Better Call Saul “Something Unforgivable” (S5E10)

“Or…or…or…”

Better Call Saul is an interesting show in that it follows Breaking Bad’s beat by beat consequential nature but also puts more emphasis on choice in a show that’s tasked with a wider scope of storylines. It would be easy to write the hellish conclusion for every character here solely with the Lalo storm cloud hanging above in mind so that the plot pieces fit nice and snug with Breaking Bad, but this particular show breathes. It’s less chugging along to the beat of one character’s drum like the story of Walter White and more about becoming fulfilled with independent brush strokes derived from the individuality of each character. Like the opening shot of Kim peering out the apartment peephole, we only have a fixed view within a fixed point in time to get an idea where they’re coming from. Every character is integral to the overall story of Jimmy McGill, but they don’t necessarily exist in service to it. That’s not to say Breaking Bad’s supporting characters weren’t their own, but that the story was more bombastic and the characters were positioned to take cover from the explosive choices of one character.  Better Call Saul is the more proactive ensemble in which they duck and weave from the choices made by the many.  This makes the concept of a prequel much more of a higher achievement as it pushes itself closer to the end because the story of Jimmy becoming Saul Goodman is still very much important.

“Something Unforgivable” starts off with Saul and Kim in the aftermath of being cornered by the dangerous Lalo. We are shown the cold, sterile hallway of the apartment complex as Kim peers out the peephole. Almost looks like the hallway to a cell block or at least emits the feeling of one. Lalo may have departed but the lack of freedom they feel in this moment unquestionably lingers.  After Saul finally fills Kim in on the deadly details from his trip to the border, they decide to hole themselves up in a hotel.  This is a sharp swerve off the bad choice road which Saul had already knew he was on.  It’s for the rest of the episode he’s tasked with how to move forward. It’s one thing that he’s been struggling with PTSD but Kim is most definitely now involved in the world that brought that on. Is he bad for Kim? Will he prevent himself from crossing the next line? Is Kim safe so long as they stay together? These are the questions that hang in the balance and are readily addressed throughout this season finale.

Is Saul bad for Kim? From the audience’s perspective, it wouldn’t be the most unreasonable conclusion to say yes. At this point in the show, mostly every rock of what makes Jimmy McGill tick has been lifted. We know this guy very well and we have the luxury to know where he ends up so the second question of whether he can keep himself from crossing the next line is no mystery. Chuck once compared Jimmy to an alcoholic who can’t help himself. The PTSD from the desert shootout and the Lalo standoff may very well serve as a bad hangover to make him say “never again”, but give it a week and his next bender is likely underway. What’s sad is part of Jimmy deep down wants to change but he has no idea how he’d live any differently.  It’s always been the tragedy to who he is in which he accepts. What goes on inside him is immovable but what’s most intriguing in this hour is the hard external decision he is willing to make based from genuine love.  It’s hard to accept as a fan of Kim and Jimmy’s relationship, but did you pick up on what Jimmy’s next move was after getting assurance from Mike that Lalo won’t be a problem anymore?

The dread is undeniable in that hotel room as Jimmy sheepishly leans towards the notion of going home without enthusiasm.  Earlier he used the perks of the hotel’s services as bait to keep Kim in place. Being no dummy, Kim caught on to this quick which she contests because it’s not in her DNA to live in fear. It’s likely the reason she inquires about more challenging PD overflow from a fellow cohort as soon as she gets back to work.  Taking on felony cases might be a way of honing her skills, assimilating herself in a world of real hard crime, and giving herself a chance to understand the possible future of Jimmy and the company he keeps. It wouldn’t be the first time she used her choice in case work as a therapeutic endeavor. It also would bring more law enforcement in her orbit as a security measure.  Ultimately, Kim is trying to put herself in a better position both mentally and physically to ensure her future with Jimmy is more endurable. Again, genuine love on display here.

When the going gets rough, Kim’s love for Jimmy drives her to move necessary pieces around in the efforts to stick by him. Upon reassurance that the threat of Lalo has absolved, she’s gunning for a dinner date, happy as a clam, and inviting Jimmy to enjoy every splendor their wild ride has landed them amidst the settled dust. However, Jimmy’s love in this instance pushes him to take accountability for what the rest of their road has in store even when the consequences of his recent choices have seemingly subsided. This is noteworthy because usually Jimmy shares the mindset that as long as everything worked out in the end, there’s nothing to worry about.  This is growth.  As devastating as it is, Jimmy wants to go home because it will be an easier setting to end the relationship. It’s never said, but you can feel it.  For him, fun is fun, but if he’s to carry on the way he does which he knows he will, there is no happy ending for Kim so long as they’re together. Jimmy may be stubborn to change within, but it’s impressive that he’s capable of making such a selfless, heartbreaking choice to protect someone he loves.  In a parallel universe, I believe Jimmy went through with this.  Kim could have easily been on the same page, understanding how close they came to chaos and agreed to go home leading to a split but as mentioned above, this is a show brimming with independent brush strokes.

Whereas Jimmy met with Mike privately under the desperate motive to weigh what the plot’s impact (being Lalo) has on Kim’s safety, Howard met with Kim privately to weigh what Jimmy’s influence as a character has on her.  If the encounter with Lalo didn’t scare her off, Howard’s tales of bowling balls and prostitutes are laughably trivial in comparison. Despite Howard’s best intentions for Kim, she simply does not like him and they have shaky history.  Howard may be right that Jimmy is unhinged, in pain, and in a whirlwind of impending trouble, but like Chuck’s reservations, it’s how he goes about presenting these truths.  The white-knighted, politically correct delivery of his concerns that Jimmy may be responsible for her resigning from S&C and dropping Mesa Verde are one thing but the notion that Kim isn’t an adult capable of making her own decisions is what’s most insulting to her. It’s probably more irritating coming from the guy who told her off back in season 1’s “Pimento”:

“You want to know what I believe? I believe that you’re way out of your depth in this matter. So the next time you want to come in here and tell me what I’m doing wrong, you are welcome to keep it to yourself. Because I don’t care.”

Howard

Under Chuck’s influence, Howard has always been infected with a pre-determined outlook on who Jimmy is. That’s not to say he didn’t have his own opinion of Jimmy being the go-getting Charlie Hustle who had potential to be better than what his brother made him out to be, but he was nonetheless infected.  Howard was in a tough spot with Chuck, so part of me doesn’t blame him, but how can Kim trust him? Howard will always carry that stink of judgement on Jimmy which was casted by Chuck.  It’s too late for Howard to make up for his involvement in the messy McGill wars, but as a boss to Kim, there was mental abuse at times and that’s something which could have been avoided.  It may have been few and far between but when Howard snubs Kim throughout an entire walk from the office to the boardroom or keeps her in document review as over-extended punishment or talks down to her like a little girl who’s in way over her head, that’s not something to be forgotten regardless of what he feels she may or may not deserve.  He has always rubbed her the wrong way and it’s that bias which unfortunately contributes to his concerns of Jimmy falling on deaf ears.

But maybe it’s not Jimmy we should be worried about. Jimmy has been swimming in self-reflection this hour and was arguably on the brink of breaking up with Kim for her own good. However, Kim makes her own choice born from who she is, being someone who does not need to be saved. She reels Jimmy back in, despite his struggle, and inflates him with ideas on how to continue sabotaging Howard. The more petty pranks she brainstorms, the more Jimmy perks up out of his funk. How can Jimmy leave such an unique partner who empathizes and understands him so profoundly? They are inseparable and although Jimmy was unable to bring himself to cut things off, it’s nothing to be sneezed at in that he’s gaining foresight from his own behavior.

“You know who really knew Jimmy? Chuck…”

Howard’s last sentiment to Kim lands hard as an awfully thought-provoking point in how knowing someone well or claiming to doesn’t mean you have an extensive view of all possible avenues. But for Kim, that’s life and Howard playing the Chuck card to suggest she doesn’t know what she’s talking about only drudges up memories of Howard holding the keys to the McGill castle and punishing her for ever getting involved since the beginning. What could have been a fair heeded warning, becomes a declaration of her own war with Howard, pushing her to devise a more diabolical plan against him. When Kim suggests to Jimmy that they can get Howard disbarred for misconduct by framing him to misappropriate funds or witness bribery from the Sandpiper case, it’s Jimmy who dons the moral compass thinking it’s going too far. Doing so however would grant them astronomical rewards as Jimmy would receive 20% of the common fund equating to $2 million. The Sandpiper Crossing clients would get paid a hefty sum which they can begin spending now before it’s too late. Kim argues every angle that’s it’s all in trade for one career setback for one lawyer who they don’t even like.

This plan, if followed through with, will be the worst thing Kim has ever done. It feels like we’re missing a piece of who she is in this moment which is what seems to worry Saul the most. It’s appropriate that she’s wearing her Kansas City Royals shirt in the final scene.  This shirt has always served as a curious reminder that we don’t know her full story.  There’s a mystery that surrounds her past to explain the enigma for why she’s so heavily drawn to the misbehavior of Saul. It makes you wonder who the real chimp with a machine gun actually is between the two. She seems to be an entirely different animal who’s better at masking this side to herself. Some might interpret that Kim has become fully corrupted in this episode but who’s to say she’s been suppressing her true self all along the same way Jimmy has attempted to suppress Slippin’ Jimmy. Who is the bad influence on who? Kim’s sleek whip-around slinging imaginary handguns mirrors season 4’s final scene when Jimmy’s turn to become Saul completely sideswipes her. The action here however isn’t just a mere two finger point, but she’s firing shots and blowing each barrel. Does this symbolize her being the more reckless influence in contribution to Jimmy’s transformation going forward? Perhaps she’s not so much collateral damage to Saul’s actions than he is to hers.

In an episode full of character choice exploration, the Nacho subplot complements Kim and Jimmy’s by being a story about having no choice. Nacho has been pulled in every direction this season as a pawn between Gus and Lalo. Under the threat of death for him and his father, Nacho has been forced to commit acts he otherwise would never fathom committing.  Saving the cocaine stash from a building crawling with DEA agents, burning down Fring’s restaurant, and now being ponied up to Don Eladio as the leader of the Salamanca territory north of the border, he’s fallen farther and farther down the hole he’s desperate to escape from.

When being interviewed by Eladio, Nacho takes Lalo’s advice and is honest when asked what he wants. Respect and the ability to make his own decisions without having to look over his shoulder. Can Nacho ever achieve this when his fate is so tightly sealed? Don Eladio points out that if he wants to have any of that, he’s in the wrong business.  On top of that, he’s already been guilted by his father to take responsibility for his actions. Running is cowardice. He can’t escape the business and he can’t get what he wants from the business. Regardless of where he ends up by the end of Better Call Saul, the best we can hope for is Nacho gaining the ability to make a choice greater than himself, unfazed by the criminal underworld’s storm cloud. Obviously his father is the most important factor to him here, but if Nacho is to go down, it would be cathartic if it was on his own terms. Less flight and more fight.

Nacho is appointed as the man on the inside of Lalo’s Chihuahua compound for Gus’ assassination mission. When Gus’ hired squad of assassins contact him, Nacho tries to argue for the safety of the innocent folks who reside within the compound, but he’s ignored which raises the severity of his actions by allowing them inside. Again, he’s forced to make a bold, morally-compromising choice but it’s the only way to be rid of Lalo for good. Nacho is a tool, not a person in this damning scenario. What’s interesting is when pushed into a corner, Nacho is capable of taking on incredibly daring action like starting a grease fire in the kitchen to distract Lalo. We know he’s capable of taking control of his life if ever given the chance, whether he deserves to at this point or not.

After some intense difficulty, Nacho has definitively betrayed Lalo upon opening the gate for the hitmen.  There’s no turning back from this as he disappears into the night. Gus has informed Mike that these hitmen are the best in their business.  Mike informs Jimmy that Lalo will be dead come tomorrow. Jimmy tells Kim the Lalo ordeal is over. What Gus underestimates about Lalo is that he is a ferocious wild card. It’s insane what unfolds in the compound from here and what it means for the entire Better Call Saul universe. A secret bathtub escape hatch?  This is an hour of television that stresses the idea of limited perspective both for character and plot. Even a man like Gus who has eyes on everything cannot foresee every hurdle. This bathtub is the plot equivalent of Kim’s finger guns. Something that just shockingly reveals itself. Is this hinting at our own limited perspective of the Breaking Bad universe? Is it possible for characters like Kim, Howard, Nacho or even Lalo to exist behind the scenes of Walt’s story? No…right? Nah… Maybe?

Because after Lalo subdues every assassin and forces the last survivor to call and tell Gus “mission successful”, Lalo not only holds all the cards for all of these characters’ fates (Gus being completely none-the-wiser), but he’s furious, especially after having seen his people, including Yolanda the cook, slaughtered. With Nacho nowhere to be seen, Lalo knows he’s been betrayed.  The first thing Lalo is going to do is track Nacho down and once he gets a hold of him, he’ll likely make Nacho reveal every detail that lead up to this massacre through torture.  That includes the true story of Saul Goodman’s involvement which Kim had previously vouched for at the end of “Bad Choice Road”. If it wasn’t for Kim, Lalo wouldn’t have pulled the trigger on trusting Nacho and setting up a meeting with Don Eladio to cement that trust.  This is so deeply personal now and nobody is safe. Not even Howard who will be the focus in Kim and Saul’s world before it comes crashing down.  As if blowback from the attempt on Howard’s career isn’t scary enough, the unpredictable force of nature that is Lalo Salamanca is coming.

“No it wasn’t me, it was Ignacio! He’s the one!”

One more thing to note:

Jimmy makes an effort to not have mint chocolate chip ice cream towards the end of the episode echoing the one he dropped earlier in the season which got covered in ants. That ice cream represents the point of no return brought on by his choices and the contamination of Jimmy McGill’s soul.  Perhaps choosing a different flavor can be seen as a fresh start or simply a way of putting his bad choices (past, present, and future) out of his mind.

What did you guys think?

What Are We Chasing (Or Running From) When Consuming Entertainment?

The main hope when consuming entertainment is for our imaginations to be captured. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are cinematically moving shows where every small action is consequential. The Simpsons is an absurdly flexible playground rooted in character and emotion. 2001: A Space Odyssey shows us how both eerily insignificant and significant our bizarre existence is all at once. And Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 remake provides the most addicting gameplay loop on how to fly around an entire city on a flat board with four wheels without cracking your pelvis in real life.

But then we watch more. Play more. Listen more. We want more sequels and more works provided by our favorite directors, writers, and artists. We want to build our libraries and be a part of the conversation, whether it’s about the new thing or the old thing. Some, like me, will write blogs or reviews on their favorite stuff purely because we want to (without pay!) and then hang it up on a figurative refrigerator with a figurative magnet so we can tilt our chairs from across the figurative kitchen and say “I did that.” (The chair is the only real thing in this scenario). Do we crave validation? Is it an ego thing? Maybe.

Most of the time, we don’t even know what we want in entertainment. Often, we’re chasing what we’re already used to. More quirky characters who got themselves in a jam. More shootouts. More deliberately paced think-pieces. More trippy atmospheres. We rely on creators to recapture and expand on our past loves or to hopefully innovate and show us something new to obsess over. Even with all the great content being generated across all mediums, it’s few and far between that you’re going to get the same fix you had from Mad Men, Mulholland Drive, or God of War.

It’s our duty though as media lovers to be open-minded and keep consuming until we become enamored by that next favorite. It’s quite the conundrum. Until then, the many commercial and critical hits we absorb will only result in us revisiting our core favorites regardless of the outside works we deeply admire. It’s a cycle I find myself always doing where the lesson taught is ‘patience’. You don’t need to experience everything. It’s good to, but don’t burden yourself as if you’re obligated. Not everyone is running a business on the matter. Part of entertainment is filling a void and escaping reality for a bit. Feel free to step out of the dump truck once in a while. Because if you’re taking entertainment too seriously, then you would hope you can apply what you’ve taken away from it to enrich your life beyond that void.

In recent video game news, Sony greenlit a remake of 2013’s The Last of Us and cancelled the prospects of a sequel to 2019’s Days Gone, two games that immerses a player in a post-apocalyptic world. Many fans, non-fans, and media heads across the gaming sphere are upset. But why? This is the cat-and-mouse nature of the entertainment consumption process. On the one hand, Sony is future-proofing one of its most critical darling properties. Am I going to play a remake of The Last of Us? I have no conceivable plan to but I understand the effort to preserve the feeling a beloved piece of entertainment gave me, regardless of how soon and desperate the manner in doing so is.

Desperation goes both ways for provider and consumer in the vicious cycle of satisfying our hearts and minds. Does Days Gone need a sequel? It sold incredibly well but other than the wacky, sequel-baiting twist at the end of the game, I’m not surprised Sony wasn’t won over by Bend Studio’s pitch. I liked Days Gone. I platinumed it. Beyond that, Deacon’s story was told and what more is there to explore? How big do the zombie hordes have to get to outdo itself? (If there’s more zombies than what we got at the Saw Mill, then I’d rather just get bit.) How ‘out there’ does the mythology have to become to justify another installment? Mainly, why does everything have to become a franchise? Are we just as desperate and pathetic for prolonging an IP as Sony is in preserving one? That last question goes for all forms of entertainment.

I wish the best for Bend Studio. I hope the cancellation of a sequel means they can work on their next great thing because they surely have a talented development team who has earned the right to do so. My advice for those who want more Days Gone? Go play Days Gone. Be grateful it exists. In the meantime, when the universe closes a door, it opens another. And then there’s a long hallway. Hopefully leading to another room with a chair I can sit in.

What’s my point again?

Top 7 Simpsons Episodes of Season 3

Ah,  season 3.

The debut for showrunners Al Jean & Mike Reiss churning out 24 glorious episodes spanning from September 19th, 1991 to August 27th, 1992.  It’s a crime to dismiss the rest of the season’s installments.  So many series favorites come to mind and may very well only be excluded due to writer’s block.  If it were up to me, I’d rank and review the entire season, but sometimes we must kill our darlings in order to make a random Top 7 list.  Enjoy!

7. “Lisa’s Pony” (Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss)

It’s every little girl’s dream to have her own pony.  At least that’s how the generalization goes, but what if The Simpsons took that cliche’ and ran with it to explore the physical and economical toll it would have on the father providing for it?  Lisa, starved of the support of a present father figure is disappointed once again when Homer fails to retrieve a saxaphone reed in time for her recital.   Her cynicism however is flipped to pure childhood bliss when she’s given a pony as a grand apologetic gesture.  The premise is ‘out there’ for so early in the show’s run, but its the emotional resonance which keeps it glued together.  What seems like a quick fix exercise in parenting from Homer, becomes an extraordinary example of the commitment he’s willing to endure (working a second job at the Kwik-E-Mart) just to uphold his daughter’s happiness.  In the end, it’s Lisa who meets Homer’s sense of willpower by admitting “there’s a big, dumb animal I love even more than that horse…”

“Oh no, what is it, a hippopotamus?” – Homer

*This episode won Dan Castellaneta the Emmy for ‘Outstanding Voice-Over Performance’

6. “Dog of Death” (Written by John Swartzwelder)

Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for dogs like anyone else, but out of all of season 3’s episodes, this one always jumps out at me.  The Simpsons family dog, getting his key introduction in the pilot “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”, became a gleaming symbol for the love and gratitude shared as the family continued to live paycheck to paycheck with a colorful, down-but-not-out optimism.  If the pilot was about being grateful for the riches you have or find in life, season 3’s “Dog of Death” is a story of how complacent we can get when carrying that appreciation forward.  The best aspect to this episode as Santa’s Little Helper faces imminent death is the balance between cynicism and sincere emotion.

Writer John Swartzwelder holds back no punches whether it’s Mr. Burns literally bopping SLH in the face to make him a fiercer attack dog or if Bart, SLH’s number one defender, calls his beloved pet a “dumb dog” with utter contempt due to the misfortune brought on the family in the effort to pay for the dog’s surgery.  This is not a fluff piece on whether or not the dog will survive by episode’s end, but of what happens if he did survive after considerable sacrifice.  That said, there are moments found in this episode that are quite special and real for anyone who has had to deal with a dying pet and one I’ve found especially reassuring after losing my childhood wheaten terrier, Mickey.

5. “Burns Verkaufen Der Kraftwerk” (Written by Jon Vitti)

Many people refer to this episode as the one that gave us the famous ‘Land of Chocolate’ sequence, as it should, but for me, the first associative image I have is what shortly follows: A can of carrot cat food whizzing miserably as it rotates slowly in an electric can opener, followed by Marge walking through the kitchen door with her beehive hairdo split in two.  The ‘Land of Chocolate’ fantasy helps to enhance this moment as it whisks both Homer and the audience into a playful fantasy before completely gutting you when Homer is fired from the nuclear plant and the family is forced to improvise their penny pinching (back when Homer being fired actually had some punch).  This is a result from Mr. Burns’ depression which leads him to sell the plant to a snug and friendly consortium of German businessmen, whom despite their easy-going nature, find no use for Homer’s continued employment as safety inspector.  Not to mention the extra sting that prior to this, Homer impulsively sold his company stock for a measly $25 (spent on beer) unaware it was set to skyrocket to $5,200.

What ties “Burns Verkaufen Der Kraftwerk” together in a very interesting way is that Homer’s termination happens for all the right reasons and him losing money on the stock is completely derived from his own carelessness, but also his naivety.  You still feel immense sympathy for him and yet, you also feel bad for Burns when Homer, Bart, and Moe’s barflies throw Burns’ depression back into his face, taunting “Nobody loves you” and reiterating how money doesn’t bring you happiness.  Sure, Mr. Burns is an entitled, filthy rich man who only wants to open new opportunities to raise terror in his fellow man, but he absorbs every blow in this moment, considerably, with absolute defeat.

It’s amazing how Homer and Mr. Burns couldn’t be any more repelled from one another as characters, yet they oddly need each other.  This is an episode I believe winks as a potential set-up for an idea that could have been in a future final Simpsons season, as Burns buys the plant back and vows to employ the man who sassed him in the bar, only to make him feel safe and secure throughout the years, before bringing the hammer down when it’s least expected.  If it wasn’t for Burns’ increased senility and forgetfulness over the show’s run, I have no doubt Burns would follow through.

4. “Bart the Murderer” (Written by John Swartzwelder)

“Fat Tony is a cancer on this fair city.  He is the cancer and I am the…uh…what cures cancer?” – Chief Wiggum

Stupid cops.  Stupid criminals.  Stupid everybody.  “Bart the Murderer” is once again a Swartzwelder jamboree of thrilling absurdism, being one of the earlier installments to really test the foundations of the Simpsons universe’s flexibility.  It’s the introduction of Fat Tony’s mafia and a humorous exhibition of Springfield’s criminal underbelly with Bart caught in the center.  The very heart of its comedy derives from Bart’s routine day-to-day serving as comic foil, doing no favors in steering him towards any hopeful direction regardless of his relentless optimism.  The first act break shows him falling face first into a mafia syndicate’s headquarters and the second act demonstrates, through his own obliviousness, how much Bart fits into this dark world as he mixes drinks, busses tables, and helps confine their operation. 

As the police and opposing mob members tighten the noose on Fat Tony, Principal Skinner proves to be another problem on the mafia’s laundry list by keeping Bart late after school.  It’s when Skinner goes missing where Bart must come to terms with the bizarre company he keeps.  This episode helps us see that it’s Bart’s own guilty conscience instilled by his day-to-day upbringing which may some day save him regardless of where the monotonous chicanery of Springfield Elementary or the incompetence of lawful authority pushes or pulls him.  And if Bart were to find himself before a court on trial for murder, Skinner himself may come busting through the door to tell the most pathetic story imaginable on how a lifetime of exercising seemingly useless knowledge and mundane patience can be the very key to one’s freedom.

3. “Black Widower” (Written by Sam Simon & Thomas Chastain)

Depending on how you look at it, the best Sideshow Bob episodes tend to be the ones where he’s at his most unpredictable.  “Black Widower” is exactly that while pushing Bob’s innocent facade to the absolute edge regardless of whether you share Bart’s mistrust towards him or not.  Bart keeps the audience’s guard constantly up yet any suspicion of ill intent on Bob’s account in becoming smitten with Aunt Selma is squashed almost immediately when he admits in full transparency the disdain he felt for the little boy who got him incarcerated.  Any obvious endeavor to do harm towards Bart is shrugged off with flattering dinner party banter.

“Bart, if I wanted to kill you, I’d have choked you like a chicken as soon as I walked in that door.  But then what kind of a guest would I have been?”

The conflict seems to solely be that Bart doesn’t like how Krusty’s treacherous sidekick is marrying into the family.  Keep in mind this is the first Sideshow Bob episode to air after Krusty was framed for armed robbery in season 1 so there never was any inkling that Bob was anything more than a TV clown’s begrudging sidekick who got locked away.  His return is shocking but the rest of the episode does a pretty good job at establishing his spiritual turn-around and lulling us into the minutiae of Bob and Selma’s developing relationship and wedding preparation satire.  It’s what’s in the smaller details of Bob and Selma’s domestic life where the mystery lies, perhaps being more complex than what Bart was tasked to deduce in “Krusty Gets Busted” and is brashly realized in what I’d consider the best climax a Bob episode ever pulled off.

2. “Lisa the Greek” (Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky)

The episode where Lisa and Homer make bets on pro football is one of those stories where I wish I could have been in the same room when the idea was conceived and/or pitched to showrunners Al Jean and Mike Reiss.  Out of all the Homer/Lisa episodes which delves into their unique, sometimes rocky relationship, “Lisa the Greek” is the most surprising every step of the way, offers the most seamless balance of emotional conflict with levity, and arrives at quite possibly the most inspired resolution to a character conflict in the show’s 31+ year history.

Usually these episodes follow the general direction where Homer is falling short to embrace Lisa’s interests and as a result he’s left picking up the pieces.  This installment goes the opposite route by having Lisa take the initiative to get closer to her father by joining him on the couch for Sunday night football.  At first glance, Homer is uncomfortable with her “invading” upon his down-time and you’re just waiting for Lisa to give up and write the sport off as mindless or barbaric.  However, she grows to not only appreciate the intelligence and art of the game, but they both grow to enjoy each other’s company.  The conditional glue of Homer and Lisa becoming an undefeated team of gamblers and their mutual agreement to let it be their own little secret, helps bring them closer, but also suggests that conflict is on the horizon once the football season is over while the illegality of gambling remains an overlooked fly in the soup.  All of that in mind, the story pulls off this lovely feat where their time together plays so enjoyably in-the-moment that you don’t care if conflict is creeping around the corner.

An episode about weekend-daddy-daughter bonding actually feels like it’s on ‘Sunday drive’ and the smaller moments become magnified because of it.  Even Bart’s small subplot of getting dragged to go clothes shopping with Marge helps feed into the main plot’s tone of simplicity and casual pacing.  A completely character-driven script where its conflict raises the question if Homer and Lisa’s relationship would crumble once conditions are removed is best resolved by what the episode has already been bathed in throughout:  Their chemistry.  Is it based on love despite Lisa proving to be a beneficial asset in helping Homer win money?

“Lisa the Greek” dives into these questions when Lisa realizes how shallow Homer comes off when he only seems to care about her winning predictions for the superbowl after already voicing disappointing plans to post-pone their weekly time together until next football season.  The lack of reciprocation is incredibly thoughtless and inconsiderate on Homer’s part, but is it just a misstep in how he ascertains the value of the time they spend together?  Do they still love each other?  Lisa unenthusiastically tells Homer who she believes will win the superbowl, but notes that if she’s wrong, it’s most likely due to her subconscious wanting Homer to lose.  The outcome of the game has now become less about money and more about where they stand with each other as father and daughter.  It’s one of those final acts that makes you realize how the psychological and poetic framework of The Simpsons runs much deeper than its technical, moving parts because this resolution only works when the art of the show speaks for itself.

*This episode also won Yeardley Smith the Emmy for ‘Outstanding Voice-Over Performance’.  That’s two Homer/Lisa episodes this season (“Lisa’s Pony” and “Lisa the Greek”) where Dan and Yeardley won respectively.

1. “Homer at the Bat” (Written by John Swartzwelder)

In one of John Swartzwelder’s earlier pushes for the The Simpsons to embrace the absurdist humor it so expertly seemed destined for, “Homer at the Bat” is a master stroke in having fun with a ‘far out’ idea without straying too far from the central character’s headspace.  Homer’s humble desire to become a team hero in the eyes of his friends and family by playing for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s company softball team is the pathos to the mock-up of the entire episode.  He builds up his secret weapon to his co-workers and son by revealing ‘Wonder Bat’, a homemade baseball bat he made from scratch.  It’s a very down-to-earth origin story, born from a lightning storm and Homer’s naivety, being two strong forces of nature which are arguably beyond you or me.  Homer is persistent to follow with the dream of molding the “magic piece of wood” into something special.  It’s treated like an extension of himself and he feeds a deep mythology into the bat, believing it will garner him the most homeruns.  It’s a symbol of turning his dumb luck at the face of danger into an opportunity to count his blessings and achieve something great.  Homer may be dumb and lazy on most occasions but when passionate he works hard towards his goals.

Lenny and Carl may mock and undercut the reveal of the bat during their first game, but Homer transcends their disbelief by hitting his first home run on the first pitch.  There’s hope for Homer’s rising success but it’s here where the higher operating powers of Mr. Burns and his million dollar bet with Shelbyville will swiftly marginalize the well-trodden zero-to-hero story with an even zanier premise.  Mr. Burns’ plan to recruit major league ringers on the team serves as an antithesis which happens to be so overwhelmingly fun and hilarious to the point where you laugh rather than cry when Roger Clemens destroys Homer’s homemade bat immediately with a 100 mph+ fastball.  Many shows that attempt to make an extensive band of guest stars the focal point of an episode usually run the risk of the final product falling flat.  An episode can come screeching to a halt if celebrities are shoe-horned in with lame jokes or scenes that are written solely to highlight the vanity of their presence.  “Homer at the Bat” avoids this (with sports guest stars no less!) which is a much more impressive feat given their inexperience in voice acting or any theatrical performance work on TV.

What helps is the self-awareness on the Simpsons staff of what exactly they could expect out of this unique guest cast.  While the jokes that are written around them are wildly bizarre (Ozzie Smith falls into another dimension, Steve Sax gets arrested and charged for every unsolved murder in New York City, etc.), the dialogue is written with each player in mind and they are all well-directed in the parts they have to play.  It’s almost as if Swartzwelder, Al Jean, and Mike Reiss knew that some of the dead-pan deliveries of the lines would only add to the comedy.  Not lessen it.  And some of the performances actually come as a fun surprise like Roger Clemens being completely game to cluck like a chicken or Wade Boggs getting increasingly fed up with Barney over their Pitt the Elder vs. Lord Palmerston debate.

Not only does the inclusion of MLB guest stars benefit the episode as a comedic piece, but narratively it harkens back to Homer’s talents being smothered by something much more uncontrolled and systematic.  Homer can’t compete with Mr. Burns’ wealth and resources in generating an all-star softball team, but can he prevail? For an episode that’s subversive in favor of a comedic sandbox, it’s important for Homer to remain the sympathetic lens for what ensues.  ‘Wonder Bat’ may have been built up only to be obliterated in a quick throwaway gag, but “Homer at the Bat” doesn’t lose sight of Homer’s desires amidst the chaotic hi-jinx that continuously makes him seem largely irrelevant to Mr. Burns’ desire to win.  One of the small marvels of the episode is how Homer doesn’t even question the absurdity of what unfolds like Darryl Strawberry soaring into the sky to rob his pop-fly catch or the sheer luxury of getting to share a spot on the team with these MLB legends to begin with.  The episode may have become a loony circus for comedy but Homer’s still feeling down and out over the conventions of his own personal crisis.  The balance of that with say, Ken Griffey Jr. becoming monstrously deformed due to an obsession with Brain & Nerve tonic, is nothing short of genius.

Overall, “Homer at the Bat” is a gold mine, being rich in reference and astounding in its casting while remaining true to what makes The Simpsons great by carrying its story’s intentions out from beginning to end with lovable characters and a fun, experimental universe.  It’s definitely required viewing if you call yourself a fan of baseball and television alike.  Also, the closing song “Talkin’ Softball” is a parody of Terry Cashman’s “Talkin’ Baseball” (1981) and is sung by Terry Cashman himself.  It’s the episode that keeps on giving!

Thanks for reading! What are your favorites?

Better Call Saul “Bad Choice Road” (S5E09)

“You don’t save me. I save me.” – Kim (Season 2’s “Gloves Off”)

You know all those great anti-hero dramas where the male protagonist must keep his secret life separate from his family or love interest?  Or even when the wife is aware of their husband’s misdeeds, they still have little to no power over combating the situation? Carmela Soprano actively turned a blind eye to Tony’s role as mob boss and struggled with the morality of standing by him.  Skyler White became an accomplice to Walter’s meth empire which turned her into a hostage in her own home.  It’s not to say they weren’t strong characters but between shows like The Sopranos, The ShieldDexterMad Men, or Breaking Bad, the female supporting roles always had to duck and dodge the fallout from the misbehavior of the male lead.

To Jimmy McGill’s credit, he clues Kim in on his “extracurricular” activities to a much more alarming degree than male anti-heroes usually do.  The reason being is he absolutely values upholding a romance he finds more real and genuine than that of any conventional marriage.  Kim continues to surprise Jimmy with how willing she is to make their relationship work so he’s been willing to experiment with how translucent he can be with her.  The only pitfall that makes Jimmy no different from any other male anti-hero is his desire for Kim Wexler to fall in line as the wife who’s protected from serving as collateral damage. When the pursuit of his wrong-doings blows back in his face, he needs to keep her as far away as possible, especially after the traumatic carnage he experienced in the desert.

The penultimate episode of season 5 opens with a split-screen montage of Jimmy and Kim.  It’s a humming follow-up to Lola Marsh and Carson Park’s rendition of “Something Stupid”, a song which appropriately opened last season’s episode of the same title.  Where the montage in season 4’s “Something Stupid” aimed to express how much Jimmy and Kim were drifting apart despite still technically being together, the cold open in “Bad Choice Road” shows the difference in physical distance and turmoil between the two, while reinforcing how strongly united they are through that same hardship.  Jimmy and Mike, having overcome an attempt on their lives by a Columbian gang, wander the desert in search of any beacon of hope to their survival.  Kim, having revealed herself to Lalo to get information on Jimmy’s whereabouts and coming up with nothing, is forced to helplessly pace her apartment, blindly awaiting her husband’s return.  This cold open sets herself up as the helpless wife who has to occupy the nest, worried sick over whether Jimmy is dead or alive.  It’s a story we’ve seen play out many times in the anti-hero drama. When Jimmy finally gets a call through to her, she breaks down into tears.  This is not the state either character wishes to be in.

After delivering Lalo’s $7 million to the bail bond agency, Jimmy must get his story straight with Lalo as to why it took him so long.  He shares the half-truth of his car trouble and spins a tale of refusing to hitch-hike because of the risk of losing the precious cargo.  It’s here where he learns that Kim came to visit Lalo and becomes terrified of the very thing Mike warned him about, being that Kim is a part of the game.  When Kim draws an oatmeal bath for a battered Jimmy, he calls her out and makes her promise to stay away from people like Lalo regardless of what she feels compelled to do for his safety.  He refuses to accept that she’s in the game and sets out to push her as far away from the dangerous world he’s mistakenly got himself into.  Kim clearly sees how distraught and shaken Jimmy is, so she honors his wish.

Trying to guide Jimmy towards the lesson to be learned, Kim asks him if this was all worth it.  Jimmy counters with the ultimate answer to wash her of any worries by directing her to the dufflebag containing $100,000 in the living room, completely forgetful of the destroyed ‘World’s 2nd Best Lawyer (Again)’ mug that’s hidden beneath the money.  Kim now knows that he is withholding the entire truth from her, one that is likely owed to something more horribly violent than what he’s lead her on to believe. The next morning, Jimmy’s trauma becomes more apparent to her when he physically recoils and spills his cereal after a juicer mishap.  “It’s just my stomach’s just not ready for this yet,” Jimmy blurts out.  Kim not only has the idea that he hasn’t told her the truth, but she’s bearing witness to the strange impact of his misadventure that’s staring her in the face.

The notion of having a quiet moment at home together doesn’t sit well with Jimmy as it only leaves him to suffer from his post-traumatic stress.  When a client calls for his service, his first impulse is to post-pone but the next second he’s jumping at the idea of helping.  Jimmy is trying to accelerate his PTSD by masking it with the normalcy of his daily routine.  We’ve seen this before back in season 1 when he hustled around the courthouse doing pro bono work after his altercation with Tuco in the desert.  As horrible as watching the skater twins get their legs broken, no mass murder took place and Jimmy managed to have more control over that situation compared to the events in “Bagman”.  As he’s ready to bolt, Kim takes this opportunity to reveal her suspicions of Jimmy’s lies without making it about him not holding up his end of their deal of full disclosure or forcing him to tell the truth.  She just wants him to know that she’s here for him and wants him to feel comfortable telling her whats wrong, promising that she can handle it without judgment.  Jimmy shares the humility of having to drink his own urine as an attempted diversion that doesn’t work on Kim.  He continues to push her further away from the terror he’s endured, but by doing so Kim takes stock of what’s important and only feels more determined to close the gap.

This dictates her next big decision as she’s left pouring legal mumbo jumbo into her recording device and realizes how trivial her work is for Mesa Verde at S&C compared to her marriage to a partner she was convinced might have ended up dead.  A life she’s most happiest and fulfilled with is the one built between her and Jimmy and helping people who desperately need it.  Jimmy and her pro-bono clients go hand and hand with what matters most and she realizes this after he thankfully turned up alive yet psychologically broken.  She wants to fix him but she can only do so if she can get closer.  Although this is danced around, after Jimmy’s big score, money isn’t really a problem as she can still make enough to support them with the work she actually cares about.  Taking all of this into account, giving up Mesa Verde and resigning from S&C is a surprising yet easy choice to make which has been a long time coming.  It’s what she feels is right for her.

Season 5 began with Kim flabbergasted with a man who was fast becoming a stranger to her.  She was fully aware that this Saul Goodman guy was going down a road she had no conceivable plan to be on.  Throughout the season, she made the tough choice of recruiting Saul to help her with Mr. Acker.  Later, she arrived at the shocking decision to marry Jimmy after he went against her wishes to scam Mesa Verde and turned her, again, into a sucker.  Now, after realizing how deeply traumatized Jimmy is after an event she has no detailed knowledge of, she’s willing to commit to him as a partner even further.  The enigmatic transformation of Kim in this show has been impalpable at times, but every beat of it, when taken into consideration, has made sense.  It’s subversive to what we would expect as an audience, considering we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop in regards to why she’s not shown in Breaking Bad.  The writers have had multiple opportunities as to why she would leave Jimmy, but they keep pushing her continued involvement in his life.  You’re only left to wonder what’s the next hurdle that will out-perform itself as the reason for her off-screen exit without it resulting in her death or something against her will.

When Jimmy hears the news of her resignation and the explanation behind it, he’s just as dumbfounded as she was when he decided to change his name to Saul.  Jimmy began the season with clarity as to where the trajectory of his life was heading.  For him, it was the clear cut road from failure to success.  However, with the journey to success came danger.  He’s long reached the point of no return on the road his choices lead him down.  It brought him to a bad place where he’s in way over his head.  He knew the choices were right for him, but he did not foresee the destination those choices would take him and while we know he’ll find himself right back on the ‘bad choice road’, he needs to be rid of the psychological setbacks for the next time he inevitably is.

Kim is also blind to her destination and is now making choices that puts her on the same road as him.  By putting herself in a position that commits herself closer to Jimmy, she’s closer to ‘the game’ than she ever was.  If a guy like Fred from TravelWire can be outside the game without ever making any conscious choice in his life to be senselessly murdered, Kim’s odds of survival are worse.  Her direct association with Jimmy makes this especially true the longer Jimmy is involved with helping a monster like Lalo roam free.  Lalo is somebody who always needs to know the truth but plans to work with a deceptive Saul in the future.  Kim being attached to that world is no good and it’s here where the aforementioned hurdle that is likely to force her exit beyond her will presents itself.

It was only a matter of time before Lalo came to realize that something was fishy about Saul’s story.  Surprisingly, there was never any immediate repercussion to having learned that Saul disclosed Lalo’s true identity to Kim.  Perhaps he realized it wouldn’t matter as long as the impressive amount of bail money came through to ensure his freedom.  Perhaps as long as Saul’s story of going above and beyond for him made sense, he can swallow Kim’s argument of spousal privilege and let bygones be bygones.  After all, Saul was still looking after him by explaining how the bail money and alias Jorge de Guzman will now be investigated by law enforcement.  Still, with Saul’s conveniently obtained information to get Lalo off with bail and the idea that Saul would discuss Lalo in any context to a third party makes it enough to nag at the subconscious and deduce foul play.

Just when you think Lalo is out of the picture as Nacho gives him a ride to meet Tuco’s cousins, you wonder if his suspicions are going to sway towards Nacho or Saul. Keep in mind, there’s still the question as to how Lalo got ambushed by police when Nacho was the last person to be with him.  Jimmy’s story doesn’t add up though as his abandoned Suzuki Esteem is found nowhere in sight within the vicinity of where Jimmy told Lalo the car broke down.  When Lalo finds the car upturned in a ditch with bullet holes on the side, his incessant need to learn the truth becomes as vibrant as it did back when Werner Ziegler swiftly bit the dust.

And just like that, the horror movie plays out.  Darkness has fallen and Kim arrives home by taxi. The camera pushes in close as she approaches the stairs leading to her apartment, fueling the audience with paranoia.  When arriving, we’re shown red car keys in the bowl of the foyer, signifying danger especially since she seems thrown off at the sight of them.  She calls out to the shadowy figure who waits lying on the bed.  It’s Jimmy and from here the scene plays out to feed into Jimmy and the audience’s fear that Kim has made a wildly bad choice that will only put her into the same realm of danger he suffers in.  Watching her leave S&C prior to this could have been interpreted as the writers wrapping her character up and giving her a shred of finality on her own terms before any unfortunate act transpires against her.

Before we know it, Lalo is knocking on the door and Mike is instructing Jimmy to leave his phone on and out of sight so Mike can have access to the impending interrogation.  Lalo forces an exhausted, traumatized Jimmy to retell the story of what happened in the desert.  He makes Jimmy repeat it over and over until the truth is finally revealed.  Intermittently, Jimmy requests if Kim can leave the room as a hopeless, last ditch effort to relieve her of ‘the game’, but we know that’s not going to happen.  Everything in this episode and overall season has built up to the tension of this moment.  Mike also has the crosshairs of his sniper rifle pointed through the window of Jimmy and Kim’s apartment ala ‘deus ex machina’ depending on how the intense confrontation unfolds.

What makes the scene even more nail-biting than the notion of Kim’s survival or that the grisly assassination of Lalo might take place in their apartment, is that Mike is under Gus’ orders not to kill Lalo.  If Jimmy reveals the truth of his involvement with a third party, Lalo will have to be killed and war between the North and South side of the border will break out.  So much is at stake in this scene, but here lies the ground-breaking twist.  The closing scene turns the question of Kim’s fate on its head.  It becomes less about what happens to her in Breaking Bad and more about what would have happened to Breaking Bad without Kim.  Because by stepping up to the plate to defend Jimmy’s story and boldly pointing out the flaws in the Salamanca operation, Kim transcends the well trodden spousal role of helpless victim or proven, capable asset to the male anti-hero.  She not only becomes essential to Saul’s survival but the savior to the entire Breaking Bad universe the ‘bad choice road’ lead him down.  Without Kim, everything’s left in shambles and the story of Walter White would have played out much more differently on a grand scale.

Even Mike in last episode’s “Bagman” underestimated Kim as a frightened little bird who might go to the police.  For Mike to bear witness to her bravery and loyalty, she now has an abundance of credibility in this world.  How she proceeds from here is anyone’s guess.  Jimmy will certainly have no choice but to explain what really happened in the desert and she will reveal how she was already clued into the truth by the destroyed mug.  On the bright side, full disclosure of Jimmy’s trauma with Kim might be exactly what he needs.  He got a good pep talk with Mike, but justifying the bloodshed of those men and the unbalanced world he’s now a part of is too much for him to have a vague no-nonsense discussion with Mike over.  As Jimmy puts it, “I can’t believe there’s like over a billion people on this planet and the only person I have to talk about this to is you.”   The question now is whether Kim can truly accept what Jimmy’s been a part of without turning her back on him. She’s not out of the woods yet in terms of life or death either because now that Lalo has the idea in his head that his operation is out of order, his suspicions will fall on Nacho.

Kim made Lalo see clear as to how little he trusts his men and the hints of Nacho’s betrayal are there for him to figure out.  If Nacho reveals the entire truth when held at gunpoint, Jimmy will certainly be revealed in playing a part in the betrayal.  Mike and Gus still have limited room to work with in terms of figuring out what to do with Lalo once he learns what’s going on, but speculation on the ‘how’ is awfully hazy.  They have to do away with him but in a way that doesn’t raise any suspicion with the players down South.  It’s a big game of chess and pawns are definitely subject to take a hit.  All I know is there has never been a season finale to Better Call Saul where someone hasn’t died and we’re too far into the series for the show not to rise up to the occasion.  Nacho is the most cornered piece in the game as Gus refuses to set him free even when Mike takes it upon himself to speak on Nacho’s behalf.  Mike makes a good point that setting Nacho free will put a worthy dent in the Salamanca operation, but Gus not only values Nacho as a disciplined asset but he doesn’t trust him as a runaway.  The distrust is so strong, he’s willing to kill Nacho for it.

Other thoughts:

Despite how horrible they are, the saddest part for Lalo is how he knew full well exactly what Kim told him in regards to his men.  When Lalo visits Hector and reassures him that things will continue to run smoothly as he lays low down South, he can barely believe his own words.  Tuco will be out in eleven months but he’ll be right back to his hot-headed, drug abusing self.  Lalo knows he can’t trust anybody and the final shot of him watching Hector wheeled against his will to celebrate a senior resident’s birthday only further breaks his heart.  The Salamanca family is dwindling and he hates to see it.

Jimmy loses a softball case to Bill Oakley and is mocked for it.  The hustle in the courthouse to mask his PTSD isn’t working and Bill buzzing triumphantly in his ear doesn’t help. Interesting foreshadowing by Bill that Saul will probably have to change his name again.

Juan Bolsa was confirmed as being the one responsible for the ambush on Jimmy in the desert.  His goal was to make sure Lalo stayed in jail as a way to help Gus, not knowing the deeper intentions Gus has in trying to free Lalo.  Scary stuff.

That leap by Lalo off the cliff and onto Jimmy’s overturned car was awesomely surreal, just as much as it was when Lalo fell from the ceiling at TravelWire.   Saul Goodman’s ultimate nemesis.  Someone who has GREAT knees.

What did everyone else think? Ready for the penultimate seasons’ season finale!?

Better Call Saul “Bagman” (S5E08)

“What is it for?” – Jimmy McGill

At the end of last episode, Jimmy declared himself a God in human’s clothing who travels in worlds you can’t imagine.  In “Bagman”, Jimmy travels to a grim reality he was never prepared for; one fraught with violence, murder, and the notion of our lead character’s own susceptibility and mortality.  Jimmy wasn’t only warned by a frightened Kim not to go forth with driving near the U.S./Mexican border to collect $7 million of cartel money for Lalo’s bail, but even Jimmy knew he needed to get out of this deadly fetch quest.  Lalo of all people, relieved him of this duty when sensing his insecurity, as he remained completely satisfied with Saul Goodman’s services as a lawyer.  But it’s almost as if the Saul part of Jimmy couldn’t help but gamble with his own future by impulsively throwing a figure of $100,000 up in the air.  Money, as the episode will go on to prove, is what drives Jimmy but is it also what weighs down and confounds him?

Jimmy once tried to reject Betsy Kettleman’s bribe of $30,000 and ultimately returned it to her after taking it, because he was unwilling to accept the fact that he was the crooked man people saw him as.  By naming his price to Lalo, he’s finally willing to determine exactly what his worth is as that crooked man.  The universe always told him who he was and he ignored it in the efforts to change and improve. Chuck and higher establishment fought back to keep Jimmy in place.  They sealed his fate from ever changing by shutting him out regardless of what he did to correct his past mistakes.  Take that and Chuck’s last sentiments being “You never mattered all that much to me,” and you have a man who’s willing to embrace being a criminal lawyer to the max and rise to the top at all costs.  It’s no wonder why Jimmy is willing to transcend the law by picking up Lalo’s money, especially after selling an innocent, grieving family down the river.  At this point, he needs the right financial return to make up for that, but how far will he go to test his limits before becoming rattled to his core?

The episode opens with two young men vigorously scrubbing two front car seats which are heavily blood-stained.  It’s evocative of Breaking Bad season 2’s black-and-white teasers, particularly in the episode “Over” where two body bags were found on Walter White’s driveway.  The first question we’re intended to ask when seeing this blood is “who might it belong to?”, but then we’re shown Tuco’s cousins arriving to collect the money for Lalo’s bail.  Nothing dire has happened to our characters yet, but this is the world Saul Goodman toys with.  A world where something horrific can and will happen.  It’s not so much who’s blood is on the car seats but what does this specific shot forebode? Is it symbolic towards the end of Jimmy and Kim’s relationship? The destructive fate of Jimmy brought on by the undying and unfurled war between him and his brother?  Or of the harrowing trials and tribulations Jimmy and Mike are actually about to endure in this hour?  Something sideways is certainly about to go down as we’re shown one of the head guys of the autobody shop making a suspiciously discreet call regarding the money the cousins are about to deliver.

One of the gaps between the Saul Goodman of both shows is the Saul we meet in Breaking Bad possesses an insensitivity towards murder and violence as a viable option to his problems.  That’s not to say he’s completely desensitized, but he’s more numb to the idea of it than any pre-existing rebellious character traits can give him credit for.  When Saul gets hijacked by cartel thugs who are ready to execute him without hesitation, he’s immediately faced with something traumatic he’s never experienced.  As his captors get picked off one by one and he goes into shock, this ordeal becomes a terrifying wake-up call.  He’s not as high and mighty as he believed himself to be and in the blink of an eye, he realizes it can be all over for him.  Even when finding a handgun he can use to protect himself, he tosses it aside because being a killer is not who he is.  He has limits and this disturbs Jimmy because the inner-turmoil from his brother’s death and the trajectory of the person he’s becoming because of it, demands more from him.  The world he strives to inhabit is proving much more fierce than the battle that brews within him.

Another important achievement from “Bagman” is uniting Jimmy and Mike as characters beyond occasional business acquaintances.  In Breaking Bad, before Mike threatens to break Saul’s legs, they are introduced with a closer business arrangement than you would expect, given their mostly parallel narratives in this prequel series.  By having Mike and Jimmy weather the harshest elements of the desert together while evading the killers who hunt them, a profound history we never knew between the two has developed.  It begins to explain why Mike would serve as Saul’s P.I. despite simultaneously working as Gus’ soldier.  It’s also oddly relieving to see Mike catch Jimmy with his pants down (figuratively compared to last episode), but in a more serious, concerning manner than that of the silly antics Mike is usually accustomed to dealing with.  The last time Mike truly saw Jimmy as someone more deeply troubled than the jester act that’s usually performed, is when he learned of Chuck’s grisly passing. Up until then, Jimmy was a shallow acquaintance who from time to time proved to be someone of use, but because Jimmy carries on with an indifference towards his brother’s death, Mike is aware that there’s a more rounded, tortured human being behind Jimmy facade.

This is one of those episodes that plays on Jimmy’s vulnerability and while it was never necessarily expected that the writers would provide a survival story where Mike and Jimmy meet eye to eye on a more budding, spiritual level, it’s still a catharsis the audience has been unconsciously starved for.  It’s also an experiment with edge-of-your-seat tension which obviously is not derived from whether they survive the hour, but drawn out from how they survive it.  The ‘how’ factor of Better Call Saul has essentially always been the secret sauce as to why the show as a prequel is so compelling and “Bagman” dares to take that one step further by following the two main characters we know will outlive the better part of both series.  How they survive isn’t the only source of tension, but how they interact and play off one another for an extended duration.  It’s fulfilling to see them on the same page, mulling over their options to maintain their health, well-being, and will-power.  The more Jimmy slips off that page and is seemingly ready to give up or protest Mike’s guidance, their camaraderie is in jeopardy.

The Suzuki Esteem. The World’s 2nd Best Lawyer mug. The urine-filled Davis & Main bottle. The space blanket. The money. The sniper rifle.  These are the six most notable symbolic objects to the episode.  Jimmy’s old car getting tossed over the edge into a ditch is the end of an era.  It’s Jimmy being forced to leave his scrappy upstart ‘Charlie Hustle’ persona behind.  Unless Gene Takovic can prove otherwise, Jimmy is never getting back to the guy who once thought he can turn his life around from the Slippin’ Jimmy days.  If he wants to come out the other side from this desert nightmare, the Esteem is no more, but the money must go on.  The money is representative of the Saul Goodman counterpart.  A part that’s always existed and fueled Jimmy but was always concealed the best he could before his relationship with his brother got out of hand.  The better part of Jimmy, who’s fast coming to his senses, is willing to leave the money behind.  He comes up with a smart idea to bury the money and come back for it later, but Mike advises that they will lose it in the vast desert landscape regardless of how sure they are of distinguishable landmarks.  By having no choice but to carry the money, it again solidifies the idea that Saul Goodman must move forward whether Jimmy likes it or not.

When Jimmy and Mike settle down for the night, Jimmy shares that his wife is aware of what he’s doing and how him not coming home is going to make her worried sick.  Surprised that Jimmy would clue his wife (i.e. Kim) in on his dangerous pursuits, Mike states, plain and simple, that his wife is in the game now, in which Jimmy refuses to accept.  Jimmy can count his lucky stars that he turned down Kim’s insistence to join him on this deadly trip, as she surely would have been just as likely to die as he almost was.  That said, as alluded by the bullet-riddled World’s 2nd Best Lawyer mug which Jimmy hoped to save (a gift given to him by Kim in season 2’s “Cobbler”), Kim is indeed in the game and is prone to collateral damage regardless if she stays home or not.  The final salt in Jimmy’s wounds to this unfortunate epiphany is when Mike wraps himself in a space blanket, evoking memories of his older, wiser, and judgmental brother.  It’s as if Chuck has risen beyond the grave, smugly rubbing Jimmy’s nose in the validation of his screw-ups.  When Mike offers Jimmy a spare blanket to keep him warm, Jimmy refuses, because he can’t give Chuck the satisfaction of the hole he’s dug himself in.

Kim might not physically be in the thick of it with Jimmy and Mike, but she does make the grave decision to masquerade as part of Lalo’s legal team in order to meet to him face to face and get possible answers as to where Jimmy is. You can’t blame Kim for going to Lalo. She knows Jimmy is doing something awfully dangerous and he hasn’t come home in a day. If you love someone and deduce 80% the reason they are missing is because they’re in danger (possibly dead), wouldn’t you do anything you could? Even if it means making yourself known to a dangerous figure who has a better idea where your spouse is than anyone? Many might try the police but Kim can’t just reveal to law enforcement what Jimmy is doing. It was a bad decision to go to Lalo but I don’t think it was a stupid one. For her specific situation with Jimmy and because of who Kim is, she’s compelled to play the game because as Mike points out, she’s unquestionably in it.  Chuck warned Jimmy that he would hurt those around him because it’s what he does.  Now Kim is directly in harm’s way by making herself known to the most horrible person Jimmy has ever involved himself with.

Let’s not forget that Lalo is likely stewing over the strange revelation that the key witness in his murder case was manipulated to get him imprisoned and that Saul conveniently obtained this information to get him off with bail.  Lalo must have come to the conclusion that something’s aloof, regardless to how Saul ties into it, but now that Lalo has learned of Saul’s big mouth, revealing Lalo’s true identity to his wife, he has further reason to question Saul’s loyalty.  He’s now more likely to discover that Saul is just as influenced by Gus’ intentions as he is by Lalo’s and that can only lead to bad things, especially now that Kim’s life can be used as leverage.  Kim holds her own against Lalo in this scene, arguing spousal privilege and swatting down the thought that Jimmy might have run off with Lalo’s money.  She at least has made it clear that Jimmy isn’t foolish, and that her proposal to cooperate with Lalo is sincere.  Still, it’s hard to watch a scene with Kim where she’s outmatched and doesn’t come out of a negotiation with what she hoped to gain.  She’s left helpless and it’s because of Jimmy that she’s in this rut, but it’s also just as much her own doing by having married the guy she knows can’t help himself.

Jimmy’s faculties are wearing down.  He’s overheated, dehydrated, and losing grip on what’s pushing him forward.  When one of the bags of money tears, he’s left stumbling around, trying to collect the loose cash that’s fallen out.  He trips and gets his foot impaled by the barb of a cactus.  The unforgiving world he’s forced to trench onward through is too much and he melts into the sand declaring his surrender.  Jimmy is now willing for death to consume him similar to Mike’s defeated decision to take on the street gang earlier in the season.  The spite and resentment Jimmy holds for his brother does not exceed his will to survive and with that, the Saul Goodman shell crumbles and we’re shown nothing but the inner-pain and suffering Jimmy McGill is willing to put an end to. This walkabout is the long-awaited therapy he seeked to avoid and he’s ready to end the session sooner rather than later.  If the money can’t be carried, then there is no Saul Goodman to push Jimmy forward and therefore he’s left with the true form he can’t bear.

Mike explains to Jimmy what keeps him moving, being the people who wait and rely on him.  Mike is ready for death just the same but only if he’s certain he did everything he could to get his family what they need.  This seeps into Jimmy as Mike notifies that the men who aim to kill them have returned, and Jimmy’s reminded that he also has someone he cares about whose waiting for him.  Kim is the light at the end of his tunnel but if he’s to get through it, he needs to face his demons. The moment Jimmy encloses himself in the reflective space blanket, he’s not just playing bait to allow the universe to decide his fate, but he’s coming to terms with Chuck’s judgment of him, channeling his last moments with a suicide mission.  He’ll continue to carry the money even in the face of death regardless what Chuck thinks.  Jimmy is prepared to own up to the man he’s become and when he vocally tempts fate to do with him with what it will, it’s not just the men in the red truck who he’s referring to as an “asshole” and a “dickhead”.  He’s speaking to his brother.  “Yes Chuck, you’re right about me.  Let me show you how right you are to the bitter end.”

The urine in the Davis & Main bottle is equivalent to Jimmy not willing to accept the circumstances he’s brought upon himself.  Davis & Main was the straight-and-narrow opportunity that might have redeemed himself in Chuck’s eyes if he didn’t feel so hurt and betrayed by Chuck sabotaging his chances to join HHM.  Sure, there’s a lot of back and forth to be argued over the constant corners Jimmy cut in the past and would continue to cut, but the Davis & Main job was a position he pissed away nonetheless, pun intended.  By finally guzzling the urine down at the end, it’s again Jimmy coming to terms with the world that’s been thrust upon him mostly from his own doing.  He doesn’t need to rise above it like a Greek god, but he can no longer sugarcoat and pretend that this isn’t the life he’s chosen to lead.  The real baggage that was weighing Jimmy down wasn’t the money, but Chuck’s judgment of him.  The final shot of the space blanket being left behind, whisking away into the wind, shows that Jimmy can overcome Chuck no matter the odds.

And the sniper rifle? I’ve said it in past reviews but notice how Mike’s sniper rifle has never actually been used to kill anyone?  The first time it was introduced was when Nacho recruited Mike to solve the Tuco situation in season 2’s “Gloves Off” (like “Bagman”, also written by Gordon Smith).  Mike considered the assassination but quickly changed his mind, never even purchasing the gun for use.  In the season 2 finale, “Klick” (like “Bagman”, also directed by Vince Gilligan), Mike had every intention to use the sniper rifle on Hector Salamanca but never went through with it because of Gus’ protest not to.  Then in season 3’s “Sunk Costs”, Mike actually fired the sniper rifle but only to hit a shoe filled with cocaine in order to get Hector’s drug mules in trouble with the border patrol, and in turn to hurt Hector’s business.  “Bagman” is the first episode where Mike savagely eliminates his targets with this weapon.  It’s more or less the ricin that never gets used on anyone until the end of Breaking Bad’s run.  It preeminently serves to map out how far Mike has come from the guy who was willing to get pummeled in the face to land Tuco in jail rather than being the guy who pulls the trigger.  Werner Ziegler was an important character in getting Mike to this moment.

Other thoughts:

“Bagman” is more “4 Days Out” than “Fly”, but it undoubtedly joins the ranks as one of the universe’s most therapeutic examinations of two characters’ relationships and a wonderful exercise in building to a climactic sense of tension.  It’s already bubbling as one of the more controversial episodes as a vocal portion of the fanbase is already chalking it up as a slow, meandering piece with a lot of walking.  Me, personally it’s one of the greatest examples of meditative character exploration that’s filled with actual dread and well-choreographed action.  You couldn’t ask for anything better.  This will certainly go down as one of the best installments Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad ever put out.  It’s right up there with “Pimento”, “Nailed, “Chicanery”, or “Winner” in terms of masterful turning point episodes.

Lalo quickly selling Saul on how much he’s going to love his cousins, describing them as good boys is one of the funniest line deliveries in the hour. He says it as if they’re all going to share a laugh and grab a beer together.  It just goes to show how much you shouldn’t take Lalo’s word for anything.  It was also wonderfully pathetic how Jimmy botches his greeting “Yo soy abogado” (I am a lawyer) on the first attempt after practicing it repeatedly before the cousins show up to give them the money.  He is no way prepared for what’s in store for him.  You’ll also note that he wastes water to clean a dirty spot on his shoe unaware of how much he’ll cherish each drop of it later on.

The song that plays during the beautiful desert roaming montage was “I Got The…” by Labi Siffre (1975).  I too am guilty of thinking it was an orchestrated rendition of Eminem’s “My Name Is”, never having realized that Eminem sampled the beat from this pre-existing source material.  The song has become my new go-to whenever being tasked to press on with something difficult like many of us are dealing with during this COVID-19 crisis which has been growing worse and worse as Better Call Saul season 5 airs.

What did everyone else think?