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Better Call Saul: Season 2, Episode 3 – Amarillo Review

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★★★★★

It goes without saying that there are spoilers in this review, so don't end up looking like one of Slippin' Jimmy's marks.

If you're someone who has no patience for the slow, steady long-game style of Better Call Saul, you might want to avoid the latest episode, which could lead to you tearing every hair from your skull, and possibly a few from your arms.

Yet thanks to the sterling work of the main cast, it remains fascinating to watch the battle for Jimmy McGill's immortal soul between his need to be a better person for Kim and his inbuilt sense of criminal creativity, spurred on by the pompous dissatisfaction from his brother Chuck.

We kick off in Amarillo, Texas (wonder if Jimmy asked Tony Christie or Peter Kay the way?), where a cowboy-hat wearing McGill is indulging his canny dark side. Having arranged for a Sandpiper care home van to "break down" on the road to a restaurant, he lays on the charm with the occupants, targeting one or two in particular to find out if his law firm's direct mail campaign has been reaching them. Turns out it hasn't, so Jimmy goes into a whole song and dance, including a restaurant metaphor, to explain how the Sandpiper company might be overcharging them all. Naturally, it's not exactly a legal way to sign up new clients, but it pays dividends.

And the team back at Davis & Main, who we reconvene with after the credits, are clearly impressed with Jimmy's abilities. The only naysayer – couched in upholding the letter of the law on these cases – is Chuck, who worries about his younger brother's methods. Even Kim seems concerned, unwilling to indulge in the usual under-table foot flirtation with her boyfriend. After the meeting, he wrangles a moment of privacy with her, and she lays out exactly what her problem is: his road to being a better person and a proper lawyer means something to them both. It's a great showcase for Rhea Seehorn, showing her clouded love for this man and her frustration with his apparent need to fall back on old habits.

We find Mike Ehrmantraut visiting his daughter-in-law Stacey (Kerry Condon) and granddaughter Kaylee (Abigail Zoe Lewis). Turns out Stacey is worried because she's been hearing gunshots in the area. Ever the protective father-in-law, grandfather and former cop, Mike offers to stay over on the couch to investigate what's going on, but Stacey turns his offer down. You get the feeling, played as ever in Jonathan Banks' expressive face, that he won't let this one go.

Jimmy's still frustrated with the responses to other direct mail efforts to Sandpiper home residents in other states, and approaches Cliff Main (Ed Begley Jr.) with an idea: what about a TV commercial targeting residents to be shown during their scheduled viewing of Murder, She Wrote (a lovely detail, this)? Cliff seems into the idea, having used one on a previous case, but asks that Jimmy run any plan by him first. Hands up who knows what will happen?

Having watched the dull-as-ditchwater older effort, Jimmy complains that there's no showmanship in it, and we later find him at the house of Mrs. Strauss (Carol Herman), who we met last season when Jimmy was first finding old folk to work cases around. He's there with two other holdovers, the unnamed camera and sound guys (played by Josh Fadem and Julian Bonfiglio) from Hero. Jimmy's laying out his vision for a commercial – somewhat thwarted at first by the fact that a camera dolly costs extra and they didn't bring one – that uses a cold, lonely old woman as the focus. In the episode's comic highlight (nowhere near the joys of Cobbler's pie fetish, but still), Mrs. Strauss descends from upstairs on her stair lift to announce, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. McGill."

Cut to later that night and Mike is outside Stacey's house in his car, pimento sandwich bagged and portable radio on hand, ready to spend the night on unofficial guard duty. But the neighbourhood is quiet, the only disturbance a paper delivery the next morning. Yet shortly after Mike drives to work at the police station parking lot, he gets a call from a scared Stacey, who summons him back and points out a bullet hole she claims appeared overnight. Mike hides his skepticism and assures her he'll help them move to another house. Exactly what is Stacey up to here?

Jimmy and Kim are at his corporate apartment (she's making fun of the standard decorations) and he's using her as the test audience for his ad. It's a pointed, clever heart-tugger aimed straight at the blue-rinse crowd. Kim approves, little suspecting (really? She knows who she's dealing with, but hope triumphs over experience, we suppose) that he'll organise a broadcast in Colorado the next day. Despite a moment's hesitation in not showing the ad to Cliff, the old Jimmy wins out once again.

Mike, meanwhile, is turning to a darker side in order to help out Stacey and Kaylee. He's at the vet (Joe DeRosa) with a sideline in dishing out criminal work, asking about new jobs. The vet doesn't have much – a bodyguard gig that pays $200 and something that could earn a lot more, but has concerns about Mike's pickiness.

Having set up the company phone lines to accept the flood of calls he hopes to encourage, Jimmy impatiently stalks his office, waiting for something... Anything to happen. Bingo! The phone lines light up. He's delighted.

As for Mike, he's sleeping on Stacey's couch that evening when the phone rings. There's another job, it offers next level pay and the person asked for Mike by name. No details, though. Mike takes it.

Cut to the same night at Jimmy's place and he and Kim are watching Ice Station Zebra when Cliff calls. He's not pleased - Jimmy ran the ad without consulting anyone and now, despite the response, it looks like he's in big trouble. Jimmy hides this from Kim, and agrees to meet the partners the next morning. I's all kicking off on that front. And Mike? Mike's new client is... Nacho (Michael Mando), who needs him to fix a problem. Someone needs to go away. But who? We'll have to wait for that.

So yes... Another quiet, contemplative example of how the Saul team can make a story where almost nothing seems to happen work wonders for the characters. It's a deep dive back into Jimmy's showboating con man days, even as he tries to convince everyone around him that he'll stick to the straight and narrow. The plot offers a great chance to examine how the various personalities see the law and which side of the line they fall on. The small comic moments work, and it's all as beautifully shot as always, on this occasion by first-time Saul director Scott Winant.

As for Mike's story, that rides on Jonathan Banks' ability to do a lot with that mug of his, and to build on the character's guilt over his son's death. There's a real feeling that bad things are coming down the tracks, and associating with Nacho can't be a good thing, even if we know Mike survives to the Breaking Bad days. And on a trivial note, it still seems odd to see so much use of a VCR and tapes, but it's somewhat easy to forget that the show is set more than a decade ago.

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