Better Call Saul “Witness” (S3E02)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Mabel” (S3E01)

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

“Mabel”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some notes:

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Klick” Analysis (S2E10)

Excellent finale. Lots to talk about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Some final notes:

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

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

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

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

Better Call Saul “Nailed” Analysis (S2E09)

This is without a doubt the best episode in the series so far. It kept me up all night like most episodes do but had me literally dreaming about it into the morning and that is just my favorite effect of great television. I went into “Nailed” ready to see how it holds up to last season’s penultimate “Pimento” and ended up tossing the measuring tape over my shoulder. Every scene was just front-loaded with climax which this entire season has been carefully building towards.

You know you’re in for a confidently strong hour when the cold open throws you immediately into the spike strip heist. Mike got a seemingly-heroic, badass batman-like moment when his gun (the very one he was forced to claim possession of) sneaks from the left side of the frame (1:15 in video). As much as we get to see classic Mike here, we’re also getting another side to him that I don’t think has ever been explored. Present Mike has always been doing what he does under the motivation to support Stacey and Kaylee but a few episodes back in “Bali Ha’i” we see the first moment where Mike’s collateral family is directly threatened. Other than him left thrown off and vulnerable in the sake of his family’s safety, he’s also left vulnerable for what he’s about. Who he is and what drives him is put into question. Hector had full control due to Mike’s family being such an easy button to push to the point where it was almost pathetic and this is exactly what Mike wants to prove otherwise now that the conflict between them is “over”. He wants to show that family or no, he still is an individual force not to be reckoned with. At the same time, in defense of the family angle, he integrates Kaylee into helping with the spike strip as an added insult that he alone can relish when all is said and done.

Beyond that, for a brief period here, Mike found another layer of himself to compensate for who he is. He exercised revenge with a code that can combat the usual pitfalls of revenge. It had nothing to do with benefiting his family, he wasn’t looking to make a profit, and Mike is such a random suspect (especially after already being granted $50,000 as a personal win), so how could such an honorable act of offense possibly backfire? Seeing Mike joyfully buy a round for the house and then flirting with Fran really showed a victory that was based more on his character striking a well-rounded groove which gives hope that his life doesn’t have to solely revolve around feeling required to owe his family for past mistakes. Nacho, like Chuck, was smart in figuring things out almost immediately. Not only is Mike wrecked about being responsible for an innocent person’s death, but you can tell that old wounds of Mike’s son have now been reopened, being one of the strongest components that ties him to Stacey and Kaylee, the very factors that he was trying not to make his actions about in this episode. Hector, while certainly enraged, still gets to laugh in hitting Mike in this sore spot (from Mike’s POV because obviously Hector has no clue).

Such a great scene:

 

But holy hell, what a nightmare of an episode this was for Chuck. Jimmy even comes off like a monster in the the way he’s shown hiding behind trees, later staking out an elementary school as if the main conflict with his brother doesn’t even phase him, and then snaking his way back to Valiant Printing only to lurk in the shadows across the street. My god, Chuck, I felt so bad for him and I felt as if my mind was short circuiting along with his the further the episode progressed. The Mesa Verde hearing was so disastrous and hard to watch. I don’t think Jimmy understands how seriously Chuck was set to defend his own memory and talents because this is really all he has left that is truly his. After losing their father and then whatever happened with Rebecca, Chuck has been stripped of almost everything and despite his condition he is willing to fight for a profession he’s dedicated his life to while Jimmy makes a mockery of it.

The scene with Kim, Chuck, and Jimmy was so brilliant and unlike Jimmy confronting Chuck in “Pimento”, here we get the opposite. I was wondering whether Jimmy tampering with the files would be a long lingering secret, similar to Jane and Brock in Breaking Bad, but “Nailed” was not shy about pulling the trigger on Chuck’s realization which is good because I figured he would be able to put the pieces together if his state of mind was called into question. The tragedy though is that despite how incredible and elegantly executed his argument/deduction is and how obviously transparent Jimmy is in defense, and the fact that Kim KNOWS Chuck is right, she still pretends to not believe him. My heart fell to the floor in that moment. This has been Kim’s season and she has been #1 in my sympathies throughout but wow, to me this is her most despicable moment. That little hidden spot of her johari window where she is rebellious/corruptible shines through and I think this is what Howard sensed in her. Jimmy has brought this out in her and at the same time, what Kim tells Chuck in this scene needed to be said and I’m so glad it was her that addressed it.

As much as Jimmy’s story parallels Mike’s with revenge leading to unintended consequences, it also very much relates to Kim. Like Mike, she was put in a situation where she had no power over her own conflict. In “Rebecca” Kim is shown working her way out of doc review and nabbing a client for HHM, but she still gets thrown back to doc review. In that same episode, Mike is shown beaten but successful over the Tuco situation only for Hector to show up and reverse that. Mike has been forced to own up to Tuco’s gun and Kim has been forced to not explain how she couldn’t have known about Jimmy’s commercial shortcut. And just like Mike’s gun pops from the left side of frame in the cold open (which is the most unexpected place to come from), Kim draws her gun on Chuck just as unexpectedly. They both ironically ended up embracing the very lie that was forced upon them. Both characters have regained control over their conflict (Mike gets to show up Hector, Kim retains Mesa Verde) but both will have to answer to an unforseen consequence that could have been avoided.

Imagine how Kim is going to feel if Chuck dies or is seriously injured after he went out of his way to put his health at risk in order to bring justice to what happened against him, when she clearly knew he was right to begin with. What also sucks is that she didn’t want to get caught in the middle of this war between brothers but now look where we’re at. She is now tainted because of Jimmy, although reluctant to put things right because Mesa Verde is so tempting to keep.

Mike and Kim may have fucked up but the ending with Jimmy is just full-on scumbag. The fact that nobody has the good wits to call the police except Jimmy but he’s clearly going to choose his scheme over his brother is just so dark and tragic. I felt saddened that the more Chuck was failing for things to go right, (whether at the Mesa Verde hearing or the print shop) the more dizzy and groggy he was getting from his condition. It’s as if he was slowly getting poisoned throughout the episode but still had to fend for himself and like a true nightmare, the entire world was just not on his side. This is a big push forward for Jimmy’s character, as well as Mike’s and Kim’s. There was a time when I felt bad for Saul and even more for Jimmy when I see this scene from Breaking Bad but now I admittedly feel kind of good about it…

Some notes:

-I like that it was in the diner that Mike realizes the story of the hijacking was not put into the papers, followed by Nacho’s phone call that will lead to the bad news of the good samaritan. There was an earlier episode this season that gave us a close-up shot on the lamps that have loomed over the diner since Breaking Bad, all of which have roadrunners on them. After him playing Wile E. Coyote with the spike strip, what better place for him to realize that the scheme got away from him? Meanwhile, after Jimmy has been pumping himself up to be an American hero with Fifi and now the school flag, the place where Jimmy realizes the scheme got away from him is in the shadows of the U.S. Eagle building. Take what you will from that but still interesting use of directing.

-Nice touch with Chuck’s mention of 1215, the year the Magna Carta was signed which is a peace treaty between an unpopular King (Chuck) and a group of rebel barons.

-Really sweet Abbey Road nod when Jimmy and film crew were crossing the street. Also, just as much as Gilligan, Gould, and crew were able to meet the tight time frame to get the B-29 in the show at the airbase, I’m sure getting a mob of kids on a playground to cooperate (no matter how simple of a scene) must be just as impressive when there’s daylight burning haha.

-Jimmy and Kim’s scene of putting their office space together was great. I feel like that rainbow, while nice-looking has a bit of a juvenile quality to it and while it can represent a brighter future for Kim, it also encourages Jimmy’s colorfulness in how he operates. I admired that shot where all the walls were brown around Jimmy but Kim was shown in the background with the rainbow. I forgot exactly how it was staged but I remember that image looking cool if you know which one I’m talking about.

Better Call Saul “Fifi” Analysis (S2E08)

One might really hit it on the head when referring to the Jimmy/Chuck conflict as a cold war. Ice Station Zebra is a great example of that.

Better Call Saul is essentially Dr. Strangelove as well, in how ridiculously comedic the entire conflict is when you say it out loud, yet it’s derived from something very serious and real between these two brothers where everyone within a potential blast radius of their world is forced to play in it like it’s a game. Chuck is actually incredibly similar to Jack D. Ripper being in a high position of power yet going sort of cuckoo indirectly due to being emasculated with his wife in the bedroom. Because of that, something bizarre and non-existent is now present in Chuck. His psychosomatic condition of electromagnetic hypersensitivity is his version of Ripper’s theory of a communist plot using fluoridation to “sap and impurify” Americans of their precious bodily fluids. Communism is a real threat while Ripper’s theory is obviously all in his head, just like Slippin’ Jimmy is a real threat while Chuck’s condition is all in his head, yet it somehow proves time and again to act up whenever Slippin’ Jimmy is about. And what better correlation to communism is Jimmy himself, being the low-level and lesser deserving scam artist who wants to be of the same class and reap the same rewards as his more educated and hard-working brother?

This is why I have been defending Howard this season because despite how unfair his actions have been towards Kim, the guy is really just as much a victim to a rigged situation. To Chuck, Howard is the Lionel Mandrake who has been forced to put up with Chuck’s nonsense, but at the same time there is a real destructive threat going on beyond HHM’s window. Regardless of what fuels Chuck to be against it, it’s still a very real threat (Jimmy) and Kim continues to fool around with that threat without truly taking stock of how dangerous it is for a hard-working person like herself to entertain the experiment of keeping him under the same roof.

The Cold War was all about reaching a compromise but not without an impossible tension. Howard keeping Kim in doc review is almost like keeping a bunch of school children under a desk. It’s a means of exercising control but it’s all bullshit. He says he was hard on her because he saw something in her (and I believe that), but we all know that Kim is helpless no matter what. Howard admires that Kim will not be going to S&C and envies her for escaping and starting her own thing but in reality she’s still trapped in the McGill blast radius. The fact that Howard has stayed at HHM for his father was a great reveal but it’s also very revealing that he’s telling her this because it shows it’s been on his mind for a while to be thinking back on a moment when he too could have avoided this present reality where he’s locked in Jack D. Ripper’s office.

At the same time, things aren’t so black and white. Howard cares for Chuck and it’s not like Chuck is firing a machine gun out his window maniacally. In fact ironically, we all know that Chuck is completely against that and like we got to see here, he’s incredibly competent and capable of pulling off an honest and marvelous sales pitch. He holds power in the company because he’s earned it. And by the way, the attempt of HHM retaining Mesa Verde in my opinion is fair game. Of course Howard is going to immediately attempt to get in contact, right? He’s running a business and if anything, he knew Kim was going to hear that message to the secretary… so game on. Yes, Kim was the heart of bringing the client in and if anything that’s more power to her, but what special relationship does Howard have with her after she just resigned so she can work (or be in the presence) with the very person that has caused so much trouble for HHM to begin with? Isn’t his offer to cover the money she owes gracious enough instead of feeling the need to owe her an entire client? Don’t get me wrong. I root for Kim and I felt just as crushed when she gets defeated. That was tough and unfortunate and maybe Howard enjoyed winning back Mesa Verde from her but it was still all above board and it is HHM’s client so they have a right to fight for it.

Also Howard omitting the information that Kim and Jimmy are solo practitioners is again, just me sympathizing with Howard/Mandrake for playing into a game he doesn’t want to play in which Chuck and Jimmy brought upon the firm to begin with and it’s not like that information wouldn’t naturally correct itself very shortly without it being a big deal. It was manipulating but pretty clever and innocent in the long run as a means to motivate Chuck, whereas Jimmy’s play was maybe clever yet absolutely criminal. I know Howard dropping by after-hours to Chuck’s dark, depressing lair feels evil and conniving but when you think about it, it’s just a partners meeting that they barely have a chance to hold in a brightly lit room at HHM. I mean look at how they contrast that with Jimmy’s truly evil and conniving move being a fun montage with sympathetic music (from the guy who does the theme song):

 

^ Another great montage by the way. I really like that song now.

But yeah, you have to give credit too that they were able to win Mesa Verde without throwing Kim under the bus and instead painted her in a positive light. Kim’s pitch was fantastic but Chuck’s was masterful and at the end of the day, the law is sacred. What’s good for the client is what really matters and both pitches were performed without sabotaging the opposition for one’s personal gain and you have to admire that.

What’s so great about Chuck’s pitch from a character perspective is he commits to the very thing that he felt emasculated for in “Rebecca” (being a “boring” person) in order to win them over. Not only did he win the client honorably, but I felt a bit of a fist pump for him because he played that up as a quality to be commended for rather than to scratch your head at, like Jimmy would. It’s also kind of fitting that it was against Kim, the very person he tried to give advice to in regards to Jimmy, but who instead is now falling for Jimmy’s quirks, just as Rebecca did. It’s no wonder Chuck was so set on retaining this client and yeah Chuck is pretty shitty to be motivated through something personal but there’s something kind of heroic about him finding a way to combat Jimmy without stooping to any dirty level.

And wow, when Jimmy showed up at Chuck’s and he was staring at the case files in that act break, my reaction was “Oh god, whatever it is Jimmy, please dooooonn’t” and yeah what he does next is HUGE which is something very dangerous to do when you’re in a figurative Cold War haha. Jimmy once referred to “the nuclear option” when he tried to goat Chuck into exercising his power to override Howard’s “decision” of Jimmy not working at HHM and Chuck refused then. Chuck has remained diplomatic, even when Jimmy tried to get him to commit extortion in “Gloves Off”. Jimmy has been tempting Chuck to fire off his rockets, which he won’t, but I wonder what would ever get him to? What I loved was how it ended with Chuck reminding him that they are brothers and he’s glad they still are looking out for one another, despite their issues. That is really sad knowing that Jimmy was only there to fuck Chuck over.

Some notes:

-The opening was really cool and I actually had the idea in the back of my mind of a bomb going off but I couldn’t put my finger on why until I remembered Touch of Evil like Ryan mentioned which I watched for the first time back in August. Awesome tracking shot and the music was really slick.

-Rhea Seehorn has been killing it this season. I loved her excitement in the dentist’s office and I found it funny how it was topped it with “So we’re keeping these chairs?” which you could tell was subconsciously on her mind as she was anticipating giving the good news to Jimmy.

-Jimmy/Kim/Howard/Chuck’s story has really carried this episode so I didn’t mind a subplot where Mike just carefully scouts out Hector and crew. The reveal of the spike strip was surprising (I knew it was going to be something obviously, but didn’t expect that) and it established another push forward just like with what Jimmy had the balls to do with his dilemma. Other than that, does anyone know what Mike was watching or any specific context to the scene? It seemed like an interesting piece of subtext to give the ending a little more meat, (especially since it caught Mike’s attention) but I couldn’t really interpret anything.

– Really cool to get a scene with a Boeing B-29 Superfortress (Fifi) which I’m sure must have been achieved under a tight time frame (including the helicopter). It felt extremely treacherous and insensitive that Jimmy was scheming his way onto an airbase in order to pump up the production value of a commercial (of course that’s the intention). That’s what I mean by Jimmy treating all of this like it’s a game and of course his “war veteran” is practically the opposite of one although he does correct Jimmy on what the craft was used for.

-I meant to mention this last week, but I thought it was cool that Jennifer Hasty reprised her role as a real estate agent for Stacey in “Inflatable”. She was the same person who confronts Marie in BB’s “Open House” for stealing/pretending to be other people.

Better Call Saul “Inflatable” Analysis (S2E07)

Yeah there are certain seeds in that cold open that seem planted to suggest that Chuck’s take on the story may be a bit more complicated than what he has perceived. Jimmy is definitely dipping into the money and even if he’s not responsible for the entire $14K, I’m sure he made a fair dent and that’s still unmistakably bad. Mr. McGill’s actor was really good casting (even had that Odenkirk voice) and I found it interesting how his character was made out to be a softee. I feel like he’s going to have a “just stamp the ticket” situation on his hands and Jimmy will continue to lose more respect for his father, leading to Jimmy feeling validated in taking more. There is more to be explored here though so I look forward to getting more perspective later on.

I did notice a trend of intended cartoon-like imagery throughout the episode where a prop is used to kind of “inflate” an expression in Jimmy’s character***. The most obvious and meaty of examples was the tube man which was brilliantly captured. I LOVE how the tube man is like a cheerleading conductor for the entire sequence haha.

 

For montages that just completely change the format of how the show usually presents itself, this is right up there with how varied and experimental the Marco/Jimmy scam montage was for the first season.

*** Another example of a prop being used to illustrate a point for Jimmy is the broom. Jimmy is sweeping back and forth between his legs as a half-assed way to show that he’s still working but he’s unaware of the imagery that instead only animates further what he’s really doing and what he’s really about. It’s a quick visual gag when it comes down to it but it’s a great way to show that back at his father’s store, he could be a jerkoff and not really get hassled for it. Being raised in that store definitely helped shape his behavior and define who he is. Until now At Davis & Main, he’s been forced to keep that broom or “tube man” in his pants.

I suppose I’ll just jump to the ending and work my way backwards but the final piece of imagery that’s used was the final shot. The W and M almost form that disheveled Charlie Brown expression with Jimmy’s mouth. Again, it’s working as a symbolic extension in order to express something in Jimmy and what’s ironic is that contrary to the episode’s title and the previous two examples given, that expression is deflation. He’s getting an incredibly generous offer which wouldn’t even happen if Kim wasn’t having her own crisis over what she wants and where she’s going in life. He is getting what he wanted in having Kim in the same workplace while he gets the freedom to be who he is, but it’s still a rejection and like Steve said, a more tactful and non-toxic one. That said, it’s the best and most convenient thing that will ever be proposed to him from her without compromising who either of them are and he understands that. What’s great about this direction is that there is no way he can refuse this. He’ll get a beautiful painting with a smudgy speck on it. He’ll exercise in tolerating the speck but eventually he’ll feel drawn to wipe it only to make it worse.

Kim’s interview really helped in getting her to the final moment of the episode. The question of what she wants and then her calling Schweikart “Howard” was good in showing that she may very well be repeating the same pattern she’s trying to escape. The fake-out on the rooftop was clever. Ripping up Jimmy’s card and that marvelous view of the city contrasting with her usual smoke breaks in the parking garage under HHM really had me believing that there was no way she would walk away from that.

As for Mike’s story, it was a relief to see Stacey smile and be in a happy place. I like that she addresses to Mike that she’s aware of how she’s been working him and IMO I think she’s justified in doing so. Mike understands this too. It is intriguing to see that he’s scoping the meeting place he had with Hector. Mike is a man of research and he definitely recognizes that his run-in with Hector was bad news and might require some insurance of information for the future. We’ll have to see what comes from that.

One more thing to note:

-So between Kim’s KC Royals jersey last week and this episode’s reveal that she was brought up near Omaha, is it possible to see a post-BB Kim Wexler? Or is it just a major red herring? Who knows what happened between her and Jimmy but it must be bad if we never see her again, right? But then there’s Ice Station Zebra associates? Mysterious stuff.

Better Call Saul “Bali Ha’i” Analysis (S2E06)

I’m kind of glad I don’t watch the teasers/promos for the next episode because watching last week’s now, that boot is just too much info. Better to let me feel the impact of Hector’s return (which is great enough) in the “Rebecca” cliffhanger rather than cloud my mind with cousins anticipation immediately after. I agree with you Steve in that the Breaking Bad cameos are starting to have a snowball effect with every episode. I like that it’s being done naturally though and makes sense as it builds without feeling like it’s being done for pandering’s sake. The cousins standing on the far rooftop was absolutely creepy. I like that their familiar thematic score from season 3 worked as a cue to their reveal about a second before it was confirmed to be them because at first glance they were just distant silhouettes. It allowed the more attentive BrBa fans to feel their inevitable presence before confirming to the fans who may not remember the score but still suspect, that it is indeed them.

The cousins were always such a mythical entity in Breaking Bad and I love that surreal weirdness that they bring. The scene was very invasive and I had to remind myself that through the perspective of someone who hasn’t seen Breaking Bad, the score is played up because of that, especially since Mike is usually very careful and precautious. He doesn’t need to know who these guys are, but he’s caught way off guard and he knows that if they tracked him here, then they definitely come from a very high and dangerous place. Not something the usual mopes that tried to get the jump on him at his house would suggest (and yeah, that scene was slick). I think what’s great about the cousins’ introduction initially being a problem for Mike here is that now when we watch “I See You”, the scene with Leonel dying and Mike leaving the hospital inconspicuously will have such a more satisfying punch.

As for Kim, I’m really feeling for her this season. I just want her to escape the light that Howard sees her in, but despite how stone cold and nightmarish he was in that tracking shot, I still get it. This is growing to be just as nuanced as the Chuck/Jimmy conflict. It’s not so much that Howard has a problem with Kim and Jimmy having their connection, but she did strongly vouch for Jimmy to get involved in such a high position at Davis & Main and with the terrible results that are occurring from that, her judgement has every right to be questioned at this point. I mean he vouches for Jimmy too because of her so he is made out to be just as much of a fool.

Besides what I touched on last week in regards to Howard’s tough position between Chuck and Jimmy and how Kim can get mixed up in that, the shit that’s happening at Davis & Main because of Jimmy is just a colossal, concrete example of something that Kim is pretty much responsible for, even if she had every intention that it would turn out good. Chuck sees what Kim is going through so at least he can sympathize and chalk it up as further confirmation that his brother will always continue to disappoint the ones that give him these chances, but Howard will not be sharing that same investment. Man, that scene where she tries to explain herself and he continues to ignore her was so excruciating and unexpected. I imagine there was some good blooper reel material from that haha.

At this point, the Schweikart & Cokely proposition is a really interesting turn or option and I can’t wait to see what happens there but I still hope she could figure out her conflict within the confines of HHM and stay loyal because there’s just something still uncertain about the direction of taking up that offer. That and if she does, the door of HHM will most likely be closed behind her forever.

At first, Erin’s involvement with Jimmy seemed light, although tough in contrast to how sloppily Jimmy operates, but now she has upped her game by being almost Professor Umbridge-like with how joyfully strict she’s being towards him. I think it’s fair to say that Cliff and the partners are most likely trying to force Jimmy out rather than shapen him up or discipline him. Best case scenario is they will get some good work out of him, but otherwise he’ll just fail. I’m reminded of when Walt vouched for Jesse to Gus in season 3 and then Jesse ended up being a problem. At the rate Erin is going to keep Jimmy in line, I wouldn’t be surprised if he approached Cliff, the partners, and Erin on a street corner before Kim barrels them down with her Mitsubishi Eclipse. All joking aside, Kim and Jimmy are not in a favorable light right now to these higher-ups, no matter how justified one’s situation is over the other.

I liked how Kim acknowledged that Jimmy knew the right place for himself in the beginning of this season and I also think her calling Jimmy in order to scam another mark is very telling that although she is a law-abiding work horse, there’s still a hint of her that is playfully corruptible or irresponsible. It’s so complicated though. I’m kind of hoping for Howard and Kim to have their own “Pimento” moment between each other at the end of this season, because there’s something so present yet unspoken about all this that needs to be addressed.

Some notes:

– I liked in the beginning the slow camera rotation when Kim was brushing her teeth. It lets us reminisce on the season premiere when Jimmy was around, only to show here that he’s missing in this picture. Then her little raise of the finger on her tooth brush was a nice nod to show that she felt this too.

– I watched the inside extra for this episode and they said that Rhea Seehorn’s first exposure to Jimmy singing on the answering machine was what we got to see on screen. Neat way to get a natural reaction for Kim.