Better Call Saul “Wiedersehen” (S4E09)

This is a penultimate hour that’s been a long time coming for this season and altogether the entire series. Ever since Kim awkwardly, yet sensibly turned down Jimmy’s proposal to become law partners in season 1’s “Bingo”, there’s been a pin in the pretty picture that is their relationship. Season 1 is the season where everybody seemed to reject Jimmy or size him us as the slippery lawyer he truly is. Nacho saw him as a criminal, Mike saw him as morally-flexible, and Betsy Kettleman proclaimed Jimmy as a lawyer only guilty people would hire. In a world determined to decide Jimmy’s fate, his aspiration to follow Chuck’s footsteps was the glimmering light of hope that he could prove everyone wrong, or in the very least remain tethered to a quiet, noble pursuit in elder law for the rest of his career, regardless of the occasional slip-up or shortcut. Unfortunately, it was Chuck’s grand rejection of him in “Pimento” which shut the door on any such possible future. From there, almost immediately, Kim has been Jimmy’s saving grace. She has always accepted or tolerated his colorful approach towards the law, but also strongly believed in his potential as a good, sincere lawyer.

It’s this hypocrisy that has hung over the series for a while now, from the aforementioned story in “Bingo”, to Kim offering a compromised proposal for them to share a roof as two separate, solo practitioners in season 2’s “Inflatable”. She compartmentalizes her involvement with Jimmy, yet inches surprisingly closer to him by having his back in times when it makes more sense for her not to. It’s Jimmy though, a man who needs certainty and has more appreciation for the end goal than the minutiae of progress, who has exercised an impressive share of patience in allowing Kim to retain her chipped guard towards his lifestyle. After the scheme of switching the Mesa Verde blueprints, Jimmy jumps the gun in assuming Kim will now be his new Marco but collects himself appropriately when Kim suggests, in a question of ethics, that they weigh each scam justifiably as they see it. There’s an order to Jimmy’s respect for Kim’s wishes rather than antagonizing over the slight dismissal he’s always felt from her. It would take something extremely unexpected to disrupt that order, a true upset in the name of his patience, for Jimmy to become a powder keg.

This twist of Jimmy’s reinstatement hearing falling through due to insincerity is a punch to the gut that I never saw coming. This whole season I’ve been treating his long-awaited reinstatement as something that needed to happen in the story, mechanically. Not once did I consider that Gilligan and Gould would use that anticipation to pull the rug out from the audience in favor for some of the most beneficial payoff the show has ever produced. It’s so fitting that Jimmy’s omission from acknowledging Chuck, and overall refusal to seek therapy this season, is the bug that bites him in the ass. I imagine the only way an appeal for a higher court to override this decision against him is if, through introspection, he supplies further context as to why he wouldn’t have mentioned Chuck in the hearing, seeing as Jimmy’s unique grieving process towards his brother’s suicide is completely separate from the case he’s been punished for. In other words, if he wasn’t forced to sincerely get in touch with his emotions over Chuck’s death before, now he must if he doesn’t want to waste another year.

This is what I’m looking forward to in the season finale, but this could only come to pass if Jimmy and Kim’s conflict with one another doesn’t spiral into something worse. It looks like they’re ready to rebuild from scratch, and if anything the ugly confrontation between the two upon the rooftop was a healthy, overdue release of their underlying issues. It’s essentially Kim’s “Pimento” moment but without the ironclad toxicity that Chuck harbored, so if anything there’s a brighter outcome amidst the settling dust. I do wonder how their figurative shootout on the rooftop is going to push things forward for them though, similar to how season 1’s confrontation with Chuck has fueled the entire show. It was clear that Chuck would never be on Jimmy’s side from then on, but with Kim, being on Jimmy’s side and not being on Jimmy’s side seem to be occupying the same space. I have no doubt I’ll be recalling this moment in future episodes, but I’m still unsure in what fashion. Perhaps she’s going to stick by his side, tragedy will strike, and Jimmy will look back on how supportive Kim has been when he never deserved it.

The construction of the superlab has proved to be a polarizing avenue for many viewers this season and I wouldn’t bat an eye at anyone who has simply not found it engaging, but I am rather baffled by those who chalk this story up as just ‘the construction of the superlab’. As I have previously mentioned, I personally enjoy the magnitude of its presentation, from the excavation site to the housing of these German engineers, and the overall eerie, concerning mood that tends to hang over the entire scope of it. And yeah, knowing how essential this place is going to be in the parent series does obviously play its part. That said, committing half the season to this (the notion of its exploration being planted ever since last season’s “Off Brand”) transcends fan-service for me and only serves as a backdrop to a much more important, carefully told story which I suppose some viewers have not been able to get on board with. The superlab’s creation isn’t just there to mark time passing or to fill in an unnecessary blank, but the slow pace of it is intended to feel trying and frustrating. It helps us get into Werner’s head space, a character essential in Mike’s series arc, through “show, don’t tell”.

The story at its core, is the bond developed between Mike and Werner. Throughout this season, Werner has displayed a pretense towards Mike, talking about his satisfaction with the work and his gratefulness for the hospitality provided for the boys, Deep down though, he’s becoming impatient and home-sick, which is something he has allowed Mike to know. In turn, Mike has lent a sympathetic ear. He took him out for drinks, vouched for him to Gus when the project was leaked to a couple of strangers, and offered him an extensive, long-distance phone call with his wife. By making a foolish, panic-stricken escape, Werner has thrown this sympathy back in Mike’s (or Michael’s) face, leaving Mike to look just as much the fool. If you consider how arrogant Mike has been in the beginning of this season, by inserting himself into various Madrigal facilities as security consultant and the gall he had in demanding Gus put him to work, this is embarrassing. Between the wife-beater mentioned in Breaking Bad’s “Half Measures”, the cops that killed Mike’s son, Hector Salamanca, and later Walter White, Werner Ziegler is probably the most kind, sympathetic adversary Mike has ever encountered.

What’s so bizarre is Werner is very reminiscent of the murdered good samaritan, a married man, who has weighed on Mike’s conscience ever since the end of season 2. Mike is not only responsible for Werner’s escape, but it looks like he’s the one who’s going to have to perform the punishment once Werner is caught. Whether it’s from feeling betrayed or Gus harshly calls him out on his mistake, this is going to be a huge leap forward from where we left Mike off last season when he took up the sad task of searching for the good samaritan’s body before officially joining Gus’ operation. Back then, the good samartian symbolized the responsibility he felt for his son’s death and the toll that has taken on Stacey. Season 3 explored this with the revenge he took on Hector Salamanca, attempting to correct something which can’t be corrected. Now, Mike is in the likely position of taking decisive action and becoming the root cause of killing a good man and leaving another widow behind. It’s a relationship that this story has taken the time to stress the value of. The irony is the only way I could see Mike mustering up the courage to delivering whatever Werner has coming to him, is if he eliminates the association this carries for his son.

The idea of detaching oneself from Matty is exactly what got Mike angry at Stacey earlier this season, but both of them did meet afterwards and came to the conclusion that moving on with their lives is a goal both of them should be working towards. It’s not that they need to forget him, but to not feel burdened by his death anymore. It appears that this is about to happen in the darkest, most tragic way for Mike and I look forward to the climactic drama that’s about to unfold, similar to the music Jimmy is going to have to face. Whereas Mike will be forced to move on from his son, Jimmy will be forced to finally confront his brother. In my opinion, for this season, that’s compelling storytelling. To be fair, we haven’t truly experienced the payoff of Mike’s plot yet in its full execution, so I understand if people feel there’s been a lot to be desired, but Mike’s transformation to the Mike we know in Breaking Bad is and has always been the story for him in Better Call Saul, so if that doesn’t appeal to some, then I respect that.

Hector gets his bell and yeah, it’s a fan-service moment but it’s nothing too egregious or detracting in this extended episode. If anything, it caps off Hector’s stroke, establishing that he is indeed where we’ll ultimately find him in Breaking Bad, but also, and most importantly the scene paints a picture for how Lalo fits into his world. For Lalo’s sake, I think that’s crucial material to touch base on before we continue to follow this guy, considering he’s likely the one character who will throw a future wrench in possibly every other character’s story, influencing the end game. I don’t know what the finale holds for Nacho, but if the finale is all about Jimmy and Mike being forced to confront something dreadful, then I’d imagine the thematic parallel is for Nacho to do the same. Nacho is full of secrets right now, one being his double cross of the Salamancas and another of his plan to escape from Gus’ grasp, so if anything is about to come to a head, it’s the imminent danger he’s been tip-toeing around. Now that Gus and Lalo are in each other’s crosshairs, there’s no telling what heat Nacho is about to catch.

Lingering thoughts:

– I was immediately pleased with Marceline Hugot’s cameo playing Shirley in the cold open. She’s most recognized for her role as Gladys in HBO’s The Leftovers, which is a three season drama I absolutely recommend everybody go watch.

– Earlier in the season, I compared Howard to Werner, being two guys who are unafraid to face the hurdles ahead for what they are (grieving process for Chuck, superlab construction), but now that Werner has spiraled completely out of control, on the verge of meeting his demise, I wonder how Howard is doing right now? Did he take Jimmy’s ‘tough love’ advice and save HHM from going under? I really hope the finale comes back to him.

– Even if you felt Hector’s bell moment was too heavy-handed, there’s no denying the great performance of Mark Margolis’ increased heavy breathing the further Lalo told the bell’s backstory. Vince Gilligan directing this episode also reminded me just how talented he is in discovering the most satisfying way to shoot and sell each scene. Between the tense, teetering rotation of the camera when Werner was examining the faulty wire, to the Kubrick-like zoom out shot on Mike in the hangar after Werner has escaped, Vince truly knows how to immerse you in the story, visually. Also, Dave Porter’s atmospheric scoring was perfect for Werner in this one.

– It’s also strange to think that even in the birth of the superlab, it was this ghoulish place of utter frustration, anxiety, and fear for a guy like Werner Ziegler, long before Walter White. Now every time I watch Breaking Bad’s “Fly”, I’m going to think of Werner’s panic attack and how the superlab is host to some of the most unnerving behavior even when it was a damn cave. Rainer Bock has really done a great job this season.

– I looked ahead and it looks like the finale, entitled “Winner” is going to run (with commercials) a full hour and 25 minutes. I’m excited. Between this and HBO’s The Deuce, this latter half of 2018 has been a pretty sweet ride for TV.

Better Call Saul “Coushatta” (S4E08)

“You’re gonna die.”

Danger looms in the eighth episode as the future of Werner, Nacho, and Kim are brought into question after straying from the strict paths designated to them. If I was a betting man, I’d say one of these three will be gone by the end of this season, and because the show is too intelligent to kill Kim (an outcome that would be Better Call Saul’s dumbest, laziest mistake if EVER committed), let alone Nacho (at this point), my bet is unfortunately on Werner. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot going on in the final two episodes, but I feel it would be premature for a surprise Nacho death, especially with Lalo (played by Tony Dalton) just now being introduced. That said, death doesn’t necessarily mean death, but exposure. Death is closed doors of opportunity, such as going to jail, living life in fear on the run, or getting disbarred as a lawyer. We’re all going to die, but these are outcomes for the characters that are just as real, if not scarier.

It’s been quite a ride for Kim this season. It’s one thing in the last episode’s cliffhanger for Kim to compromise her career to help Jimmy after so much emphasis was put on the divide of their relationship, and then it’s another to have an ending in this following episode where she’s thrilled to do it again. If there’s ever a reason to stay with your partner who’s grown further apart from you, it’s for the hope that you can rekindle the chemistry that once was. Jimmy and Kim’s relationship wasn’t in jeopardy solely due to their opposite values, but because of the secret, inner-conflicts that they’ve withheld from each other for so long. It’s the lack of full disclosure of their daily activities and what’s going on with them that’s been driving them apart, not precisely the actual content of those activities. Now that Kim knows where Jimmy’s head is and what he’s been up to, she feels a sense of closeness again (or traction), something the two have been starved for, for nearly a year.

If the proceedings for Mesa Verde weren’t such a drag for Kim, she probably would never make this worrisome choice. I think back to the younger, eager version of herself in the cold open of “Pinata” where she’s Jimmy’s #1 buddy but her admiration for Chuck and aspiration for becoming the rockstar lawyer is her real draw. You have to consider what happened to her along the way where Howard locked her in doc review and Chuck proved to be more of a disappointing role model. Even though she never achieved Mesa Verde properly (because of Jimmy), she still owned it through her hard work, but even that pales in comparison to what Jimmy has always consistently offered her in which Howard, Chuck, and even Kevin Wachtell have failed to. And that’s the rockstar, home run moment. Between her scamming ‘Ken Wins’ out of buying the most expensive tequila, fighting in Jimmy’s corner in the case against Chuck, or pulling off a Hail Mary in getting Huell no jail time, Jimmy has always been the guy that granted her the rewarding satisfaction of winning.

There’s always been a corruptible blot on Kim’s x-ray and she’s overcome that with the firm belief that working within the lines of legitimacy was her ticket for gratification. She wore this like a badge of honor to the point where she even warned Jimmy in season 2 that fabricating evidence in his cobbler scheme was not worth sacrificing the more lucrative, straight and narrow road he’s built for himself. However, Jimmy has proved time and time again that through the same willpower in which Kim possesses, he can run each side of the law like a ski slalom in his favor. It’s that exhilarating feeling of coming out on top that triumphs over the lawful standards Chuck reveled in, where currently for her it’s all tunnel and no light. That said, I don’t think Kim is stupid. By telling Jimmy “Let’s do it again”, it’s not that she’s willing to unnecessarily bend the law when there’s no present hurdle giving them a reason to, but a message to Jimmy that she’s willing to fight dirty in his corner when the next situation calls for it. It’s too much of a stretch that she would join Jimmy as a criminal partner (she still has higher morals), but she certainly seems eager to be a disciplined asset to him.

The reveal and execution of Jimmy and Kim’s plan (one Kim was hoping to avoid by doubling down on hiring expensive associates) was nothing short of brilliant. I couldn’t stop laughing at the website for Huell and Jimmy’s improvisation as a Louisiana pastor which felt like a tip of the hat to Odenkirk’s comedic stylings in Mr. Show (Peter Gould even requested that Bob bring a little bit of Senator Tankerbell into his performance). Also, I’ve been wondering for a while if we would ever see the UNM film students again and lo and behold, they make their season 4 debut in the best way possible. The character of ADA Suzanne Ericsen also played a great foil and I love the hurricane that develops in her office over this. Superb comedy and drama all at once.

After a three episode hiatus, we finally return to Nacho, shown for the first time after the time jump. His physical wounds have healed and he seems more hardened in his new role as the Salamanca territory’s supreme enforcer, even if it’s still a role and overall way of life that he’s determined to escape. Switching Hector’s pills last season proved to be a major bust and now both him and his father’s lives are at higher risk the longer he plays as a double agent puppet for Gus. His plan to flee to Canada with his father under new identities is hopeful, especially with the flashy camouflage he’s created for himself with a hot rod and house full of junkie girls. This will help feed the narrative that he’s a comfortable, content drug dealer with no plans of jumping ship.

It’s the money Nacho’s stashing away in his safe that has me worried though, considering the surprise visit from the mysterious Lalo Salamanca, who supposedly is there to surveil the cash flow. It’s still not clear if Nacho has made any mistakes (out of desperation to speed up the process) with the income he’s been storing for himself, but something along those lines certainly seems to be implied. Lalo hiijacking the restaurant under such an infectiously charming guise is probably one of the most unsettling, non-violent moments this show has ever displayed. The temperature of the room provided by the look on Domingo’s (Krazy-8’s) face, does not match the gracious soul Lalo is presenting himself as. The invaded sense of space that he asserts is the total opposite of the silent involvement he’s promising. It’s a power play and Lalo is likely fully aware of this contradiction.

As much as Lalo may be over-estimating Nacho’s ability to pick up on the threat of this situation, it’s still crystal clear that Lalo is smart and a much more sharper adversary than Tuco, the cousins, or Hector have ever been. The last thing Nacho needs is another powerful, intelligent figure breathing down his neck and what’s worse is this will be the beginning of what will tie Jimmy closer to this world. If the breaking point of Walter White’s story brought about the downfall of Saul Goodman, then it makes you wonder how much of a role does Ignacio Varga’s story play in the downfall of Jimmy McGill? With Kim getting pulled in closer to Jimmy, how intertwined will the independent stories of Better Call Saul become and what are the consequences of that?

Then there’s Werner and the rest of the German engineers. I feel as if Kai might very well be serving as a red herring to a dreadful chain of events that are going to take place due to the hairline cracks in Werner that are beginning to give. Werner is someone whose bond with Mike has developed so pleasingly over these last handful of episodes. Not only can his life now be at risk after leaking the construction plans to the strangers in the bar, but the whole team could result as collateral damage from any future slip-up. The most ambiguously eerie aspect to all of this is I 95% believe Werner successfully received Mike’s warning and understands the seriousness of what he needs to keep a lid on, while the other 5% (symbolized by him fumbling over his safety jacket) leaves me doubtful. Meanwhile Mike sticking his neck out to Gus, proclaiming the conflict as all good and squared away, makes me 95% sure that Gus will take his word on it. On the other hand, the other 5% makes me wonder if “good” is good enough and whether a paranoid Gus is surveying the excavation site of the superlab in this moment as a potential kill room.

At the end of the day, I’m worried about Werner, but I’m concerned for Mike. What would it mean, to Mike’s surprise, if Gus has the Germans killed, regardless if Werner messes up again? Or what does it mean if Werner, who Mike vouched for, messes up again, and then must be dealt with? If either direction comes into play, how does this story benefit the cold blooded alliance between Mike and Gus which will come to be? What causes Mike to pledge allegiance to Gus if such dark circumstances occur with the death of the Germans? These are the thoughts I have going forward into these last two episodes, as I’m really curious how the writers will land this side of the story.