Category Archives: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul “Expenses” (S3E07)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some technical stuff to note:

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

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Off Brand” (S3E06)

“To new beginnings…”

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

The small moment of Nacho losing control of the needle told so much. The dangerous life he leads is starting to bleed and intertwine into his closest retreat of a safe haven. Nacho holds up a stern, cool, front as Hector’s operative, even with a gun pointed in his face, but my word… that expression when he’s walking away, unlike from an explosion unflinchingly, but instead a desperate elicitation of “I don’t want to be here”/”I don’t want to be doing this”. I believe Nacho is a guy who has no problem being a criminal and being part of a criminal organization, but despite being a ‘tough’ when he has to be, he doesn’t prefer it. He’s not Jesse Pinkman, but he does have humanity in him. I imagine when he was in the presence of Tyrus and Victor, he saw himself in them. He was among true peers in that moment, those of whom are smart and no-nonsense working for a much more well-collected, level-headed, business man. And yet, they’re unfortunately enemies. I don’t doubt that if the opportunity ever presented itself possible, Nacho would want to work for a guy like Gus, where things run smoothly. Now that Hector is grossly and inconsiderately trying to invade Nacho’s personal life, the options of fight or flight seem incredibly imminent.

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

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

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

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

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

Other stuff:

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Chicanery” (S3E05)

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

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

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

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

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

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

More things of interest:

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

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Sabrosito” (S3E04)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other stuff to note:

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

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

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

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

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

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.