Better Call Saul: 50% Off
February 25, 2020 7:23 AM - Season 5, Episode 2 - Subscribe

"How about, uh, special discounts? Um, for the next, uh, two weeks, um, non-violent felonies 50% off." "Dude, that's almost half." Mike helps Kaylee with her math and tree house, and Nacho retrieves some product, while Jimmy and Kim consider a possible move.

‘Better Call Saul’ Recap: Let’s Make a Deal -- Saul Goodman’s promotional offer backfires, Nacho saves the day, and Mike’s existential crisis hits a new low (Alan Sepinwall for Rolling Stone)
You may remember that the very first episode of Better Call Saul ended with Tuco Salamanca sticking a gun in Jimmy McGill’s face and pulling him into his grandmother’s house. That cliffhanger, and Tuco’s violent shenanigans in the ensuing episode, created the impression that Jimmy and his favorite parking-lot attendant Mike would soon be regularly caught up in cartel business, and that Saul Goodman was only a little bit down the road. This was not an accident. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have been very candid over the years that the series they ended up making is not the one they planned to make. They quickly discovered, to their surprise, that they liked Jimmy so much that they were in no hurry to turn him into Saul. And that change of heart had ripple effects throughout the rest of the show. Nacho, who was intended to be the link between Jimmy and the drug world, wound up appearing in fewer than half of Season One’s episodes, and has vanished from the show for stretches in later seasons. Jimmy and Mike worked together on a few extra-legal capers early on, but as Jimmy got caught up in the Sandpiper case, his relationship with Kim, his feud with Chuck, and many other things having nothing to do with the local meth trade, Mike was sent into that world on his own. And as a result, Better Call Saul essentially became two largely unconnected series operating under the same title: the Jimmy McGill story, and the Mike Ehrmantraut one. (Maybe we call Mike’s show No Half-Measures?)
And it looks like we're getting close to those two separate worlds colliding.

Justice gets speedier (and cheaper) as Better Call Saul season 5 hits its stride (Donna Bowman for TV/AV Club)
I mentioned in last night’s review that there were at least four great sequences in this one-two opening punch. Now we come to my favorite, in which we see the consequences of Jimmy’s lavish phone and discount giveaway. Saul’s cup runneth over with clients, and Jimmy has to break out some of his patented courthouse moves to keep all the plates in the air. It’s like a walk-and-talk if Thomas Schlamme were an ice dancer, all twizzles and footwork and tight turns. Jimmy has every case and every angle at his fingertips, whether he’s taking calls on the bluetooth earpiece, accosting a prosecutor (“my featherweight was simply defending yourself against your raging bull!”), taking his fee in wads of cash, or sweet-talking the mailgirl (“Hannah Banana!”). But it’s inefficient to work the hallways, and Jimmy wants to go straight to the ADA and deal in bulk lots. Suzanne Ericson isn’t having it. “You’re looking for turnover, you want to churn through clients, make more money,” she assesses the situation. “That’s your problem, not mine.”
And then Saul creates his own "coincidence."
posted by filthy light thief (18 comments total)
*In the hallway*
Saul: How 'bout we do a lightning round? We'll settle these puppies, 20 minutes.
Suzanne: Don't you already have an appointment with me on the books?
Saul: Yeah. Next Tuesday. But, you know, let's get it done right now.
Suzanne: How about we wait till next Tuesday?
Saul: My clients need answers. Look, hey, you've got a problem with me? That's fine. Don't take it out on my clients.
Suzanne: This isn't about your clients. This is about your wallet.
Saul: Hey, slow down.
Suzanne: You're looking for turnover. You want to churn through more clients, make more money. That's your problem, not mine.
Saul: Uh, uh, Suzanne, I'm outraged.

*In the elevator, after a lightning round*
Saul: Mm. 20 minutes. Pleasure doing business with ya.
Suzanne: Sure.
Saul: See you next week for the last three.

Once again, Jimmy's schemes work for him ... until they blow up in his face.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:27 AM on February 25, 2020

I don't understand why Alan Sepinwall (the reviewer above) keeps talking about how underused Nacho is by the whole show. He's in about half or more of the episodes each season, and his story is fundamental to the arc of the series. Nacho arranged for Tuco to be put away, Nacho is the reason that Hector had his stroke, and now here is Nacho connecting Saul Goodman to the cartel.

(We know that Saul Goodman will get Krazy-8 off, because it's referenced in Breaking Bad. Jesse Pinkman is trying to convince Walter White to use Saul Goodman to represent Badger in season 2, and he says that the cops had Krazy-8 dead to rights, but Saul got him off.)
posted by aabbbiee at 7:49 AM on February 25, 2020 [10 favorites]

It broke my heart to see Mike going off on Kaylee. Sounds like that's a planned deterioration and renewal of relationship through Breaking Bad to parallel what's going on with him and Gus.

Man, watching Lalo cook makes me so hungry.

No Kim at all this episode. But Howard looks surprisingly well. I know he was falling apart, and somewhat recovering as of the last we saw of him (the reading room dedication) but that's someone I didn't expect to see much of.

"Have Janice call my people" ... sounds like he's still answering his own phone and hasn't got Francesca back yet, though Heuwell is still about.
posted by tilde at 5:59 PM on February 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sorry, of course she was there. I'm a doofus who watched half on the TV app (not knowing what the timer in the corner was about). They're being very quiet with her thinking ... wanting to be with him, having fun with him but wanting to stay a straightlaced lawyer on the partner track. I have to wonder if the end of things is Lalo threatening her and she just goes to see the vacuum cleaner guy (off camera as he's now gone, despite his appearance in episode one of this season).
posted by tilde at 6:05 PM on February 25, 2020

The morning after is a hell of a hard time for most people, and this episode it's the morning after when things get worse. yes, Nacho's father is unwittingly threatened at night, Jimmy's discounts inspire his clients to go on the rampage, Nacho risks all to ingratiates himself with Lalo, and Mike has been up drinking. But in this episode, it's daylight when the consequences sink in.

The final shot is the obvious example, as Jimmy's newfound successes are threatened by old business. It follows his night-lit scene in the elevator, where he scams the ADA into a lightning round of plea bargains, itself coming on the heels of Jimmy's big night in the carnival tent. As Jimmy is subtly threatened into the car, we see, foregrounded, a cliché: the abandoned ice cream cone on the ground.

This cliché echoes another, a matched shot tot he end of the teaser, when daylight finds the two junkies speeding off in glee at "50% off" leaving behind a stolen garden gnome with its head smashed open. This image is a none-too-subtle hint of violence against real people, not just effigies, violence that not only threatens in this show but would remind us of some specific images from Breaking Bad involving gunshots to faces and half-destroyed heads. (No further specifics given to avoid spoilers.) It's a glaring reminder of the show's prequel status.

But it also announces the structure of this episode, itself the morning after all the decisions from the season premiere. Jimmy and Kim have their strained relationship, which is slowly melted down by Jimmy's self-recrimination for offering that damn discount -- though he's "sure" it won't tempt anyone to stupid actions -- and Kim setting boundaries. Then they goof in the open house's shower and leave behind a fuming realtor.

But the deeper strains in their relationship are still there: Kim's "my dreams" and Jimmy's "ours" are not quite reconciled, and while Kim makes clear her boundaries regarding lies to clients -- which we know might not stand for long, based on her past tendencies to slip alongside Jimmy -- Jimmy's apology for offering the discount is really an indirect apology for pressuring Kim. Even with her, he has a blind, a diversion, an oblique angle, now, from pushing her towards long-term commitment with the house tour to imposing on her morning commute to taking up more of the closet space with his new wardrobe. no wonder the walk-in is, for Kim, "my dream," not an "our dream." She knows full well that Jimmy's life expands into available spaces in other people's by now.

And there are other daylight consequences here. Nacho's actions in abducting Jimmy, for instance, are his reaction to the day after his daring raid and the newly christened Krazy-8's arrest, when Lalo makes it clear that something horrible will happen to Krazy to keep him from even possibly snitching.

Likewsie,, it;s the mornign after when Mike, babysitting Kaylee snaps under the guilt of killing Werner, another of those past episode night scenes, and corrupting is son Matty,. The emotiuonal violence of that scene is all daylight, as Mike lashes out at someone he's been seeing as a way to atone, or at least do penance, for his past sins.

There has always been something distressing about Mike's treatment of Kaylee, and, more so, his daughter-in-law Stacey. We're reminded, in these scenes, that Mike sees Stacey as little more than a conduit to Kaylee, and Kaylee as his project of atonement. Neither are people to him, and his own guilt -- and inability to face himself -- simply makes props of them. Notably, it is night again when Mike abruptly dumps consequences back in Stacey's lap, leaving her to try to repair the emotional damage he's done. Like the junkies in the opener, for Mike night is supposed to be a time for action without consequences.

But beneath the very obvious bookended shots -- gone and ice cream-- ad the morning after imagery, there's another interesting element. The shots of cars. Throughout this episode, characters are constantly watching from cars, being forced into or forcing themselves into cars, here. Sometimes it's used for claustrophobia, as int he abductions of Nacho and Jimmy and the, er, joys of being stuck in a closed space with the sociopathic Lalo, who initially regards Nacho's possible arrest and his triumph as equally entertaining events, as unimportant to him as a scene from a sitcom. (It's the confines of an elevator car that Jimmy weaponizes to scam Suzanne Erickson as well.)

Sometimes it's used to convey a character being pushed in a direction they don't want to go, as in the matched long shots of cars driving off towards the vanishing point. It happens after Gus has Nacho's father threatened, and it happens again when Jimmy forces Kim to take him to that open house. Notably, when they are somewhat reconciled after they water fight, their shared car is kept out of shot and they vanish below the frame to get into it, leaving a blurry sunny backdrop.

Thats' the last of the image themes here: the extensive use of focus and out-of-focus elements, for foreground-background switches to build suspense and foreboding as characters are yanked from bed (Mike, Nacho) or as they leave traces of themselves or of possible consequences (gnome and ice cream cone). That bleariness fits the morning after stuff, but also pays with focal distance in a way the claustrophobic scenes later one do no. interestingly for the car scenes, deep focus is used; there's little blurring effect in those sequences.

Why? Because in all the car scenes, the consequences are tangible and real to the characters, something they see clearly and are headed towards or stuck with. Driven towards or stuck right next to. The morning after is tough because there's a moment of amnesia, of uncertainty, of the fantasy that the past won't catch up right before it does: "What day is it?" "Tuesday." "You know what that means?" "50% off!"

But the past catches up, the consequences arrive, or the characters are, er, driven towards them, stuck with them after all. There's a reason Gus finally looks at Nacho in the car's rear view mirror; nothing vanishes just because it's behind you, not even the night before, not the father you've tried to cut off, not the partner you saw killed years ago. Hell, not even Howard and the specter of the guilt Jimmy tried to unload regarding Chuck. That's the morning after effect: the past may seem to recede into the distance, but it may as well be crystal clear, inches away from you after all.
posted by kewb at 6:52 PM on February 25, 2020 [11 favorites]

I like your pick up of the contrasts, kewb. :) On the second watch that was more evident (I also watched the whole thing at once instead of in parts between fever dreams oh this stupid headcold).

One bit I picked up on from both episodes was Mike's break with Gus: He was pissed about killing Werner, and told Gus to "keep your retainer" while the project is on hold. But when he's at Kaylee's the next day "I'm still making own schedule" they focus on the dog he got her as a (yet another) prop. The dog gives him cover to visit The Vet; if he starts hurting for money or just wanting some work to do to kill the ennui, he can both reconcile with Stacey and Kaylee and take the pup for a checkup (maybe even Stacey asks for vet information so she can do it and he ends up doing it). Jimmy/Saul still has his fish, too, though that shot has her (the fish) framed incidentally as he's preparing ice cream for him and Kim (the same terrible minty green something bleah).
posted by tilde at 8:35 PM on February 25, 2020

The bit where Nacho is forced to watch from the car while his father is (implicitly) threatened by Victor reminded me a bit of the scene with the Nazis making Jesse watch while Todd "visits" Andrea in the last season of BB.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:45 AM on February 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

Oddly enough, I immediately felt tension when I saw Kaylee sticking on those non-slip mats (ok, maybe not so odd if I look back on my childhood). I was thinking "Are those going to be straight enough for Mike?" Apparently not!
posted by mikepop at 5:47 AM on February 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

kewb: ... corrupting is son Matty ...

I think it's more complicated than that, and I saw Kaylee asking about her dad being a mirror of her dad's relationship with him.

Kaylee: My dad liked the Eagles, right?
Mike: Yeah. He sure did.
Kaylee: Was Was he good at math?
Mike: Thank you. Yeah, he, uh Your daddy was a smart kid, a good student like you.
Kaylee: Did he want to be a policeman when he was my age?
Mike: When he was your age. You know, I think he went back and forth between an astronaut, deep-sea explorer like Jacques Cousteau.
Kaylee: Who?
Mike: You don't know Jacques Cousteau? Mnh-mnh. Well, we'll fix that.
Kaylee: So, instead my dad decided to be a policeman, like you.
Mike: Yeah. You make sure those are nice and even.
Kaylee: And he was a really good policeman, right?
Mike: Yes.
Kaylee: And you taught him.
Mike: Uh-huh.
Kaylee: But the bad guys got him?
Mike: I told you to make those even.
Kaylee: I am.
Mike: No, you're not! You're making a mess! You either do it right or you don't do it.
Kaylee: But I want to do it.
Mike: You're done. You are done!

As the Breaking Bad fandom summarizes, Matty put Mike on a pedestal, thinking he was a good and honest cop, when he wasn't. It was Matty's view of his father that made him not initially take a bribe, and when he finally did take the bribe after Mike told him the money didn't matter as long as the bad guys were caught, it was too late, and Matty's partner and their sergeant killed him for fear that he'd rat on them.

Matt was a good cop, and Mike portrayed himself as being good and honest, but he wasn't, really, and that disconnect is what got Matt killed. So Kaylee asking about her dad, and Mike's role in being an inspiration is all the more painful, because Mike wants to look like an upstanding guy who does everything right. But his oversight of Ziegler, including his murder, is clearly weighing on him. He feels like he should have done better himself, so Kaylee trying to do work herself and not being up to Mike's standards blew up.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:19 AM on February 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

Another parallel/echo scene, although this one is a bit of a stretch: Lalo and the dealers watching the bust, and Nacho's first getting into and then out of the drug house without being seen, reminded me of the first episode of BB, with Walter going on a ride-along with Hank, and seeing Jesse escape from the scene without getting caught. Some of that is because one of the cops/agents making the raid was bald, and for a second I thought that it might have been Hank, and some of it is because Krazy-8 is busted here, and K8's future partner Emilio Koyama is busted in the BB pilot.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:25 AM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't like Unsympathetic Mike.
posted by whuppy at 7:49 PM on February 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't like heartless and gives-no-fucks Saul. (Didn't like him in BB either, except when Saul was delivering lines like, "you two wanna stick your wangs in a hornets nest go ahead, but how come I always get sloppy seconds!") I would never have watched this far had Jimmy become Saul almost in the pilot as it seems the writers intended. He is crude and thoroughly immoral and scared only for himself. The evolution of Jimmy into Saul, though... that is fascinating to me. Mike makes me sad. He should have walked away from executing Werner. Mike has balls and could have found a way to get away with that. It was the worst decision he's made on either BCS or BB. Now Mike is not just walking around with your everyday load of guilt. From now on, he is haunted. And Nacho? I feel for him in that the more he tries to break free, the deeper his struggles bind him to the Salamanca/ Fring web. He is surrounded by spiders who are not the kind that have cute toes and big googly eyes. Nacho's fate is uncertain.
posted by Crystal Fox at 9:36 PM on February 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

I don't like Unsympathetic Mike.

He's basically a dead-eyed, violent sociopath. IRL.....he would not be your friend. The people he cares about are either people he can see as an extension of himself, like his grandchild, or people who are useful to him. The possible exception to this is Pinkman, for whom he seems to have some genuine avuncular thing about. Making Ehrmantraut likeable was kind of an echo of the same trick being done on the audience with Walter.
posted by thelonius at 1:31 PM on February 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

I don't like Unsympathetic Mike.

He's breaking apart, and he's having a hard time living with himself. He's "mad" at Kaylee, because she's forcing him to face something he's probably bottled up to get along. The cognitive dissonance has to be insane, and Werner was probably a recent trigger. We know that he grieved deeply in the first season over the death of his son, when he said "I broke my boy." Kaylee is reminding him that he's not repentant of the very actions that brought the death of his son (her dad), and now Werner. To continue on the path he's on, he needs to somehow be emotionally disconnected from that reality, and Kaylee is making him face it, just by virtue of wanting to look up to both Mike and her father. We already know that Mike thinks that Kaylee deserves the world (saw that in BB), but in order to give it to her, he now has to engage in activities that killer her father. You could see that pain unraveling as she was asking him questions. That was some of the best acting I've seen in a long time, and it was entirely consistent with the tensions that existed in his life before and the kind of person he wanted to be, and the kind of person he felt forced to become.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:34 PM on February 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Im watching Season 1, episode 12, Battlelines: Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Mike is She-la, a leader of a clan of the Ennis race, a civilization kept in check by satellites known as the Defense Net, keeping them trapped on a penal colony moon with a rival clan known as the Nol-Ennis. There are nano bots (though they just say bio mechanical) that bring dead people back to life. Lotta hair but same lines and attitude. “I’ll see to his protection. I’d like more explanation. Everything here is designed to prolong our suffering. I hope to gain vengeance. We used to defend ourselves better ... and then we realized it was all pointless.”
posted by tilde at 8:24 AM on February 29, 2020

Thread on "Battle Lines" on the purple. Banks is mentioned; there's some resonance there in the story of a bunch of people caught in an inescapable cycle of violence and vengeance.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:32 AM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

To go a little further with the Mike and Kaylee thing, the conversation puts Mike in the position not of doting grandfather but of father figure to Kaylee by paralleling her development as a person to Matty. She's not just asking about her father, she's asking about how her father modeled his life on Mike's when he was Kaylee's current age. Up until this point, Mike probably thought of his role as mostly duty toward his son's family but perhaps also opening up a possibility for redemption. After the situation with Werner and the tension with Gus (which all went down in the last day or two, right?), Mike is faced with the fact that he will not have a better impact on Kaylee's life than he did on Matty's, that he only puts her at risk (see for example the maneuver Gus used on Nacho via his father to ensure his enthusiastic, proactive compliance), and that, cliche as it might sound, he does not deserve redemption. Though he might be able to give them some money, his plan to protect Stacy and Kaylee from the corrupt and malevolent forces that killed Matty was rendered moot the day he first agreed to work for Gus. He sabotaged his own plan, he has no one to blame but himself for thinking he could compartmentalize the bad things he does from his family, and he is now realizing it.

In a way this is the beginning of the end of Mike's arc, which parallels Jimmy's pretty closely. Mike has a sense of honor, feels regret, tries to stick to a moral code of sorts, which makes him more likable in a way than Jimmy (though less entertaining). But in the end, it doesn't really matter. I'm thinking of a parallel situation toward the end of Breaking Bad ("Gliding Over All") where Mike wanted to protect his guys, but Walter implemented a different plan.
posted by nequalsone at 7:23 AM on March 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

he only puts her at risk (see for example the maneuver Gus used on Nacho via his father to ensure his enthusiastic, proactive compliance), and that, cliche as it might sound, he does not deserve redemption.

I always think that Better Call Saul makes Breaking Bad better because it gives us information that actually makes narrative sense in retrospect, and doesn't feel tacked on. I couldn't help but think that this was almost what Mike was thinking -- whether he missed his opportunity for redemption, as you mentioned -- as he was sitting there, edge of the river, at the end of his character arc.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:42 PM on March 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

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