plop, plop, plop, which is not the same as pop, pop, pop, but could maybe that sound that way if you were really scared. It’s only bundled newspapers landing on the pavement. At dawn, he heads over to his booth, and can barely keep his eyes open. Stacy calls him convinced it happened again. When he drives over, she even shows him a chip in the outside wall that she’s sure came from a bullet. Mike doesn’t argue. He tells her he’s getting her and Kaylee out of the house, and then he takes his puppy to the vet, which on this show is both a literal thing and a metaphor – the vet being his go to guy for outside gigs of the not quite legal to very illegal variety. Does that dog even have a name?

Would you trust this guy with your dog?

Would you trust this guy with your dog?

Jimmy is looking at his wall art as though he’s trying to decipher its meaning. It’s a painting chock full of Breaking Bad references, as the internet has noted. There’s the headless figure and/or empty suit floating through the air. It reminds us of Walt’s pants blowing in the wind in the pilot, or maybe the passengers on that ill-fated flight. Where the head should be there’s a flowerpot, like the flowerpot with the lily of the valley plant that Walt used to poison Brock. As explained in this detailed analysis, there’s every reason to believe that Saul Goodman was the one that got the poison to the kid. So every picture tells a story, and this one tells a story about more short cuts in Jimmy’s future, and that his disregard for the rules will lead to his someday poisoning a child.  The audience, who knows the future, can see it. Jimmy can’t. That’s the tragedy of BCS, everything already happened, so no matter how hard we wish it could change, it can’t.

The ad is about to run. A “Sandpiper hot line” has been set up to take the calls. Jimmy’s waiting for those calls, and it’s a call back to season one when he waited desperately for the phone to ring in his cramped office in back of the nail salon. When the lines start lighting up, Jimmy refers to yet another episode when he says, “Bingo.”

That night he’s in his soulless generic but well appointed corporate apartment with Kim, watching Ice Station Zebra, starring Rock Hudson, a man who hid his true self from the public for decades. Cliff calls. He’s outraged that Jimmy ran the commercial without showing it to him first. Jimmy tells him they got one hundred and three phone calls. Cliff calls him a “a God damned arsonist” and tells him to be there at eight for a meeting with the partners. They want to see “this thing.” Kim still thinks he’s Cliff’s “golden boy.”

The crooked vet, meantime, has gotten a special request for Mike’s services. He doesn’t know much about the job other than that the pay will definitely be “next level.” Who could have asked for Mike by name? Nacho of course. There’s someone he needs to get gone. Mike makes a lip smacking sound, which is not necessarily a no.

Oh Jimmy! Oh Mike!

Last season ended with Jimmy seeming to change almost instantly into Saul as a result of his realization that Chuck had betrayed him. They slowed things down, if not reset them, by having him decide to take the Davis & Main job, and try to stay on the right path – if only to get the girl, but it’s seeming less likely that we’re in for one big moment of transformation. We’ve already seen all of Saul’s qualities – his moral “flexibility,” his love of the flash, his penchant for shortcuts, and certainly his narrative gifts. We knew Saul only as sleazy comic relief, so when we first met sweet Jimmy McGill we wanted to see them as two different people. We wanted an origin story that explained how one became the other. But Jimmy always was Saul, just like Walter White was always Heisenberg. We were all like Kim, convincing ourselves that not only could Jimmy be successful, but he could do it on the straight and narrow. But what if Chuck (lying, crazy, jealous hypocrite that he is) was correct? What if Jimmy simply can’t tell right from wrong the way some of us can’t tell red from green? What if the nature of the thing is the same, no matter what name we give it?

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: Better Call Saul

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