Can Jimmy McGill do anything right? This is the main question that has pervaded the series since it started. No matter what he seems to do, regardless of whether he knows it’s morally right or wrong, McGill seems to be stuck in limbo despite his best intentions. Season 2 has been a slow burn so far, stewing around the themes of identity and intention that the first season spread out so well. There hasn’t been much that actually happens other than a thick layering of setup. Still, there are a lot of ingredients swirling around: Jimmy tries to assume his new role as a semi-legit lawyer at Davis & Main, Chuck re-emerges from his psychosomatic disease, Mike continues to flirt with being a full fledged criminal, and the audience is left figuring out how it will play out in the short term. This early on in the season we’re exactly where Better Call Saul wants us.
Season 2’s second episode hinted that we’d get Jimmy and Mike teaming up for a tragic downfall, but “Amarillo” subverted those expectations and teased the drama even further. This episode all goes back to Jimmy’s judgment or what he’ll make of his already wavering internal moral compass.
His decisions still baffle us. For instance, even at the risk of disbarment, is it worth bribing a Sandpiper van driver so Jimmy can give each AARP member on board his lawsuit spiel on the Sandpiper lawsuit? Is it all about pure numbers to back the case to the partners at both Davis & Main and HHM? Jimmy is, after all, leading the client outreach team on the case, and the partners are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt despite Chuck’s uncertain feelings about his brother.
Like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul seduces its audience to root for an unethical protagonist to outplay a virtuous antagonist. Still, you have to squirm when Chuck is slowly turning the knife and inadvertently skews Jimmy’s judgment, steering him to get the impossible results that the firm asks of him. Hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line, but respect between two brothers is more important.
To get those numbers of potential elderly clients up, Jimmy suggests to Cliff, the firm’s main partner, they should make a highly targeted TV commercial. Cliff erroneously approves of the idea, suggesting they keep it similar to a “kinda nebulous but not too nebulous” clip they produced for a previous case, but Jimmy disagrees. “Whatever happened to showmanship!?” he proclaims later on.
Before you know it, he recruits the two University of New Mexico film students he used in Season 1’s “Hero” and the elderly woman from “Alpine Shepherd Boy” to help him create his own TV commercial aimed at Sandpiper seniors in a Colorado Springs test market. There’s only one catch: Cliff didn’t actually give his approval. Despite Jimmy’s apprehension, his clip is actually kind of smart, and even when he screens the results to Kim she approves. His depiction of the black-and-white scene of the stressed out elderly woman after she’s been manipulated out of her life savings is a masterwork of huckster art that actually works. The calls from Colorado Springs on David & Main’s Sandpiper hotline come rolling in.
But in Jimmy’s moment of completely legal triumph, a raging-mad Cliff interrupts his and Kim’s evening TV viewing of the Rock Hudson Cold War epic Ice Station Zebra. Jimmy’s earnest ambition and best intentions will get him nowhere. Jimmy hangs up, sits back down next to Kim and the movie and asks, “Anything blow up yet?” Better Call Saul has set up a ticking clock with Jimmy’s personality, and it’s bound to explode soon.