Better Call Saul “Gloves Off” Analysis (S2E04)

“Gloves Off” was written by Gordon Smith and directed by Adam Bernstein who were the same guys on last season’s “Five-O” and yeah another fucking awesome one, better shared with the Jimmy story too which I also thought was great. The one thing I kept thinking throughout the episode is the performances. Every little scene, these actors kill it every time. I loved watching Jimmy getting chewed out by the partners. I loved seeing Howard have an excuse to play the “bad guy” again when Kim is reprimanded. The conflict between Jimmy and Kim (being the only real reprucussion that Jimmy seems to understand), and then the strongest titular parallel of Mike’s story that climaxes with Jimmy/Chuck were all so wonderfully written, directed, acted, etc. Let’s take it step by step before I get to Mike haha.

First off, I know this is not Mad Men, but I love the office drama that the show offers. I want to see Davis & Main’s other partners get better developed throughout this season, other than Ed Begley Jr. kind of representing that front as a whole. Not saying that they need their own story or anything but just enough screen time to better distinguish who Jimmy’s pissing off when he screws up. That said, from what we got it was a great scene and was definitely something I was looking forward to after Cliff’s angry phone call last week.

Howard sending Kim down to the “corn field” last season was what the writers described in the commentary as the actual worst thing Howard did when you take away all the faux-antagonism you were lead to believe. So although I love the switch in perspective towards his character that is made at the end of season 1, I enjoyed here that he is still the boss and he’s going to be tough when necessary. One of my favorite scenes with him last season was when Kim was trying to figure out why Jimmy was turned away from HHM when the Sandpiper case was introduced. The line delivery of “…you KEEP it to yourself because I don’t care” is in my opinion one of most subtle underrated acting moments from last season (the whole scene). I remember worrying that Patrick Fabian might not get relevant screen time anymore due to the direction the show may be going, but he’s been used very well so far and this is just another reason why I’m happy the writers aren’t in any rush to leave everything behind.

Jimmy has some nerve to storm through the Chuck premises and demand that Kim gets a break, especially after Kim, pretty bluntly, asked him not to do that. Granted, Jimmy’s right. She didn’t know, but it’s Jimmy’s behavior through this scene that proves he’s not remorseful, let alone understands what he did wrong even after the partners had to spell it out for him. Up until now, the tension between Chuck and Jimmy has been subtley passive aggressive and you really feel it. Here, this episode reminded me of the fourth episode of Breaking Bad’s final season “Fifty-One” where Walt and Skyler finally step into that ring to address the major conflict in full. That’s what this was with all the subtext layed out on the table. Even when you think Jimmy is back-pedaling by offering Chuck water and an extra blanket, it ends up being a false sense of security before the first punch is thrown. (Also note that Chuck had another psychological episode after Jimmy screwed up)

Then there’s Mike! The cold open painted him in defeat so my first thought was “you should see the other guy” and if that wasn’t the case, I was pretty much preparing myself for something that can only be very hard to watch. What we got was a clever compromise and very original in execution. I loved the set up and that the writer’s wasted no time in revealing that the hit was Tuco, only adding to the “Mike’s not going to be successful” lead-on. Whenever there is a heist or mission that is introduced from the beginning, no matter how impossible, these writers know how to turn that crank in order to make everything absolutely plausible, believable, yet always surprising (something The Walking Dead can take some tips from). And Tuco wasn’t sent away rather than picked off because he’s immune from death, but because it made sense for what Mike’s willing to do and the argument of more Salamanca blood crawling out of the wood-work.

I loved seeing Lawson again. Jim Beaver and Jonathan Banks in the same room! Then Krazy-8 getting inspected by Tuco was great. I always kind of half-wished that Krazy-8 would become a character back in the day. I always liked that actor and felt you can probably get a lot of good stuff out of him if he was to be further developed. I’m grateful for the cameo we got here though. If all this crossover wasn’t already fun enough, I would never imagine that Jonathan Banks and Raymond Cruz would ever be in such an epic standoff together, let alone in a scene. Two of Walt’s adversaries colliding without making either character any less for what they’re capable of. The fact that Tuco knocked Mike out rang so true to that character and the idea that Mike had the balls to endure those blows in order to pull off the long con is exactly the only reason you would ever see Mike in such a state. Between the oblivious old man character he was playing, being completing unfazed by Tuco’s threats, and then taking the offensive by grabbing Tuco like a bear trap, my god. Everything about that scene was perfect.

The final scene with Mike and Nacho was so good. How ghoulish was that final shot? Nacho mentions that Mike will be a ‘ghost’ in regards to the original plan, but Mike still managed to disapparate into the darkness with what he ended up doing. I wonder if the wind picking up all that sand was a happy accident that was taken advantage of or if it was written in. All I know is that when I saw Mike peel out, I was thinking “please cut…please cut…please cut…” for the very moment when the dust wipes across the screen. I actually cheered from a director’s standpoint for how good that turned out.

Some afterthoughts:

-I liked that we learned with so little words of Mike’s history in Vietnam.

-Last week when Jimmy was watching Ice Station Zebra, he kept asking questions for how the story will turn out. This is exactly his character in a nut shell. Always wanting the shortcuts, without experiencing it properly. Then when he returns he asks if he missed anything (anything blow up?) which is pretty much the cherry on top.

– Any Curb Your Enthusiasm fans here? I’m so glad Alan Sepinwall requested this:

Better Call Saul “Amarillo” Analysis (S2E03)

Yeah I was definitely thinking Gus throughout that ending. Between the “Cautious guy, aren’t you?” and the silhouette teasing, Gus pretty much was in that scene until they reveal he wasn’t. I’m glad it wasn’t him though for reasons everybody said, but I was also relieved because Nacho (or Ignacio) and the cartel has been hinted to play a very important role in this series and it’s better to build on that. I keep trying to watch without the BB goggles because I always assume it must be weird for people to watch this show first and see a show about Jimmy, his brother Chuck, his colleague Kim, and….the toll booth guy. Even in Breaking Bad, a character like Mike was introduced as a wink that stayed behind the curtain. For most of season 3, his character is shown but he’s ominous and he doesn’t even truly reveal himself until those last 2 episodes, Here though he’s been put at the forefront and other than being a familiar face for 90% of the audience who have experienced him in full grace, I keep asking why?

For one, this isn’t BB. Walt’s story of climbing into the world of criminality is different from Jimmy’s and because of that, it’s going to present itself differently. I really wish I can experience the show blind but from what I can appreciate, the wise well-meaning ‘tough but fair’ toll booth guy who helped Jimmy out of the Nacho situation with the Kettlemans in season one episode 3, is the same guy who is eventually going to pull Jimmy back into the Nacho conflict. From a storytelling standpoint, there’s something devastating about that. Other than us wanting Jimmy to do good and the notion that Jimmy is destined for this road through as Chuck would say “being who he truly is”, the last thing we need is Mike calling on Jimmy for favors. The cliffhanger of seeing Nacho shouldn’t just make us go “oh who’s Mike going to have to kill?” but after the whole squat cobbler dance, it’s also “shit, Jimmy’s going to get mixed up with this guy again”. Things are getting hot.

And man, what a payoff with Cliff. I think what made that angry phone call more anxiety-ridden was that he was presented last week (seemingly through Jimmy’s eyes) as a loose, guitar-plucking, turn-over that can be taken advantage of. Jimmy flipped his switch thinking nothing would happen, but wow. I didn’t know how to feel about his character last week. He came off like there was going to be some budding relationship between the two, like the brother Jimmy never had, and perhaps Jimmy might corrupt him or something since he’s so easy-going but man, what a turn. This will be a lot more fun. Ed Begley Jr. is going to be great.

I loved the commercial stuff, not just as sort of an origin story behind the eccentric Saul commercials that will come to be, but I just love that this lawyer show tackled those incredibly boring law firm commercials that run throughout the day. I also liked that they brought those film students back (glasses guy referred to as Kid Kubrick on the dvd commentary). What I found so funny is I think Jimmy McGill is the first character in television to ever call out the snobby “that’s going to cost you extra” camera guy character. Usually that stereotype always gets the better of the protagonist but Jimmy’s well-delivered “Does anyone like you?” was so rewarding.

Other than that, I enjoyed Chuck putting Jimmy in his place in the beginning. Chuck’s presence adds so much tension and is an added challenge to a character that on his own would be invincible with a fully functioning law firm at his disposal. I’m really glad Kim put her role in vouching for Jimmy into perspective for him too. As for Mike’s story with Stacey, there’s something up about that. We see that nothing came from Mike’s little stake-out in terms of the supposed gunshots, but perhaps that “bullet mark” was there previously when gunfire actually did go off and was only noticed now? Or is Stacey just playing Mike? It’s never really answered, but it’s got me interested.

Oh and yeah the pig toy I recognized right away and it was cool how they used it in the shot when the veterinarian calls about some “next level work”.

By the way, I was going to mention this last week, but I notice we’re getting the same title sequences as last season except now midway it cuts into black and white for a good few seconds. Are Gene’s VHS tapes aging/has a bad hookup? It’s definitely a recurring thing. I wonder if it’s alluding to eventually seeing more of Gene in the present or something.

Better Call Saul “Cobbler” Analysis (S2E02)

I watched the first episode again last night before the second and I just want to say the wood aesthetic of the new firm gives me a twin peaks vibe, but even more than that, I’m picking up on this ‘monkey with a machine gun in his new habitat’ vibe. It’s a new subtle jungle gym and even Jimmy’s fire place comes off like it was specially made for a zoo exhibit. Not that an animal would need one, but there’s something very brute and obtrusive about it, yet it fits the environment of that office.

I wish I could find a framegrab of the opening shot with the metronome because (not that I’m saying this was the intention, this is just the crazy feeling I got) but the wooden decorative ridges on the piano stand (at this point I thought we were back in Davis & Main) looked like….a monkey’s tail haha and then the metronome next to it reminded me of Walt’s machine gun. Again, not commenting on symbolism or intention, it’s obviously vague but just the feeling/thought that sparked from that shot as soon as I saw it. It would in turn relate to what Chuck’s feeling throughout that whole scene. The reveal that we’re with him and he’s playing “Sicilienne” on the piano was good. This is a piece that is actually intended to be played by two people, one being on piano and the other on cello, so it was pretty fitting that Chuck would want to play that on his own.

This episode was really strong and I love what we’re getting so far. Just like in breaking bad you get these episode titles where you don’t know what the context could possibly be and by the end of the episode you’ll never forget it. It sneaks up on you too whether it’s in last week’s “switch” or a more specific title like “cobbler”. I knew this was going to be one of those episodes but even with 10 minutes left, I couldn’t tell you how it was going to work it’s way in. I love how the action is in Saul’s mouth during that scene. I actually stood up in involuntarily as if I was watching a shootout, but all it is, was just Saul killing it.

Mike and Nacho’s standoff was really good. I love how Mike plays Nacho the same way Nacho would play Price, but at the same time Nacho holds his own so it just makes it all the more fun to watch. Michael Mando is great here and I even loved his calm vocal delivery of “he thinks you should go somewhere else” (paraphrasing) while being physically blunt and intimidating behind the boss’s back in the same line. I love that this show can offer breaking bad-esque confrontations like this and then give us very well-played boardroom drama at HHM between Chuck and Jimmy. That anxiety and battle of encouragement between Chuck and Kim. Just really heavy stuff.

Better Call Saul “Switch” Analysis (S2E01)

*I will be editing these earlier write-ups in order to provide a more in-depth analysis of the episode.  The format and structure from the latter half of these review submissions is the more concise quality that I will be aiming for when I give the final edit.  In the meantime, this is just a rough draft that’s only here as a placeholder.*

I really love that they incorporated Ken into the story rather than just give a wink too because now if you watched saul as a prequel series, Walt blowing his car up in breaking bad will just have that added humor that Ken is getting screwed with again rather than just being “oh i guess that brief cut to the random annoying guy was an easter egg who will eventually gets what’s coming to him here in BB. I’m also glad that they wrote him as intelligent and more human when Jimmy and Kim approach him. Other than that, such a fun and unexpected character to see again and it brought us such a sweet moment between Jimmy and Kim. That look before they kiss was so well acted. You can’t write that.

Great premiere. Mere minutes before the episode started, the thought crossed my mind whether the cold open would be a flash-forward again and then all of a sudden there we were and it was a strong way to kick things off. The slow push in towards the wall of graffiti and the “sg was here” was delightfully ‘lilly of the valley-esque’. I loved the switch ending and how it contrasted with the cold open. Jimmy has no problem drinking cucumber water from the spout and disobeying warning signs. He’s finding no obvious consequences to it which will probably not bode well for him in this series, let alone for where we know breaking bad gets him. I mean how bad will things get to the point of never seeing Chuck or Kim ever again?

Price is a guy who doesn’t realize the foolish choices he was making and the warning sign he ignores, given by Mike, was a lot more blatant and clear. Then to call the police upon himself, he pretty much figuratively breezed straight through cold open’s emergency exit without realizing the risk.

Like I said earlier in this thread, after watching season 1 again on dvd (and also again to show my sister), I’ve come to really look forward to the entire cast of characters rather than depending on the familiar ones. So a nice Kim/Jimmy-centric episode with them just having fun together was very charming and enjoyable.

This episode was dedicated to Todd Sopher who passed away back in October. He was a teamster on both shows and played the big guy who high fives during the “yeah bitch! magnets!” scene. He also was on BCS in “Bingo” as the guy who bumps Saul in the small bathroom when he’s calling Kim about the Kettleman’s. RIP