Category Archives: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul “Something Beautiful” (S4E03)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other things to note:

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

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Breathe” (S4E02)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Smoke” (S4E01)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other stuff in no particular order:

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

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

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Lantern” (S3E10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you feel the heat of Better Call Saul rising?

 

Better Call Saul “Fall” (S3E09)

“Money IS the point!” – Jimmy (“Uno”)

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

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

“Is this about Chuck?” – Howard
“Who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some extra things to note:

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

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

Better Call Saul “Slip” (S3E08)

Eight episodes in, I feel that “Slip” did such a great job at bringing a lot of character/story points to a head, some of which I’ve been anticipating for a while. It’s weird because “Chicanery” is essentially this season’s big climax, (almost reminding me of “One Minute” from Breaking Bad’s third season), and while it’s absolutely paramount to explore the fallout from that episode (as we have), I’m still impressed with how successfully the story continues to push forward. It’s like the writers could easily rest their backs and take the time to plan their next move, as Kim suggested to Jimmy, or they could take Jimmy’s lead and hustle full-tilt to meet certain ends. I find this exciting because we already know the long-term direction for the show, but in terms of how the journey unfolds, I feel a current sense of charging into the dark. Obviously the writers have had an end game to this season for a while, but you can tell they’re locked on something good.

So right off the bat, Marco returns in a flashback being the first time since “Marco”, the season 1 finale. I wasn’t quite sure when this was taking place, but it felt like it was during the time of that very episode, considering Marco speaks of Jimmy’s mom as if in tribute after learning of her passing, as well as Jimmy’s hair being its usual current style. Something came to me when I was watching this cold open. It’s not so much that Jimmy feels a divide between him and his father because of their opposing morals, but there’s also a matter of neglect. Chuck is the smart brother which is a quality I feel Jimmy may have always admired, so when Jimmy exercises small bouts of obscure knowledge in front of his father (like knowing specific coins, rarity, and worth), only to be immediately ignored and interrupted in exchange for his dad being more concerned with returning the coin, it’s no wonder that Jimmy harbors such a resentment towards him.

The same thing happened in the cold open of “Inflatable” when young Jimmy tries to warn his father of the con-artist (another instance where Jimmy is very smart) only for his father to not give an inch of credit to Jimmy over this suspicion. Jimmy sincerely tried to get close with his father many times but they were just never quite on the same page. Perhaps when Jimmy says, “he never did what he had to do”, it doesn’t just pertain to not being sucker, but to also being a proper father and acknowledging Jimmy when instances of true individual expression called for it. It was great to see Marco nostalgic over Jimmy’s folks. It reminded us that Jimmy’s dismissive attitude towards them is an issue that’s exclusive to Jimmy and that just because Marco can tend to be the devil on Jimmy’s shoulder, doesn’t mean he needs to see eye to eye over conditions of the heart. I really liked that. Before the camera cuts, the final act of Jimmy swiping those coins felt coated in a layer of spite and expressed a sense of reveling in what he was able to take during the time his parents were still kicking around.

As much as I’ve been rattling on since “Nailed” about what the good samaritan’s death meant to Mike, it was a complete surprise to me when it turned out the favor Mike needed from Nacho was the murder victim’s whereabouts. As soon as I saw Mike drive passed the Oasis sign from the truck heist, it all hit me at once. The entire sequence was done so thoughtfully and with such care. If this was a scene where Mike is undergoing preparation for a heist, the image of him in a forward cap* with a metal detector would be played ironically or punched up since this is a get-up we’re unfamiliar with. There’s no such sense of that in this scene. There’s one cool shot of the metal detector’s control panel but it’s tasteful and beyond that there’s nothing flashy going on even when director Adam Bernstein is shooting it in a very unique way. The overhead shot with multiple Mikes fading in and out to express the passage of time is done appropriately. Everything regarding Mike’s conflict with the good samaritan’s death has lived on through subtext up until now so to get this moment where Mike recovers the physical body, it’s very moving. Just seeing a hand with a ring on it was enough to illustrate that there are indeed loved ones out there wondering what happened.

*The forward cap is a key aesthetic in this moment for me. You could really feel that he’s a father here, or even a grandfather and it makes the recovery of the body all the more cathartic. Jonathan Banks brought a lot of weight to this. The look on his face when he finds the body is profoundly sad and harrowing.

One of the aspects I’ve been looking forward to is further exploration of Chuck’s condition. After an episode where Chuck was completely absent, immediately diving head-on into an appointment with Dr. Cruz made for a fresh and compelling change of pace from what we’re used to seeing. The display of his newfound self-awareness and aim to improve shows us a more hopeful Chuck. Whether you sympathize with his character or not, it’s hard not to root for the guy when he’s finally in the best position to getting better. At the end of the day, he has a sickness. I remember back in the season 2 finale, after Chuck hit his head at the print shop and went through the horrific ordeal of being brought to the hospital, his persistence afterwards to derail Jimmy felt too unhealthy and toxic.

Sure, he was subject to a major injustice brought on by Jimmy, but after Ernie protected Jimmy by saying he called him earlier, everything was clearly at a loss and might have been better off for Chuck to just walk away at that point. Even if it just simply means he has to shut Jimmy out from his life, because as Howard stated in “Off Brand”, Jimmy is just not worth it. Anyway, I’m glad that Chuck for the first time is focusing on himself with no ulterior motive. His sentiments of “If it isn’t real…then what I have done?” elicited a very powerful feeling of wasted time and opportunity. That’s a rough realization to come to and it’s going to be even more depressing now that Jimmy may have possibly squashed any further hopes and dreams in the event that he does get better. I think Chuck’s premiums going up are just the start of his problems. What if it leads to not being able to practice law at all?

Last episode’s “Expenses” showed Jimmy in a constant, unforgiving rut so as the twins of ‘ABQ In Tune’ decide to renege on their deal, it looks like this unfortunate trend will continue. “Slip” was an episode though that had Jimmy quickly recalibrating to his situation. Slippin’ Jimmy lives and we’re finally shown his legendary pratfall after only hearing about it through stories, coincidentally told to the skater twins in the pilot. I love how the special effect of Jimmy falling was absolutely believable, visually, yet there was a hint of it that made it look quite surreal in the process. It was perfect and felt reminiscent of when something weird, strange, or outlandish occurs on Mad Men.

Also I forgot to mention this in the last review (thankfully it becomes more prominent here) but Jimmy pining over a Ritchie Blackmore signed guitar and then playing “Smoke on the Water” (season 1’s ending song) after obtaining it from his fall, it almost feels too on the nose, yet with intention. I mean what are the chances that he would get that guitar? I did a rewatch of season 1 earlier this year and I considered the choice of “Smoke on the Water” being used. Other than what relates from the content of the song, I doubt anyone who has ever had a guitar, whether you followed through with it or not, has not played the tune to “Smoke on the Water”. It’s the easiest series of notes to learn which is fitting for Jimmy, being the guy who takes pride in the simplest route.

Another long anticipated moment for me was when Howard confronted Kim, holding nothing back in the process. The tension between them has been bubbling for a while so to see them sniping at each other outside in front of the valet was just so good. It’s far off from how they used to interact with each other in the first season. Howard gracefully demonstrates to Kevin and Paige that just because he lost their business doesn’t mean he’s doesn’t wish them the best after Kim’s handling of their case. Obviously this is politics to maintain the reputation of his business, as he does with all his clients, but I believe Howard is able to do this because his good manners are genuinely of his own nature. It’s a message to Kim that just because she’s now off on our own, doesn’t mean that ties should be cut, especially after Howard was her mentor and helped her grow as a lawyer to begin with. It’s a sense of community within their field that shouldn’t be sneezed at and Kim understands this, but things are obviously more complicated. She writes a check to cover her loan which is more of a conditional reply than a kind gesture. She wants to be free of him and while I don’t think he’s trying to control her, he definitely disagrees that she’s earned the right to come off innocent in all of this. I think I’ll always lean a tad more on Howard’s side regarding all of this, but Kim did have a point in how Howard pretty much turned a blind eye to Chuck’s obvious mental illness in order to benefit and save face. Plus, man was he brutal with keeping her in doc review.

I’d like to take back what I initially said earlier in the season being that Hector Salamanca’s fall from grace should play as a backseat ‘aha!’ moment to a grander, unique story that only Better Call Saul could tell. I’d be lying if I said I’m not absolutely entertained and fraught with anxiety over how Hector’s situation is going to play out and what possible collateral damage can occur from all of this. This show is indeed a Breaking Bad prequel for a reason and Better Call Saul still manages to be unique and unpredictable in how it orchestrates events to which we already know the outcome. What we don’t know is what happens to Nacho. I actually really care about him despite the fact that we’re essentially rooting for a criminal to murder another criminal. The scene of him at his father’s upholstery business, practicing and failing to get the pills to fall into the coat pocket was the perfect set-up for this hair-puller:

Every beat of this scene is brilliantly uncomfortable from Nacho reaching into the wrong pocket to him dropping one of the pills on the chair while having to be quiet about it. The miracle toss he makes was one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced from something so mundane and seemingly simple. It was like doing a cartwheel on the edge of a skyscraper. David Porter’s score in the moment of that toss emitted a feeling as if fate itself or the gods were screaming/cheering over the wildness of the outcome. I was also reminded of Breaking Bad as Nacho approaches the expresso machine, seeing as this is where Jesse Pinkman plays with the idea of a delivery system in poisoning Gus (“Problem Dog”) only to never go through with it. Nacho’s approaching the expresso machine after committing the crime has kind of a mirror effect. My only question now though is whether Nacho is out of the woods. A famous quote from Omar Little (The Wire) states “You come at the king, you best not miss” and we all know Hector will live from this. We also know that Nacho is to blame for something very big when Saul gets kidnapped from Walt and Jesse. If there’s any tell that points to Nacho being responsible, it most likely will derive from when he eventually switches the pills back.

Speaking of committing, Jimmy’s fall earlier in the episode wasn’t fake. He had no issue in actually hurting his back in order to get what he wanted which is probably how his young, leaner version of himself always did it. In turn, he’s able to use his real injury as part of his narrative against the parks and rec guy as he threatens to sue the man personally. Again, Jimmy is back and in complete opposite form than how we saw in last episode. Lounging in the dirt surrounded by garbage when he’s supposed to be doing his community service is such an appropriate image too.

The episode ends with Mike also committing to something big as we’re given a handshake that finally solidifies the union between him and Gus even though the future of that handshake will lead to so much death and chaos. We still don’t even know, pre-Walter White, how Mike becomes so accustomed to killing people simply because it’s part of the job. Luckily Gus is a reasonable man and the people that will meet their deaths are ‘in the game’ but there’s a gap that still needs to be filled in order to get him there. Other than that, Gus doesn’t want his money, but just Mike and the work he can provide. It was pretty bold for Mike to just agree on that without really knowing what Gus could truly want out of him.

More thoughts:

– In the spirit of going over the multiple meanings of the episode’s title, ‘slip’ obviously refers to Jimmy’s fall, but also of Mike giving the police the slip on the good samaritan’s whereabouts. Kim slips Howard a check for her loan and one slip from Nacho in swapping those pills and he would be a dead man!

-There’s something about this show with twins huh? First the skater twins break their legs and now the owners of ‘ABQ In Tune’ fall prey to Jimmy. Even in Breaking Bad Saul’s actions will end up severely crippling Ted Beneke, a father of twin daughters. No twins are safe from the misfortune Jimmy brings. At this point, Tuco’s cousins better watch out.

-I missed it on my first watch but Francesca hiding her Hawaii magazine as Kim walks from Jimmy’s office to hers was funny. Already looking for an escape, it’s a change from the interviewee who was hoping to get employed here in the beginning of the season.

– Like I said, I loved everything with Nacho. I especially liked the idea of obstructing the air conditioning unit in order to sweat Hector into removing his jacket. The leap that Nacho makes from the dumpster to the roof was a cool stunt. I’m not sure if he did it himself or not, but a cool action moment nonetheless. I don’t what it is, but I always find it entertaining when characters on tv or in the movies are trespassing and sneaking around some place they shouldn’t at night. There’s always a calmness to it despite how potentially dangerous it could be. Also, this is unrelated but those ceiling fans in the taco restaurant were awfully depressing haha.

– Something about Bob Odenkirk having to pick up a dirty diaper during his community service makes me think of Vince Gilligan laughing his ass off.

Overall, this was one of my favorite episodes of the season. There’s just a lot happening in it, all being very interesting. I know I shouldn’t measure episodes based off the order it shares, but in terms of the 8th episode, it’s right up there with season 1’s “Rico” and season 2’s “Fifi”. And something to keep in mind as we approach this season’s penultimate episode, “Pimento” and “Nailed” managed to be series highlights for me. They’re both very important episodes so I wonder what next week’s “Fall” will manage to do. I can’t help my excitement as we await these final 2 episodes. What’s everyone else’s thoughts?

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?