Category Archives: Better Call Saul

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).


Better Call Saul “Pinata” (S4E06)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Quite a Ride” (S4E05)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other stuff:

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

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