“The next morning, I wake up, and I’m in paradise.”
“Fun and Games” is the pinnacle episode where characters have a chance to catch up with themselves after being caught up in a long-winded, spiritually-compromised pursuit. Gus, Mike, Jimmy, and Kim have been overcoming mountainous hurdles which they’ve continuously reinforced to be in the name of something greater. Now that they’ve found even ground and promising roads ahead, they’re faced with existential crisis. The opening montage of Jimmy and Kim going about a normal day while Mike and his crew clean up their apartment in the aftermath of Howard’s murder is played to Harry Nilsson’s “The Perfect Day”, covered by Dresage and Slow Shiver. The ironically dreamy drawl of the lyrics “It’s the perfect way to end the perfect day” is undoubtedly grueling as Kim has to present crime scene photos of a battered, bloodied client shortly after her having experienced first-hand the grisly murder of a close colleague she aimed to tear down. This cold open is one big lie they have to live, recapturing the normalcy of their day-to-day. How long can they keep this up? At the end, Jimmy regurgitates Mike’s advice that one day they’ll realize they haven’t thought about what happened and then they’ll know they can move on. But is that just a shallow, self-serving escape enabling one to continue on the road to ruin?
When Gus meets at Don Eladio’s estate to undergo accusations from Hector Salamanca of Gus’ failed hit on Lalo and his hateful intentions towards the rest of them, Gus has the extraordinary task ahead to not only pull off the lie, but also maintain his composure. Every beat of fulfilling his revenge not only pertains to everything going off without a hitch, but how it goes off, like savoring fine wine. Gus is not there to beg or protest. He would never allow himself to be that weak again in the face of his enemies. Instead he has prepared to allow the narrative of Lalo’s faked death speak for itself. In turn, Hector looks like an angry, biased old man while Gus gets to play the stoic, indifferent role of an equal who won’t dignify the allegations with a response. Not only is this a physical win for Gus as he gets to walk out of this confrontation alive, but he’s gifted the opportunity to have his hate be apparent. Don Eladio recognizes it but is too blinded by the financial reward Gus has to offer. As long as Eladio believes Gus’ resentment will be kept in check, Gus never has to put up the phony, smiling front. Once the cousins are taken out of the picture, Gus can be frank towards Hector with his intentions to torture him, knowing Bolsa and Eladio will never take Hector seriously.
After all of this, Gus partakes in a personal moment to himself. The war with Lalo has concluded. We find him alone at the wine bar of a fancy restaurant. A little corner of peace where he can revel in the impossible feats he’s accomplished and how far he’s come. He’s encountered by Dave, the wine steward, who seems to take excited pleasure in Gus’ presence. The two seem to have a genuine interest in each other’s company, although from Gus’ end, there’s a complicated subtext going on. It’s established that this is not the first time Gus has taken refuge in this particular spot. When Dave goes on to divulge in the careful proficiency of the wine, it’s hard to tell if Gus is reciprocating with false interest (like he seems to when Gale shares his chemistry knowledge) or if he’s simply put up a false front for so long that he’s bewildered on how or whether he should embrace his true feelings. Gus is definitely allured by this man, but perhaps he doesn’t know how to be that man again. Perhaps he feels he doesn’t deserve it until he can avenge his old partner. He confesses to Dave that he’s saving an expensive bottle of Côte Rôtie which Dave recommended, for a special occasion. We can assume this special occasion is when Gus buries Eladio, Bolsa, and the entire Salamanca family.
In another lifetime, perhaps Gus and Dave get to share in that special occasion, but there’s something more to this. When Dave eagerly shuffles off to find an unopened bottle of wine which he believes will be of strong interest to Gus, he’s left staring at an empty glass. It’s one thing that Gus feels he can’t celebrate too soon until his revenge fantasy is complete, but is this all there is? What happens when he finishes the Côte Rôtie on the night of this special occasion and there’s nothing left but the grief for his partner? Would there ever be a paradise for Gus in the event he smites his enemies? Or is the road to revenge his true happy place? Is his effort to avenge Max just fun and games to him in the end? Is it validation for him to embody the awful human being he’s always been? We know he’s been ruthless ever since his youth when he broke the legs of a coati and kept it as a pet. We know he has a dark history as a General in the Pinochet Regime. I believe Gus recognizes this brief revelation in Dave’s absence which causes him to leave. When he debriefs with Mike regarding the clean-up of Howard, he immediately instructs Mike to begin the search for an engineer who can continue work on the super lab today. Gus is burying himself back into work to mask any epiphany of his inability to achieve contentment outside his own demons.
When Mike stood at Max’s memorial fountain with criticisms of who Gus was as a person, Gus never pretended he was anyone other than who he was. The underlying selling point for Mike to assist Gus was not derived from any moral justifications of who he’d be working for, but the shared pursuit of revenge and the resources to support it. Mike had decided to play the cards he was dealt after reeling in the aftermath of murdering Werner Ziegler. If it meant he can atone through the end goal of vanquishing the cartel, then at least he’d be doing something good in this world, right? The further we progress into Better Call Saul and analyze Mike’s mindset of being the ‘good bad guy’, it becomes increasingly clear the level of delusion that’s at play. Mike had already nailed it on the head when he called Gus out for being no less evil than the Salamancas. He even knew he was attracted by revenge in the moment he decided to work for Gus. Gus literally says the word out loud, yet somehow in the time that’s passed since then, Mike has twisted the concept into something noble. Something less shallow.
Since the Lalo dust has settled, Mike makes the decision to do right by Manuel Varga by confronting him face to face on what happened to his son. Mike may have committed awful deeds, but he’s an upstanding guy when all is said and done. Again that’s all bullshit. Mike ensures that justice is coming for the Salamancas but Manuel sees straight through it. He spells it out, crystal clear, on how Mike confuses justice for revenge. These are two fathers with murdered sons and Manuel’s acknowledgement of the endless cycle of violence speaks volumes to who he is vs. who Mike is. It’s not the tragedy that propelled Mike’s behavior throughout this series, but who he always was. A gangster who tries to justify his destructive views on the world. The loss of Mike’s son only validated him. As does Kaylee and Stacey’s prolonged happiness. He needed the right pieces in the right spot for him to become the “noble” button man we’ve come to know. Mike, like Gus, is a monster just the same. He may be willing to bathe in self-reflection moreso than Gus, but he’s just splashing around. Hey may not relish in it, but he’s got no intention to change. He’ll live to chalk up every misdeed as a result of the life he’s been dealt. The road of ruin left behind is something to press onward from until the next time someone gets hurt and the cycle continues.
In “Point and Shoot”, Mike has the foresight to know that people will be suspicious when it becomes known that Jimmy and Kim’s apartment complex will be one of Howard’s last known whereabouts. Cliff Main would certainly have reason over most to suspect that Jimmy or Kim may be in some way responsible for Howard’s disappearance. An even larger hurdle to overcome would be denying any foul play to Cheryl, Howard’s wife, considering she was also informed of Jimmy’s oddly slanderous actions towards Howard. Better Call Saul could have easily taken these seeds and generated another season worth of drama but instead they use it to show how low and unstoppable Jimmy and Kim are as a duo. Just like at Jimmy’s reinstatement hearing in the season 4 finale, he digs deep into the complicated relationship he had with his brother Chuck and uses it like a bag of tricks in order to be upfront to Cheryl and Cliff of his beef with Howard. This transparency is a stroke of genius since it shows he’s willing to reveal more about his conflict with Howard than he’s willing to hide. Anyone else guilty in this situation wouldn’t give Cheryl and Cliff an inch.
When it’s still not enough to convince Cheryl that this is cut and dry suicide, Kim doubles down on the lie of Howard being a drug addict and takes the rift in Howard and Cheryl’s marriage (made known to her by Howard moments before he’s shot) and uses it as their escape hatch. By using reverse psychology, she inflates Cheryl with the idea that she as a loving wife would have known better than anyone of what was going on, which in turn makes Cheryl doubt what she ever knew about Howard considering how adrift they’ve been. The emotional toll this has on Cheryl as Kim and Jimmy effortlessly swat away any accusation makes them all the more despicable. Together, Kim and Jimmy are a force to be reckoned with, considering they can talk themselves out of murder suspicion at the cost to a grieving wife’s suffering. The writers always find a way to write themselves out of corners in the most compelling and devastating ways.
And it only becomes the catalyst for something more heart-breaking because now that they’re in the clear, Kim gives a kiss to Jimmy in the basement parking garage which feels completely sour. This is followed by the announcement of her retirement as an attorney in the middle of a motion hearing. At this point we can only dread what’s coming next. Since the beginning of Better Call Saul, fans have been begging the question: “When are we going to get Saul Goodman?”. Many even considered this a criticism of the show’s slow burn in general. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould imagined they can get there by the end of the first season, but they realized how ripe Jimmy McGill’s character was for exploration. It would be criminal to gloss over the story potential of Jimmy McGill’s character for the sake of appeasing impatient Breaking Bad fans so they expertly used that impending tragedy and anticipation as the source of tension. The exploration of the ‘how’ proved more fascinating than the destination. Kim’s decision to leave Jimmy is the final nail in his coffin before Saul Goodman (as we knew him from Breaking Bad) can be introduced.
Kim and Jimmy’s relationship has always been paradoxical. Their very first scene of them alone in the series’ pilot features just one brief exchange of dialogue: (“Couldn’t you just…”/”You know I can’t.”). They are both wild, polar opposites but strangely compatible. The closer you put them together, the more prone they were to combusting, and that only added to the show’s intensity the more it progressed. Every time Kim chose to stay with Jimmy after she had every reason not to, we awaited worse circumstances that would cause her absence. Before we knew it, they were more or less on the same page with one another, but it’s at the cost of everyone around them. Howard was right in how soulless she became and her final deception to Cliff and Cheryl proved that. In the end, Kim is the only one who recognized the severity of her actions and is willing to take accountability. She has stronger willpower than Gus or Mike in coming to terms with that. She’s willing to walk away from a fulfilling career and a loving marriage, in the effort to change.
For Jimmy, this was a long time coming, but no less surprising. Throughout the hour, Jimmy was dead-set on accelerating the trauma and grieving process. His child-like turn of phrase “Let the healing begin” feels devoid of spiritual substance like it’s a material item to cross off on a shopping list. For Jimmy, he has already pushed the blame of Howard’s death on the obvious villain, Lalo Salamanca. Jimmy still carries the pain but in an unhealthily internalized manner. For him, this hardship is as easily replaced as the HHM garbage can. Like nothing happened. Kim knows better than to see how this can only fester and grow ugly over time. It’s one thing for Kim to leave Jimmy in the pursuit of the moral high ground, but when explaining why she never told Jimmy of Lalo’s survival, she admits that if the Howard scam was called off, it would lead to a break-up regardless. This means that there was a spark in their relationship that was missing outside the thrills Jimmy had to offer when they broke the law. In many ways, this feeds into Jimmy’s criticisms of Kim back in the rooftop confrontation in season 4’s “Wiedersehen”. Kim was enjoying the fun and games, but without that, Jimmy’s a loser. This may obviously be construed from his point of view and not be the full truth, but Kim acknowledging the likeliness of a break-up in the event her obsessive scam against Howard was called off, does say a lot.
The abrupt transition from Kim zipping the suitcase and ripping the tape off-camera to a sleazy Saul Goodman waking up next to some random prostitute is gut-wrenching. Journey’s “Anyway You Want It” playing from the alarm clock serves as a ‘fuck you’ to the portion of the audience who complained how Jimmy’s transformation wasn’t going fast enough. This is what many viewers always wanted, but are they happy now? Jimmy going full Saul Goodman is the equivalent of Gus cutting any brief moment with himself short. They both choose to bury themselves in their work instead of pursuing their personal issues in healthy ways. Saul spending the Sandpiper money on an extravagant mansion and turning client after client at any cost can be seen as either a coping process after Kim breaking his heart or revenge against her. By having his face plastered over every billboard in town and flooding the airwaves with television and radio ads, he’s showing her who he’s become. He is once again raising one big middle finger to the world as he becomes a monster in his own right. “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall”, first quoted by Chuck in “Chicanery” is used again in this final scene by Jimmy before we get a head-on shot of him sitting in his classic Saul Goodman office. Jimmy, like Mike, may very well be misconstruing the concept of revenge as justice. Something he’s willing to pursue at any cost. Jimmy’s resentment of the upper establishment has grown over the course of the series, but after Kim leaves him, he’s completely unhinged.
Where is Kim at this point? What point in time are we even in? It feels like it’s roughly before the events of Breaking Bad but awfully close. The fact that there’s four episodes left, it’s hard to tell what story we can expect to be told. “Fun and Games” can easily serve as a finale, but there’s still a few questions to consider going forward. Has Kim’s decision to leave proven beneficial for her? She always seemed to have issues of her own when it came to distancing herself from her past. If she’s not with Jimmy or a practicing lawyer, who is she? And finally, is there redemption for Jimmy McGill? Regardless if they ever meet again, can Jimmy turn his life around, post-Breaking Bad? Also how will the flash-forward into the Breaking Bad era serve the Better Call Saul story? We are now in uncharted territory.
-At Howard’s workplace memorial, Rich Schweikart mentions to Jimmy and Kim that this is probably the last time we’ll see HHM, as they are downsizing and changing their name. Very foreboding now that we’ve witnessed the flash-forward. I’m going to miss all these lawyer characters.
-In the scene when Mike is rummaging through his closet crawl space, the same score by Dave Porter is played which was used back in season 2’s “Gloves Off”. The scene it recalls is when Mike’s face is mysteriously pummeled, later revealed to be the work of Tuco Salamanca’s fists. In that episode, Mike did everything he could to avoid killing Tuco in order to complete the job for Nacho. At the time, Mike was doing anything he can to avoid being the person he feared he was. To bring that specific score back after so much destruction that’s occurred since then, especially before Nacho’s father puts him in his place, is quite fitting.
-If you rewatch the very first scene of the series as Gene works in the Cinnabon, listen to the song “Address Unknown” by The Ink Spots. Initially the song served the premise of Saul Goodman being relocated to Omaha, Nebraska with a strange identity. Now it can very much be interpreted as Jimmy missing Kim and hoping to find her again. The song is essentially about the long aftermath of a break-up.
What did everyone else think?