“Are you sure about that?”
Jimmy and Mike are very different people going through very different things, but the beats of their stories often share a theme. It’s the glue that holds their parallel tales of corruption together, especially since season 2 has them walking paths that seldom intersect. ‘Bali Ha’i’ gives us two stories in one. The first is the tale of Jimmy and Kim feeling dissatisfied with their successes and directionless in life, a meandering but sharply-written legal drama driven by oddball charm and an intriguing knack for poking holes in the fabric of daily life. The second is the tale of Mike, a man slowly immersing his soul in acid because he can see no other way to provide for his family. Taken together they riff on themes of comfort and and stagnation, stringing us along as we see just how miserable one person can get by following the path of least resistance or by toeing the straight and narrow. That resonance aside, though, it’s tough to jump tracks from the sedate pace of the first story to the gut-churning tension of the second.
‘Bali Ha’i’ has a wistfulness to it, a whisper on a tropical breeze like Jimmy’s creaky rendition of the titular song. It’s the siren call of his dingy room behind the nail salon, of coffee cups that fit in their holders, of conning a rube out of a fat check not for the money but for the memory. “Come away, come away,” the song, as corny as they come, invites us. The whole thing is about what calls to people and where they teach themselves to be happy. Mike’s dealings with Hector, I suspect, are meant as a sort of dark mirror to Kim’s and Jimmy’s discontent with their work, but the tone is so jarringly different that it’s hard to see the two stories as parts of a whole. Which isn’t to say that Mike’s material isn’t good. On the contrary, it’s raw and busted down in the way that the best slices of Mike’s life always are.
The choice to place as much of the episode’s weight on Kim as on Mike pays off as well here as it did on last week’s ‘Rebecca,’ and if it never quite reaches the highs of its predecessor, its playfulness and excellent nail-biter sequences remain some of the best stuff on television. Find me a scene aired in the past week as fun as Kim’s lunch with the affable Schweigert of rival firm Schweigert & Coakley and I’ll eat a shoe. It works as a perfect companion piece to Jimmy seeking out his old digs after finding himself unable to settle into his slick new ones. We take what we’re familiar with, as Kim takes Howard’s provocations and mistreatment, not just because it’s comfortable but because we believe we deserve it. Early in the episode, Kim looks morose while going solo through a morning ritual she once clowned her way through with Jimmy at her side, but his arrival after a night of chicanery does nothing to change her state of mind. The uncomfortable truth is that Jimmy himself is Kim’s broken-down couch bed in the back of a nail salon. He’s an escape, a Bali Ha’i in and of himself, but not a pretty one.
There’s something to be said, for all that it never quite fits, for placing Mike’s high-stakes thriller next to Kim’s Office Space predicament. “I got accounting to approve that new fancy salad place,” isn’t enough for her in the same way that Mike getting to keep his life in exchange for walking back his story about Tuco’s assault isn’t enough for him, and that’s the most blackly comical juxtaposition I’ve seen all year. Better Call Saul is a powerhouse of a show, quixotic and unusual in aim and execution, but right now its internal dissonance is distracting from its excellent storytelling.