Category Archives: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul “Sabrosito” (S3E04)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other stuff to note:

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

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

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Sunk Costs” (S3E03)

Other than wondering the context to what we’re being shown in the cold open (which is later made clear), I felt inclined to just allow the scene to play and evoke whichever impression seemed to jump out the most to me. It’s beautifully shot and surely expressed a sense of inevitability and perhaps a touch of sadness of what that entails. Later when you have the fuller picture, it invites you to consider the in-transit LPH truck as a victory. An epic changing of the tides in what will lead to a world associated of the most high-octane course of events that will ultimately swallow these characters whole. What I really admired is that in such a short sequence, it accomplished me feeling all of these things in an otherwise quiet, indistinctive act of simply having those shoes drop. In my opinion, I find this to be one of the most peak, aesthetic moments that Better Call Saul has ever provided. I also like how you can’t tell how far into the future it takes place, mainly because it doesn’t matter.

As the the title suggests, this is an episode where characters continue to root their feet firmly into the ground and continue to invest in what they have always stood for. Mike will continue to chisel away at Hector Salamanca’s operation until a certain outcome eventually satisfies him. Jimmy will continue to fight against his unforgiving brother in the means to save the free-wheeling life he’s worked too hard to build with Kim. Kim will continue to support a crooked Jimmy, bringing the episode to a close in a delightfully sweet moment by bringing attention to the sunk cost fallacy, in reference to the time when Jimmy argued against it back in the season 2 premiere. In short, this is an episode that hits on the “why?” when it comes to how these characters choose to carry themselves when given little reason other than there’s something deeply rooted within that speaks to who they are. Chuck strongly stated back in season 1’s “Pimento” that “People don’t change”, yet in this scene, he’s applauding the concept now that he finally has his thumb over Jimmy’s future. Notice how Chuck being outside without “protection” (which we have only seen him do when Jimmy proved legitimate in landing the Sandpiper case) is not an issue for him in this moment.

What’s so soul-shattering about what Jimmy tells Chuck, is that it seems to emit the same level of lonely isolation you get from the cold open. Those shoes, future-tense, dropping in the middle of nowhere. If a person was there to actually witness such an insignificant occurrence, they would never know the incredibly masterful purpose it served being hung up on those wires to begin with. A brilliance that might as well have never happened even from those that might most appreciate it. Jimmy taps into such a feeling, knowing that Chuck is self-serving and holds pride in preserving the standards he lives by. At what cost though? After you’re long gone, how could you be admired for your accomplishments and what you believed in when those who matter most were driven away? Adding ‘alone’ at the end of it is one thing, but if Jimmy had just said “and you will die”, it would have came off petty or spiteful, but there’s something about the line delivery of “and you will…die there” that at its core is bluntly honest and matter-of-fact. Because of this, I feel like Chuck actually came the closest to a profound sense of self-reflection and possible change, when sympathetically questioning the ADA’s strategy, but nonetheless, he’s worked too hard to turn back now and will continue to deliver the punishment that he’s always wanted for Jimmy.

I’m really glad the episode kicked off with the Mike/Gus phone call considering it was an anticipated moment that got pulled out from under us in the episode prior. It definitely would have been a mistake to prolong that moment any further or worse, gloss over it and jump ahead to Gus’ arrival. I like how the camera creeps along the yellow street lines. It made me think of the last image of season 1 with Jimmy accelerating to the hum of “Smoke on the Water”. Fate is very present in such an image. Those wide shots where the sky (essentially a character in and of itself) commands the majority of the screen is portrayed almost like a grand host to the party. I love that when the two vehicles begin to approach Mike, the music begins to growl and the heat waves shimmer as if there could be a potential rip in the fabric of space-time as these characters clash. Not only are two important, powerful figures coming face to face, but even Victor and Tyrus (who never crossed paths on Breaking Bad) add an extra layer as they stand patiently in the background. It’s nice to see a Gus who is slick and intimidating, but articulate and reasonable towards Mike. After Walter White, it’s refreshing to have a Gus who can breathe and solve a conflict peacefully.

The shoe idea was certainly clever and executed well enough. One thing is for sure, I was so ready to groan if Mike threw those shoes up on the wire on the first try haha. It’s better to remind the audience that this guy is human and vulnerable at that. If anything, he’ll have his shining moment with Kaylee’s balloons down the road. But yeah, It’s cool to think how in the season 2 finale, the sniper rifle was never fired, yet the reason for that is more entertaining than if he had, while here, he finally does shoot, but still not in the way you would expect. Also it was great to see the return of Dr. Barry Goodman (just looked his name up), Gus’ doctor, who hooked Mike up with the drugs. I hope we see more of this guy. There’s so many characters from BB that I feel can be fleshed out and explored more now that there’s a chance to. Of course, only when the story dictates.

I wasn’t planning on throwing this video up but how could I not? It’s Kim Wexler kicking the morning’s ass.

This quirky, adrenaline rush of a sequence came out of left field but it establishes a very focused and a very success-driven Kim. Good for her that there’s a gym right across the street from the office and that she’s willing to sleep at work in order to have easy access. And waking up at 5:30 am to work out before starting your venture as a solo practitioner would be the way to do it if you really were gun-ho in being the best superhero you can be to achieve that. To follow it up with Ernie dropping the bad news of Jimmy’s current predicament makes for a compelling contrast. How does Jimmy fit into Kim’s world after a montage like that? Is there really more of a sunk cost invested in Jimmy compared to her own goals? It’s a great display of selflessness for her to support Jimmy, whereas with Chuck it’s more of the opposite. I like to think the offer of pre-prosecution diversion in trade for a confession that will potentially lead to Jimmy’s disbarment as Chuck’s version of using the sniper rifle in a more unexpected, nuanced way. ‘Shooting for the kill’ would have been the attempt to hammer in jail time.

Three episodes in and there’s so much happening. All the characters are pushed into a corner and I can’t wait to see how everything unfolds from here. Very promising so far.

Also:

– Jimmy getting booked was so exciting to watch, appropriately set to Little Richard’s “Hurry Sundown”. Saul Goodman was bubbling in that scene. I also laughed at Bill Oakley smiling in the window of the door as this is all going down (and yes, there’s no way I won’t be referring to him by his full name from here on out). I love his character. Is there a more pathetic/sad image than this guy eating from two open mini-bags of chips as if it’s a daily cherished ritual haha? It was smooth on Jimmy’s part to lure him with a cheeseburger in the hopes to get him involved in his case. When he says that another lawyer will be taking the opposition, followed by Jimmy’s (paraphrasing) “then who?”, I could have sworn Dan Wachsberger (Mike’s lawyer from BB) had turned the corner in the hallway behind Jimmy. Even when it’s revealed to be Kyra Hay that will be taking Chuck’s case, I still had to freeze-frame the shot to make sure it wasn’t him, which it wasn’t. I’m glad it wasn’t him too because its better for this show to expand its world. However, I still wonder what will make Saul have such a committed disapproval of Dan in the final season of Breaking Bad.

Better Call Saul “Witness” (S3E02)

If I had to put this episode in a word, I’d go with apprehension. It was a brilliant hour that sets the stage for the biggest push forward into Breaking Bad territory that we have seen so far. I’m excited. It’s a development that has unwrapped itself to the audience quite elegantly, but at the same time I don’t exactly know what to make of it as of yet. The notion of introducing Los Pollos Hermanos, Gus, Victor, and the complex web of operation that comes with that is going to ask a lot from this show. A show that has done a very good job at defining itself as an independent companion piece. I believe Gilligan and Gould will make this work and offer a story that isn’t just Breaking Bad origins. While that is absolutely an important element for the series and a necessity worth exploring, I still want to come away from Better Call Saul having been taken on a specific, exclusive journey in the fashion that only this show could have been able to provide. For instance, finding out how Hector ended up in the wheelchair should ideally play as a backseat ‘aha!’ moment in the midst of a grander tale. This is something that is going to be conceptually nerve-wracking as we go forward but fortunately will help add to the tension. In the introduction to all of this, Gus’ henchman, doing a crossword puzzle, circles the word ‘trajectory’, which I like to take as the show giving a self-aware wink to events preset in motion and hopefully of what can be accomplished in getting us there.

The episode opens in a rather eerie manner. Chuck is whistling in the dark, sipping tea, leering outside, and all the while there’s someone in the house. First you notice a glimpse of someone’s shadow, and then an unrecognized figure in the mirror, and finally you’re revealed this complete stranger who’s playing solitaire so nonchalantly, he might as well be a ghost. I like that the show didn’t feel the need to explain who this person was, You can figure it out, but there’s an air of mystery, and out of context, his presence feels just plain strange. Perhaps with the blueish tone of light that’s usually used to signify the flashback/past, and also due to my initial presumption that it was her in the mirror, I actually feel the absence of Rebecca in this scene, which is interesting since she’s brought up at the very end, by Jimmy. The first mention of her since she was introduced. You can just really feel that Chuck leads a completely different life now compared to what he used to have.

“Witness” seems to follow the theme of characters trying to peek into or insert themselves into places they may or may not belong. For starters, Mike is very cautious when observing the mysterious web of Gus. He is motivated to discover exactly what type of animal he has brushed shoulders with, to assure his own safety. On some level though, it plays like a new kid in town lurking in the shadows and peeking over the fence while kids of his own stripe play in next yard. Knowing that this is the environment he’s eventually destined for, the slow reveal of the Los Pollos Hermanos sign worked wonders. Here I am, too fixated on the ‘speed hump ahead’ and ‘dead end’ sign that caused me to remain a slight beat behind of what was happening in the bigger picture.

The return of Gus sweeping in an unfocused background while Jimmy studies the man with the knapsack was also a touch of class and a joy no matter when the realization hits you. Jimmy is also a character who’s trying his best to test the waters of another world or in the very least use his venture with Mike as an escape. Perhaps he has more respect for Mike than he did his own father, or maybe it’s a pathetic attempt to channel some faux older brother/younger brother dynamic that is free of the usual judgments but hes definitely making his best attempt to scratch his way in. He wants to make Mike proud of his talents, whereas Chuck would be ashamed.

It’s great how the show figured a way to have Jimmy and Gus clash without retconning Saul’s “I’ve never met the guy”.

I like how in the upwards POV shot, Gilligan uses the ceiling fan to create a sense of anxiety/danger while Jimmy continues to be transparent and underestimate Fring’s intelligence. Slippin’ Jimmy can be slick when playing a con, but if Mike is subject to missteps when getting a lead on the master, Jimmy never stood a chance. What I find the most engaging about this scene though is not so much that Jimmy/Saul is finally in the presence of Gus, but more that Gus is in the presence of Jimmy. Bob Odenkirk’s character is so rich and full of such magnificent depth at this point, and the highs that Bob Odenkirk continues to hit with the character just continues to astonish me. Even though Gus was several steps ahead of Jimmy in that scene, there’s still a quick, little expression that he gives after Jimmy leaves, that is almost as if he still wasn’t prepared for how odd of a fellow Jimmy would be. Despite seeing right through him, Jimmy is still shameless, commits, and is charming to boot and even though Gus’ nice guy facade had to entertain it, I believe part of him briefly was caught up in the spell of Jimmy McGill.

One character that doesn’t need to scratch their way into any new avenue of opportunity is Francesca and it’s mostly because Jimmy is doing the scratching for her by accelerating the interview process. I’m sure the last thing she expected before walking through the door, was to be speaking on the phone in a folksy voice singing the praises of a good cracker barrel. It’s sad to see an optimistic, hopeful version of this character knowing how unenthused she will become. If she undergoes such an unfortunate change, I can only imagine how defeated a character in closer proximity like Kim would look like in a Breaking Bad or post-Breaking Bad world. Nonetheless, Tina Parker has some serious comedic chops and I look forward to seeing more of her.

As suspected, Ernie eventually dropped by Jimmy and Kim’s place of work to warn of Chuck’s plan. Again, I feel on some level Ernie just wants to be more involved in the world of Jimmy and Kim. Not Chuck’s. Possessing crucial information that entails Jimmy in such a big way makes him feel relevant and not some old forgotten friend/peer from the days in the mail room. His attempt to present himself as an ally is rather clumsy though, as Kim just wants him to cut to the chase.

Then there’s Howard half-running through people’s backyards and hopping fences. This…is excellent. It reminds me of those brilliant, bizarre moments you would get on Mad Men like Pete falling down the stairs or Ken Cosgrove tap-dancing. While searching for the legit video, I’ve already come across something like this:

It feels appropriate too because this is what comes from entertaining Chuck and the war between the McGill brothers. These are fences that Howard does not want to be hopping over. The world of Chuck is not a world he’s interested in, but of course Chuck is an important man at the firm so he’s forced to play a little daytime manhunt. It’s not to say that Howard doesn’t like Chuck, but he could definitely do without the never-ending nonsense. I’m so glad the show recognizes the comedy of the situation regarding Howard’s character. Patrick Fabian needs more scenes like this.

Finally, to expand on what I already briefly touched on, this episode had me floored in Bob Odenkirk’s performance. Not just for the incredible fit of fury he goes into in the very end, but also just how rocked he was at the news that Chuck recorded him. You can feel the temperature in Jimmy’s character. The eccentricity, charm, and psychic glue that makes him who he is, nearly evacuates completely by the time he closes the door on his last client. That downward shot on him when he closes the door translated so much hurt. It’s one thing that he seems to have oddly retreated to Chuck’s ‘thumb over thumb’ method of removing the tape, but what I really love is how self-aware he becomes. Usually it’s us, the audience, that can draw symbolism in relation to a character. Last week, I mentioned his fondness for the girl who plays in the dirt, or the knockoff night light that might burn the down the house. Here though, he’s completely aware how his ‘Morning over the Sandia mountains’ artwork might read as a stock market crash, and throughout the episode that’s all you’re given to take it as other than it being inspired by the Wexler and McGill logo. For him to outright bring attention to that expresses a deep sense of existentialism. He’s sick of constantly being treated and dissected like a traveler in some foreboding tale when his intentions, for the most part, are meant to be sweet.

I’m not sure how I feel about Chuck’s undying persistence to destroy his brother, but Jimmy does deserve comeuppance over what he did with the Mesa Verde files. The fact that Jimmy thought he could dance his way out of that was incredibly shortsighted and even adds insult after injury to assume Chuck should shrug it off. At the same time, I don’t think Chuck understands how hurt Jimmy is by this. The only way Chuck was able to get the upperhand here was by manipulating the love Jimmy has for him and you have to admit, it’s cold. To conclude though, in an episode that features various characters trying their best to navigate themselves into places they may or may not belong, it’s capped with Jimmy physically forcing his way into Chuck’s domain. And in a world of Chuck, there’s a special place waiting for Jimmy.
Things to note:

– The discussion of DMV vs. MVD in Francesca’s interview was included as a way to make up for a little writing snafu in Breaking Bad. In certain bits of dialogue, Saul and Hank use the term DMV, but New Mexico refers to it, quite traditionally, as Motor Vehicle Department. Jimmy stating (paraphrasing) “It will always be DMV for me” is in the same camp of the roof pizza getting an explanation for not being cut (“…they pass the savings on to you” – Badger). Innocent patchwork like this is fun and it reminds me of The Sopranos, having a character tell Tony in a later season, “A don never wears shorts” which was a common nitpick in reference to the pilot.

– I love that shot of the knapsack guy atop the culvert (bridge with three open drains). It felt like something out of Hitchcock or even Tim Burton by the way it looked like a toy model with a shrunken person walking on it.

Better Call Saul “Mabel” (S3E01)

It’s that time of the year again. It’s been a while since I wrote a reflection/review/analysis on anything but here we go!

“Mabel”

We start off with our third post-Breaking Bad flash-forward of Gene and I felt it was very telling to one of the mission statements of this season, being that this show is about to take a major and scary acceleration forward. “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra is the least apologetic tracks to open a season yet. It’s optimistic. Promising. It oozes change. Almost immediately, the Cinnabon is under the spell of a rapid time-lapse. After, Gene is shown reading The Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven which according to just a quick wikipedia synopsis is described as “a funny yet tragic tale, detailing everything from the loss of Niven’s father to his natural knowledge of how to lead a good life.” And I think this is a crisis similar to Gene’s, in that he has suffered a spectacular loss. Those he loves, his freedom, and most importantly his own identity. And judging by his sudden outburst after ratting out the kid in the photobooth, he’s fed up with who he’s become. He’s fed up with feeling sorry.

If I had a million dollars or ten
I’d give it to ya, world, and then
You’d go away and let me spend

This line pretty much sums it up for me. The world has put Jimmy/Saul/Gene in a place due to the consequences of the choices he’s made in his life, and Gene adheres to it because for the longest time he feels it’s deserved. He’s miserable and the world, just like the cop in this opening sequence, keeps telling him “nice job”. Nice job to staying in your place and doing what’s right. Right, right, right. Nice job for no longer flipping switches off when clearly instructed not to. Gene in this cold open has finally realized, and I believe spontaneously, that enough is enough. He’s Saul Goodman and there’s no way around it. And if there’s any indication that we are going to follow up on Gene sooner than usual, it’s that we end on a cliffhanger which has never happened in any of these flash-forwards. So whether we return to his collapse in the fashion of Breaking Bad’s second season or just once later in the season, we will undoubtedly get that follow-up before the season 4 premiere. Last season the opening title sequences introduced a singular drop into black and white but now it goes in and out three times.

“The Adventures of Mabel” (according to Vince Gilligan on Talking Saul, a tribute to what his mom read to him) offers us such a specially rich moment that’s free of any agenda from either side in the Chuck/Jimmy war, and that moment is so firmly rooted in nostalgia shared between siblings. Something of which, from my own experience with my sister, is something that’s almost inevitable not to get lost in, no matter how aware you are that it’s an escape from any pressing, underlying conflict. It’s warm, it’s bubbly, and even Chuck couldn’t resist it. My god, Michael Mckean’s face when he says “I read it to you”. The scales of resentment just fell in that brief moment and you witness a gleaming reminder that he’s a sucker in his love for Jimmy. However, as Tony Soprano would say, “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation” and I believe Chuck is in the similar mindset of that. It’s an unearned distraction. As soon as Jimmy begins to go to town (or Sugartown) on the nostalgia train, Chuck quickly brings it to a stop. The shift between a rare, sweet moment and his cold, deadpan “You will pay” is devastating and weirdly admirable all at once.

Many times throughout this episode I was surprised by how many tertiary characters played and contributed a larger role to the overall story. When I expected to see Mike meet up with Nacho in the dead of night, we instead are treated to the return of the veterinarian. When I expect to see Hamlin or possibly a police officer in Jimmy’s waiting room, we’re revealed Captain Bauer from last season’s “Fifi” (a confrontation that, thinking now, makes less sense if it didn’t happen). Paige from Mesa Verde unintentionally plants insecurity in Kim when describing the fallout of the botched hearing. Ernesto becomes more than just an errand boy but an important cog to Chuck’s plan. For an episode that stresses “the world”, I like that we’re getting such a fine spread of characters at play. Every piece matters. Nobody is beyond the realm of being affected by the main characters’ actions.

Speaking of the veterinarian, I like that moment where he’s concerned about the dog. You have to remember that Mike is a guy who last season hijacked a truck, got a good samaritan killed, and waited prone on a hill with a sniper rifle set to pick off the cartel. And for what? Now he’s caught up in a cat and mouse over a mysterious third party that’s tracking him. Concern for the dog serves on some level as a reminder for Mike to keep tabs on the good things. Not just the dog, but Stacey and Kaylee, rather than get swallowed by whatever this other stuff is. The way the episode ends with him driving off down a drizzling street, with the light turning green conveniently, and him just getting absorbed into this blurred destination. Perfect illustration of where his character is heading.

Meanwhile, the other vet has stopped by Jimmy’s place of work and man, whether it’s owed to the writing or from the performance, there’s something so endearing about Bauer, the Air Force Captain. This entire back and forth was thrilling.

Bauer is passionate. He’s not smug in his self-righteousness. There’s nothing strong-arming about him but he’s put in this unwanted position. There’s just honest, genuine good in him and even when he’s here to face off with this blatant fraud, scumbag of a lawyer who has made a mockery of the Captain’s hospitality, he does so with a sense of just needing to know, person to person, why Jimmy did this to him. He’s strong and he’s willing to do whatever he can to rectify the situation, but this is something you can tell truly hurts this guy. It’s so human and you can tell he’s just waiting for Jimmy to show some form of sincerity before he can move on. Anyway, fantastic actor. I’m glad his one-time appearance from last season provided the opportunity to deliver a scene like this. It really was unexpected. If anyone is deserving of giving an uptick in recruiting numbers, it surely would be a character like Captain Bauer! Odenkirk was awesome here too. As wrong as Jimmy is, I have to admire how unfazed he is when being called out. The way he suddenly blurts out “Always on your high horse…” was pretty much the reverse of him playing it straight in the cold open before blurting out “Say nothing, you understand! Get a lawyer!” The former is his true self on the offense, revealing a shred of conscience, while the latter is his false self, self-preserved, but then revealing what he truly believes in.

Kim obsessing over the punctuation is very appropriate in a case she doesn’t feel is earned. It reeks of Jimmy’s tampering. Whatever Chuck has planned, (and I love how much of a fog we’re in with that), it’s going to fall hard on Kim too. The look on Howard’s face while he listened to the tape, becoming lost in his own thought… you can tell Kim is more on his mind than Jimmy is. The tension between Howard and Kim last season was undeniably shaky. I can’t wait to see what transpires in regards to that. Even if it just means shedding more light on Howard’s character because personally, I find him very interesting.

As for Mike, I love how spooked he is. We’ve never seen him this spooked because he’s never dealt with someone so on top of their game, where they might as well be a ghost. In the season finale review, I mentioned how the universe is very present when the crickets stop and Mike’s car horn goes off within a vast, empty desert. The universe was very present in the season 2 finale of Breaking Bad as well. And Gus was just getting introduced, almost like a test to Walter from the heavens that if he follows up in the pursuit of this dark, criminal underworld, it’s going to be a point of no return. I love that gorgeous wide shot when Mike stops his car in the desert to check for the bug (those storm clouds with the pocket of light that’s pouring down, followed by another frame with a strike of lightning), as well as the time-lapse shot later on of Mike’s house, as if it’s teetering upon the Earth itself haha. Beautiful shot. Then of course, those long, silent scenes Mike gets throughout the episode. David Porter’s scoring…that snare drum when the car is getting taken apart…the mad dash out of the desert…I could go on forever.

Some notes:

– I like how Jimmy goes on an excited tangent about some neighbor girl who used to play in the dirt haha. It’s fitting too that he liked her and a proper spot for Chuck to interrupt. It also seemed fitting that Jimmy would have a red, knock-off, Daffy Duck-like night light that Chuck and family were worried would burn down the house.

– As you can tell, I’m of the opinion that Chuck intended for Ernesto to hear the tape knowing of Ernesto’s alliance with Jimmy. The triumphant flip of the tongs was the subtle tell. I still don’t know how that can help Chuck though, but I’m excited to find out. Regardless, it was tough to watch Ernesto initially getting screamed at. Poor guy.

– I’m guessing we’re going to be seeing Gus soon, but I like how the show is taking its time, allowing Mike to really earn the discovery. I hope the next episode follows suit because finding Gus should take some finesse. Don’t ruin the varnish in getting there.

Better Call Saul “Klick” Analysis (S2E10)

Excellent finale. Lots to talk about.

First off, I have to give credit where credit is due. I completely underestimated Jimmy and was wrong in assuming that he would leave Chuck helpless in that printing shop. The writers were very clever in setting that twist up. I guess in this last decade or so of following the anti-hero in drama, you feel confident in having the story down, especially when you know where the direction a character like Jimmy is heading towards. But wow, what a fresh and humanizing take on an anti-hero who was born from the same universe as Walter White. It was like an anti-Jane moment. I remember Mad Men did something similar in its final season where they kind of held up a middle finger to people who thought Don Draper (who I wouldn’t classify as an anti-hero anyway) would choose to be a “badass” in a certain moment when instead he responds to a situation in a completely unexpected way. It made for a better story and this is what I like to see experimented with here because it certainly helps in muddying the waters of what is currently the best sibling rivalry on tv.

This was mentioned in the commentary of season 1 but this show, much like its predecessor, likes to use the color red to signify that someone or something is bad. Nacho, Hector, the truck driver in the tracking shot, the receptionist at sandpiper, etc. are purposefully shown in red. Jimmy has been shown in red, whether it’s a shirt or a tie, and it’s especially prominent when he’s in a scene with Chuck. Ironically, as the show’s most universally despised character, Chuck is never shown in red. He’s more in the line of the blue treatment that Howard or Kim get. What I find interesting though is that the only thing that I believe is intentionally the color red for Chuck is the cushion for his piano seat. For a guy who puts so much stock into being good and upholding the law at all costs, where without sinking to Jimmy’s lows he’ll combat any injustice that Jimmy brings, he still carries this all out from a very bad place. Whether it’s from what happened with Rebecca, their father, their mother, etc. Chuck has held an unhealthy resentment towards his brother from so many things in his past to the point where it’s exhausting and toxic.

And while this cold open was another major seed to help us understand where Chuck is coming from, I couldn’t help but come out of it with the feeling of “enough already”. As bad as I felt for Chuck crying at his mother’s bedside, I feel like what occurs next may have been a giant misunderstanding. While it may have validated Chuck’s perspective in Jimmy always getting love and attention for being a screw-up, I like to think that she was calling out to Jimmy because she was proud of Chuck and knew he was going to be fine without her, whereas Jimmy, despite his charm, is the failed son. In the physical state she’s in, Jimmy could be on her mind like a bad itch. I think Chuck interpreted that wrong or at least is too committed to not see any other side to it and it’s probably the same case with Rebecca. Jimmy made some jokes which I agree were passive-aggressively at Chuck’s expense, even if done subconsciously, but you can just tell Chuck used his one poorly delivered joke as validation for the insecurity that he’s uncharming/boring and ran with it until there was nothing left of his marriage. At least that’s how I see it for now.

I described “Nailed” as Chuck’s nightmare but then this episode… My sympathies were with him throughout the entire hospital stay as it truly was hell to be put in his head space where even the people who are helping him are not on his side. The icing on the cake with Ernie covering for the ever-magnetic Jimmy was so typical on Chuck’s end. I was expecting the opposite but everything Ernie explains makes perfect sense and plus if we remember Ernie* in the flashback of “RICO”, he cheers for Jimmy to show it to those ‘upstair jackholes’ so there’s a special bond that at least Ernie holds towards Jimmy which goes back a long way. We haven’t had many funny moments like that from Ernie this season but his “I miss the mail room” had to be the most earned comedic line in the finale.

The tides change in this episode for me. Yes, Jimmy is a scumbag for doctoring the Mesa Verde files but there’s something about Chuck’s relentlessness of needing to steam-roll his brother that is so damn unlikable which I don’t think has anything to do with following Jimmy as our leading man. After the hell Chuck went through in the hospital and Ernie being the final say, the whole ordeal felt over and done with. Chuck simply failed and it’s not worth it to kill himself over this. I like that little moment in the garage where he looks up at the extension cord as if he might hang himself, but instead he does something just as unnecessary. I mean at the end of the day, Chuck is right that Jimmy has never changed so there’s a victory right there even if other people can’t see it and the worst that’s happened was he lost a client that he never really deserved (although I still support the attempt to retain that client) over a “professional embarrassment” of a supposed typo.

What happened to the Chuck earlier in this season that refused to roll around in the mud with Jimmy? What happened to Chuck’s belief that Jimmy will get what’s coming to him on his own? Many weeks back, I compared Chuck to a more level-headed General Jack D. Ripper, but now he’s fully set to initiate Plan R. At the same time, Chuck began this season with the intention to only bear witness to the direction Jimmy goes in but ended as a victim from just as bad of an attack that Jimmy started. Of course, then you can argue that just because Chuck operated within the law prior to that, doesn’t mean his actions were necessarily clean. That doesn’t excuse Jimmy’s actions but it makes for an interesting puzzle.

What makes me feel for Jimmy, the same way I was impressed of his act in the beginning of the episode, is that he downright confesses everything to Chuck out of genuine love and care for his brother’s state of mind which was never the intention to attack. What he did was wrong but he admits it, yet Chuck’s entire con here (which is superb) is based on manipulating the love and care that Jimmy has proven to possess after the act of coming to Chuck’s aid in the print shop. There’s something very cold about that even if Jimmy deserves to pay for what he did at his brother’s expense. If Chuck wants to have a falling out with his brother, then fine, it’s long deserved, but the fact that he’s going to use this to get Jimmy arrested or for blackmail…yeah not a fan of this decision but undeniably so open for debate. Knowing where the motivation for this stems from, I liked the final shot reading ‘personal portable tape recorder’, which is exactly what it is but it wouldbe personal wouldn’t it??

 

As for Mike. there’s two things you need to consider with his ending. On the one hand, it was such a brilliant twist that handled the Gus reveal with such subtlety. Only a show like this could build up the tension and anticipation of a trigger being pulled, only for it never to happen and the reason resulting in just as much of a punch. However, for a prequel or story that’s trying to stand on its own, you really need to know who Gus is in order to appreciate that ending. I mean other than it being a great, mysterious cliffhanger, what’s the story here for people down the road who may watch BCS first? What does it mean for Mike to see “Don’t” on his car without the context of Gus and for that to be his ending for the season? The only thing to take from it is that Mike’s story this year is about how he’s been dealing with the ripple effects of a half measure. Sniping out Hector, the cousins, etc. would have been a great resolve in making up for that but the “Don’t” almost operates like a higher power telling him he can walk away or as a defeat that he still has to live with what he’s started. If Mike views the good samaritan as being a repeat of his son’s death and he now has to obey a third party’s orders, then this is an extremely tough ending for him.

I always interpreted the teddy bear’s eye in the season 2 finale/season 3 of Breaking Bad as the universe being aware of Walt’s actions when it came to Jane, and I kind of got the same feeling here. We see that Mike has the perfect view/control of Hector and crew while looking through the scope (the shot where his eye is enlarged was a great way to illustrate this), but for some unknown entity to put the screws on Mike (to the point where the crickets stop briefly before it occurs) in a vast and open desert without him ever suspecting that an eye has been on him is similarly just as atmospheric. Especially how the “Don’t” sign almost comes off like the person responsible is aware of his entire dilemma. Also the fact that it’s Gus or someone under Gus’ orders, I can’t help but think of the burned teddy bear being somewhat of a mirror. It’s a vague connection but it’s stuff like that I have fun thinking about.

Some final notes:

-One final thing I’d like to add with the ending is it kind of echoes the beginning of this season with Jimmy stuck in the mall’s trash room. There, Gene refused to use the emergency exit to free himself but in order to free Chuck from a supposed tinfoil prison, Jimmy does use the emergency exit which puts him at incredible risk.

-This is unrelated to the episode but I popped in the dvd to pull the Ernie quote and never realized that when another guy says “Don’t forget us when you make it to the big time”, Jimmy responds “I don’t remember you now Bert”. Nice sesame street reference and I guess that’s why we never see Bert again because it would be too distracting if they were ever in more scenes together.

-Jimmy’s commercial was great and I liked that shot of Kim admiring it. Not a lot of Kim in this episode but at least she got her big moment that the season was building towards last week.

-Overall I’ve had fun reviewing this season and reading everybody else’s write-ups. Great season of television this was. I feel like I’m forgetting to go into something but god, time to end this post haha. There’s always room for more.