Tag Archives: Better Call Saul Wine and Roses Review

Better Call Saul “Wine and Roses” (S6E01)

“Jeeves, where’s my solid gold blimp? No, not that one. The other one.” – Kim (Season 2’s “Cobbler”)

In many interviews, Vince Gilligan goes on to express one of the greatest narrative regrets he has with Breaking Bad is opening the final season with the M60 machine gun in the trunk of Walt’s stolen car. At the point of the final season, every avenue of storytelling was ripe to explore and as the season unfolded, the writers became intrigued with the treasure trove of conclusions they can steer the ship towards.  Except what about that damn machine gun? It was a flash-forward that handcuffed the writers into having to satisfy their own trapping and while it’s safe to say they wrote themselves out of that corner successfully and delivered a thematically valid conclusion to Walt’s story, it’s still not a problem I would expect them to repeat.   Peter Gould, Vince Gilligan, and their writers seem addicted to challenge however because not only do they have the Gene story to keep in mind, and the mysterious phone call that Francesca has to answer at 3 PM on November 12th, but now they subversively dazzle us with Saul Goodman’s dream palace which seems to have existed during the Breaking Bad timeline or possibly beforehand. A stunning sanctuary we never saw Saul go home to during the former show. There’s so much to unpack here, literally.

First of all, how rock and roll is it not to show us the follow-up to Gene at the start of the season? It tricks us at first to make us think this will be the traditional black and white cold open but then splashes us in the face with a colorfully hypnotic sequence of Saul’s (and what may be some of Kim’s) ties thrown into a box. Then the reveal of this monstrosity of a mansion.  The statues, the artwork, the cathedral windows. A solid gold toilet? Stripper pole in the bedroom? What went on here?? If the season 5 finale was about not having a full scope of perspective on someone, the intro to season 6 blows that idea wide open. What’s probably the most unnerving aspect to this intro is that we are witnessing the Saul empire, not at its rise or its apex but at its collapse. There’s a feeling of how did Saul accomplish this and where is Kim? There’s so much contradiction and ambiguity here when it comes to theorizing her continued involvement, it’s exhausting.

On one hand, this is not a mansion built for one and if it is built for one, it’s very sad. We can see Saul’s blood pressure medication, a box of Minoxidil (hair loss treatment), and Viagra on the bathroom counter as well as a lot of other stuff that may imply a second person lived here but nothing that really ties directly to Kim. Even the toothbrush cup shows one toothbrush and it’s unknown if a second one is in there because a hairbrush blocks our view.  This set dressing is intentionally shot because the use of Kim and Jimmy’s toothbrushes has been a symbolic runner since season 2 on the state of their relationship. We see a bra looped around the faucet of the bathtub and there’s a separate walk-in shower but it doesn’t necessarily mean Kim’s been around. Plus did I mention the stripper pole in the bedroom? If you’re really in denial, you might argue that Kim may have had a sense of humor about it, but realistically this does not seem to be a married man’s house.

I think back to the previous episode when Kim and Jimmy are eating ice cream and fantasizing what to do with all the money they can get from Sandpiper. Kim’s dreams are to build a practice that can provide help for the little guy and give them a defense only millionaires can afford. Jimmy interjects by saying “I was thinking we get a house?” It’s not to say that Saul doesn’t sympathize with Kim’s values, but it shows you where his mind goes first. It’s strange though.  In many ways it feels like Kim has a better grasp on Saul Goodman and how to embrace the real idea behind him. Howard asked Jimmy what’s Saul Goodman about back in season 5’s “Namaste”:

“He’s the last line of defense for the little guy. You’re getting sold down the river? He’s a life raft. You’re getting stepped on? He’s a sharp stick. You got Goliath on your back, Saul’s the guy with the slingshot. He’s a righter of wrongs. He’s a friend to the friendless. That’s Saul Goodman.”

To Jimmy, Saul Goodman seems more like a character brand than a way of life. It’s a put-on. It’s not to say that he doesn’t do right by his clients for those noble reasons but it’s the money which is the main objective. He shares resentment for the upper establishment in the same way Kim does, but helping people who don’t have a chance in the game of law seems secondary. For Kim, helping a client who got set up as the getaway driver to a rich kid’s robbery and rescuing a homeless woman from MDC is one of the best days professionally from her point of view.  Something Saul mistakes as a day from hell. You have to remember, Saul spent the beginning of last season referring to his clients as assholes and suckers.  Before Lalo entered the scene, his goal was to churn through as many clients as he can no matter what their case settled on in order to get the best financial turnover. If he can convince his clients that they received the best legal representation money can buy, then what does he care whether he gave it 100%? Kim is similar in terms of being morally grey but on the flip-side he wants the best financial turnover (Sandpiper) in order to be in a better position to give her clients 100% in legal representation.

Kim seems to egg Jimmy on as to the flashier car Saul should drive and how to properly play up the colorful persona. She highly puts emphasis on flair. Who’s to say this future mansion isn’t just the two of them fulfilling some tongue-in-cheek fantasy just to prove they can. Kim and Jimmy have certainly fantasized about getting a house in the past, coincidentally in the same scene in season 2 when Kim first presents Jimmy with the World’s 2nd Best Lawyer cup. Back then, the house fantasy seemed rich but less Scrooge McDuck. They mention living in a bungalow in Corrales with a big open floor plan, expansive acreage with horses and wine and barbecue on the back patio.  Seems more Kim’s style. Maybe it means something that in the same episode we get a glimpse of Saul’s future house, the World’s 2nd Best Lawyer Again cup is thrown in the trash by Kim. Maybe the flame between them will die. As far as there is to tell, Kim is long gone from the house in the cold open and the Zafiro Enejo bottle cap being left behind seems to hint towards that. “Never say never” though seems to be one of themes to Better Call Saul’s story so is there ever any real telling?

After all, who would think Kim would go so far beyond pillow talk with sabotaging Howard to settle the Sandpiper case. Jimmy of all people seems to be more peer-pressured into it than in direct support. When Kim insists on talking further about it at dinner, Jimmy feels apprehensive and surprised Kim is still mulling the idea over which in turn makes him feel small when questioning it. Her mood shifts to disappointment upon seeing Saul’s uneasiness. There’s an innocence to him as he sips his Coke. As much as Jimmy can’t truly get behind throwing Howard professionally under the bus, he also can’t stomach leaving Kim hanging. It’s not like she’s forcing him as she repeatedly asks if he’s sure he’s okay with it, but he definitely feels compelled.  Kim has done a lot for Jimmy. One hand has always washed the other and Kim has leaned towards alternative ideas of bruising Howard’s reputation as a lawyer rather than tanking his career altogether.

Between countering Kevin Wachtell’s prejudices with anti-semitic claims in the country club, clogging the toilet to distract the clerk, and stripping naked as a means of disguise, Saul’s scheme of planting fake cocaine in Howard’s locker is brilliant. What feels off about it though is that Saul feels like a hired hand who’s not driven of his own accord or getting any genuine reward. As viewers, we’re conditioned to root for the protagonist regardless if they’re an anti-hero or not. Usually it’s because we want what they want. We’re along for their ride and if they have a goal and we understand why they strive towards that goal, then we’re on board.  In this case, not even Saul is fully on board and while we love Kim, we’re left filling in the blanks as to why she’s so adamant in getting the money in such a morally-comprising manner. There’s several reasons previously mentioned in support of her goal and we know why she strongly dislikes Howard, but it still leaves a knot in your stomach even when the groundwork for their long-term plan has gone off without a hitch. The collapse of the Saul empire shown in the beginning of the episode also casts a shadow over everything.

Kim and Jimmy’s endeavor only places them more centered in the crosshairs of danger rather than gets them out. In Nacho’s story, every ounce of energy is about dodging danger but proves just as stressful seeing as the entire south of the border serves as one giant crosshair. Nacho’s escape has intensified when his absence from Lalo’s compound massacre sets off alarm bells to Don Eladio and the Federalis. It’s confirmed by Juan Bolsa that they believe him to be a rat. On top of that, the hit on Lalo was botched which nobody is privy to, adding an extra layer of impending doom. The cartel will want Nacho alive so they can climb up the chain to who ordered the hit. It is not in Gus’ interest for Nacho to be caught so Tyrus guides Nacho towards an evacuation point at a seedy motel.

But where does Gus stand with Nacho? When Mike proposes a rescue to get Nacho home safe, Gus seems to be on a different page. Tyrus walking out of the room suggests a decision was already made and he doesn’t need to be in the room for Mike to give his peace on the subject. Mike pitches that loyalty goes both ways but Gus makes a point that Nacho was never given the choice to be loyal or not. From Gus’ perspective, Nacho was dead the moment he claimed ownership over him to be used for his bidding. Mike closes with “When all is said and done, the kid deserves your respect” after stressing that Nacho has played a tough game on the square. Gus responds that he does have respect for Nacho but it in no way seems to suggest that respect therefore saves him. It seems too late and Gus is too careful to let someone walk. Mike mistakes Gus for a man who is fair which is understandable considering Gus pushed back in Season 5’s “Dedicado a Max” when implied by Mike to be no more ethical than the Salamancas.

So what’s the play here? They provide Nacho with a gun in the motel.  Does Gus need him safe long enough before evacuatin him to a controlled place in which he can safely determine Nacho’s fate? Maybe set Nacho’s death up in a way to further take suspicion off Gus? And does Mike’s input mean anything as Gus’ right hand soldier? Is there no moral value anything else other than the linear road to revenge? Mike is at a crossroads in this situation. It’s one thing for Mike to take out Werner Ziegler, another man he respected. But Nacho and Mike’s alliance was seasoned long before Gus came into the picture. It’s an attack on Mike’s world and his standards to achieve a winning war’s outcome. Mike will actively search for an alternaive play. It’s quite similar to Jimmy’s dlilemma in tearing Howard down. Jimmy may not like Howard, but Howard is his world. It’s Kim’s world too, but with Jimmy, tearing Howard down to the extent of tanking his career is not his style in the pursuit of sticking it to the upper class. “Wine and Roses” explores the follies of a goal when cooperatively pursued, the compromises make in partnership, and how it pulls both parties forward intro re-evaluating their standards which otherwise never would be considered if they went about it alone.

Then you have Lalo, the one wild card psychopath who never needs anyone’s moral approval. This is a man who will groom a long historied friendship with sweet, Christian caretakers Mateo and Sylvia on the Mexican countryside, only to murder both of them when needs the husband as a body double in the event Lalo needs to fake his own death. Handling Mateo’s dental work was only so Lalo can swap the dental records to match his own when the Federalis investigate the horribly disfigured corpse of Mateo. This is one of the most cold and sinister plays we’ve witnessed in this universe. Perhaps Lalo actually grew to like these honest, hardworking people, but like Gus’ views on Nacho, they were likely considered dead the moment Lalo decided to use them for his ulterior motive.

Raging chaos on Gus despite Juan or Don Eladio’s wishes does not present itself with a moral hurdle, but a political one. When Hector learns that Lalo’s alive and his plan to take out Gus, he urges Lalo to have proof of Gus’ involvement in his assassination attempt so that the Cartel bosses can get behind him. It takes a beat but Lalo may know where to get this proof. What’s curious however is that he declines to go North, killing the coyotes he had paid to take him there. My first thought is the chain of mistrust that connects Lalo and Nacho and how he was already suspicious of Saul as a questionable link in that chain. But why stay South? The only sensible theory to muster is Lalo deducing the Columbian gang as the ones who likely ambushed Saul. Whether Lalo can interrogate any surviving hitment or the man from the cartel stash house who helped facilitate it, perhaps he can get information as to what exactly happened. Lalo knows there’s no way Saul would survive the ambush on his own, so regardless if the Columbian gang were operating on their own volition or were hired, there must have been interference by another interested party. This may not be hard proof, but he may be building a better case before making the mistake of heading off Saul and Kim again half-cocked.

Other thoughts:

-Saul spins the table on opposing council and Detective Tim Roberts who wants to bring Parsons (the judge) in to review Lalo’s abrupt and alarming release. They are suspicious but Saul throws it in their face that the law and its agents had every resource at their disposal to stop Lalo from walking. Saul’s so caught up in his defense of detaching his responsibility and his contempt for the law’s incompetence, he reveals Lalo’s name accidentally. It would be easy to say this was a hiccup that won’t have any further narrative, but this show is too consequential and deliberate to cut the thread of suspicion so easily.

-This final season premiere is full of slow, dramatic reveals, consisting of wide and closed shots and object POV. Between the spoils of the dessert cart melting away outside Kim and Jimmy’s hotel room, the buzzing cell phone in the foreground as Gus awaits Juan Bolsa’s call regarding Lalo’s assumed demise, or Kaylee’s marble contraption running its course as Mike shares time with his granddaughter amidst the more darker plot, the tone is nail-biting as we approach the final stretch. The best pullback was from the ant on the dead hitman’s finger, followed by the Salamanca twins approaching the crime scene. That ant is representative of how tied together this universe is with itself and how we’ve arrived at the point of no return. Nobody is off the table from meeting a grisly end in this world. Not Saul, not Kim, and not even poor Mateo and Sylvia.

-The beautifully directed cold open played to an instrumental of Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” has a mysterious object to keep in mind. Notice the notebook that gets thrown into the box marked ‘No Value’. If you freeze-frame the book when opened, there’s an odd, coded language that fills its pages. Very bizarre and alien-like. Perhaps this is a code only Jimmy and Kim will every comprehend? Coordinates? It’s too odd an item given just enough screen time for it to amount to nothing.

-H.G. Well’ 1895 science fiction novel The Time Machine is also featured in a separate shot. It’s a story about speculative evolution and class division between two human sub-species, being the Eloi and the Morlocks. Eloi are the more down-to-earth playful entities, while the Morlocks are more brutal and monstrous. Perhaps this alludes to Jimmy and Kim’s character journeys? I might have to pick this book up!

An interesting note about MTB.com which was shown on the shoe box in Saul’s palace closet. It’s the company Masai Barefoot Technology that was brought out of bankruptcy in 2013. It was appointed to work behind the scenes under a new name developing a running shoe that utilizes rocker technology to serve up a “soft, smooth ride.” This could mean nothing but the theorist in me associated 2013 as Breaking Bad’s final aired season and as soon as I heard “working behind the scenes”, I thought perhaps Kim shares that similar role post-Breaking Bad.  Behind the scenes with a new name leading a smoother life? Alright, I’ll stop.

Source: https://www.podiumrunner.com/gear/mbt-returns-with-new-running-shoes/ ,article by Brian Metzler

What did everyone else think?