Category Archives: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul “50% Off” (S5E02)

“In the end, you’re going to hurt everyone around you. You can’t help it so stop apologizing and accept it. Embrace it. Frankly, I’d have more respect for you if you did.” – Chuck

Jimmy can pull himself back from going too far as Saul all he wants but Saul is already setting events into motion from the limits he will continue to push. The episode opens with two skells taking Saul’s ‘50% off’ per legal representation offer as an excuse to go on a wave of frenetic, doped-out crime sprees in the hope to score more drugs. For these addicts, reward trumps risk and they are just two potential clients wrecking havoc out in the world out of who knows how many but their actions will reverberate exponentially. Within the hour, Saul has already caused a direct chain of events that leads him right back into the stammering guy we knew back when he was on his knees before Tuco and Nacho in the desert.  The broken gnome from the cold open and Saul’s tossed ice cream cone at the end perfectly illustrate this correlation.

But is Jimmy the same person from the last time Nacho saw him? Saul has always possessed fear in the face of immediate danger as a defense mechanism.  Fear is not a trait that distinguishes Saul from Jimmy.  It’s Saul’s lack of remorse for the consequences of his actions which Jimmy periodically carries with him. I wouldn’t say the Saul we see here is completely free of doubt or regret, but it’s much easier for him to be.  Not only is Chuck not around to judge him, but Chuck is the one who told Jimmy he would have more respect for him if he owned up to his misgivings and skip the show of remorse as a process. Saul is consciously carrying out Chuck’s worst nightmare, sticking it to his deceased brother by wielding his law degree around the courthouse bowels like a chimp with a machine gun. In another way, he’s subconsciously fulfilling Chuck’s challenge to embrace his slippery ways to the fullest, out of the respect he always craved from him.  The elevator hustle he runs on Suzanne (who was already conned into a loss over last season’s Huell dispute) is a brilliant, if not extremely shady way to accelerate their shared case load so he can make room for more clients and in turn, make more money.

In order for Jimmy to embrace himself as a criminal lawyer without regret, he must lose consideration for who gets caught up in his tailspin.  What he will or won’t come to learn, evident of the chaos that ensues in the cold open, is his behavior has a much more expansive blast radius than he can imagine.  If it wasn’t for his 50% offer deal to the addicts, they wouldn’t take that as an invitation to illegally obtain as much fast cash as they can.  If it wasn’t for all that cash, the storm drain as a delivery system wouldn’t be clogged with 10 bags of dope.  This leads to the Krazy 8 (a nickname originating as Ocho Loco for his bad poker play) getting busted by the police trying to fix it, which leads to Lalo coming up with an idea to get Krazy 8 help, which leads Nacho boomeranging right back into Jimmy’s world.

Whether the idea of Jimmy’s crooked services as a lawyer sprang up because of Nacho’s history with him or Saul has made such a splash in the criminal world already to the point where he’s on Lalo’s radar, this is the dangerous road Jimmy/Saul was going to go down one way or another.  Jimmy’s world of building a new name for himself while juggling his relationship with Kim has now begun its convergence with the criminal underworld. Up until now, these two sides of the show have ran mostly parallel.  Only two episodes into season 5, Lalo has already made an influence on Saul Goodman’s life and we know from Breaking Bad that it’s only going to get worse considering Saul feels relieved at gunpoint when it’s verified Walt and Jesse are not associated with this prestigious cartel member.

This is what makes Kim and Jimmy’s brief visit at an extravagant open house all the more worrying. On one hand, it gives them a chance to clear the air.  Kim makes her reservations known that scamming her clients at any measure or time is not okay with her and Jimmy humbly accepts that.  Jimmy is also honest about the slip-up he made in giving a 50% off deal per legal representation of non-violent felonies and vows he’ll never make that mistake again.  He reassures her that nothing too bad will happen from it, which we know is a reassurance he can’t be certain of and in whole isn’t true, but Kim takes this in good stride nonetheless.

Kim and Jimmy have their differences but their relationship in this moment feels more hopeful after coming to an understanding with one another. Kim even entertains the prospect of them living in such a big house together and is playful and laughing when soaking a fully clothed Jimmy in the shower.  This is all fine and dandy considering we want these two characters to be happy with one another and maybe possibly share a future, but we know Saul’s trajectory doesn’t end in rainbows and sunshine.  As Better Call Saul’s two main worlds begin to merge amidst the brink of war between Gus and Lalo, how soon is it before Kim is crossing paths with any of these dangerous figures? How might they influence her absence from Breaking Bad?

What’s great about these storylines melding together is that I’m just as invested in the fate of Nacho as I am in Kim’s.  I’ve never felt such a heightened sense of dread and despair since Breaking Bad’s final season compared to when Nacho is abducted from his bed by Gus’ crew and made to sit and watch as Gus holds a figurative scythe over his father’s head. It’s a shocking mood shift that really makes you feel like this is the end for Nacho’s father but Gus uses this as fearful motivation to get Nacho to gain Lalo’s trust.  As much as I fear for Nacho and his father, I’m also curious about Gus because we learn in Breaking Bad that he does not believe fear to be an effective motivator.  He tells this to Mike in regards to Walt’s motivation to work for him after Mike proposes the idea of filling Walt in about Tuco’s cousins and how working for Gus would protect him.  What happens with Nacho that makes Gus stray (as best he can) from this method?

As of right now, instilling fear in Nacho is working. He’s willing to risk everything for his father by jumping across rooftops to snatch the remaining product from the stash house as it’s being raided by police.  All of this is to gain Lalo’s trust as Gus demanded, but how long can Nacho thrust himself upon grenades before Lalo takes advantage and pushes him to the limit? Lalo has a great amount of respect for Nacho now, but what does that mean coming from this charming lunatic? This is the same guy who treated Nacho’s prison-defying action stunt like it was a scene from a movie, chuckling at the idea that he’s about to get caught.  Nacho gained his trust but as a soldier willing to nearly fall on his sword for the operation.  Something eventually is going to give here and now that Saul Goodman is becoming more involved, what transpires next remains wildly unpredictable and won’t be pretty.

There’s also a matter of Krazy 8, who’s become more and more of a character as this series progresses.  Saul likely has been recruited to represent him but from what we know from the former show, I have to ask the question. Is this the bust (taking place in 2004) where Hank Schrader flips him into an informant? Hank reports to his task force in Breaking Bad’s season 1 episode “Cancer Man”, “Way smarter than your average cheese eater.  I turned him out when he was street level.”  Gomez then goes on to say that Krazy 8 would snake out all the small town dealers he informed on in order to climb the ranks, so we can suspect this was an ongoing process. Enough to last roughly four years though until the Breaking Bad timeline begins? It’s hard to say, but if this is the start of Krazy 8 getting flipped and Saul is the one who’s representing him, doesn’t that complicate things? Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here but there’s a gap of story that’s again, curious.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ve had so many questions going into a season but it being the penultimate, it’s a good sign to how increasingly compelling this show is becoming all across the board as a prequel.

Meanwhile, Mike wakes up hungover after a rough night, being clearly is in a bad place after murdering a good man.  It’s one thing to see Mike lose his cool at work and not be on good terms with Gus, but it’s another when his double life bleeds into the one that matters most.  This episode is about worlds colliding, being cleverly titled “50% Off” not just because of Saul’s deal with potential clients, but because Better Call Saul has been more or less two shows in one where until now has striven to be neatly divided.  That’s never fully the case though in a universe that’s established how every piece and action undertaken matters.  Eventually your decision in one world will dictate what happens in the other and for Mike, this leads to him scolding Kaylee after a significant nerve is hit when she inquires about her dad’s death.  Specifically about his job as a cop and how “the bad guys got him” is what sets Mike off.

We’ve seen Mike’s nerve struck in last season’s “Talk” when Stacey shares how she’s starting to feel guilty for not thinking about her late husband Matty for stretches of time, but taking it out on Kaylee is much more upsetting.  I don’t blame Mike for his grief, but this is the dark, descending spiral he’s been on for a while now and it’s now catching up to him.  I’m sure he feels regret for lashing out on his grand-daughter so we can only hope he can come to terms with what he’s done and the life he’s chosen for himself before the people he truly cares about suffer for it.  It’s a strange thing to hope for since it basically means Mike has to become more cold-blooded and numb to the horrible things he’ll continue to directly or indirectly take part in.

One last thing. It looks like Howard wants to set an appointment for lunch with Saul.  Bob Odenkirk gives a superb, subtle performance when confronted here by allowing a shred of Jimmy McGill’s guilt to peek through the Saul Goodman mask.  Jimmy doesn’t know what Howard wants but from his perspective, Howard was always more in Chuck’s camp and any judgement Chuck carried may have been passed on to his grieving law partner.  We have to remember that the last interaction between these two before Chuck passed was Jimmy trying to get Howard to settle on the Sandpiper case followed by Howard coldly calling him out as transparent and pathetic for trying to hustle the money.

Howard has obviously dialed that resentment back ever since Chuck’s death, but them being on the same page with one another is still something I wouldn’t say is completely warm.  On the other hand, Jimmy did give Howard a tough love speech to help save HHM which might have worked, while also donating $23,000 to Howard for Chuck’s memorial reading room.  Imagine if Howard wants to hire Saul at HHM? That would be crazy, but whatever the case is, Howard associating with Saul Goodman at this point is just another future of a character we’re going to have to add to the list to be concerned about.

Some tidbits:

  • Kim barely has any closet space for herself seeing as it’s packed with Saul Goodman suits and attire.  A sad metaphor for her misplacement in this relationship and the not-so-bright future of her sticking around.
  • Jimmy apparently has 45 clients to juggle.  The scene where he’s ironing his clothes while trying to talk on his cell phone was a perfect way to introduce Saul Goodman’s hands-free bluetooth ear-piece. The physical transformation is almost complete, save for the combed over mullet.
  • Lalo meets with Hector for advice on how to proceed with his suspicions over Gus.  Hector rings his bell when Lalo mentions that Gus, Juan, and Don Eladio are more concerned over money than the principles valued by the Salamanca family.  Hector seems to be onto something, but where could the money lead Lalo in helping uncovering Gus’ secrets?

 

Better Call Saul “Magic Man” (S5E01)

Ladies and gents.  Boys and girls. Welcome back! Season 5’s “Magic Man” is chock full of whimsy, wonder, and absolute unnerving tension.  Tradition dictates we start with Gene’s post-Breaking Bad content which has become more extensive and anxiety-filled than any previous season premiere cold open yet.  That’s saying a lot.  Better Call Saul, like its predecessor, never back-pedals when stressing the urgent significance of its cliff-hangers.  When Gene found himself being heavily studied through a taxi cab driver’s rear-view mirror last season, we had every right to feel panicked.  Season premieres had long established Gene’s usual paranoia of being found out, but the obviously suspicious taxi cab driver donning an Albuquerque Isotopes air freshener set off too many alarm bells for it to amount to nothing this far into the story.

We’re lulled into a false sense of security as we watch Gene keep his police radio scanner running to ensure this stranger didn’t make any police reports of a Saul Goodman sighting.  Gene even makes a carefully placed call to a Cinnabon employee from an out of town payphone slyly inquiring if anybody in particular had been asking for him.  After some time has passed, all seems well and Gene returns to work but lo and behold, the cabbie shows up revealing himself as Jeff, a long-time fan who seems to get off on having famous passengers.  There’s many uncomfortable moments in this show but this scene ranks among the highest as Jeff is not only speaking for the first time directly at Gene, but he’s rude, intrusive, and smarmy.  These are qualities I would never have attributed to what little we could make of him during last season, which is what helps drive this suspension of disbelief that maybe this isn’t the same guy…but it is.  Jeff interrogating Gene in such a gross, depriving manner and forcing him to recite Saul’s key catch phrase while asserting a sense of power over knowing who he is, is nothing short of infuriating.

Ironically, this is the same mall bench that got Gene in this predicament to begin with in season 3’s “Mabel” when Saul’s primal urge to blurt “Get a lawyer!” to a detained shop-lifter causes his own physical collapse.  This leads to the hospital visit he would later take the cab home from.  As Captain Bauer from the Air Force base told Jimmy in that very same season 3 opener, “the wheel is going to turn”, meaning consequences are coming for the life direction Jimmy chooses.  By beckoning the shop-lifter to get a lawyer, despite compromising his low profile in the vicinity of law enforcement, Gene reaffirms who he is.  Not someone who can stay in hiding.  Not Gene.  Gene is not in his D.N.A.  He’s Saul Goodman.  A problem solver at any cost.

This theme is reignited when Gene is faced with an easy, if not expensive reset button from Ed the Disappearer.  Gene’s got diamonds of all things in his band aid box (a keepsake introduced since the series premiere) which very well may pay for the steep expenses for him to “poof” and relocate, but then it hits him…  As the title of the episode suggests, Saul Goodman is the magic man and that’s who he is and always was. “Welcome to My World” by Dean Martin is the song that plays when Gene opens the Cinnabon for business and that’s the tune he’s skipping to.  He no longer plans to run from where he’s ended up or whatever any higher power has in store for him.  As the song goes:

“I’ll be waiting here…

With my arms unfurled…

Waiting here for you…

Welcome to my world…”

This is a pure character-driven decision for Saul to stay in Omaha and handle the cab driver and his silent pal on his own.  It’s very different from Walter White not being able to disappear himself and his family because of a plot-based obstacle like Skyler having no choice but to give away Walt’s money to Ted Beneke.  It’s also a much different direction than New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto that drove Walt back to New Mexico in the Breaking Bad finale.  Nebraska’s State motto is “Equality before the Law” which is something Saul has always valued in his own twisted way going all the way back to his desire to be Chuck’s peer, no matter how many corners he needed to cut to achieve that.  Saul Goodman will not allow anyone to ever hold any sense of power over him.  It’s all an equal playing field and he’ll bend the law in any way he sees fit to fight and win.

But does he actually value equality anymore? Jimmy McGill certainly did, but Saul Goodman seems to revel in rising above all else.  This entire episode, Saul refers to his own future clientele as assholes and morons.  It’s less about helping the less fortunate like Kim has been doing as a public defender and more about running a manipulative game on them for his own gain.  What’s most unsettling though is how Saul seems to lump the entire world in with the rest of his clients, garnering no consideration for anyone but himself, including Kim.  The world is one big mark for him to con and everyone in it is just another trick in his bag.  Kim, as Saul states, is someone who can pull him back when he’s gone too far and that’s what he values in their relationship.  She’s a necessity but that has nothing to do with what Kim values.  When Jimmy asks “Is there some angle I’m not seeing here?” while sharing direct eye contact, she can’t bring herself to protest.  This is how the beginning of a break-up happens when one partner simply allows the other to blow the relationship up.  If Jimmy can’t see why his behavior and outlook is destructive, then their separation will become justified.  There’s no use in explaining why she feels hurt if it conflicts with his newfound world view that’s taking off like a runaway freight train.

Kim enters this season in a haze, emerging into focus after a dizzying array of passing colors, representative of the magic puff of smoke cast by Saul Goodman, but also representative of her mixed bag of emotions.  Kim, like many people, is not somebody who’s alright being made vulnerable.  She definitely is not okay with being used the way she was and continues to be. Towards the end, Saul parades around the courthouse lobby using his impressionable film crew to solicit his sleazy services and uses fellow public defender Bill Oakley like a prop in a skit.  Kim, unbeknownst to Saul, is used like another prop against her will as he practically usurps Kim’s role as a legitimate legal practitioner, nearly demanding they run a scam on her clients to prevent them from wanting to take their case to trial.  Talking Saul Goodman down to the point where she has to lose her cool in order to pull him back to Earth is a humiliating, difficult position to be put in.  How long does she have to keep being his tether to reality before he breaks her? Is this the role Kim wants to serve as in their relationship?

Kim is left nearly defeated in the face of her clients and to save face she uses that to play up the scam Saul impelled upon her.  It’s easier to go along than admitting her own defeat which is a dangerous road to go down.  Saul essentially forces Kim’s hand in a similar way Jeff the cab driver forces Gene’s.  Both are left on a bench, strung along like a puppet against their will by someone who is attributed to the same adjectives: rude, intrusive and smarmy.  The question is, does Kim do the equivalent of disappearing by ending the relationship or is she going to own up to the man she’s been involved with for all this time? Better yet, who is she to be with him in the first place?

In last season’s “Wiedersehen” Jimmy called Kim out for not being completely in his camp. It’s an ongoing contradiction that’s owed to an identity crisis and that in turn is due to not coming into full terms with the world she’s paved for herself.  What is Kim’s world? Is it to be Saul Goodman’s undying, supportive partner to the point where it leads to her potential demise or is her life better off elsewhere? Does her mysterious past life growing up along the Kansas/Nebraska border dictate any of the decisions that lead her here from the beginning? This is the overwhelming crossroad she’s left with as she catches her breath in the stairwell because now she has to commit to one choice or another.  After all they have been through it’s hard to leave him (fallacy of sunk costs), but staying with him is absolutely dangerous and she already senses that. There is so many questions to consider here and season 5 seems determined to explore them.

Speaking of impending doom, the parallel story of Better Call Saul finds Lalo delving deeper into the Werner Ziegler conspiracy now that he knows the man has been reported dead.  His suspicions that something odd is afoot leads him to investigate the cocaine supply after Nacho steers him towards what might be more of a non-issue.  Nacho is a middle man double agent who is just trying to keep the peace until he can forge a plan to get him and his father out of the country.  However, Lalo being put on the trail of drugs leads him right back to Gus’ chicken farm after learning that some of the cocaine had been replaced with meth, a product Don Eladio has long frowned upon and takes offense at the very idea of its inclusion into the operation without his say.

Lalo meets with Gus under Juan Bolsa’s moderation and Gus apologizes for the secrets he’s kept from them, delivering a cover story for the super lab explaining that construction is underway for a chicken chiller.  Lalo knows enough details through his private sleuthing that this cover story is all smoke and mirrors.  He knows about a south wall and of poured concrete which seems to have nothing to do with the project Gus is showing them. He’s also smart enough to know that Mike is shadier than the supervisor of a legitimate construction crew after surveilling Mike in season 4’s finale.  Juan might have bought Gus’ phony story but for Lalo, the game has just begun and he lets Gus know that with a wink and smile.

What’s most interesting about this development is that when Juan firmly reassures Lalo that Gus is strictly business who holds no grudge over his partner Max’s death, Lalo responds, “Like what happened in Santiago? Was that business too?”.  Back when Max was killed in the flashback in Breaking Bad’s “Hermanos”, Max pleaded with Don Eladio, vouching that Gus is a good man who saved him from the Santiago slums. Can we expect more of Gus’ past in Chile to actually be explored? Or will it remain a mystery ala the contents of the suitcase in Pulp Fiction? How does Lalo factor into Santiago? Did Gus do something that affected him or more importantly the Salamanca family as a whole? Is there a deeper reason to Hector’s hatred of Gus?  We know Hector has held a grudge against Gus going all the way back to the flashback in Breaking Bad’s “One Minute” where Hector referred to the Chicken Man smugly as a “Big Generalissimo” who shouldn’t be trusted.  There’s many theories that surround Gus, including the likeliness that he was connected to the Pinochet Regime.  Something that would make him high ranking enough for Don Eladio to spare his life.  Regardless, this shows just how ingrained Lalo is in this universe. At this point, I’m becoming more interested in him as a character than as a plot device to converge the show’s storylines.

Meanwhile, Mike relieves the Germans of their operation, stressing the consequences in the event they break their agreement of never speaking a word of what they helped build.  They are completely aware that Werner’s death was no accident but are united to stay cooperative.  I imagine if one person breaks their word, the entire crew are under the threat of said consequence.  That said, Kai, who was presented as last season’s red herring/bad apple, surprisingly tries to comfort Mike that what he had to do was for the best and that in the end, Werner was a good man, but soft.  These condolences only get under Mike’s skin and he does to Kai what I believe he was waiting to do all of last season and knocks him sideways.  Being told that Werner is soft as an excuse for his disposal is the last thing Mike wants to hear because it once again brings up the memory of his own son’s death.  It’s something he had to shake to even go through with Werner’s murder but alas, it will always haunt him.  The next guy called upon to go home by Mike is Casper who tells Mike exactly what he would prefer his son to be remembered as: “He was worth 50 of you.”  This only cuts into Mike deeper and for a rare occasion we see Mike get put in his place.

Mike and Gus, as expected, are not on good terms.  For one, Mike is insulted by Gus’ corporate way of resolving the Werner situation with the wife.  She’s compensated for her grief as if you can put a dollar value on such a thing.  For Gus, throwing money at the problem of Werner’s wife and throwing money at Mike to be on retainer for doing nothing is an evil Mike won’t stand for.  His own moral reservations over what he’s done is just collateral damage in an operation that’s bigger than him. There’s a bridge of story here that still has yet to be naturally told to bring Mike around to his involvement with Gus.  Like Kim, he’s going to have figure out his place in the world he’s lent himself to.  The only person in this entire hour who seems to be completely comfortable with themselves right now is Saul Goodman and that’s not too reassuring.  Season 5’s premiere is carrying the show forward into extremely chaotic territory.  At some point, something horrible is going to have to give.  The anticipation of whatever that may be is scary.

Also, rest in peace Robert Forster.

It was good to see him play the role of Ed the Disappearer one last time.

 

 

Better Call Saul “Winner” (S4E10)

In a question of unbridled sincerity, season four’s swan song “Winner” kicks off with a flashback showcasing a time when newly appointed attorney Jimmy McGill felt the strongest affection and admiration for his brother, Chuck, who swears him in before the New Mexico Bar Association. It’s a moment so strong to the extent where even Chuck (harbored grudges aside) is enamored likewise by this feeling.  The brotherly bond runs deep as Jimmy celebrates becoming a lawyer with his karaoke rendition of Abba’s “The Winner Takes it All”, which a reluctant Chuck is pulled on stage to sing alongside him.  It’s the one time in the show where Chuck is happily swept up in Jimmy’s blissful aurora and embraces him most fondly and publicly.

Even if he doesn’t want to admit it, Chuck is proud of Jimmy here and that becomes most prevalent when the two are alone crashing together for the night where there’s nobody around to potentially pretend for.  Despite politely brushing off Jimmy’s drunken ramblings that the two McGill brothers have become equals, Chuck immediately snaps out of any fixed umbrage when Jimmy begins to sing the song once again.  Jimmy cherishes this sweet, rare moment of connection to his brother and Chuck chimes in because he too appreciates its value.  It’s the most pure on-screen display of the unconditional love, however complicated, that exists between them.

Jimmy ironically carries this memory with him throughout the episode, even when forcing himself to appear sad over Chuck’s death to any on-lookers from the law community.  The paradoxical magic of Abba’s “The Winner Takes it All” brought these brothers close but the lyrics actually prophesize their bleak, underlying conflict and serves as a theme to the regrets Jimmy feels for allowing himself to love and honor Chuck for the better part of his life.  Jimmy tried his best to play by the rules in order to recapture that rare feeling of making Chuck proud and in the end, it crushed him.  As he sees it, his past mistakes forever doomed him as an irredeemable screw-up to those who hold the keys to the castle of opportunity and that’s how it’s always been.  He realizes the world will define you by your actions and reaffirms the only way to counter that is by cutting corners, which has always been his instinct.

Jimmy relays this line of thinking to a young Kristy Esposito, a rejected finalist for HHM’s memorial scholarship who he served on the board to vote for.  As her only supporter, Jimmy sympathized with her, being a kid who was once caught shop-lifting and seemed to have worked hard to correct a mistake she very well may have learned from.  Jimmy pleads to her, “Remember, the winner takes it all,” after telling her to bend the rules and rise above the people who are dead-set to shut her out.  It’s this “the end justifies the means” form of advice he wishes he could have given to his younger self before the McGill war came to a head.  As Kim made clear last episode, Jimmy is always down and there’s no more appropriate place but HHM’s depressing basement parking lot for him to have an uncontrolled breakdown over this epiphany.  What might sting most is he could have been on the figurative fiftieth floor instead if he had not felt such a burning desire to make Chuck happy.  Through his suppressed grief, this is the feeling that is so real and sincere, it finally comes pouring out with a devastating performance by Bob Odenkirk.

At the end of the cold open, Jimmy stresses the natural order of symmetry in a drunken tangent to Chuck (two eyes, two hands, two nipples, etc.).  It’s all nonsense babbling but it paints a clear picture of Jimmy’s world-view assumption that he’s entitled to just as much as Chuck for achieving the bare minimum solely because of his idealized fantasy that they’re two brothers of the same profession.  Jimmy even suggests adding another M to HHM in order to restore symmetry (HHMM).  I don’t think Jimmy necessarily believes he’s as smart as his brother or as accomplished, but despite Chuck living life on the straight and narrow, he has a strong, resilient backbone.  He has just as much of a backbone to zig left as Jimmy has to zag right and that’s something their father, from Jimmy’s perspective, sorely lacked.  Jimmy has always felt superior to his father but Chuck built a life for himself in tribute to how good his father was and I think this always amazed Jimmy.  The thought of taking something seen as pathetic and turning it into gold is one thing, but for Chuck to reject Jimmy in a harsher manner than Jimmy rejected his father could be seen as the greatest slap in the face.

The tension in Jimmy’s story lies in the anticipation that he’s going to finally confront his brother’s death and allow himself to truly feel his feelings to appear sincere at his appealed reinstatement hearing.  Faking tears over Chuck’s headstone while literally sobbing the words “boo-hoo” sets itself up for the question: How does Jimmy go from a laughable circus act to a moment of sincere, cathartic introspection by the end of the hour?  We already witness him have an honest breakdown in HHM’s basement parking lot so we know he’s capable of feeling something. Chuck’s farewell letter being taken out like it’s the magic key to recapturing those emotions for a genuinely sound testimony clues us in on the plan, but we already know the letter had no effect on him the first time around.  Maybe now it will work though, especially since all the hard, expensive ground-work of Jimmy’s grieving narrative has been spread to everyone in Chuck’s professional orbit? At the hearing, Jimmy barely reads a few sentences before stopping himself and it’s here where we realize this off-the-cuff deviation from the plan is the true road to salvation.

In my review of the previous episode “Wiedersehen”, I mentioned how this season seemed to be building towards Jimmy confronting his brother’s death, while the parallel story of Mike is about unburdening himself from the death of his son.  The separate journeys undertaken by these two characters tend to mirror each other whether through similarities or opposition. Symmetry, if you will.  It seemed pretty cut and dry that Jimmy had to tap into his honest opinion on Chuck in order to truly emote. The speech he gives to the board is in the essence of a moving Don Draper pitch.  It’s humble, it’s spontaneous, and we know as long-time viewers, that he’s speaking the hard truth.  When we see Kim (someone who arguably knows Jimmy more than anyone) getting misty-eyed, we know this is real.  It’s real, it’s real, it’s real, and then Jimmy pulls down the curtain in celebration of winning everyone over and reveals it’s all bullshit, duping all of us, including Kim.  Was it an act though? Or did he somehow allow himself to feel something real and in turn used it for deception? That’s the scariest part of this ending being that he can go so far down the emotional well which he’s avoided all season and come back up with it meaning nothing to himself.

Kim is left stranded speechless as she, for once, is on the receiving end of Jimmy’s scheme.  A scheme that he pulled out of thin air without realizing the effect it would have on anyone in the vicinity, regardless if it’s someone he supposedly cares about.  How can Kim trust Jimmy after that?  She’s worked scams with him before and is aware of his magic and trickery but this ending reveals a darker side to him where even the real and sincere is just another tool in his bag of tricks.  Everything real that Kim feels for Jimmy or believes Jimmy feels for her is potentially worthless now.  If he could dismissively turn the grief for his dead brother into a lottery ticket, then what chance does Kim have to mean anything beyond another card in his deck? How can she make heads or tails of what he actually values?  Throughout the entire series, fans have been waiting for the introduction to Saul, and while this ending is the greatest push forward and the journey is not over, we’re getting what we’ve been anticipating in the most heart-wrenching, tragic way.  The final turn where Jimmy pivots his entire body in one eerie motion before exclaiming “It’s S’all good man!” is the most earned, ‘twist-of-the-knife’ conclusion to date.

The outcome to Mike’s story goes as predicted by my last write-up, but that by no means takes anything away from the magnitude of where it leaves us. The episode spirals into a mad hunt for Werner while also juggling a cat-and-mouse game between Lalo and Mike for reasons that remain curiously odd.  Lalo, who serves as a mystery as to exactly how he’ll play into the show’s endgame, surveils Gus’ operation in this time of crisis.  He has no knowledge of the construction of the super lab or why everyone is scrambling all over town, but he’s getting closer to learning something, even it means ramming cars in private parking lots or killing the TravelWire clerk who helped give Mike information on Werner’s possible whereabouts.  The Lalo portion of the B story is very chaotic, as it should be, but it’s ultimately setting the stage for what story developments we can expect from season 5.  In the end, we know Lalo is going to play an important enough role to the point where it will bleed into Saul Goodman’s world and possibly signify Nacho’s demise, or who knows, even Kim’s. Gus told Juan Bolsa in the beginning of the season, “someone will make a move on the Salamanca family and that will bring war, which brings chaos, which brings the D.E.A.” We’ll stay tuned.

As I mentioned, story execution still needed to play its part in properly landing the conclusion of Mike being forced to deal with Werner Ziegler. In my “Coushatta” write-up, I speculated how Mike would possibly pledge allegiance to Gus if he is put in the position to take Werner out and this episode helps us understand that, somewhat.  Throughout the hour, an angry, concerned Gus stays silent.  The story becomes less about forcing Mike to do anything and more of Mike feeling responsible for this colossal hiccup which he knows he should have been on top of.  Better Call Saul revels most in character-driven outcomes more than plot-driven.  The characters dig their own graves and that’s a factor that helps Mike realize that Gus’ operation is too great for him to have a conflict of morality over what happens to Werner.

Werner knew what he signed up for and knew his decision to leave was foolish, but he was blinded by his undying urge to simply see his wife again.  If the lives we lead lend themselves to a story, then our decisions (again, reflective of where the world places us) will eventually write ourselves into inescapable corners. Unfortunately, all the pieces were in the right place for Werner to meet his end even if he didn’t fully understand the game he was playing until it was too late.  Just the same, all the pieces were in the right place for Mike to deliver what Werner had coming to him and that’s because of Mike’s own choices throughout the season.  The final scene with Mike and Werner is handled so beautifully in the way Mike grants Werner a chance to save his wife while Werner sees Mike’s troubled situation clearly for what it is, and unlike Walter White’s frantic, compromising refusal to accept his own fate, Werner not only accepts but selflessly makes it easier for Mike to do what he has to do.  Werner is the sweetest man to ever fall victim directly to Mike and this definitely shakes Mike to his core.

There are so many stars visible in New Mexico.  I will walk out there…to get a better look…” – Werner

It’s official now.  Mike has now become everything he’s always hated.  He’s now killed a good man and turned an unsuspecting wife into a widow.  It’s what happened to his son and the good samaritan Hector killed back when Mike hijacked the delivery truck in season 2.  He blamed himself quite heavily for both of these tragedies, so we can expect season 5 will open with Mike in an extremely dark place.  The thing is, with a fuming Gus left inside the most expensive hole in the ground West of the Mississippi, does Mike being indebted to this problem become more urgent than his own internal reservations over what he’s done?  Will he bury this incident deeper in the archives of all the terrible things he’s had to do and become more hardened?  We know he’s more cold-blooded about killing in Breaking Bad than where he is now, but this murder is much different than the violent goons who were in the cartel game.  I think there’s still a significant amount of story left to tell here because Gus and Mike are not on the even ground we’re accustomed to in the other show.  Mike is going to have to seriously figure himself out after this.

Other things to note:

  • No Nacho this episode.  He just becomes absorbed into the Gus/Lalo war that’s starting to brew.  There’s something unsettling about that.  At a certain point, Nacho’s secret plan of escaping to Canada with his father under false identities is going to become a reality.  Gus and Lalo pulling him back and forth to do their bidding is eventually not going to end well.
  • I was hoping the show would check back in on Howard and I’m happy that he’s looking healthier and that HHM is recovering from its setbacks. Earlier on in my write-ups, I compared Howard to Werner in that they were both willing to see the hurdles ahead of them for what they are.  Howard got his hands dirty and seeked therapy over Chuck’s death, while Werner approached the construction of the superlab as the dangerous and difficult operation that it was.  I’m glad for Howard’s sake that symmetry went for opposition here in terms of where they ended up.
  • Mike choosing the gum in his glove box over the gun (wordplay) lead to another clever way to shake Lalo from tailing him.  Better Call Saul never runs out of brilliant ideas for these characters to get themselves out of a jam.  It’s too bad there was nothing as inspired in the glove box to relieve Werner from his fateful predicament.

That’s a wrap on season 4! It was another great one.

 

 

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.

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).

Salud!

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.