Better Call Saul “Breathe” (S4E02)

Two episodes in and Better Call Saul has already kept me up later than usual upon the night of its airing as well as given me actual dreams of hummel figurines as I wracked my brain the following morning trying to figure out what’s going on in Jimmy’s head. That’s not to give less credit to the entire episode as a whole though. “Breathe” fires on all cylinders as it features characters finding themselves clawing for control against the near impossible odds or forces that the universe deals them.

So why did Jimmy seem to legitimately want the copier sales position, showing the utmost gumption to earn the employers’ admiration, only to tear into them once they agreed to hire him? Was this planned from the beginning or did Jimmy experience a change of heart after sincerely hoping it would be a good fit? We already know afterwards that he’s looking into how much the Bavarian boy figurine is worth ($8,740.45), but he couldn’t have been going on a string of job interviews just to scout potential items to steal, right? If Jimmy needs money, he could steal from anywhere, which is why I believe there’s a personal motivation at play (like his disdain for suckers) that was conceived in the spur of the moment.

I think there are a few factors going on in Jimmy’s head right now. Some of it may pertain to self-loathing of his own abilities. He’s basically arguing against the very shortcut the employers are taking by not considering their other options, the same way Chuck would in the name of operating thoroughly by-the-book. It’s shortcuts and illegitimate practices by Jimmy that fueled Chuck’s fire so this could be interpreted as somewhat of a tribute to his brother. I think Chuck, regardless of their feud, is the only McGill that Jimmy has ever genuinely respected. Both Jimmy and Chuck from both sides of the legal coin managed to not become a sucker like Jimmy perceives his father to be. It might have made Jimmy proud, even relieved, to know that Chuck was prepared to go to war over the insurance debacle before meeting his end.

Another aspect to consider is Jimmy’s denial to having any part in Chuck’s death and his flashy tap dance performance put on for the employers might have subconsciously reminded him of how successful his schemes work, much like the insurance leak worked too well against Chuck. Jimmy may be trying to find a place that could truly put him in line as a form of penance. On the other and more likely hand, it could be the exact opposite and Jimmy is embracing his slippery ways. Jimmy has faced rejection from legitimate business, clients, and of course, his brother, all his life. Chuck’s last words to Jimmy was the ultimate rejection. Perhaps Jimmy winning over a legitimate company with his hustling talent and then telling them off is his way of taking back control. The universe never wanted or accepted Jimmy, but if he could win the universe’s admiration, then he could be the one who does the rejecting.

Overall, it’s a grieving process which may or not be conscious, but it does seem to be taking the form of Chuck’s last advice for Jimmy to embrace who he is, free of doubt or remorse. Like a Gila monster, Jimmy could be ready to latch on after taking a bite, which is why he’ll hold no regrets in ripping off a straight and narrow company like Neff Copiers. Stealing the hummel figurine would also be symbolic in contrast to how he’s always done right by his elder clients. If it wasn’t for his back-pedaling guilt in throwing Irene Landry under the bus for his personal gain, that bridge would not be burned. An innocent elderly woman would be left in ruin, but Jimmy would be on easy street. I think besides money, stealing the figurine could be his way of rejecting the community that will no longer have him, reapplying a sense of disregard he feels he should have stuck to (according to Chuck).

This is something I’m sure is going to create tension for his relationship with Kim, because it seems like he’s heading beyond the colorful lawyer and scam artist who she knows and accepts. Here, it looks like his true criminal self is emerging, which for the moment he’s hiding from her. Meanwhile, Kim is withholding information from Jimmy with the good intentions to protect his emotional and mental state. Rhea Seehorn gives an Emmy-worthy performance as Kim angrily unloads on Howard for his misplaced considerations towards Jimmy. Of course, I feel bad for Howard here because due to his own grief of his best friend and colleague (which he’s entitled to feel), his head was not in the right position to be thoroughly sensitive and mindful. He didn’t set out to hurt Jimmy, but Kim makes excellent points of Howard purely interested in his own self-preservation. I completely understand Kim’s vitriol and this is a win for her in some ways as she’s finally telling Howard off on the subject of fairness. That said, I don’t think Kim approves of emotions getting the best of her, despite her points still being delivered soundly.

Going to the meeting on Jimmy’s behalf is something she’s refusing to disclose to Jimmy. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Kim is going to read Chuck’s letter intended for Jimmy and be the judge on whether she’ll hand it over to him. If it reads toxic or back-handed (which it most likely is), she’ll destroy it, but if it’s surprisingly apologetic or hopeful, she would have to tell him she read it first. I don’t think Jimmy would have a problem with that since her heart is in the right place, but for the moment, all secrets feed the gap that currently exists between them. Both characters are tip-toeing around each other at the moment and not being completely honest so I look forward to how this affects their relationship going forward. They also seem to be using food, movies, and sex as a mask to cover their off-beat disconnection with one other. Their sexual relationship is something that existed almost entirely off-screen up until now, so the creative decision to finally display that helps give the impression that they’re cordial and spiritual connection is spiraling.

On the drug world side of things, “master of the universe” himself, Gustavo Fring, is tasked with moving heaven and earth to ensure that Hector’s fate remains in his hands and no one else’s. As soon as I heard Gus utter the words “no one else” in the cold open, I knew he was speaking more specifically than just the laws of nature. Beyond putting however much money forward to get a doctor from Johns Hopkins to treat Hector, the Nacho problem from last episode needed to be answered to and boy, was that handled swiftly and shockingly. Back in the season 2 finale, when the truck driver was shot point blank in the face by the cousins as Mike watched from afar, I remember feeling a complete tonal shift for that moment. There’s much longer stretches from when people are murdered on this show compared to Breaking Bad, so it’s jarring when it’s creeps back up on full display. Better Call Saul has certainly set a dangerous tone the second Tuco was introduced, violently breaking the legs of two skater twins in the desert as Jimmy winces in horror, as well as when Mike’s backstory was filled out. It’s a presage of where the overall show is heading no matter how successfully the more graphic, gritty moments are kept at bay.

This is also the first scene we ever see of Gus (in this show) bringing the hammer down on someone, playing as a much different viewing experience for someone who’s never seen Breaking Bad. What I enjoy most about this part of the show right now is how Nacho’s fate is completely undetermined, giving me a reason to remain emotionally invested beyond appreciating how all the pieces are forming as a prequel story. The absolute disgust and disappointment expressed by Nacho’s father here is deserved and heartbreaking, and yet, he’s still concerned for his son’s well-being. Can these two survive long enough before Robert Forster reprises his role as Ed, the disappearer?

If there’s one brief shot that I feel sums up the entire episode, it’s when director Michelle MacLaren allows the camera to crawl along the pavement of a yellow painted line, veering it off-course to reveal Gus sweeping up trash on a parallel one. Street lines tend to be a common, symbolic image used in this show to illustrate the idea of the characters following a narrow, fixed path. From the last image of season 1, to the first meeting between Gus and Mike, it’s the equivalent of the pink teddy bear’s eye or the fly. The characters in Better Call Saul are trying to get off this path, redefine it, or work it into their favor. The title “Breathe” isn’t just in reference of Arturo’s death, but it applies to the tension felt between all these characters.

Better Call Saul “Smoke” (S4E01)

Not only does the season 4 premiere kick things off in a very big and promising way, but I really love how this episode tells a self-contained ‘aftermath’ story which subverts your expectations from how any other show has or would approach returning after a big character death. I know Jimmy McGill is a unique character, capable of way more depth than we could have imagined from his Saul Goodman counterpart, but I don’t think I ever realized up until now just how unique the character is. The DNA of Jimmy McGill is bizarre. He’s always looking for the shortcut where the ends justify the means but when it blows up in his face, he actually feels bad. He feels remorse and guilt and will even try to make things right again but the second he could justify it or find an excuse or an out, he’s back and ready to repeat the cycle. There’s a believable psychology to this that Gould and the writers absolutely nail, and in this episode Chuck’s death challenges that.

Before learning of Chuck’s fiery demise, we’re shown Jimmy waking up early to make coffee, retrieve the newspaper, and survey some job listings, all before tending to the recently injured Kim. It’s played to an upbeat jazz number which seems to suggest to the audience that this will be the last moment of routine bliss before he realizes the horrible event that will change his life forever. Many shows have done this before but I can’t recall any that ever used it as payoff to something even more compelling. I seriously remember thinking during the scene, “It’s going to be a while before we see Jimmy in this hopeful state of mind again.” The scene persuades you to feel this anticipated sense of tragedy. Add to that, an entire hour of Bob Odenkirk’s brilliant, silent performance (the most non-vocal we’ve ever seen the character) as Jimmy remains utterly side-swiped by the whole ordeal. Never would I have expected though that he would be right back to his care-free, optimistic self by first episode’s end.

It’s not that Jimmy hasn’t put two and two together that he intentionally tipped off Santa Rosa of Chuck’s mental condition and outburst in court, causing HHM’s malpractice insurance rates to go up, but that he just flat out refuses to connect that in blaming himself. When Howard can’t help but consider his own fault in the matter after having forced Chuck out of the firm, it presents Jimmy an out for absolution, despite how delusional the logic is. It’s as if Chuck’s last words, “You’ve never mattered all that much to me” have been banging around in Jimmy’s head all episode, giving him further justification to move on. That’s not to say that Jimmy isn’t deeply affected by Chuck’s death from here on out, but it shows us at the core, who Jimmy is. The same guy in season 2 who forced a commercial at Davis & Main, not computing what lines were crossed, is the same guy, even in the wake of his brother’s suicide, who will not accept that certain actions have consequences.

I don’t believe Jimmy is ever going to own up to any part of this. It’s as if the insurance leak started a chain of events for reasons that felt right to Jimmy but Howard was the last link (in that particular chain) before Chuck took his life, therefore Jimmy could wash his hands of it. I believe Jimmy’s going to remain internalized with this usual line of thinking to the point of implosion. Howard’s written obituary for Chuck was definitely another contributing factor for Jimmy’s dismissal towards Howard (Patrick Fabian giving a rockstar performance of his own) as it was a long, celebratory, pat-on-the-back for Chuck’s academic and professional achievements that gave no mention (from what Jimmy heard) of Chuck’s affection or consideration for his brother.

Let’s talk about Gene Takavic. When we last left him, he was collapsed on the floor of the Cinnabon, having previously blurted out “Get a lawyer!” to a young, captured, thief, signifying the increasing difficulty for him to live as a shell of his former self. Tensions rise as Gene is taken to the hospital surrounded by potential threats from cops to oblivious receptionists. Anyone could possibly recognize him, but the drivers license and social security number debacle was a true nail-biter played ambiguously to the universe’s charming sense of humor. Every frame of Gene’s cab ride home though was the tipping point of scary and was shot in such a fantastic way that surpasses Gene’s usual sense of paranoia. It’s over. Each flash-forward sequence, slowly but surely pushes story forward and there’s no way that Gould & Gillgian would continue to tease this as anything less. The cab driver recognizes him.

I don’t think we know this person. I don’t think he’s connected to any major Breaking Bad players like Jesse or Skyler (she being a taxi cab driver herself), but it’s simply a man who almost certainly once lived in ABQ, New Mexico who watches the news and is aware of the many, many commercials, billboards, and bus benches of our favorite crooked lawyer (besides Lionel Hutz). Speaking of The Simpsons, the Albuquerque Isotopes would have formed in 2003, the current year of Better Call Saul’s present time, explaining why Mike may have felt intrigued in tuning in to a game as he sits in his house bored out of his mind. My knowledge of chemistry was always shaky, so I decided to do a quick google search of what the actual definition of an isotope is:

Isotope: each of two or more forms of the same element that contain equal numbers of protons but different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei, and hence differ in relative atomic mass but not in chemical properties; in particular, a radioactive form of an element.

You can interpret this as symbolic to characters taking on different forms, namely alternative identities. Interestingly enough, the first and last time the ABQ Isotopes were referenced across both shows was in Breaking Bad’s first episode to feature Saul, where Walter enters the law office under the alias Mr. Mayhew wearing the team’s cap, while Jimmy embodies the form of Saul Goodman. Here, Jimmy/Saul sees the cab driver’s air freshener as Mr. Takavic and immediately after Mike catches the ball game on TV, he encompasses the fake identity of Barry Hedburg in order to infiltrate Madrigal. This metaphor is three for three and clearly intentional, right? Right?

Having worked in a warehouse, I wish there was an undercover Mike who could point out the increasing number of safety violations that goes on in most places of distribution. This was such a wonderful, light-hearted montage and overall subplot in an otherwise bleak, conflict-heavy episode. I believe Mike wants to be put to work, rather than be sent a check every week, so he’s putting his placeholder title of security consultant to use, helping his cover hold more weight while proving he could be way more beneficial to Gus’ operation than just an occasional hire. I love how this entire scene was introduced on a character we have never met, Barry, for an extensive amount of time, where you’re not only meant to question who the hell is he, but what’s about to happen to him? It felt like the car was going to explode. And what was missing (later revealed) from his briefcase? It’s excellent how the show withholds information from you until it all comes together, making even most veteran fans still squirm in their seats with uncertainty.

The character I have most imminent concern for in this premiere is Nacho. The guy wants nothing more but to be done with the criminal underbelly of the Salamanca territory but finds himself getting pulled in deeper as Juan and Gus manage the transition to uphold it. I’m pretty positive that Nacho’s biggest mistake wasn’t being seen by Victor at the bridge where he finally disposed of the pills, but when he considered to dump the pills down the drain. Gus already was curious to Nacho’s demeanor while talking to the EMT, but I wouldn’t put it passed Gus whatsoever if he had the meeting under surveillance from the get-go. During the phone call, Gus might have turned his back on Nacho on purpose in order to provide Nacho with a false sense of security. Whether it be Victor or Tyrus, they could have seen Nacho take out the pills and pace suspiciously towards the drain from a hidden vantage point and then report to Gus what they witnessed. Even worse, they could have seen Nacho’s clunkier assassination attempt with the gun that took place earlier depending on how long the place was being watched.

All of this is speculation of course, but would you put it passed Gus on being that careful? This is the same guy that had Mike fooled in the season 2 finale. Regardless, I can’t imagine these developments being anything but bad for Nacho. If I didn’t have an emotional attachment to the character, I’d tell you, based on any mob or gangster movie, that he’s an absolute goner by next episode. However, Nacho is only doing the same thing Mike once tried to do, and now look where Mike is. The difference is that Mike is useful though. I don’t think Gus sees any use in Nacho. In fact, he was pretty cold towards him, almost having the opposite concern for him than he would for his Los Pollos Hermanos employees. Gus is the same guy who slit the throat of his trusted henchman who’s now tracking Nacho at this point, so I don’t think sympathy wins here. It’s going to be a political decision on whether or not to keep Nacho alive. He’s just a goon to these guys. The only thing I can think is that Hector will survive this. I think he would be wise to Gus or Juan if his right hand man suddenly up and vanished.

You also have to consider Gus’ mention that an outside party will now move on Hector’s territory. This could mean we’ll be introduced to Lalo, the long-awaited unseen Breaking Bad character that was mentioned when Walt and Jesse has Saul on his knees in the desert. With death supposedly closing around Nacho from every corner, a gap would need to be filled why Saul mentioned Ignacio and Lalo in the same begging sentence. I’m also pretty sure that Gus’ foresight of the D.E.A. was a wink to the audience that we may see a tenderfoot version of Hank Schrader by the time this season is over.

Other stuff in no particular order:

-It was such an inspired shot to follow last season’s cliffhanger with the embers floating into the night sky while superimposing the shot over a pan of the Mesa Verde files and into Jimmy and Kim’s bedroom. I was wondering how much of the gory details were going be shown considering Breaking Bad’s season 4 premiere never shied away from flat out showing you the complete aftermath of the previous cliffhanger. I’m glad that they chose to just simply show the coroner’s van drive off because anything more would have felt gratuitous. I also liked the score of blaring trumpets during the wide shot of the destroyed house. It felt Lynchian, but also echoed the similar music that played when Chuck tore the house apart.

– I thought the shot of Kim fading away as Jimmy sat on the couch felt like a moment of foreshadowing Kim’s future involvement in Jimmy’s life, especially now when Chuck’s death will play the most significant role in transforming Jimmy into Saul. At the same time, she didn’t disappear. She was still on the couch but you can barely tell. Could this be a hint that she’ll still play some role in the Breaking Bad years from behind closed doors? It could mean nothing but I don’t think that shot was done simply because it looked cool. There was thought put behind it.

– I’d like to give a shout out to the youtube channel ScreenPrism which I find does a lot of thoughtful video analyses on various tv shows. In this video delving into Chuck’s suicide, it makes an interesting note of how Jimmy is a character who has no patience for uncertainty. Whether he has money problems, trying to sign a client, watching Ice Station Zebra with Kim, or listening to Chuck read him the story of Mabel, he needs to know that everything is going to work out. It’s why he’ll take the shortcuts to ensure that things do. While watching this premiere I noticed that he ran the sink, watching the water waste away into the drain. For me, I interpreted this as uncertainty. He’s still wondering what caused Chuck’s death and what could have been prevented. It’s an open-ended problem. By the end of the episode though, upon dumping the blame completely on Howard, he stands on the opposite side of the sink to feed his fish. The water in the tank is all contained and the fish is always in there, even if it dies. It’s simple and certain just the way Jimmy likes it.

– I’m sure many avid viewers caught on to this but I love that they used the song, “Sicilienne” for Chuck’s funeral, being the same song he played on piano during the season 2 premiere. It’s also touching because the sheet music had Rebecca’s name on it, being a song that’s meant to be played along with a violin. It was also great to see Clifford Main, Rich Schweikart, and others to help really feel the impact Chuck made on the legal community. And of course, it was especially important to see Rebecca in this moment.

– You can bet the farm I’m one of those freeze-frame fans so I’d like to mention how funny I found it that Mike signed Tina’s birthday card with “Reach for the stars! – Barry H”. Also, there was a job ad for Beneke Fabricators in the newspaper Jimmy was perusing, and no, Jimmy didn’t circle it.

Better Call Saul “Lantern” (S3E10)

“Why jump to the nuclear option? I’m saying keep it simple.” – Jimmy McGill to Tuco Salamanca (Season 1×02, “Mijo”)

“You got the nuclear option!  Launch the doomsday device.  Game over.” – Jimmy McGill to Chuck (Season 1×09, “Pimento”)

Amidst multiple references to the Cold War (you can check out my review pointing out Better Call Saul’s season 2 parallels to Dr. Strangelove here) or the Space Race (a xerox machine is referred by Jimmy to be as complicated as a space shuttle a few episodes before he uses one to sabotage Chuck), the show has always used these themes to help drive the tension between the brothers.  If Tuco from the quote above represents the smoking crater that is Breaking Bad’s world which Jimmy is not yet ready for, then Chuck is the key that would need to be turned to get him there.  If there ever was an episode where both brothers finally blow their lives up in a significant matter, it’s this finale, which appropriately kicks off with the camera pushing through the space of a backyard that almost resembles the remains of a battlefield.  As a young Chuck reads The Adventures of Mabel to his kid brother, you can sense the seeds of war destined between them as a no-nonsense Chuck endures Jimmy’s impatience to know what happens at the end of the story.  It’s reminiscent to Jimmy constantly interrupting Kim while watching Ice Station Zebra back in season 2’s “Amarillo” (“So do they all die? Tell me that much.”…. “So what I miss? Anything blow up yet?”).

The cold open drives up intensely close on a white-gas lantern, an object which has been a looming concern often ignored throughout the entire season/series.  The imagery of the lantern is represented with the same symmetry in following scenes of the episode, such as the glowing wooden frame behind Howard’s seat in the boardroom or the row of lights on the table that separates Chuck from Howard as they discuss the options of Chuck’s lawsuit.  There’s a moment when Chuck gets out of his chair to propose a peaceful resolution as he walks passed each lit lamp (a sign of his own mental improvement).  Intermittently our TV screen goes dark as the camera pans across the back of each chair.  It’s a perfect illustration that despite Chuck’s claim for not wanting be the cause for HHM’s destruction, he’s completely delusional to the well-positioned line of doom he’s brought upon himself the second he decided to betray his own law partner/best friend.

Howard deciding to pay Chuck out from his own pocket is awfully telling to how off-the-rails Chuck’s behavior has been.  I adore the Kubrick-like pull-back as Chuck sneers from upon the lobby’s balcony as Howard arranges their employees to give him a rushed, yet properly celebrated send-off.  As Howard coldly cuts his own applause short and a befuddled Chuck marches out the automatic doors into the blinding white sunlight, we’re once again reminded of the lantern.

“You know, sometimes you gotta play to your strengths.” – Kim

While Chuck sticks to his convictions against HHM after hitting the self-destruct button, it’s Jimmy who realizes the same nuclear option can be applied to his problem in order to right the previous wrong of getting the retirement community to turn on Irene Landry.  Chuck gets the hero’s exit from HHM’s staff as he cuts himself off from that world he held so dear, while Jimmy’s is much less ceremonious as he becomes ostracized from the elder community who have loved and supported him for three seasons now.  Jimmy consciously sacrifices his reputation with an entire client base to get Irene back in everyone’s good graces as well as ensure the residents of Sandpiper Crossing receive their highest potential earnings from the class-action lawsuit, but was it out of genuine regret of his actions or just to prove Chuck wrong that the regrets he claims to feel are real?

The thing is, he wouldn’t have shown up at Chuck’s doorstep at all if he didn’t feel bad for Kim’s car crash (he even feels the need to blame himself for being the reason Kim overworked herself).  I do believe in Jimmy’s nature of act now and feel bad later, even though most of his schemes ironically operate by foretelling the beats to where every action leads.  For Jimmy, it’s all about what seems right to do in the moment and for all he’s concerned, the universe can have fun playing catch-up in the aftermath.  However, by destroying the door of practicing elder law permanently, Jimmy, from the result of Chuck’s judgement, is showing clear potential of his ability to change.  It’s just too bad Chuck won’t be around much longer for it to even matter to Jimmy.

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the truth is you never mattered all that much to me.” – Chuck

It’s tragic that these are the last words Chuck will ever say to his brother and it’s probably what drove Jimmy to try and fix his mistakes throughout the hour.  What Jimmy never sees after exiting the house for the final time is that Chuck looks up towards the door suggesting that he never meant what he said.  It’s the fattest lie he could have told as everything in Chuck’s life revolves around Jimmy.  You can imagine the hurt that’s felt when he’ll later learn of Chuck’s final act, never getting any hint of closure from this moment, even if he suspected Chuck’s sentiments were false.  You can’t help but feel bad for Chuck though, because he’s clearly sick and can’t help himself from burning bridge after bridge after so many events throughout the season have lined up flawlessly for him to do so.  The final scene is certainly the most saddest and darkest moment in the show to the point where the credits sequence is the only one to date to not use the usual, upbeat closing theme.

In the beginning of this final scene, the camera tracks slowly along the ground similarly to the way it did in the cold open, this time showing the insulation and upturned furniture with the lantern’s light shining ominously in the background.  The smash cut to Chuck bobbing helplessly in his seat almost plays at first glance like he has somehow electrocuted himself.  The way the scene takes its time to reveal what’s actually happening is disturbing, especially how most of it is unveiled through a series of fixed shots, as if only the inanimate walls and stacks of newspapers are aware of what’s happening.  This really helps capture Chuck’s complete and utter loneliness in the aftermath of the scene prior where he punches holes in his walls to snuff out the last bit of mysterious electric current.  In the end, the only electricity left is what was left of his mind.  Chuck’s death will undoubtedly become a major turning point for the series as Jimmy and the rest of the characters move forward.

Kim exits this season battered and physically defeated after her near-fatal car accident.  It speaks a lot to to the work she’s buried herself with after harboring the remorse of humiliating Chuck in court in exchange to support a partner she knows is guilty.  If this is an episode where Jimmy takes stock of his own behavior, then that goes double for Kim as she chooses to re-evaluate her priorities by dropping Gatwood Oil as a client and pushing her meetings with Mesa Verde.  By stripping the band-aid of workload, it’s as if she’s allowing her questionable allegiance towards Jimmy to truly sink in. Kim’s plan to marathon nearly ten movies from Blockbuster is perhaps her way of getting back to the root of why she enjoys being in Jimmy’s corner.  If this means she has to continuously endure Jimmy’s pressing desire to take shortcuts and care more about where each story is headed, then that’s something she’s may be willing to atone for.  Does Kim survive in the end like the protagonist in The Adventures of Mabel (“Is she gonna be okay?”…”She’ll be fine Jimmy.”… “How do you know?”…”Just listen.”) or does Kim meandering through an old relic Blockbuster Video signify her own demise?  Maybe the fact that Blockbuster still exists in extremely rare locations means she’ll still be alive but at what cost?

Nacho, whose hand was already forced to inform his disappointed father of his criminal connections to the Salamanca family, is now forced into a speedy rescue mission after Hector declares Nacho’s dad to be untrustworthy.  At the risk of Manuel being expendable, Nacho must put an end to Hector once and for all, but it’s not that simple.  Even with Hector finally undertaking the serious stroke that likely leads him to the wheelchair-ridden Hector we know from Breaking Bad, Nacho now has more dangerous eyes on him.  Not only does Hector’s fate still hang in the balance after Gus surprisingly makes a valiant effort to save him, but Gus’ life-long plan to get Hector under his own thumb has been threatened once again.  Mike may have been absent from the finale, but his warning to Nacho back in “Expenses” may have just rang true.  Nacho, like Jimmy, has not taken the consequences of his actions properly into account, but unlike Jimmy, Nacho has been moving Heaven and Hell to make sure he can.  Unfortunately the conflict he finds himself in has a far deeper and wider scope than he could have forseen.  It’s something even a good study like Mike had to learn the hard way back when he made an attempt on Hector’s life.

Can you feel the heat of Better Call Saul rising?


Better Call Saul “Fall” (S3E09)

“Money IS the point!” – Jimmy (“Uno”)

I want to scream about this show right now.  I’ve mentioned it long ago but what I love most about Better Call Saul, down to its very core, is that there’s a story lurking underneath the surface throughout the entire series with all of its characters that never gets addressed until it does.  Mike unearthed the good samaritan’s body after nearly an entire season of never allowing Mike to even speak of it.  In season 1’s “Pimento”, Chuck finally reveals his true feelings towards Jimmy.  These are only two examples (the former being recent and the latter being central and iconic) out of alot where you could pick up on what’s really going on in the heads of these characters, regardless of when or if it’s brought to the forefront, and yet it’s always so rewarding when it is.  Even when you can’t connect certain dots, you can still feel an effect from dots that are there to connect.

“Fall” did something that was just as powerful and game-changing as what “Pimento” and “Nailed” accomplished (not just because I was hoping it would), and did it in a way we’re not used to.  Season 1 had the “You’re not a real lawyer!” moment between Jimmy and Chuck.  Season 2 had the Kim/Jimmy/Chuck standoff.  “Fall” is a penultimate hour that consisted of characters outright delivering hard truths to one another, some on the brink of severing ties, while also allowing some important developments and revelations to remain brimming in subtext to an overwhelming degree.

“Is this about Chuck?” – Howard

Back in “Chicanery”, it was very much about Chuck, but as of now, (temporarily) Jimmy is done with him.  There are wounds so strong between those two that will carry on for the rest of their lives and will serve as a surplus of fuel for Jimmy’s path to Saul Goodman.  Due to the aftermath of Chuck vs. Jimmy, the torch has now been passed to Kim.  She is the final character who can keep Jimmy rooted as Jimmy, and by the looks of it, the roots are starting to give.  Can there be any more of a divide in the scene where Jimmy comes in with a bottle of Zafiro, dressed as Matlock, wailing his arms around like a clown, while Kim prepares for a meeting with a client that Jimmy is just now aware of?

Kim has been burying herself in the work for Gatwood Oil, her first client that’s disconnected from any of Jimmy’s smarmy manipulations.  It’s a much needed distraction after the guilt she feels over what they did to Chuck, as well as being a way to distance herself from the Jimmy who’s essentially doing Mr. Show skits on the air, getting any laugh he can in making the universe out to be a fool for his fortune.  The two storylines of Jimmy and Kim in this episode are meant to work in contrast to the larger story that’s being told.

We open with a close, creeping shot of pavement as Jimmy self-seekingly rips across before pulling his car straight up to the camera, almost colliding with it.  This is a shot that’s meant to foreshadow what’s to come at very end of the episode, especially considering my belief that Kim’s crash is indirectly responsible, on a subconscious level, of Jimmy’s behavior as of late.  On Jimmy’s side of the story, after the last two episodes of Jimmy scrapping for cash, I had completely forgot about the Sandpiper money that he would have coming to him once that case settled.  I think Alan Sepinwall from last year’s review at Uproxx put it best:

“If Clifford Main were to simply call Jimmy out of the blue and reluctantly tell him his check was in the mail, that would have no dramatic weight, and would also make Jimmy so financially comfortable that there might not be much of story for him for quite some time. By making him literally hustle for it — cruelly isolating class representative Irene Landry from all her friends at the retirement home to manipulate her into pushing for an earlier and smaller settlement — the story becomes less about what the money can do for Jimmy than what Jimmy does for the money, and the moral depths to which he’ll sink to pursue his own ends.”

I can see how the audience can still be in Jimmy’s camp when he faces off against Chuck, but I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who can defend Jimmy’s actions against Irene Landry, a sweet elderly lady in a retirement home and trusted client who has been one of Jimmy’s best supporters since season 1.  I had to check the beginning of “Off Brand” to see if she was one of the clients who showed up to Jimmy’s hearing (she didn’t) but she easily could have been.  I remember back in “RICO” when Irene went for her money that was stashed in a very accessible spot, I wondered what Jimmy’s limits were in regards to taking advantage of his elderly clients.  It’s at this point of the series where I would never imagine the extent of how low Jimmy could possibly sink.  Irene wasn’t just the class representative of the Sandpiper case, but she represents that whole world who loves and champions Jimmy.  After depressingly throwing her to the wolves just to rush a class-action lawsuit, diminishing the entire retirement community’s potential earnings, it makes you question who he wouldn’t hurt for his own personal gain.

That’s where Kim comes in and the ever-looming storm cloud of a fact that she is, indeed, not in Breaking Bad.  This episode positions her in an unfamiliar setting of open, South-Western desert landscape presented in the staple wide shots you might come to expect when recalling an elusive RV, severed head on a tortoise, or a crooked lawyer’s shallow grave.  In Better Call Saul, the desert alludes to the unavoidable future and imminent danger Breaking Bad will become host to, especially for those who aren’t suited for it.

Billy Gatwood (played by Twin Peaks’ Chris Mulkey) facing a muddled predicament of determining where the line lies to prevent two different states from taxing his operation can be seen as a metaphor for where Kim’s operation lies between the two over-lapping states of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad.  It’s a question that’s becoming increasingly pertinent as Jimmy is becoming ever-closer to the world of the latter.  Can Kim Wexler survive in that world, if the case is that she exists off-screen, or will she get swallowed up entirely?  Here, we’re shown Kim alone in the desert, her car gets stuck and she chooses to independently solve the problem by wisely placing some loose stakes underneath the tire.  She’s successful but not graceful as the car almost hits one of the oil wells, leaving the question of her future endurability still up in the air.

No matter how many times I anticipate Kim’s car crash, I can never work the timing out after the elongated silence.  Even when I use the passing landmarks in the background as bearing, it still always catches me off guard.  It’s as if Kelley Dixon, longtime editor for both shows found the perfect off-beat moment to execute on.  In horror movies, jump scares can tend to be a cheap device, but there are instances when it’s done right and here it couldn’t have been a more helpful way in portraying a car crash so accurately when falling asleep behind the wheel (according to people who relay such an experience).

There’s also a moment of foreshadowing a couple of episodes back in “Expenses” when Kim sets her timer for 5 minutes so she could take a nap in her car.  It not only establishes that Kim is working on a limited amount of sleep but a jump cut is used to portray how fast time can get away from you.  All in all, the final shot that’s shown here is of a long winding road heading to the right as Kim’s car crashes to the left.  The camera pulls out to, again, a classic Breaking Bad-esque landscape, which seems to highly suggest that Kim will become estranged from such a world, as we know.  The drama to what happens between her and Jimmy feels like it’s right around the corner.

As the future of Kim and Jimmy’s relationship may remain to be seen, and Jimmy betrays an unbeknown Irene Landry, other relationships based on past love and support begin to wear out.

After the reveal that every practicing attorney in HHM is going to have their insurance premiums doubled, Howard gently suggests it might be time for Chuck to pursue other avenues.  Chuck antagonizes, shooting down the notion, and Howard is faced with the more unfortunate choice of confronting Chuck on his unpredictability as of late and that it’s time to hang it up.  Chuck later retaliates by suing the firm, essentially choosing to hit the self-destruct button regardless of anyone else’s feelings.  I once compared this show to Dr. Strangelove and it’s similar themes to a Cold War back in my season 2 episode review of “Fifi”:

“Better Call Saul is essentially Dr. Strangelove as well, in how ridiculously comedic the entire conflict is when you say it out loud, yet it’s derived from something very serious and real between these two brothers where everyone within a potential blast radius of their world is forced to play in it like it’s a game. Chuck is actually incredibly similar to Jack D. Ripper being in a high position of power yet going sort of cuckoo indirectly due to being emasculated with his wife in the bedroom. Because of that, something bizarre and non-existent is now present in Chuck.

His psychosomatic condition of electromagnetic hypersensitivity is his version of Ripper’s theory of a communist plot using fluoridation to “sap and impurify” Americans of their precious bodily fluids. Communism is a real threat while Ripper’s theory is obviously all in his head, just like Slippin’ Jimmy is a real threat while Chuck’s condition is all in his head, yet it somehow proves time and again to act up whenever Slippin’ Jimmy is about. And what better correlation to communism is Jimmy himself, being the low-level and lesser deserving scam artist who wants to be of the same class and reap the same rewards as his more educated and hard-working brother?

This is why I have been defending Howard this season because despite how unfair his actions have been towards Kim, the guy is really just as much a victim to a rigged situation. To Chuck, Howard is the Lionel Mandrake who has been forced to put up with Chuck’s nonsense, but at the same time there is a real destructive threat going on beyond HHM’s window. Regardless of what fuels Chuck to be against it, it’s still a very real threat (Jimmy) and Kim continues to fool around with that threat without truly taking stock of how dangerous it is for a hard-working person like herself to entertain the experiment of keeping him under the same roof.

The Cold War was all about reaching a compromise but not without an impossible tension. Howard keeping Kim in doc review is almost like keeping a bunch of school children under a desk. It’s a means of exercising control but it’s all bullshit. He says he was hard on her because he saw something in her (and I believe that), but we all know that Kim is helpless no matter what. Howard admires that Kim will not be going to S&C and envies her for escaping and starting her own thing but in reality she’s still trapped in the McGill blast radius. The fact that Howard has stayed at HHM for his father was a great reveal but it’s also very revealing that he’s telling her this because it shows it’s been on his mind for a while to be thinking back on a moment when he too could have avoided this present reality where he’s locked in Jack D. Ripper’s office.”

I’m glad to see Howard finally standing up to Chuck, but saddened by how difficult it is to witness because, as we know, he’s has always cared for him, showing nothing but the utmost respect. Regardless, this has always been nuanced, unspoken conflict between these characters that’s been bubbling for three seasons now.

Meanwhile in the cartel world, Juan Bolsa has to set things straight with Hector, affirming that their product’s transportation will run exclusively through Gus’ chicken trucks.  This is followed by Hector’s continued resistance towards Gus, but also a complete disrespect for his association with Don Elado and Juan.  Nacho, of course, is already on the path to ending his connection to Hector, but Hector’s stroke doesn’t give and Nacho is instead faced to confront his father out of desperation.  He’s forced to reveal his involvement in the cartel, despite what that could mean for their relationship.  It’s heartbreaking.

The title of “Fall” really isn’t messing around as everything is beginning to collapse and change.  The only character who hasn’t cut or strained ties with another is Mike.  After “Slip’s” ending establishing the introductory union between him and Gus, he has become absorbed into Madrigal Electromotive with no turning back.  He has made the one connection in this entire episode that will hold for the duration, but it’s far from anything to celebrate.  This is the last we’ll see of Mike this season.  He becomes a ghost who may have just sealed his fate.  Remember, just like Jimmy, he has just as much of a transformation to make before he becomes the Mike of Breaking Bad and the stepping stones to get him there do not look good for him.

Some extra things to note:

– I’m loving this cool and collected version of Lydia.  It’s going to be a lot of fun to see Laura Fraser approach the character without the high anxiety she’s riddled with in Breaking Bad as we move forward.

– The way Howard talks down Jimmy in regards to his Sandpiper money was an incredible confrontation.  It reminded me of Howard’s first ever appearance in “Uno”, being more kind, considerate, and diplomatic, even when Jimmy would barge into his conference room, flailing his arms, demanding the money that’s owed to Chuck.  In contrast, Howard has now become the complete enemy that Jimmy once mistook him for in season 1 and it feels so deserved by this point.