Better Call Saul “Something Stupid” (S4E07)

Time jump!

Ever since the wait for season 4, I’ve wondered how the show is going to respond appropriately to the events of last season while keeping Jimmy’s extensive PPD period engaging and essential to the overall story. The aftermath of Chuck’s death is enough drama fuel to go on, of course, but at the same time, 10 months is a long while for Jimmy not to be a lawyer and at the show’s pace, we don’t need to actually experience that time in order to feel the blow of Jimmy’s punishment. The driven wedge between Kim and Jimmy has been so substantial and intricately told across (what will be so far) most of the season, that it still came to a surprise when we got that wonderfully constructed, artful montage pushing us from 2003 into the summer of 2004, a month short before Jimmy is reinstated. It’s at this point that I predict the last three episodes will run out the remainder of his month with focused story that will help launch Saul, the lawyer, for season 5.

The split-screen montage, played to Lola Marsh’s extended cover of Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Something Stupid” (created exclusively for this episode) is a cathartic, rewarding payoff as to why this show should never gloss over the smaller details. We know why they’re drifting apart and have felt it, so if time is to accelerate, this scene successfully capitalizes on that feeling. Other shows, guilty of using montage as a lazy story device purely to avoid telling a story, should be taking notes from Better Call Saul, not just for when it’s creatively necessary to implement into a script, but also how to make it entertaining and meaningful. I love how this show is always taking on fresh and inventive directing/editing techniques in delivering these pieces, instead of relying on the former show’s signature use of time-lapse (which even Breaking Bad didn’t necessarily rely on).

The state of Kim and Jimmy’s relationship following this sequence is irrefutably worn out, yet they’ve forced each other to function as the world’s most frustratingly unresolved couple, Remember how I’ve been anticipating some ugly explosion between the two this season? Well, it’s been nearly a year since the last episode and no such confrontation ever reared its head. It’s unnerving and ironic, because they seem to be some of the two greatest problem solvers on the show. Whether it’s a scam from Jimmy or a case Kim’s working on, they fight tooth and nail to ensure resolution. Legitimate, illegitimate, destruction, construction… Together, they’re like a paradox, but just like the superlab continues to bear parallel metaphor, they’re “not quite impossible”, if not a little overdue in becoming fixed or fully realized.

“…Well that was something.” – Kim

The distance illustrated between them in “Something Stupid” is nothing short of jarring, especially since they have become more public with their relationship. Back in my review of season 2’s “Rebecca”, I mentioned how dinner parties (or in this case a cocktail party) tends to be the perfect time to put up a front and have a passive aggressive dance take place around a deep-seeded issue. In the cold open of “Rebecca”, Jimmy used his charm and humor to take undermining shots at Chuck’s profession and ego, ultimately leaving Chuck insecure with his marriage. The cocktail party of S&C is no different as Jimmy takes this opportunity to peg Rich Schweikart into a corner by getting his employees jazzed up for an expensive retreat. What Jimmy really is doing here though is rubbing Kim’s nose in her own success and intentionally embarrassing her. It’s a message of their differences and how they don’t belong together if they can’t be on the same page. It’s something they fail to outright address no matter how much time goes by.

After Huell sidelines a cop with a bag of sandwiches, Jimmy has no choice but to reveal to Kim that he’s been selling drop phones on the street. This only further exemplifies how much they have grown apart as she responds with more validation of their crumbling relationship than the old Kim (even from last episode) would have reprimanded him over. It’s not until she hears Jimmy spoken of as a scumbag witness by the opposing counsel, before her concern for Jimmy truly registers. Her line “You don’t know the whole story” is telling to the tragedy of Jimmy’s life that she’s been drawn to ever since she discovered Chuck’s refusal to hire him at HHM.

I noticed there were two misleads with Huell in this episode. The first is where Jimmy is giving a tour of an office space, where you would presume he’s pitching the place as some desperate, last ditch effort to Kim, (or more likely to Francesca, another supposed do-gooder), but instead the reveal of Huell completely undercuts those expectations. The second instance is towards the end of the episode, where after Kim hears Jimmy has been peddling phones to criminals, she’s shown making an urgent call, requesting to meet the person on the other line. Even with Jimmy and his Esteem out of focus in this shot, you would think that the person Kim most urgently needs to see is him. Again though, it’s Huell, and the only news she has for Jimmy is that Huell will have to serve time. Both misleads here show how determined they are to keep to their separate paths, but the most surprising outcome is how Kim’s concern for Jimmy, instilled anew by speaking to the cop’s lawyer, is what causes her to make a decision completely antithetical to what the entire hour has been driving at.

There’s many layers to this twist, beyond just the mystery of what she plans to do with these pens and markers. For one, the last time we saw Kim driving her car in silence, she was met with a violent car crash, arguably brought on indirectly by her subconscious guilt to what she and Jimmy did to Chuck in court, and due to her anxiety of Jimmy’s misbehavior in general. It’s why she was operating on little sleep as she buckled down into her work for Mesa Verde. There’s also the idea of Kim and Jimmy’s separate paths. By having her take a sharp, risky U-turn, it helps visually convey the compromising decision she’s making in favor for Jimmy’s illegitimate practices. Finally, in the episode’s opening sequence, Kim took up half the screen, divided from Jimmy, whereas in the final shot, Kim gets so close to the screen that she envelops it entirely to the point where the single frame can’t even capture her properly. From a visual standpoint, all of this helps elevate the gravity of the moment, especially as she’s cut off from the frame while making the call to Jimmy, conveying a sense of wrongness (even stupidity) in this decision.

Then there’s Gus and the superlab plot. Look, personally I enjoy how the show has handled these stories. I definitely think the lens of Nacho is a predicament that fires at the highest cylinder and not seeing him for the last few episodes certainly leaves something to be desired, especially when the Gus/Hector plot is more about filling in the blanks. That said, I like the little we’re being fed with and how quickly it’s progressing (especially with the time jump). I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel absolutely enthralled by Giancarlo’s performance when that helpless smile comes over Gus’ face upon realizing he can now keep an entombed Hector under his thumb. I’m also curious to know how many shots it must have taken for him to give that subtle spike into the camera without destroying the fourth wall. It reminded me of Breaking Bad’s “Hermanos” when Walt spikes the camera in the same fashion when Hank tells him that something deep down says Gus is his guy.

As for the superlab, other than standing as a string of metaphors for Jimmy’s story, I strongly believe it’s building to something beyond just ‘filling in the blanks’, especially as the German engineers become more restless and agitated with the project. As Mike continues to bond with Werner, I’m worried what happens to him and his team after the superlab is finished. I feel the longer things get delayed, the more likely something is going to go wrong, and a loose cannon like Kai or any of the others are on the verge of being the spark to that. All of that aside, for me, the superlab is a grander spectacle than just simple Breaking Bad fan-service. There’s a monolithic, transfixing quality to it’s creation that I find fascinating. Peter Gould even mentions in the insider podcast, how the superlab’s excavation, to him, mirrors 2001: A Space Odyssey’s moon excavation scene, and I couldn’t agree more. I just eat that stuff up. Plus, Mike scolding “Boys! Cool it!” in what I would assume is clunky German was great, and if it doesn’t become a meme of some sort, then the internet has failed.

Extra stuff to note:

Burl Ives’ “Big Rock Candy Mountain” was a fitting choice of song for the Germans arriving at the laundry, especially how the lyrics keep tediously repeating, emitting the feeling of how exhausted they are. And yeah, big rock candy mountain is obvious for what the superlab will be used for, but I also like how it’s a humorous nod to what Walt’s blue meth is actually made of from a production standpoint.

– When Kim was receiving her Mesa Verde trophies for each state completed, I freeze-framed to see if Nebraska was one of them, and sure enough it’s front and center. I’m still dying to learn more context for her past there.

– Here’s a little fun fact I’ve been anticipating. The next episode “Coushatta” will mark the 100th episode of the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe (62+38=100).


Better Call Saul “Pinata” (S4E06)

If “Quite a Ride” gave us a flash-forward to the collapse of the Saul era, book-ended with the major turning point that will propel him towards said era, then “Pinata’s” cold open shows us in flashback, the hopeful origins of lawyer, Jimmy McGill, followed by the rest of the hour book-ending the demise of this chapter of his life. We’re at a crossroads. We learn that Jimmy’s motivation to become a lawyer is just as intertwined to win Kim’s respect as it was for Chuck’s, reminding us that Kim is just as much a crucial anchor for his saving grace.

Unfortunately in present time, the wedge continues to be driven between the two. As Jimmy discloses his decision not to seek therapy, Kim uses this as an excuse to follow the career choice that makes the most sense for her (joining Schweikart & Cokely). They continue to omit their conflict by upholding a false pretense with one another. It’s a dance around facing the truth which will lead to the future of Wexler-McGill becoming no more than a pipe dream. I love how thick the tension is, derived from something so quietly subtextual and character-driven. Bravo for Gilligan and Gould for taking advantage of Jimmy and Kim’s prolonged divide, allowing us to toss and turn over the drama that’s found here. For a show that’s tasked with heading towards a certain, highly anticipated future, it’s fully aware of when it needs to stay put.

Odenkirk plays the moment with such unspoken devastation when Jimmy excuses himself from the table after Kim casually crushes the sole hope of them working together. Having Jimmy stand in the intersection between the restaurant’s kitchen and bathroom was a great staging choice as well to help convey anxiety and misplacement. The ‘path’ he heavily relies on to move forward with, so as to avoid navel-gazing, has hit a definitive fork in the road, which I feel the yellow sign on the wall next to Jimmy was appropriately tipping its hat towards. I also couldn’t help myself from having this Seinfeld line in the back of my mind.

Lets put this in perspective. Back in season 2’s “Inflatable”, Kim actively chose to join Jimmy under the same roof as two solo practitioners over the prospect of joining S&C, which was argued even with partner-track, to be a lateral move from HHM. She’s the one who proposed the idea of separate law practices due to Jimmy needing to play the law colorfully in contrast to her being straight and legitimate. Back then, you could tell Jimmy felt a bit conflicted with the proposal, considering it was not just a rejection of an ideal venture, but most importantly it’s a rejection of his values (if not a kinder rejection than Chuck’s).

That said, she did make a professional choice that brought her closer to him than anyone else. She accepted him to a degree and even surprisingly fights in his corner when Chuck brings the hammer down in the midst of the Mesa Verde files tampering. After Chuck’s death and the guilt she’s been reeling with ever since, Kim has changed her tune. Kim’s decision to join the ranks of S&C is very telling that she’s creating an exit strategy from Jimmy alone (not just Wexler-McGill), especially as he shows no effort to better himself and continues to keep her at an arms-length. I don’t know how much longer the show could restrain itself from an explosive confrontation, yet it’s successfully nail-biting the further it continues not to.

Not only is Wexler-McGill presumably over with, but the episode manages to wrap around from the early days of the show. Mrs. Strauss, the first client who served as a foot in the door for Jimmy practicing elder law, is revealed to have passed away in her sleep. Jimmy, for the first time this season, exhibits genuine grief upon hearing the news (as if he’s due for an emotional release) and even digs up the Davis & Main commercial she acted in during season 2. This sadness he feels is the first opportunity he can allow himself to feel bad. She represents a time, primarily in season 1, when he gave a genuine effort to stay on the straight and narrow, regardless of not being able to help himself from taking shortcuts along the way. Those days, properly illustrated in “Pinata’s” final scene are undoubtedly over.

After last episode, I was half-hoping that the show wouldn’t go in the direction of Jimmy taking revenge on the boys who mugged him, considering such popcorn satisfaction doesn’t really exist in real muggings, but in this case I’m wrong. Those kids have nowhere else to be. They’re going to be on the streets again and Jimmy isn’t some innocent passerby victim. He’s going to be back at it too and Slippin’ Jimmy needs to set things right if he’s to continue selling phones. Overall, I like how this was handled by using Jimmy’s business proposal to them as a mislead to his more sinister back-up plan.

It’s also appropriate that the line Jimmy crosses here is balanced between over-stepping into a situation that feels out of place for Slippin’ Jimmy but also not fall under a hyper-extreme Heisenberg moment. I don’t think even Saul Goodman would commit an act of physical violence against another if he could avoid it. Jimmy’s performance of intimidation towards these punks was great but I did wonder how much of it was borrowed from his extensive movie knowledge. I’d be interested to know whether any of the films up for an Oscar in 1993 contained a scene that mirrored his actions here.

I know this is a shallow observation, considering I have no proper knowledge of the actual contents of the film but it’s interesting how Howard’s End is a title referenced in the same cold open where Jimmy peruses HHM’s library, seeing as it marks the start of the war between the McGill brothers, in which Howard will be forced to wear a straight-jacket with an umbrella. Flash-forward to the present day of this episode and it doesn’t look like HHM is looking too hot in the aftermath. Not only that, but Jimmy ripping into Howard to stop wallowing over “one little set-back” and calling him a shitty lawyer, is finally answered with a long over-due “Fuck you, Jimmy.” It’s a line that felt so deserved, AMC (for whatever reason) didn’t even censor it.

Bottom-line, Howard and the firm are in shambles and with Chuck deceased, as well as there being no further reason to protect Jimmy anymore (which is all he ever really did as recent as taking the blame for Chuck’s death), Howard has every right to drop his sensibilities. It’s a long way from the pilot when Howard would entertain Jimmy storming into his conference room, demanding money. The thing is though, Jimmy is trying to help Howard here, even if he gets to enjoy knocking him in the process. It’s as if Slippin’ Jimmy, the scam artist, can honestly size up Howard’s strengths and weaknesses for what they truly are, and instead of using that to run a game on Howard, he’s outright sharing this intuition as a gift of tough love.

It’s one thing for Jimmy to be afraid of examining himself inwardly to face his darkness in order to move on from Chuck, but then there’s a character like Gus who revels and remains consumed by the inner-demons he harbors. It’s funny how in Better Call Saul, we learn more about Jimmy and Mike’s family than we ever did on Breaking Bad, but with the second show taking Gus on as a regular character as well, his supposed family life which was hinted at in Breaking Bad remains a mystery.

Whether that’s because he was telling a lie of their existence or not, and his implied relationship with Max was the last person he was ever close to, this scene still paints a pretty clear picture as to where his priorities lie. Gus is the guy who will ignore his own brothers just to take a long, unnecessarily drawn out act of revenge on an animal, which by nature is only feeding off the lacuma tree to survive. Fruit will grow back, but imagine when a human being such as Hector Salamanca maliciously snuffs out the most important person in Gus’ life. This is why we never see Gus’ family or home life detached from anything business. Revenge is his home and the story he eerily tells here of keeping the coati as a tortured pet shows us this is who he’s always been.

Mike making suggestions to Gus on how to make the German excavation crew feel at home, beyond basic shelter and necessities, is fitting here too. While Gus agrees and supports Mike’s idea, he’s much more invested with the revenge on Hector to appreciate the proper accommodation that he’ll be providing these men. It trumps him from even taking pleasure in his own business, let alone family life. As for Mike, it’s good to see he’s making such an impact on Fring’s operation, but I’m waiting for the conflict to arise which will spark the beginning of his transformation towards a cold-blooded murder-for-hire. I wonder what issues the spoiled newcomer Kai is going to present and if the development of this housing situation is going to lean towards Mike being forced to get his hands dirty.

Oh and of course, it was wonderful to see Michael McKean as Chuck again, who’s still shown brimming with subtle resentment towards Jimmy even when he was in the mail room.

Better Call Saul “Quite a Ride” (S4E05)

We’re halfway through the season and we’re met with an episode possessing a key turning point in Jimmy’s prospective path to Saul. Just like Gus’ prospects being interviewed for the structural engineering position of the future superlab, Jimmy too traverses the hour with a figurative bag over his head. He doesn’t know the plan or where he’s going and he’s also challenged to prove what he’s capable of, which is something that can only become successful if you have a clear grasp on who you are. Jimmy doesn’t know who he is. His Slippin’ Jimmy origins are hopeful in his street hustling, but the mugging he endures forecasts a slower learning curve he’ll need to take on before reprising the fine-tuned master he once was. The shell of Saul Goodman that will eventually encapsulate him is also not fully formed. There are little abstract cues throughout the episode that hint towards Saul like the shot of the backwards “SOL” painted on CC Mobile’s glass door or “S THE MAN” as Jimmy later scrubs the paint off. He even reassures Kim “It’s all good” before becoming a creature of the night. The name, just like his future, is fragmented and not yet fully realized.

Other than the vague cold open flash-forwarding the smooth commute of a Los Pollos Hermanos truck in last seasons “Sunk Costs”, the surprise opening shot here presents us with the first distinct scene set during Breaking Bad (“Ozymandias” era) and is shot with the former show’s rare home use of 35mm film. That fact, disclosed by Gilligan and Gould in various interviews, is something that blows my mind because regardless of how seamless it fits into Better Call Saul’s digital presentation, you can still tell the difference, truly immersing you in this stage of time.

From a story perspective, this scene is jarring. For starters, it’s the first, long-awaited glimpse of the show’s title character (as we remember him), ironically in a moment when the era of Saul is coming to an end. Second, Jimmy’s working with Francesca and she’s completely changed her tune towards him? For future viewers who will watch Better Call Saul first, this is going to be a strange reveal considering we haven’t seen her character since the season 3 finale and as far as one might presume, her purpose was served up until then. The mystery still remains as to why she joined Saul and stayed with him, especially (supposedly) without Kim in the picture.

I wouldn’t call “Quite a Ride” an origin story in the same vein that “Five-O” is Mike’s, but it’s certainly an important chapter in the overall origin of Saul which bookends Jimmy’s idea for the future with his actual one. In the last scene at Jimmy’s pre-prosecution diversion meeting, he essentially mirrors the first guy who Mike interviews for structural engineer. Jimmy’s over-confident and regardless of whether he’s telling a plan the PPD supervisor would want to hear or Jimmy just plain isn’t facing the truth of his own reality, he’s still making a promise to something that’s not going to come to pass.

Howard on the other hand, takes on the role of Werner Ziegler, the German engineer that Gus and Mike end up going with. Howard is the guy who is willing to get his hands dirty in the long road ahead, sweat, and be completely honest with himself while grieving over Chuck’s death. Jimmy refuses to face those demons, especially after seeing the draining effect it can have on a good, morally-sound man like Howard. It’s absolutely appropriate that the first shot of this episode is paper being shredded in Saul’s office, because Jimmy shredding the therapist’s number and flushing any chance of healing himself down the toilet, is exactly what’s going to propel him towards the future of his own destruction.

It really was shocking to see Howard like this and I’m worried about him, but I believe he’ll come out the other side in a better state while Jimmy will continue to descend. What’s conflicting though is a theory I have that the lawyer Saul advises Francesca to meet with in the cold open is not Kim, but Howard. Francesca knows who Kim is, so Jimmy wouldn’t use a phrase like “Tell em’ Jimmy sent you”. If the law of the bookend is at all a thing (which arguably there’s not), I feel as if a role reversal is hinted to take place where instead of Jimmy being the unlikely character who tries to help Howard in this final scene, Howard could be the unlikely one to do Jimmy a favor in the cold open. It makes no sense why Howard would, especially since he’s a good man on the road to recovery, but perhaps something odd happens along the way for Howard that could keep him tethered to Jimmy’s orbit. Otherwise, I’d say the lawyer could be Bill Oakley (not The Simpsons writer/showrunner), but Kim pretty much has proven that he’s not the guy you want in your corner when you’re cornered. “I invented chicken” is not going to hold up in court.

Speaking of Kim, it seems like she’s fully committed to fighting minor offenses, while leaving Mesa Verde on the back-burner. In last episode’s review, I touched on how she’s working through an existential crisis and may be trying to use these small cases as a catharsis for helping Jimmy, but the more it unfolds I feel it’s as simple as what I’ve noted long ago. It’s not so much that she feels bored with Mesa Verde but tainted with its growing success after Chuck’s suicide. One of the first shots of the season are the embers of Chuck’s house floating into the night sky being superimposed over the Mesa Verde files. It’s why she decided not to take on Gatwood Oil in the season 3 finale as well, because she received that client through Mesa Verde and she already felt guilty enough after putting a mentally ill Chuck through the ringer in “Chicanery”. By burying herself in the underbelly of the courthouse, she may be trying to start over from square one, detaching herself further from what she feels she does not deserve. This again, shows the widening gap between herself and Jimmy and it’s only a matter of time before it’s all brought to light.

No Nacho this week, but Mike is indeed aboard the Gustavo Fring train, traveling across the state to interview foreign structural engineers. I know the creation of the superlab is mostly necessary in the context to how far along Gus’ empire is, but I also find the execution of its creation fascinating. I love Werner as a newly introduced character for how openly human he is with a lack of concern for composure. The research that went into his dialogue is excellent. I’d be entertained just by listening to him speak of his trade for hours, weighing every hurdle that will present itself in this “not quite impossible” task ahead. The birth of the superlab might be just as much of an enigma as any other character on this show.

Other stuff:

– “Headlines” by Freddy Glidersleeve and Stephen Easterling (a track unfortunately not commercially available to the public) is the song that plays while Jimmy awaits his first customer at CC Mobile. It’s the same song that played when Walt and Jesse meet at Denny’s to regroup after Gus kills Victor. Coincidentally, it’s being played when Walt asks Jesse how he’s doing (in regards to Gale’s murder) where Jesse, similar to the defense Jimmy uses in regards to Chuck, acts as if everything is fine. Both characters are going through self-loathing and both choose to drown themselves within Albuquerque’s criminal element (Jimmy even occupying the Dog House, a prime spot for Jesse to be). Jimmy gets robbed and Jesse almost gets robbed from the people they surround themselves with (Jesse taking on a new role when Mike takes him under his wing). There’s a foreboding parallel here but it’s not exactly identical. It makes you wonder how closely it will be followed. Jimmy certainly won’t have an outburst in “therapy” like Jesse had in “Problem Dog” so that frustration and anger might be redirected elsewhere (Kim) or remain unhealthily internalized.

– I adore the street montage of Jimmy selling phones to a diverse group of sordid customers. The tension that builds when the biker gang arrives, causing everyone to scatter felt very Breaking Bad to me in it’s direction and scoring. Jimmy having the gall to approach them felt reminiscent of an early Walter White and I like how the success in selling the phones to the gang was used as a distraction from the real danger. The whole time I expected the kids lurking in the background during the montage was there to help illustrate how wrong they were about Jimmy being a narc, so it’s even more of a surprise when it turns out it’s because they were planning to rip Jimmy off.

Better Call Saul “Talk” (S4E04)

I’d like to commend the season so far for how they’re handling Jimmy’s story. It’s one thing to create the most gaping divide between the audience and his head space than there’s ever been, but the peripheral focus and slow push forward across a four episode duration makes his transformation all the more excruciating to witness. It’s like being forced to watch a car wreck in slow-mo except Jimmy’s still fumbling to get his keys in the ignition. Jimmy spending the majority of the episode bouncing a ball against the window (in an overlooked nutshell) somehow fills me with just as much anxiety as Nacho dreading imminent bloodshed as the cousins go on a shooting spree. That’s quite a feat. Add to the fact that he’s hiding his criminal behavior from Kim and it’s all the more insultingly painful and frustrating. It’s like the writers are giving what many of the more impatient fans want in the most conflicting way. Jimmy is indeed on the brink of the change we’re anticipating, but Saul Goodman needs to rise from the primordial ooze rather than spun around and revealed in the snap of a finger.

Jimmy’s story is pushing forward though. He’s making criminal connections, building a relationship with Ira, and by the end he takes Ira’s advice into considering multiple cell phone burners by going to the absolute, dismissive extreme of using his vacant CC Mobile location to advertise for a sketchier demographic. The large, blatant paint job (applying the same color scheme as the Better Call Saul logo) of “Is the Man Listening? Privacy Sold Here” alone helps feed into how unhinged Jimmy is. The fact that he took this job (in which moments ago, he turned down) just to avoid Kim’s suggestion to seek therapy also solidifies his unwillingness to get better or mend the divide between him and her. I don’t know how long Jimmy will be able to entertain CC Mobile’s resources for this seedy detour, but with a little more hustle on the streets, I believe he could begin to build a new client base for the future. Regardless of the plot that’s moving into place, I feel confident that Jimmy’s character-driven sense of misguidedness, remaining adrift from Kim and the audience in an opportune, crucial moment of grief, will prove just as essential to a grander payoff.

This season is just about the mystery of where Kim’s head is as it is with Jimmy’s. As Jimmy’s world secretly spirals, she’s left to paddle a rowboat one-handed while also being kept at a distance from the audience in terms of what her next move is. We find her at the courthouse, not for research, but for observation. She certainly seems to be going through an existential crisis, feeling unfulfilled with the Mesa Verde proceedings, and perhaps looking for inspiration. When Judge Munsinger hits the nail on the head towards said likeliness of that and explains how she’s not the first person to use his court room for soul-searching, you would think that Kim’s decision to keep observing would suggest that her reasons aren’t as transparent.

But it is soul-searching. Transparency doesn’t trivialize her desperation to repair an inner-conflict (no matter how many people have felt it before), being one that extends beyond the mundane trials of Mesa Verde, but her longing to build stability for Jimmy’s grief and a bridge for the gap in their relationship that’s currently being buried with Thai food and movie marathons. By observing opening statements, sitting closer to the side of the guilty party, she could be trying to find the best approach in getting through to Jimmy. As viewers, we’re left out in the open with this one, which again is owed to tension built upon uncertainty as we anticipate a confrontation between Kim and Jimmy that I feel is overdue (as part of the story), especially in an episode titled “Talk”.

While Jimmy is avoiding therapy, we open the episode with a flashback montage (played to The Ventures’ “Grazin’ in the Grass”) of a young Matty watching Mike pour and mix cement, followed by a flash-forward of Mike in group counseling having just finished disclosing something very heavy. It’s telling that this memory of Matty is certainly the driving force behind whatever bomb was dropped in the room. Is it a moment of self-destruction? Did he implicate himself in any way towards Matty’s death or worse, the murder of the killers? The speculation throws you for a loop as it’s crazy he would even say anything about that, but after the gravity of the cold open, you have to wonder what else could Mike reveal about Matty that Stacey hasn’t.

I love how this hangs over the episode and how, in the show’s classic fashion, the reveal of what truly is going on in the scene and the subtext to what expertly brought it on (indeed Matty-related) is much more fitting and meaningful than him sharing anything outright about his son. I admire how, across both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, this is the first flash-forward, self-contained within the hour, that doesn’t even come close to bookending the episode. It helps sell the point that this moment closes a door and something that’s going to be put well behind in the rear-view mirror as Mike digs his front foot deeper into Gus’ world (Mike literally and dramatically stepping forward towards Gus before the credits roll).

This not only turns out to be a dismissal of the group and the end of him supporting Stacey by attending, but he’s sadly disbanding from Anita (a character I’ve really enjoyed). The story initially and innocently set itself up (not unlike one of Mike’s heists), where him and Anita don’t just have a fun bet, but a shared goal in determining whether Henry is a pathological liar. However, unlike most of the goals Mike follows through with, this one gets personal and goes completely awry, resulting in an unexpected, ugly outcome. The look on Mike’s face when Anita steps in to calm him down expressed such genuine sorrow over the unfortunate rejection he needs to express, one that will likely end their platonic relationship in the process.

In Mike’s defense, his outburst holds ground considering not only is Henry outed as the obvious fraud Mike sees him as, but the group is outed as glaringly blind and oblivious for entertaining his lies for as long as they did. From Mike’s perspective, it proves how unproductive the atmosphere is for him. It’s not to say that group counseling doesn’t help, but that all the pieces were in the right spot for him to realize he needed to get out of there and Stacey admitting that she went hours without thinking about Matty, was the spark. What’s ironic is that Stacey was the one in last seasons’ “Expenses” who had to remind Mike of how he used to teach Matty as a kid how to mix cement, so it’s appropriate that’s what we’re shown in a moment where he’s fuming over the idea of Stacey becoming increasingly forgetful. It might not just be about Mike being upset with her, but with Mike being upset with himself, feeling more guilt for the part he played in his son’s death as Matty continues to become a distant memory.

Then there’s Nacho and the relentlessly grim situation he continues to have no control over. Every episode of this season seems to outdo itself in terms of making matters for him worse. We don’t know Nacho’s full history with murder, but the goon he’s forced to kill is the first time on the show that we’ve ever seen Nacho kill anyone directly by his own hand (save for the attempt on Hector which got him into this mess). I appreciate the creative choice to show the cousins’ shooting spree primarily from Nacho’s perspective as the chaos is more auditory from beyond the wall before Nacho realizes he’s going to have to join them. It’s clever how the set location of this shootout was properly mapped out for the audience in the beginning of the episode with the tracking shot that followed Gus’ henchman through the area. By leaving the violence mostly to the viewer’s imagination, our previous knowledge of the geometry and scale of the place helps serve as a disturbing base.

I think returning Nacho to his father’s home is the appropriate cry for help that this story needs. It’s been made clear to Manuel that Nacho is in over his head, but now that he sees the physical, bloody havoc that’s been wrought upon his son, there’s no way he could turn a blind eye. He loves him and understands the police cannot be notified, which means in some way or another he’s going to get mixed up in all of this. It’s worrying and if Nacho’s situation is to follow the pattern of getting worse by the episode, I would hate to imagine what that could mean for Manuel as he’s pulled closer into the drama.

Better Call Saul “Something Beautiful” (S4E03)

Better Call Saul has always been two shows for the price of one where I find myself switching between both sides of my brain as I watch. I admire the world-building of this excellent Breaking Bad prequel, looking forward to the future character connections or plot points. At the same time, as a fan of the actual standalone series, I adore the slow-burn and nuanced, original storytelling that Jimmy, Kim, Chuck (R.I.P.), Howard, and Nacho bring. The drug world side of it is this looming sense of dread in which you know Jimmy is going to get absorbed into at some point. It’s a unique dichotomy that is essential to the story that’s being told. That said, I’m noticing more and more that Better Call Saul leaves a large, uncomfortable knot in my stomach the further it goes, which is something I never felt to such an extent with Breaking Bad, even though you knew Walter White’s transformation and surrounding circumstances were going to become worse and worse.

Breaking Bad is a thrill ride, regardless of whether you’re rooting for Walt, but what helps in that regard is the major turning point towards Walt’s bad behavior occurred in the very first episode with his lung cancer diagnosis. After that, it’s bang bang, full steam ahead, placing you squarely on board for its plunge into the dark, whereas with Better Call Saul we know things are going to get bad, but we’re given the opportunity to become attached to Jimmy McGill and understand the smaller details for three entire seasons before the major turning point for Jimmy, being Chuck’s death. We learn that despite Jimmy’s slippery past, he has a good heart with the genuine intention to be good and do right by others. Even while he’s cutting corners or committing flat-out criminal acts, there’s this hope for redemption with his character, despite us already knowing he’s going to become Saul. Chuck played a very important role in squashing any possibility of positive change and that makes Jimmy’s downfall seemingly more tragic.

Walt’s fallout with Gretchen and Gray Matter served as brief, contextual information towards his decision to cook meth and kill people, similar to the little explanatory background most villains are given in stories. That’s not to say morality and the concept of good vs. evil was portrayed as black and white in Walt’s journey, but that Better Call Saul is a slower turn of the knife, allowing the audience to truly experience Jimmy’s fall from grace. Walt’s transformation is more extreme but Jimmy’s hurts more. In my opinion, it’s playing out to be one of television’s greatest stories of tragedy surrounding a lead character (The Wire being a show of greek tragedy not driven by a lead, but the city of Baltimore itself). Kim’s tearful response to Jimmy reading Chuck’s letter is a perfect, long over-due underlining of this.

Jimmy McGill is irreversibly broken here. Not only is he completely vacant of any protest for the measly $5,000 he receives for not contesting Chuck’s will, but he reads his brother’s letter as if a teacher called on a student to read a passage from a textbook. There’s no reveling in the words. Just intermittent slurping of cereal the same way he did when reading the classifieds in the premiere. Jimmy is not okay and even Mike, who’s best known for rolling his eyes and not giving Jimmy a second thought, can clearly see there’s something off in how he’s taking his brother’s death. While a take of $4,000 is pocket change to Mike compared to what he’s making now and not worth the risk (stealing hummel figurines in general being small ball compared to his current line of work), he still could tell that it’s just as ill-fitting a heist for Jimmy as well. It’s an aimless, senseless crime that Jimmy is more championing for the sake of acting out than he is for the money.

Jimmy’s spinning and Kim doesn’t need to witness his recent crime in order to realize this. Her boyfriend is broken to the point where there’s no telling what’s important to him anymore. During the hummel heist, Neff listens to an audio guide on time management which delves into the theme of ‘importance vs. urgency’. This is a hint to what’s going on in the final scene as Jimmy treats Chuck’s letter not as something of importance or value, but as an urgent task to get done with and out of the way.

Impending tragedy isn’t just exclusive to Jimmy but Nacho, who is currently the frontrunner of emotional investment within the drug world narrative, seems to be getting dealt a worse hand with each passing week. I remember back in season 3’s “Off Brand” review, when Victor held Nacho at gunpoint, I made this following observation:

I believe Nacho is a guy who has no problem being a criminal and being part of a criminal organization, but despite being a ‘tough’ when he has to be, he doesn’t prefer it. He’s not Jesse Pinkman, but he does have humanity in him. I imagine when he was in the presence of Tyrus and Victor, he saw himself in them. He was among true peers in that moment, those of whom are smart and no-nonsense working for a much more well-collected, level-headed, business man. And yet, they’re unfortunately enemies. I don’t doubt that if the opportunity ever presented itself possible, Nacho would want to work for a guy like Gus where things run smoothly.

In an alternate timeline, this would have made a lot of sense, but apply that wishful thinking to his current circumstances and it’s a living nightmare. Gone are the days when Nacho could intimidatingly tell off a nerdy Daniel Wormald (Pryce) that their business is done after giving back the stolen baseball cards. Now, as his life hangs in the balance, he’s being told off by the vet, Dr. Caldera (essentially a glasses-wearing polar opposite to Wormald in terms of intimidation), to never show his face to him again. Nacho has been shot (for appearances) unsympathetically by the group he’s now working for and has been saved (Marco pumping his own blood into him) by the very group he’s betrayed. He’s eternally trapped and has lost complete ownership over his life.

An astounding performance of Tom Lehrer’s song “The Elements” aside, Gale’s surprising return at first glance could be seen as a fan-service cameo, primarily being used to help set up Gus’ relationship with him (despite Breaking Bad already establishing that Gus put him through school), but I believe it serves more than that. It needed to be acknowledged that Gale is being groomed but wouldn’t be the outside supplier Gus uses under short notice as they halt distribution across the border. Is this where the mysterious Lalo comes in? It’s obviously in Gus’ favor for an outside supplier to be used under the situation he’s orchestrated, so whoever will fill that role must be a benefit to him in some fashion.

Other things to note:

-I don’t think we know why Kim needed to be at the courthouse. Unless I’m missing something? I don’t think she tampered with Chuck’s letter either. It’s unlike her and Chuck does care for Jimmy, regardless of the last words he said to him. Plus the letter seems to have been written before the Mesa Verde drama. I did notice the mysterious score that played when Kim was pacing around Kevin Wachtell’s bank models, which didn’t cue in until Kevin mentioned their future Nebraska location (Kim’s small hometown residing near the Nebraska/Kansas border). Ever since season 2’s “Inflatable”, Kim was oddly vague in her interview with Schweikart about where she came from. It poses a question of her past life. Something of which may be connected to where she might be in the future as Gene hangs low in Omaha. I’m really interested to know what’s going on in her head in that moment other than feeling overwhelmed by what seems like an endless, unrewarding venture for Mesa Verde. She definitely seems to have no gripes with letting her new assistant take lead on most of the work.

-I texted my friend on a commercial break, speculating that we might see Todd at some point in regards to the B&E hire considering Saul is the one who introduced Vamanos Pest to Walt and Jesse, citing that he’s been “pulling their chestnuts out of the fire, legally speaking, for five years.” I was half-right as Jimmy’s recruit was Ira, Vamanos Pests’ owner, which means Todd might be right around the corner. Ira, as far as I can tell, was never involved with Uncle Jack and the neo-nazis. I like his character and I look forward to him getting more screen time in the future. The character has a charming Brian Posehn quality and I loved Dave Porter’s choice to accompany his heist with a light-hearted, bumbling score.

-In the cold open, I still can’t tell if the hubcap bouncing off the road and hitting the camera lens was an effect story-boarded and digitally added in or was it just a wonderful accident. Gordon Smith wrote and Daniel Sackheim (The X-Files) directed this one, being the same duo who worked on last season’s climactic “Chicanery”. An opening scene like this truly shows the range of their work.

-Oh and I love the adorable opening shot of the horned lizard spiking the camera (looking straight into the lens). It was as if the creature was welcoming us into the episode.