Better Call Saul Recap: Episode 2×03 (”Amarillo”)

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Episode 2×03: In which Jimmy makes a commercial and a series of questionable decisions.

Episode 2×03: “Amarillo” (written by Jonathan Glatzer; directed by Scott Winant)

So far this season we’ve seen both Mike and Jimmy make a series of relatively safe choices. After sowing his oats a bit, Jimmy takes the Davis and Main job and starts nesting with Kim. Mike takes the relatively safe protection job with Price, and wisely jumps ship before Price becomes a problem for him. But the events of episode 2×03 set a lot of things in motion for both of our protagonists, and it left me with the sense that things are going to get much darker from here on out.

We open with Jimmy in Amarillo, Texas, rocking what I like to call the Texas Matlock look. He’s dressed the way he thinks a person from Texas would be dressed and it’s completely over-the-top (where does one even find an armadillo bolo tie?). Jimmy pays off the driver of the Sandpiper Crossing bus, which is full of residents on their way to eat. He is looking for a lady named Alma May Urbano, who had responded to Davis and Main’s direct mailer regarding the class action suit. Jimmy tells Alma that he tried to reach her at Sandpiper but they wouldn’t let him see her. (Whether this is true or not is debatable.) He speaks to Alma May, but the rest of the seniors on the bus are a captive audience and Jimmy knows it. He explains the nature of the Sandpiper fraud in his usual elder-friendly way and all the seniors on board end up signing with Davis and Main.

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Back at HHM, there is a Sandpiper meeting in the conference room. Chuck is in attendance and, again, it’s throwing Jimmy off his game. The two are giving each other nasty looks that are not at all subtle and probably super uncomfortable for the people in the room (i.e. Kim and Hamlin) who know their history.

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Yikes.

Cliff reports that Jimmy has signed over 200 new Sandpiper residents in the past three weeks and both Kim and Hamlin look proud of Jimmy for his success. There is, of course, one person who does not look pleased: Chuck. The elder McGill questions Jimmy’s methods and basically accuses him of solicitation. He calls him out on the new Amarillo clients and tells him that he will need to account for how he got 24 clients from one direct mailer response. Howard tries to interject on Jimmy’s behalf but Chuck shushes him and it’s priceless. Apparently Chuck is totally cool with being disrespectful and dismissive of one of his partners in front of a room full of colleagues if it means he can make Jimmy look bad.

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Jimmy explains it away, saying that retirement homes are close-knit communities where gossip spreads fast. He tells everyone that the Amarillo residents already knew he was coming to speak with Alma about being owed money and that they were interested in talking to him about it. This is, of course, complete bullshit, but everyone buys it—everyone, that is, except Chuck and Kim, the two people who know Jimmy best. Kim denies Jimmy his conference room footsie (which makes me happy because the footsie thing is gross and I hate it) and Jimmy knows she’s seen right through him. He interrupts his colleague to tell the group that he sees Chuck’s point and he is going to try a different approach to client outreach—one that doesn’t involve any meet-and-greets at Sandpiper facilities. He looks to Kim for validation, but he doesn’t get it.

After the meeting, Kim takes off without waiting for Jimmy and he chases after her. He tries to turn things around on Chuck, and I have to say that he does make a valid point when he says that Chuck didn’t have any problem with the blatant solicitation Jimmy did at the mall when they were first building the case. But, loath as I am to admit it, everything Chuck said in the meeting was right, legally speaking. Ethically speaking, it is actually a pretty gray area. Kim points out that he could get disbarred for solicitation but Jimmy truly believes that the ends justify his means. By violating the “ethical” rule against solicitation, he is actually protecting the seniors at Sandpiper; they have much needed legal representation now, even though the bus stunt could technically get Jimmy disbarred.

Kim understands that the results were positive, but she can’t tolerate his methods when it’s her ass on the line. She tells him that his behavior and actions reflect on her and her judgment since she was the one who suggested him for the job. She believes in Jimmy wholeheartedly, but she is begging him to do his job the right way because if he doesn’t, it will have consequences for her (and for Hamlin, who also recommended Jimmy to Davis and Main). She’s trying to get Jimmy to see that his actions have real life consequences for other people, and that he really needs to think about that going forward.

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At Stacey’s house, Mike is playing with Kaylee and he gives her a new toy: a battery-operated pig that Breaking Bad nerds will recognize from episode 5×02. (It’s the same pig Mike used to distract the assassin Lydia sent to kill him at Chao’s house.)

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Mike gives Stacey an envelope full of money to help her and Kaylee get by and he notices that something is clearly bothering her. She tells him that she has been hearing gunshots for the past few nights and hasn’t gotten any sleep, but when Mike offers to stay at the house, she says no.

Jimmy is back in his office in Santa Fe trying to come up with a new, unimpeachable client outreach strategy. He tells Cliff that the direct mailing response cards aren’t working. Jimmy thinks that the Sandpiper people are probably throwing them out before they get to the residents but he doesn’t have any proof. But it’s all good, man, because Jimmy’s got a plan, and it’s actually a really good one: a highly targeted TV spot, which would run during the first commercial break in Murder, She Wrote. Cliff is open to the idea as they had some success with a TV ad for a class action they handled a few years back. He’s on his way out the door and tells Jimmy they’ll discuss it next week.

Jimmy watches the old Davis and Main commercial, which is just a standard info dump about mesothelioma over an abstract backdrop. He’s clearly unimpressed and his assistant, Omar, tells him that they had numerous meetings about how “nebulous” the swirl backdrop should be. Jimmy can’t believe that Cliff and the other partners were happy with this ad, which he thinks is a total snooze-fest.

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Jimmy decides to take some initiative and he enlists the two UNM film students that he used for the billboard stunt in 1×04. He shoots the commercial at Mrs. Strauss’s house (i.e. the cute old lady with all the Hummel figurines). Jimmy’s vision is a “heart-rending” black-and-white sob story about an old lady left alone and penniless after being swindled by her retirement community—not exactly subtle, but subtlety isn’t really Jimmy’s thing. Jimmy isn’t pleased when the more obnoxious of the two students tells him he doesn’t have a dolly to get the shot he wants, but as usual, Jimmy is ready to improvise. Mrs. Strauss is set to star in the commercial and she descends on her stair chair, all made up and looking lovely.

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Mike is taking Stacey’s concerns very seriously and, even though she told him not to stay, he’s secretly staking out her place. He’s all set up in his car with his baseball game on the radio and his pimento sandwich, and he spends the entire night there. At one point he hears a thudding in the distance and gets out his gun, but it turns out to be just a car driving slowly through the neighborhood to deliver newspapers. At dawn he goes to work, where he soon gets a call from a frantic Stacey.

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Back at the house she tells him that she heard gunshots again and she shows him what she thinks is a bullet hole in the side of her house. She says she heard the shots at 2:13 am, when Mike was most definitely outside. He asks her very delicately if she could possibly have dreamed the gunshots but she says absolutely not, that she didn’t sleep a wink all night. Mike gets a little emotional seeing her as upset as she is and he tells her that he believes her, even though he knows for sure there were no shots fired.

I will admit that the first time I watched this episode I thought that Stacey was lying about the gunshots to get Mike to give her more money. After further viewings, I no longer thank that’s the case. I think that her trauma is speaking here, and I think that Mike knows that. She truly believes she heard gunfire and she’s legitimately terrified to stay in that house with her little girl. Mike knows there were no gunshots, but the actual existence of the gunshots doesn’t matter to him; what matters is that Stacey feels safe so that she can take care of herself and be a good mother to Kaylee, and she’ll never be able to do that in this house. So Mike, who feels partially responsible for Stacey’s current situation, decides to take on the responsibility of moving Stacey and Kaylee somewhere else.

Jimmy’s commercial is complete and he’s having a private viewing party for Kim in his condo. He sets the scene for her and then hits play on the fabulously titled commercial, “Who Stole My Nest Egg?”

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Jimmy watches Kim watching it and she’s really, truly impressed with him. She tells him it looks professional but she makes the mistake of assuming Jimmy has already cleared it with the Davis and Main partners. Kim legitimately thinks that the commercial has merit and will work with their target audience, but she’s still surprised that Cliff went for it. This gives me the impression that, guitar-playing and artistically decorated office aside, Clifford Main is pretty straight-laced—not as much of a joy-sucking tight-ass as Chuck, but certainly not as eccentric as I first thought he might be. Given what happens next, I really wish Kim had kept her surprise to herself.

Jimmy almost shows Cliff the commercial but he stops himself right before entering Cliff’s office. I can’t help but think that Kim’s words were going through his head right before he turned around. He’s afraid that Cliff isn’t going to approve the ad and he decides that the best way to avoid rejection is not to ask permission. I can’t say I’m a stranger to this approach, but I can’t recommend it either. So, instead of following what he knows is the proper channel, Jimmy goes ahead and makes the ad buy on his own and sends the commercial to a TV station in Colorado Springs.

Mike is back at the vet with his sweet little doggy (and I am happy to report that the little angel has excellent oral hygiene), but he’s there for more than just a check-up; he needs more money if he’s gonna get Stacey and Kaylee a new place, but the problem is that he isn’t willing to do the kind of jobs that pay the big money. He refuses a job as an enforcer for a loan shark because he doesn’t want to have to break legs, but the bodyguard job he ends up taking only pays $200.

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And now we’ve reached the moment of truth for Jimmy: his commercial is about to air and he has Omar and the rest of the assistants set up for what he hopes will be a bunch of incoming calls. Jimmy knows he made a very dangerous decision going rogue with this ad, so it absolutely has to bear fruit if he’s going to get away with it.

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He does his “magic fingers” routine at the phone, trying to will the calls to come in, and a few seconds later the phone starts ringing off the hook. Soon all the assistants in the bullpen are on calls and there are more callers on hold, and when Jimmy walks out of his office he looks around with a satisfied smile and says, “Bingo.”

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He celebrates his victory with Kim. They’ve got some Chinese takeout and some wine and they are watching a movie together. The movie is Ice Station Zebra, which Breaking Bad fans might remember as the name of Saul Goodman’s loan out. To me, this is more than just a fun little easter egg. The fact that he named his loan out after a movie that he watched for the first time with Kim tells me that this particular moment in time is very significant to him. It ends up being the calm before the storm: Jimmy is truly happy here, and he has everything that he wants, but then he gets a call from Cliff.

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Not surprisingly, Cliff is furious at Jimmy for running the ad without getting the partners’ approval. Jimmy tries to talk his way out of it, saying that it was just a one-time experiment and acting like it didn’t occur to him that he might need to run it by Cliff and the others before airing it. Cliff isn’t buying his crap and tells him he’s being disingenuous. Cliff says, “Howard said you were a little eccentric. He didn’t tell me you were a goddamn arsonist,” and now that Hamlin’s name has been dragged into it, I know there’s gonna be trouble all around. This is exactly what Kim warned him against at the beginning of the episode—that his actions will have consequences for the people who went to bat for him.

Jimmy tries to change the narrative and focus on the fact that one $700 ad buy got them 103 phone calls but Cliff doesn’t care. He cuts him off and tells him to be in a meeting with the partners at 8am so they can watch the commercial, then he hangs up. Now, Jimmy knows he’s busted here. He could have just put the phone away, gone to Kim and told her the truth. Instead, he decides to double down on his bullshit and pretend to still be on the phone with a congratulatory Cliff. It’s a blatant lie and it serves absolutely no purpose in the long run because Kim absolutely WILL find out what’s going on, but I think he just doesn’t want to ruin that perfect moment: watching Ice Station Zebra with Kim thinking he’s Davis and Main’s new “golden boy.”

The end of this scene is just so uncomfortable and fills me with such dread because I get the sense that this might be the last happy moment these two have together that isn’t complicated by Jimmy’s colossal f**k up at work and the ramifications it’s going to have for Kim at HHM. I want him to just tell her the truth for her own sake, so she can get ahead of it, but he is ultimately really selfish here. Maybe he still thinks he can fix it, or he doesn’t believe that his actions will actually affect Kim’s career, but I’m pretty sure he’s wrong on all counts, although it remains to be seen exactly how much damage he’s done, and to whom.

Just when I think I’ve had enough anxiety for one episode, Mike meets with a new employer for some “next level work.” The vet called him and told him that the guy asked specifically for him, and the guy turns out to be Nacho.

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Nacho has a problem that he needs Mike to solve. This problem is some unnamed guy who Nacho needs to “go away.” We don’t learn who this person is (let the speculation begin!) and the episode ends before we learn what Mike is going to do, but given what we know about Mike Ehrmantraut’s future employment, I think it’s safe to say that he’s going to take the job. This could very well be Mike’s first professional hit, and it’s motivated by his need to take care of his family. (And excuse me while I cry forever because Mike loves his family enough to start killing people for money even though he really doesn’t want to go down that road.)

I have to say, “Amarillo” really stressed me out. The stakes are getting much higher for Jimmy and he continues to make terrible decisions. In season 1, Jimmy had nothing to lose, but now he has everything that he’s always wanted. Well, almost everything. Ultimately, Jimmy wants to be his own boss. He wants to do things his way and he doesn’t want to have to answer to anyone. He likes the perks that come with his partner-track position, but he’s not particularly keen on having to answer to Cliff. Jimmy is a self-starter and he can’t help but run with an idea if he thinks it will work. As we saw, the fear of one of his ideas being rejected by someone with seniority was too much for him, so he decided he’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission. Jimmy is an “ends justify the means” type of guy: he has good intentions and he straight up does not care what he has to do to get his intended result. But that’s not the way the world around him works and I fear that Kim is going to suffer for his sins.

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Author: Ali Sciarabba

Twitter: @alimscribbles

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