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Twin Peaks “The Return, Part 1”

Surprise, surprise! The new Twin Peaks will be getting my Better Call Saul treatment for all 18 episodes. Expect big breakdowns in each coming week as I attempt to give my best reaction/analysis to the unfolding mystery and abstract form of storytelling that David Lynch will offer in this completely reinvented revival.

After having seen the 2 hour premiere, I can confidently tell you that in our current time of various reboots and continuations across all various mediums and platforms, Twin Peaks not only manages to avoid the usual traps, but it outperforms itself as a bold piece of art. This isn’t a case of Chris Carter not having the slightest grasp on what to do with a tenth season of The X-Files. Instead, this is something huge. This is a Lynch project that will essentially play out like an 18 hour film spawning from one of the most innovative, influential, and timelessly captivating shows to this day. One that has all the reason in the world to continue its story. We’ve been in an age since The Sopranos where episodic storytelling has been revolutionized where you can deliver story in a continuing manner yet allow it to play like a film every week. David Lynch takes advantage of this marvelously booming era and quite passionately so. A quote from Lynch in a recent Rolling Stone interview:

“Feature films are not having a great time right now – at least the kind of feature films that I would want to see or make. Theaters want money, so they put in films that are going to generate a big audience. But the art houses are mostly gone. I say the new art house is cable television.”

I must say, even though I knew this was going to be something very special, I don’t think I was prepared for how absolutely stunned I was going to be. This was a premiere that made you feel the passage of time. The wonderful dream and terrible nightmare all at once that is Twin Peaks, has remained an abundantly pulsating creature, flourishing for 25 years without our viewership. It’s a world that has not stopped. In fact it has evolved. Closer to Fire Walk With Me, the element of mock-soap is completely non-existent, yet the classic charm and humor of faces, old and new, still triumph amidst a rather darker adaptation of this universe. Conceptually, the show has reinvented itself. You may notice it used very little of Angelo Badalamenti’s familiar score throughout compared to how his music used to dominate, quite stylistically, nearly every moment back in the run of 1990-1991 (and this is not a criticism). We’re in a different wheelhouse now in terms of style. One consisting of a universe which was always so rich and accomplished among its own merits, being too much of a large, qualitative entity to now limit the creative boundaries of where it can go just for the sake of maintaining the former feel of its broadcast origins.

“The Return, Part 1”

First off, the intro:

The manner in which the premiere begins with an original shot, being a first-person sweeping trance across the red room, and then cuts to the season 2 finale scene from 25 years ago, to me, gave this impossible impression that Laura and Cooper may break from their long-existing footage in their current state of time and just continue the show from there. There’s an inevitable sadness when the screen starts to fade on Laura’s “Meanwhile”, as if we should expect Lynch to reach back into the past and operate at own will. Much like Laura’s final pose, the scene is set in stone, and the following passage of time that occurs didn’t just affect fiction, but we underwent those 25 years as well. To follow it up with a fog cast over the woods, and then iconic settings like the mill and the high school, provided a grand sense of nostalgia that was then met with a new opening title. It still has its same adored theme (as well as same font), but that new marvelous shot over the waterfall, dancing red drapes and the dizzying spin upon the red room’s floor offered such a great sense of depth, visually, and suggested that change, while scary, is also a very beautiful thing as we go forward.

Hints from the giant:

– Listen to the sounds (scratching noise from a phonograph)
– It is in our house now
– Remember 430
– Richard and Linda
– Two birds with one stone
– You are far away

Back in season 2, the giant’s hints came to pass sooner than you thought but since Lynch is set to direct all 18 episodes I have a feeling that this is going to play a part all the way into the end (“you are far away”). Of course I reserve the right to be wrong on that (since we could easily not get a precise answer at all), but the fact that it’s in black and white seems to suggest we aren’t anywhere close to what’s being referred to. Also, the giant! I try to put the math out of my head when it comes to how old these actors are now but I’m impressed with who’s managing to show up so far. As we transition to color with those brilliant daytime mountain shots and the fade into the woods, the reveal of Dr. Jacoby taking off his sun-glasses to show off his second, more recognized pair of eyewear, made for such a great introduction. Whatever project he has in store with all those shovels, which he insists on doing alone, is curious as well.

I love that the show is in no rush to explain anything. A fine example of that is the introduction of Sam assigned to stare at the mysterious glass box, almost monolithic in its nature, as he’s set to wait in the event that something appears inside. The prolonged amount of silence and patience that goes into this premise is exactly what makes it so gripping. Before I even continue on that, can we talk about that New York City reveal? Because within the first frame of that, I was in absolute awe. This is unlike anything you would expect to see in Twin Peaks, yet the establishing shot pushing in to the actual building Sam is in, was right at home. It was the first thing I thought of and mentioned at a diner with friends immediately after it aired (each of us ordering a slice of cherry pie), mainly due to being in New York myself, and always being aware of how it’s portrayed in film/television. Not getting the episodes in advance like a professional reviewer (or being one), I wish I could have beaten Alan Sepinwall to the punch, but alas he described it better than I would have in his review:

“There should be no new way to film Manhattan anymore, and no need for anyone to bother for the sake of an establishing shot. But Lynch and his collaborators somehow made it look terrifying and alien, as if they had photographed the city, then traced over it, then did a computer modeling of what they had traced.” – A.S.

The fact that we are bouncing between Twin Peaks, New York, and South Dakota exercises a great level of scope and proves that the story of Bob, the red room, the lodges, and everything else spans beyond the borders of just Twin Peaks. It’s a worldly phenomenon. This has always been implied since the original series to the extent of space and other planets, but with the show being unafraid to explore these new regions with new characters, we’re getting a better sense of just how serious the impact of Twin Peaks’ mysteries has on the outside world.

An anonymous billionaire in New York with incredible resources, no doubt provided by more higher-ups, seem to know exactly of the other dimensions that are the lodges and red room. The first visual connection that I noted is how the lights around the box seem to feature red room-like cloths. So what appeared? As Sam and Tracey engaged in sex, the box goes eerily dark and a blurry human creature is shown which ends up utterly ripping them to pieces. Was the security guard absent because the billionaire knew this after-school employee would provoke the creature’s arrival by inviting Tracey in? Was it a coincidence that they were attacked under fear or under the act of sex? I’ll get more into this in part 2, but for now, I’ll just say I liked how you could feel the cue that something was going to go wrong when Sam and Tracey were getting into it. Those shots of the camera lens’ pulled off the feeling of an imminent arrival in their obliviousness and that something unknown was aware of their actions. Those two were perfectly cast by the way, and the way they delivered their lines was classic Lynch.

^ I’m still reeling over how great this was. Again, it’s so unlike Twin Peaks to traverse the woods and not have Angelo Badalamenti’s usual creeping score to go along with it. Evil Cooper or Bob would be the subject for such a moment with such intense, over-bearing music playing, because he’s a predator in these woods and couldn’t care less of how things should sound. It’s necessarily evil too that he’s driving a Mercedes-Benz, appeasing his every appetite as long as he lives and breathes, in a world he seems to have become way more comfortable in compared to the shorter amount of time he used Leland as a host. Almost too comfortable, as if he’s bored, but he’ll continue to kill and milk it for as long as possible. Man, that reveal of Evil Cooper though really threw me off and I love how they play it up at 1:11 with those reverberations. Kyle Maclachlan is such a menacing presence on screen and I hope Emmy voters are keeping an eye on him. Wow, Bob, wow.

It’s right around the time that Sam and Tracey met their end when we cut to South Dakota where a grisly murder of Ruth the librarian and a John Doe have taken place. I was thrilled with how David Lynch played with pacing, frustrating the audience in such a comedic manner over getting inside the apartment. I love how the lady who called the police, nearly forgot for a moment why she called, when she was more focused on recounting how funny it is that she couldn’t remember her own address. Great actress. I love her “Ohh” when one of the officers puts on his plastic gloves, as if she’s experiencing a police procedural before her eyes. As for the principal being the lead suspect, it’s very compelling how this is all set up, especially for a story that’s revolving around all these new characters. The line between how innocent and how guilty the guy is remains very blurry, which makes the ending of Part 1 an absolute hook as we’re shown a piece of flesh in the trunk of his Volvo. I also appreciated the flashlight blinking for dramatic effect, yet humorously called attention to, much like the morgue scene in the pilot, with the guy apologizing for the blinking lights. In a nutshell, this is the charm that made Twin Peaks so successful to begin with.

Final remains:

– It looks like Deputy Chief Hawk is going to play an important role in getting closer to the mystery behind Cooper’s absence. The phone call with Margaret (the log lady) was very touching. It’s incredible how the original characters feel like a guest to the overall story now, yet they effortlessly fit in, (plot-wise, tonally) and will definitely become more prominent (although I can’t speak for the late Catherine Coulson) as the narrative progresses.

– Before it aired, I realized that Lucy and Andy’s kid is going to be 24 or 25 now and I’m glad on the lighter side of things that their son Wallie was mentioned (born on the same day as Marlon Brando). I’m glad the quirkiness of these characters still remains and Lucy’s confusion over using Sheriff Truman’s excuses for his absence (depending on who needs him) was delightfully fun. I haven’t looked into it in a long time, but I’m forgetting if Michael Ontkean said if he’ll be returning or not. Or whether it’s being kept hush-hush. I feel like the scene with Lucy is kind of a joke on that.

– Ben and Jerry! I like that we’re seeing a more mature Ben who knows better not to sleep with his married secretary, Beverly. Unless, he’s just not revealing this scandal to Jerry considering his defensive reaction citing R-E-S-P-E-C-T could be a possible way to distract his brother’s notion from the truth. If he is being honest, it would follow the theme of how he was trying to do what’s right after his Civil War phase.  Other than that, I enjoyed the entire scene ending with”…is that mother’s hat?”

Better Call Saul “Expenses” (S3E07)

“…It is growth, then decay, then transformation!…” – Walter White (the study of change)

At the end of last week’s episode, we were given the first hint of Saul Goodman and of the transformation that Jimmy McGill will eventually succumb to. “Expenses” is an episode that reminded Jimmy that although his year suspension from practicing law is a massive victory over Chuck’s intention to get him permanently disbarred, it still is a significant hit that Jimmy will have to take. After popped bottles of champagne, an optimistic exercise in damage control with his clients, and the driven razzmatazz over coming up with a quick, eccentric idea for his commercial problem in “Off Brand”, the reality here is starting to set in that Chuck still managed to deliver a mighty blow, in which the lovable charm of Jimmy McGill and the slimy finesse of Slippin’ Jimmy will only get him so far. The circumstances of his sentence suggests an extraordinary amount of change that Jimmy is going to have to roughly adapt to. Right now, in regards to transformation, if there’s any stage the character is currently in, it’s decay.

In a far point of the season where Jimmy is not allowed to be a lawyer, he ends up making absolutely zero headway on anything else that is left for him to do. The “deeply sorry” saint that Kim painted him as is immediately contrasted in the cold open as he demonstrates a deep lack of remorse. What should have been four completed hours of community service turns to 30 minutes as he spends the majority of time on the phone, failing to hook potential customers for shooting a commercial, as well as failing to get through to anyone at the insurance company. Usually any other episode grants Jimmy success from a clever song and dance, but in the case of the cold open, and overall episode, nobody is having it. It’s pretty much “Dude , are you gonna get in the van or not?” for him throughout the entire hour. As fans, we enjoy Jimmy’s backhanded attitude towards his punishment, as well as the fun of him getting commercials off the ground, but when nothing comes from it, it’s pretty courageous from a writing standpoint to just constantly starve the audience of any payoff. Even when Jimmy decides to take Kim out for a scam session, we are presented with conveniently deserved, potential marks (too perfect), yet the show robs you of any possible pleasure, especially as it serves primarily as Jimmy really just wanting to target an asshole, to channel as a revenge fantasy against his brother.

I believe it made a world of difference that Chuck wasn’t featured in this episode because it helped put further emphasis into Jimmy’s final act of hurting his brother (the only moment where he managed to accomplish something) being of a great, merciless offense. Usually when Chuck’s on screen, it’s because his resentment towards Jimmy demands screentime. We want to know what he’s up to, where his mind’s at, and what his next move is. Last week, however, Chuck was in a state of retreat or even decay, from his own behavior. The courtroom hearing was like a giant bomb going off for him where although his feelings towards Jimmy will keep, he still became self-aware of his relentless toxicity and became a humiliated spectacle in the process. Chuck has traversed electric hell in order to get in contact with Dr. Cruz in the attempt to seek self-improvement. That’s all we need to know for now and for Jimmy to derail Chuck even further in light of an already morally compromising situation, it helps display the much darker and jaded Jimmy, host to characteristics which are in no doubt essential in the journey to Saul.

I am relieved from the turn of character that Kim is undergoing in regards to what she feels about Chuck. Using Paige as kind of a window into the injustice against Chuck has been set up since the premiere, so it was intriguing to watch Kim finally crack. As Saul Goodman approaches, Kim is at a crossroads. She’s completely taken back from Jimmy’s commercial and now she’s beginning to sympathize with Chuck as a mentally ill victim after the seed of shame that Rebecca planted during last episode’s late night visit. The question of where Kim’s character is heading is getting louder and louder. You can feel a slight divide between her and Jimmy slowly growing. What this means for the next three episodes is beyond me, but all I know is that the only way I could imagine Jimmy going full Saul is if he sheds everything exclusive to his world in Better Call Saul. Otherwise, Kim is in for a rough adaptation herself if she is to commit to Jimmy’s journey into Saul to the extent of being a silent partner in Breaking Bad.

Mike’s story is a down-to-earth spiritual venture as he does his best to give back to the community, which has been an enjoyable change of pace from what you can usually expect from his character. Contributing to the playground and giving a large donation is a grand gesture, but also to witness Mike brush shoulders with other people who mean well and only want to help makes for a sweet story. Other than Anita serving an important role by allowing Mike to realize that the punishment he delivered against Hector is not enough, I actually really liked Anita on her own regardless. There’s such a tension when she’s introduced purely based on hoping that Mike’s not going to leave her hanging from helping in the project. It would have been crushing if she was turned away, regardless if Mike really had no idea what she could do. Then to offer her a broom to sweep, seemingly patronizing, only to reveal a more clever, thoughtful plan…it’s the little ups and downs of this interaction that really helped the outcome of it feel good.

There’s several things Mike is considering when she later touches on how awful it feels to not know what happened to her husband. Obviously the death of the good samaritan is on his mind, but how does that dictate his decision to call Price? It’s one thing that he wants to continue to hammer Hector into the ground after this, but I also believe, on some level, that he doesn’t want Price to get in way over his head and possibly end up vanished himself, especially when Mike could have prevented it. He identifies with Price. Ever since Price’s baseball cards were stolen (some of which was his dad’s), Mike can’t deny that even though Price can be a recklessly oblivious person, he’s still somebody’s son. Price’s transparent approach towards Mike in seek of his help isn’t what Mike chalks up as a clumsy stalking attempt, but instead is just as upfront and innocent as Anita’s proposition to offer help. It’s a gesture that Mike had no problem refusing but now that Anita has opened his eyes, I think Mike is realizing that even in the criminal underworld, it’s hard to ask for help, let alone offer it, but what bad can come from bridging that gap to provide guidance rather than judge and push away. At the end of the day, even Nacho is just a struggling, misguided soul and Mike simply empathizes.

^ There’s something very zen about returning to this familiar setting, one that began in Season 1’s “Pimento”, now at night, as well as it being with the three main characters that initiated this setting to begin with. Price is completely silent while Nacho is completely drained of upholding any strong front. There’s a sadness to it where even though these characters couldn’t be any more different from one another, they’re still, weirdly drawn together. I love when Mike checks the gas cap and Nacho barely has the energy to be naturally suspect over what he’s doing. The authentic line delivery of Nacho’s “what are you doing?” tells so much about how cornered the guy is and expresses such a great sense of humanity. I really felt for him throughout this entire scene and I’m happy the writers accomplished exactly what I wanted them to do, by really exploring him further.

Speaking of characters who go out of their way to offer help, the drama club girl sticking around to give back the money to Jimmy was also a great act of kindness. I have nothing to really add with it but it again ties into the theme of the grand gesture, and offering help vs. accepting help. All the way up to the ending with Jimmy asking for some leeway on his insurance problem, “Expenses” consists of a lot of characters in need of help.

Some technical stuff to note:

– I love that drone shot over the freeway in the cold open. I’m amazed that Thomas Schnauz was able to capture the feeling as if the passing cars were mocking Jimmy below. Not by the obvious act of the trash being dropped, but just in the way they looked like toy cars. Toy cars that get to live a free life, while our actual human leading character has to pick up after them. The way he showed that shot more than once made for quite a tickling effect.

– I related so much to Kim trying to catch a quick nap in her car, illustrated perfectly with that jump cut. The only thing I couldn’t buy was that she didn’t recline her seat back!

– ^ While I have never used wet naps as a means to skip a shower, I totally find myself running from my current place of work most days in order to do more fun and meaningful things. Also I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I watch an episode of anything, a musical score will get stuck in my head throughout out the day. The hustle and bustle of this one managed to do the trick especially at the 0:56 mark.

Overall, this episode is definitely one that’s moving pieces into certain places to set us up for what’s to come in the following three. Like the first 2 seasons, I’m expecting the next episode is going to pull the trigger on something big (a unique development), because after what Jimmy did to Chuck at the end of this one, there’s an increase in heat. I have no idea what’s to come of this energy, but it will play its part and I’m absolutely hooked. How’s everyone else feeling?

Better Call Saul “Off Brand” (S3E06)

“To new beginnings…”

After an episode which rightfully omitted Mike, Gus, Hector, and that entire world, this was probably the best episode to follow “Chicanery”, mostly because it hit some major notes in order to earn further investment. For one, right off the bat, we’re given a cold open that serves as the thesis to finally explore a character, who up until now has been held at a certain distance. I like how we know that Ignacio/Nacho is going to play a significant part for the overall show, yet we’re only fed so much of him. At the same time, I always craved more focus for him, so as to round out the character more, and get more inside his head. This episode did just that and it was the perfect opportunity to do so as the other main characters figure out what’s next for themselves. Not only do we, as an audience, witness the first act of utter violence from Nacho, but also the sheer, conflicting weight that he carries. The beatdown that he regrettably is forced to strike upon Krazy 8 (disturbingly choreographed like something out of The Sopranos) translated like an ironic act of protection for his victim. I have no doubt that if Hector wasn’t there to bear witness to the brutal punishment that Nacho gave, and Krazy 8 was simply allowed to squirrel away after coming up short, as well as speaking out of line, then Hector may have very likely ordered him to be killed. The last thing a spiraling hot-headed Hector needs right now is further emasculation and insult to the reputation he’s trying to keep.

The small moment of Nacho losing control of the needle told so much. The dangerous life he leads is starting to bleed and intertwine into his closest retreat of a safe haven. Nacho holds up a stern, cool, front as Hector’s operative, even with a gun pointed in his face, but my word… that expression when he’s walking away, unlike from an explosion unflinchingly, but instead a desperate elicitation of “I don’t want to be here”/”I don’t want to be doing this”. 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. Now that Hector is grossly and inconsiderately trying to invade Nacho’s personal life, the options of fight or flight seem incredibly imminent.

The following is just a pool of thought, but It’s a pretty easy thing to consider that Nacho could very well be the reason, whether indirect or not, that Hector ends up in a wheelchair. “Off Brand” opens with a damn good cup of coffee being poured using an overhead shot, where it’s revealed it to be Hector’s, followed by the entire cold open of him playing Nacho like a puppet. It’s of course in this episode that Lydia surprisingly makes an appearance which was odd because I couldn’t help but think of her when that coffee was being poured. Now, before I continue, no, I don’t think anyone is getting poisoned or anything like that, but it felt symbolic that Hector who’s increasingly propping himself up to be an antagonist to Nacho, would get an opening shot like that, especially when the episode ends with Nacho taking Hector’s pill or just overall health into consideration. The pill, representative of Hector’s well-being, even has the same color scheme of the Breaking Bad logo, which otherwise would represent his fate. Finally, this really has nothing to do with anything, but the shot of Nacho in his father’s upholstery business with all those chairs (while not wheelchairs) floating askew on the ceiling was an odd enough image. Make what you want of it, but now that Hector’s about to strong-arm his way into this place, there’s no way I wouldn’t think of Hector’s future if Hector was in that room. Again, I’m merely speaking on vague images that evoked a thought, not that these images mean anything.

We’re heading into new territory at this point of the season, where the fallout from last season’s finale has reached a final verdict. It’s not to say the drama or story has subsided, but the characters are at a point of reevaluation as we go forward. First things first, I just want to say that opening with Kim painting Jimmy in a final positive light for the courtroom, while being intercut with Rebecca in the taxi as she heads to Chuck’s home, is one of the more truly powerful, movie moments that this show has ever provided. It absolutely floored me how perfectly poignant and cinematic the payoff of that was. There’s something so romantic and heart-breaking about someone significant who’s not even in your life anymore. knocking on your door and running around the dark house to get to you, out of absolute love and concern for your well being. The level of empathy you need to have for somebody in order to do that is tremendous and it’s so easy to write it off and take Jimmy’s lead, his own brother (and most of the audience), who just revels in Chuck being put in his place. When Rebecca approaches Jimmy and Kim, she’s absolutely right in that he is mentally ill and he’s just been put through the most devastating embarrassment of his life, which makes the Mesa Verde hearing out to be a joke in comparison. God, that look on Chuck’s face when Rebecca is at the back door, eyes shifted towards the window like a lizard in a catatonic state. I teared up at that.

Also, the music that’s playing…go back and listen to it because it’s hitting every correct emotional note from when the crane shot pulls up over Rebecca when she gets out of the taxi, to the dramatic drop in bass towards the end of Kim’s line: “However, as to ethical violation 16-304a, the state bar’s claim of destruction of evidence, it categorically did. not. happen.” It’s so atmospheric and I must have watched that entire sequence over 10 times. I mean Chuck is completely aware of the monster he’s made out to be and I believe he’s aware of how unhealthy his obsession to derail Jimmy is. He’s concerned for himself and sure, Jimmy gave birth to a physical version of Saul Goodman, but Chuck also became someone else in this episode. The moment where he comes out of his lair in the dead of night, wearing mylar like a superhero about to fight crime (catchphrase: “Let justice be done, and the heavens fall”) showed a very strange version of him. One that brought up the question again, what’s going to happen to this character? When Saul Goodman billboards, park benches, and tv spots become rampant in ABQ, is this what Chuck will become? Just some strange loon who’s great mind is deteriorating to the point where he’s disturbingly roaming the streets. Nobody caring who he was?

I love though that this a desperate attempt to contact his doctor, which is essential because now that Jimmy won’t be around to provoke access into Chuck’s head, he’s going to need a Dr. Melfi type to help explore what he’s going through. Up until now, Howard has provided that, but you can only get so much now that the hearing is over. Any further mulling over Jimmy is just going to clearly be petty. It’s time for Chuck to really help himself and I’m hoping we’re going to learn of his psychology, dive deeper into what his condition could mean, and get a better context of the exact moment it actually began to show itself. As for Jimmy, he’s got an entire year to figure himself out and it’s like I said in my review for the premiere in regards to the black and white cold open, that “this show is about to take a major and scary acceleration forward”. I can’t imagine Better Call Saul allowing Jimmy to sit on his hands, making commercials for an extended amount of episodes. I believe we’re approaching a hefty time jump soon, even if it’s still to a point before Breaking Bad. I also wonder if Jimmy’s interest in elder law is about to dissipate in the boredom of having to wait a year. I mean, at least within less of a week, he’s already done this, quite passionately despite needing to do it:

Kim’s expression in the thumbnail says it all, as well as Jimmy’s. I keep thinking back to the ending of “Inflatable” where Kim first offered the idea of them being separate solo-practitioners under the same roof. That final deflated look that Jimmy has where he kind of has no choice but to compromise suggested him realizing her rejection in his full, true self. In defending Jimmy in the stretch of episodes since then, Kim has proven an allegiance towards him though, which sort of alleviated any further doubt that they’re meant for each other. However, now that the case is settled, this last scene kind of brought things back up again. In Kim’s mind, she has to be wondering, “who is this guy that I’m on the couch with right now?” This wasn’t a commercial for Davis & Main with Jimmy’s sincere narration or even ‘Gimme Jimmy!’ as a celebration to the eccentric Jimmy that she knows, but this commercial was like getting pied in the face. Her reaction translates almost like she’s aware she’s not going to be in Breaking Bad. A ticket for one.

Other stuff:

– I liked the make-up girl/film student brushing Jimmy’s face almost like she was painting a picture as Saul Goodman began to be conceived. Also the montage of Jimmy calling his clients had some really funny moments (“and how did he pass?” *eek*, “you stop talking and I’ll talk”, “I don’t know where those sounds are coming from sir, you’ll have to check”) and maybe it’s just because I’m waist deep in a Twin Peaks binge, but the light-hearted, off-beat drumming felt like something you would hear out of said show’s sheriff’s station during its more quirkier moments.

– In consideration for a possible, upcoming time jump, many characters are kind of in place for it. Mike is attending Stacey’s group meetings and will be preoccupied with contributing work towards a playground and Gus is on the verge of obtaining the laundry as a front with a superlab that’s going to need to be built. By the way, I loved the Breaking Bad material in this episode. It’s one thing to finally see Lydia and Gus together, which will now help her introduction in BB feel more cohesive, but the idea of Gus strolling an empty laundry knowing that this is going to be the place where so much is going to happen, I’m just a sucker for it. Between the RV, the superlab, and Vamonos Pest, the superlab is personally my favorite place where Walt and Jesse cooked in terms of mood and catharsis.

At that, we approach the final four episodes of the season.

Better Call Saul “Chicanery” (S3E05)

This recent episode will undoubtedly go down as one of the shows’ most commendable hours. A master class of a script from Gordon Smith that just had my mind spinning and pacing throughout. First off, this might be the most glued I’ve ever been to a teleplay where the majority of the story is dedicated to a court room. I’ll admit, I have not seen enough of the best procedural tv to know how this episode might hold up against what’s already been done, but as far as serialized television goes, this was something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Out of the top tier serialized dramas, crime dramas especially, the court room is usually avoided. Scenes take place there but rarely, if ever, will an episode dedicate the entirety of its duration to any trial, hearing, or the like, because it can run the risk of being tedious, by the book, and grinding the overarching narrative to a halt. Even comedies are cautious while treading in this arena. Better Call Saul, however, boldly went forward and achieved some of the most fascinating, powerfully earned moments where every character is just a force, simply from speaking. Conducting oneself as articulate when on the spot and maintaining composure when delivering an argument or weaving around each counter-argument is some of the most enjoyable uses of ‘action’ in story for me. It’s heroic no matter who’s speaking, especially when the conflict is so complicated.

Every scene manages to accomplish something that transcends any containment to just ordinary court procedure and it’s all played straight. There’s nothing dressed up about this episode. No montages, time-lapses, or musical sequences to keep the viewer attentive. Instead the show is unafraid of long pauses and well-researched lawyer speak because it possesses an intricate story that holds its own effortlessly through personal confrontations. One of the many aspects that made “Chicanery” work so well, other than the fact that the series has carefully been building to this showdown for a while now, was that it operated on a human scale and never missed an opportunity to explore character. When the chairman is rattling off introductions, we are shown scenes of Kim and Jimmy getting ready for the day, cementing their loving investment in one another before pulling the trigger on a strategy that will ultimately involve dismantling Chuck in front of everyone and everything he actually does hold dear. When the tape is played for what is now the third time to us, the show takes advantage of hearing it through everyone’s perspective and most notably, Kim’s, whose expression upon hearing it for the first time manages to translate ‘smile’ without even smiling.

Chuck’s condition becomes the subject of this episode and the hour takes advantage of providing answers on the state of Rebecca and Chuck’s relationship, past and present, as well as when Chuck’s condition generally began and the context to what Rebecca’s awareness was in regards to it. We definitely now have a clearer picture than what we had. The cold open sets the stage in the traditional, yet always unpredictable fashion of introducing the smoking gun to what will conclude the episode or become relevant to the climax of the story. Jimmy warns Chuck, “The bigger the lie, the harder it can be to dig out”, and this is essentially what Jimmy and Kim hone in on in order to hit Chuck in his greatest weak spot. Chuck is a man who buries himself in the principle of doing what’s right, honest and good in order to mask his resentment towards Jimmy. It’s the greatest lie he tells himself, on top of it being generally associated to a condition that he is not willing to admit is a mental illness. Between inviting Rebecca to the hearing and bringing Chuck’s mental state into direct question, we are given a cathartic explosion of the true hate that Chuck reserves for his brother.

This was an episode that made me want to read up on the actual concept of ‘hate’ since it’s a term that tends to get loosely thrown around. Being able to identify with Chuck makes you wonder how close you can get to taking your principles too seriously and how that can affect those around you. “Chicanery” stuck out and remained a resonant vehicle for the story because it was about bringing what’s hidden under the surface to light. It explored themes of hate and delusion and provokes a reflection and thought out of the viewer. It made me wonder what we’re capable or even guilty of when it comes to this negative human emotion. Do we ever really know if we hate someone? Does it derive from love? Can we be blind to it or do we just make sure to never admit it? Because Chuck certainly never seems to address it even when we’re shown him properly rehearsing, while alone, to not come off as cold or sanctimonious in proving the love for his brother. Man, Michael Mckean is outstanding here…

Another thing that was brilliant in this episode was how nuanced Jimmy and Kim’s strategy was. It wasn’t like in Breaking Bad where Walt and Jesse have a deep bench of resources to force the outcome of something into their favor. Sure, Huell serves as a guy with the superpower of pick-pocketing/planting items from or onto someone’s person and Mike taking pictures of Chuck’s house last week was a cheap, sleazy act, but it’s all small potatoes when ultimately the goal is more about creating a situation where Chuck self-destructs of his own doing. Figuring out how to tap into that is what made it so clever. The amount of foresight you need in order to pull this off, as well as executing everything correctly so that it’s earned is what makes it great. Every element of this hearing chisels away at Chuck but provides volleys for him to feel confident over when he swipes it down. The phone that Jimmy reveals off himself is a clumsy, dummy tactic to further establish the logic of Chuck’s condition before getting to the grand contradicting moment. So good.

The directing of Daniel Sackheim (The X-Files) really helped make this episode visually compelling. The way the camera pushes in on Chuck as he begins to rant and then pulls out when the reality of his outburst hits him is marvelous. The way he knew to capture the right person’s reaction in each necessary moment throughout the entire show was fantastic. It made everything so much more interesting. Just an example, I like how at 1:57 of the video above, after Chuck mentions that his condition is not a quirk, they show the skepticism of the lawyer who’s defending Chuck. For a one-time character, that’s interesting how you can extract such a subtle expression from just one quick frame. The cold open’s flashback also was shot incredibly well. I love when Rebecca’s phone goes off and we’re drawn in on this ghoulish shot of Jimmy in the threshold of the kitchen being fully aware that Chuck’s about to become possessed by this strange affliction. There’s an emotion there. You can owe it to the subtext of the scene being that Jimmy and Chuck are in on a scheme together and Jimmy who loves his brother is invested in this hurdle that’s just presented itself. Either way, the director took full advantage of that feeling.

More things of interest:

– Kim calling Howard on the subject of nepotism was a fair point. Any chance to get Howard and Kim to face off is always great. I like how he alluded to Jimmy’s involvement at Davis & Main as a sly way to bring up how Kim vouched for him after that whole disaster. Kim quickly waving the notion to go any further on that subject made me smile. Speaking of Howard, I like how he mentions how despite the crime Jimmy has committed, HHM still should be held responsible for not properly protecting their client’s documents. It gives Chuck’s outburst so much more impact in terms of any further negative PR for the company.

– The idea of this hearing having any blowback for Kim in regards to Mesa Verde added an extra layer of tension. Kevin Wachtell is the last guy I’d want to get upset and for Kim I certainly wouldn’t want to disappoint a good friend in Paige.

– It’s amazing how Huell has bumped into someone for the third time now and they still manage to make it surprising. I was trying to think of what Huell possibly could have taken from Chuck without ever considering that he had planted something. We’ve seen the ol’ switcheroo, and his later mistake in lifting Jesse’s dope, but never an act of just planting. Other than that, I’m glad he’s made his debut and congrats to Lavell Crawford for losing 130 lbs!

We’re halfway through the season! What’s everyone else’s thoughts?

Better Call Saul “Sabrosito” (S3E04)

I tend to wonder if people truly understand how astonishing it is that this show exists. I find it bizarre. Not as the Breaking Bad fan who would eat up any namedrop, reference, or cameo from the previous show, but for how careful, yet unafraid the writers are to build significant story around pre-existing plot established prior by one of the greatest shows of all time, and yet nothing is being diminished in the process. We also get this subtle, exhilarating lawyer drama between two brothers. It’s impressive and unique how well it all works as a single entity. I’d sooner trust Gilligan and Gould to skip across a mine field, because despite instances like the LPH sign reveal having a little too much oomph than it should have, there’s still a mountain of execution that’s being done right when it easily could go the other way.

When we’re reintroduced to characters like Hector, or Gus, or now DON ELADIO, it’s not some one-off webisode or SNL skit that allows the actors to stiffly reprise their iconic roles. Instead, no beat has been skipped and we’re in the thick of a very heavy world once again. It’s insane that on Monday nights, in 2017, Gustavo Fring is radiating from our televisions where an incredibly relevant story is taking place. In 2013, or better yet, 2011, I would never have believed what we’re being shown right now. And surprisingly, now that the novelty/hype of anticipating his return has settled, it’s now that I’m genuinely excited. It’s been in the back of my mind, but I had a feeling that in addition to Jimmy and Mike having their parallel storylines, Gus could serve as somewhat of a third where the show could follow him independently.

Not only is the show not shy to do that, but the cold open proved that anyone could be subject for exploration. Of course, Hector plays a big role in Gus’ world, but I loved how much more context we got on their rivalry from Hector’s perspective. In a scene, no less, that actually portrays these baddies with a lot more humanity than we could have expected since the ending to Breaking Bad’s “Hermanos”. I like that Don Eladio busts balls in the same way Tony Soprano would with Paulie or Christopher, even if there’s still that underlying layer of “don’t piss me off”. We can only associate Don Eladio with blood and poison, so it’s nice to get a scene like this. As for Hector, he’s absolutely unraveling. He’s like the Duck Phillips of the Cartel. That last shot of him standing over the pool in the cold open couldn’t feel more marginalizing.

I was actually worried from a writing standpoint when Gus shoos his employees away after they were just forced by these strange men to stop business and stay put in the restaurant until Gus showed up. I wasn’t sure at that point in the episode, how committed the show was going to be to make every beat plausible if we are to follow Gus as a character. One of those beats being to give credibility to the common, innocent characters. In a lesser show, like say, later seasons of Dexter, the show would rely on Dexter being the brilliant, interesting character, while everybody else, especially the common folk, to be idiots. I was prepared to be very critical if they just played it off that just because Gus is the boss, and a fan-favorite or bad-ass, that he’d be allowed to be vague in the face of his employees’ curiosity towards him. If there was no follow-up explanation to what transpired, there’s no way I would have been able to buy it, which is why I was so happy when the episode did this:

The scene accomplishes so much. Not only is it giving credit to the employees’ intelligence, but it helps emphasize the severity of Hector’s behavior. For him to whip out a cigar and stroll behind the counter while his back-up serves as further intimidation, you feel how much of an effect in tension something like that would have. It adds impact. I also like that when Gus approaches the restaurant, a squeegee is at work to frame him as completely exposed. There’s no way he’s not entering the place without owing them an explanation/apology, and especially no way he’s going to pretend that those strange men were anything but bad people. It’s through great writing and Giancarlo Esposito’s awesome delivery that manages to make what he says brilliantly convincing and funny in how he spins it into his American success story. He’s not telling them the truth, but he’s putting a lot of his honest self out there in order to channel plausibility. When everyone is fooled, it’s earned, and it makes me laugh every time Lyle applauds. On top of all that, a Gus who is concerned for his employees well-being and state of mind is always interesting and fun to watch, even if the primary goal is to save face.

Another moment in this episode that I would have grumbled at is if Mike didn’t spend time with his family. It’s one thing that we haven’t seen Stacey and Kaylee since, I believe “Fifi”, but if Mike was to follow through on his “not tonight, I’m busy with my super secret life and I’d rather have an ambiguous moment alone” routine, I just think it would have been a missed opportunity. It’s good to remind the audience that this guy has a family and for this particular episode, it helped show how misplaced he feels now that he’s put a significant dent into Hector’s world. Even Stacey could see how troubled he is. This is the first episode where Mike’s story seems to float through everyone else’s. He’s caught in between a destiny calling upon him to work for Gus, but he’s also drawn to dabble in Jimmy’s world. As Gus says later on, Mike was trying to correct something that can’t be corrected (good samaritan getting killed, echoes of his murdered son) which is why we find Mike taking an interest in just simply fixing something. Now that his stint against Hector is satisfied, Mike is still at a state of unease, so the hour served as Mike figuring out how to compensate for that. If it means retreating to his quirky ally in Jimmy McGill for a con with lower stakes, or get dragged into a more high stakes future of fixing stickier situations for a major drug kingpin, something’s going to give. Even if it means juggling both, it has to make sense for him, so I can’t wait to see how he figures himself out in these upcoming episodes.

At 0:51 in this video, is it just me or can you feel anger rising in Gus? Not towards Mike, but out of of envy for him. Mike has freed Hector from his mind, which is something that’s impossible for Gus. Especially in an episode where he had to deal with Hector’s bullying presence while maintaining a friendly composure. It’s no wonder his real feelings are shown in this moment here and it says a lot to how much he respects Mike for him to disclose these true feelings. Other than that, those music cues used sparingly when the scene hints towards these characters’ futures was perfect. Necessarily operatic.

It’s crazy that I’m just now getting to Jimmy’s part of the story, which is hard to get into because I’m absolutely at a loss for what is being set into motion. If we were in a fog over Chuck’s plan at the end of the season premiere, then this is the situation reversed. I don’t know what it means to Kim and Jimmy to get Chuck to admit there’s an original tape or where he keeps it. I don’t know why so much emphasis was put on the wording of ‘damaged vs. destroyed’ (I mean I get it, but is this meant to play into their strategy?). I don’t understand what ammo Mike’s covert mission in taking photos is going to provide or why the lantern sitting atop the Financial Times is in any way important, if at all. I can’t tell what’s being said off the cuff and what actually will end up playing as a major push in their favor, but I know all of these stray puzzle pieces are going to form a clever picture. Anybody have any ideas on this? Are we heading into some complex technical lawyer territory or is a more unorthodox manipulation at play?

I will say that I loved Kim reprimanding Chuck and Howard as if they’re a couple of misfit boys up to no good. I forgot that the last time Kim actually was in Chuck’s presence was when she finally decided to own up to her support for Jimmy in “Nailed”. A moment where she finally escaped out from under Chuck and Howard’s thumb. “I’m putting you both on notice” is just about one of the coolest lines you can give her if she is to be consistent in her attitude towards them. Going back to the meeting, I like how all the characters greet each other by just announcing each other’s names, minus Jimmy saying Chuck’s. Jimmy’s apology to Chuck was also great in how subtly back-handed it was.

Some other stuff to note:

-Mike and Chuck meet! How did the universe not collapse on itself? More great use of humor here too. As much as I support Chuck on a lot of things, it really is jarring to see Chuck talk down to him.

– I wish they would put the episode up on demand so I could get the exact lines, but If you listen to what’s heard on the tv when Mike is at Staceys new house, you can hear something along the lines of “He’s not near the truck!” followed by some mention of an alien or UFO. The truck stuff is all in reference to what Mike’s been keeping busy with as of late, but the mention of an alien just feeds more into the notion of Mike feeling misplaced.

– Not only do we see the return of Don Eladio, but Juan Bolsa as well. At this point, it seems Breaking Bad characters are being reprised at an exponential rate.

– Mike throwing the cash through Victor’s driver’s side window is probably what inspired Victor to throw the bag of cash through Walter White’s window in “Green Light”.

– Kyra Hay making small talk, warmly, concerning Chuck’s condition was actually a sweet moment. I don’t know how Chuck took it for her to go into it, but nonetheless, it was a generously human break, on her part, amidst the tension in the room.