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Better Call Saul, "RICO"

Ultimately, what we all want is to be accepted.

Socially, professionally, romantically, sexually, emotionally, intellectually, artistically…the specifics differ from person to person, but everything we do, everything that drives us, everything that gets us out of bed in the morning and keeps us limping through this confusing, frustrating, impossible dance of civilization comes down to a desire, in some way, in any way, to fit.

Jimmy McGill is no exception. And that’s heartbreaking.

On Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman filled the role of comic relief. It made sense there, and eventually became a necessary component of the show, because Walt’s story — Breaking Bad‘s central journey — was one of continuous unfolding tragedy. A character like Saul needed to be outsized and impossible to miss, because as the show continued and became weightier, we needed something on the other side to keep it from tipping into irredeemable darkness. And, so, he was there, the profiteering “circus clown” in Walter’s life.

In Better Call Saul, though, there is no Walt. Jimmy McGill is a jester without a court. In a tremendously sad reveal over the course of the past seven episodes, we’ve learned that this change in context means nothing: Jimmy’s the comic relief in his own story, too.

And that’s downright depressing.

The opening sequence of “RICO” walks us through one doomed and devastating attempt of Jimmy’s to fit in: passing the bar. And while we never hesitated to laugh at any of Saul’s bunglings or misfortunes, could we laugh at Jimmy’s here? I certainly couldn’t. It’s sad enough just learning that Hamlin and Co. know Jimmy as the guy who used to work in their mailroom, but his failed attempt to leave it behind him is genuinely painful.

He tries to make small talk with his more important colleagues, but they just want their mail. An unanswered “What’s up?” hangs in the air as Jimmy wheels his cart further along. Kim, unsurprisingly, is thrilled for him. Chuck — his more respectable, more successful, more intelligent older brother — is dumbfounded. If he’s proud at all it’s eclipsed by the shock he feels. More likely, he sees this as an act of supreme idiocy…his younger brother — for whom he no doubt pulled strings just to get him a job in the mailroom — getting mindlessly fleeced over the past several years by a correspondence school.

Remember when Skyler inspected Saul’s degree from the University of American Samoa? It was a funny, Lionel Hutz-type gag. Here, as we learn its origin, it’s a brick to the heart.

It all culminates in a very minor celebration for Jimmy. Some cake and soda in whatever empty space they can find around the copier. His friends — Kim amongst them — are sincere in their well-wishes. Hamlin is not. The fact that Jimmy is told he will not be hired on as a lawyer is not surprising, but the fact that Hamlin knowingly impedes on the celebration shifts the news from “sound business decision” to “overt fuck-you.” It was several years of hard work, expense, and persevering in the face of failure…and it came to nothing. Hamlin helps himself to a slice of cake.

No hard feelings, right? Do you want the door open or closed?

As last week’s episode ended, this week’s opens: Jimmy McGill, one more door closing on him.

The struggle for acceptance defines — and unintentionally ignites — “RICO.” It’s why Chuck offering his hand and Jimmy leaning in for a hug — however many years after Jimmy passed the bar — means something deeper than the warmth of the image. Now, here, against all odds, Jimmy McGill is in a position to do some good. And to do it the right way.

It’s also why Kim sticks by Jimmy…this mailroom buffoon that nobody, aside from her apparently, can bring themselves to take seriously. It’s not because she believes in him, exactly…she’s second-guessed him too often for that, and rightly so…but because he accepts her on a level that other people do not.

In “RICO” we see her moving her belongings back into her office, which is a good reminder of just how quickly she was moved out of it for losing a client through no fault of her own. She’s a good lawyer, and she did her job the way it needed to be done. Circumstances, temporarily, worked against her, and she was ceremoniously stripped of her rank. However much she might mean to Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, she’s not accepted. Whatever possibilities for promotion they may dangle in front of her, she’ll always be kept at arm’s length.

By contrast, when Jimmy offered her the corner office in his suite, she (and we) knew he meant it. It was as good as hers. No doubling back, no empty promises. He meant every word he said. And yet…he’s a nobody. Kim couldn’t accept the offer, because what kind of future could this man have? With him, she could have acceptance. With Hamlin, she could have significance. They both sound like nice options, but we know she really could have only made one choice. Nobody hands their future over to a clown.

And acceptance is what caused Jimmy to specialize in elder law. It’s not just because the elderly are the only ones who seem to pay him — though that’s undoubtedly part of it — it’s the fact that he can actually help them.

They like him. They recognize his suit. They enjoy his company. They spend their days watching the kinds of old movies Jimmy himself is always referencing. (References which, it should be noted, other characters his own age never seem to recognize.)

In fact, “RICO” itself is built on the foundation of Jimmy doing good. Helping an old woman prepare her will is one thing…taking a stand against the systematic fleecing of the residents of her assisted living facility is another. And while the latter has a much larger payoff, it’s also the case that will help the most people.

He stumbled across the scheme not while chasing ambulances, but while treating an old lady with respect. He listened to her…actually heard what she had to say. This is why he was able to piece something together that nobody else could: with all the money coming her way, why couldn’t she afford to pay full price for his services?

As far as she’s concerned, there’s a perfectly rational explanation…but Jimmy takes the time to dig, just to see what he can find.

Jimmy McGill has value. There’s a reason that he could, theoretically, make something of himself, and it’s the scene that finds him pawing through a dumpster in the middle of the night. A few episodes ago when he found the Kettlemens hiding in the woods, he offered his services and asked them a question: who found them? Was it Hamlin? Or was it McGill? One of these lawyers looked the part, but the other was willing to get himself dirty. Which is more valuable?

Again, there’s only one choice. Nobody hands their future over to a clown.

Jimmy might display fits of competence — including two that baffle Chuck this week — but he’s the comic relief, and everybody knows it. It holds him back. Or, more specifically, it hedges him into one kind of role.

Whatever values and abilities and usefulness he might have inside, society has already decided who he is. He can work as long and as hard as he likes to force the world to view him differently, or he can give up and conform to the vision of him that they already have.

And yet again, there’s only one choice.

If Better Call Saul is an extended reminiscence of the futureless manager of a Nebraskan Cinnebon, it’s an inherently tragic one. After all, that man isn’t reflecting on where it all went wrong; he’s reflecting on the fact that he never had a future to begin with.

Close the door, if you don’t mind. I need to be alone with my thoughts.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

Welcome back! This week we…

Oh, fuck. It’s this Thanksgiving hobo thing again? Jesus.

Yeah, it’s part two. Of two, thankfully; we can take some solace in that at least. And if you didn’t catch last week’s episode, no worries; this one opens with over two minutes of clips from it. Having said that, if you didn’t catch last week’s episode, fuck you; none of the clips tell you anything that maters.

It’s really strange. If you’re going to show a recap, at least make it relevant to what we’re about to see. Instead it’s overt, obvious padding, as the “clips” are actually long, unedited conversations between characters. There’s no reason to replay them in full except to eat time. A smarter show would chop out all but the most important soundbites and a few of the better jokes. Here the editors just say, “Fuck it, we’ll spend a whole minute listening to Willie talk to Flaky Pete again.”

It’s padding, and it’s shameless. By the time the credits are over and we get to the actual footage unique to “Turkey in the Straw: Part 2,” we’re 4 minutes into the episode’s 23-minute runtime. It’s as if the writers didn’t actually want to script a second part.

Which, forgive me, forces me to ask why in the living fuck they made this a two-parter to begin with.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

The episode proper opens with a repeat of the final scene of Part 1, with Flaky Pete coming into the kitchen. So just let that sink in for a bit. After four minutes of recap and credits, we open the episode with a replay of something we’ve already seen.

Great.

It’s worth giving it a little more attention than that, though, since two things I didn’t mention in the previous episode come into play here.

The scene itself is a little longer than the previous edit, which makes it play unexpectedly oddly. For starters, Flaky Pete covers his mouth when introducing himself to ALF. We didn’t see that the first time around, and this time I couldn’t figure out why he was hiding his stubble, or whatever he was doing.

Only later did it click for me that this was because the Alien Task Force warned him in Part 1 that ALF might jump down his throat and burst out of his chest, ala (…kinda) Alien. Since I forgot all about that stupid part of a stupid exchange in a stupid episode, I had no idea what stupid shit was going on here.

If you’re going to have two different edits of this scene, why strand the punchline away from the setup? Why not do the fucking Alien gag in the episode that set it up, and leave it out of this one?

Or, wait, didn’t we just have minutes upon minutes of recaps leading up to this? Why not include that line in the clips you’re already fucking showing if it’s supposed to pay off here?

Something else makes this scene play oddly this time around, and it’s actually the opposite of the Alien gag’s problem. See, Part 1 ended with ALF seeing Flaky Pete and saying “rut-roh.” I didn’t bother to mention it then, because I had no everloving idea why ALF was suddenly, irrelevantly channeling Scooby-Doo.

Well, in the longer edit of the scene, that comes later…after ALF unsuccessfully tries to convince this stranger that he’s a dog. Here, when Flaky Pete announces that he’s not fooling anyone, the “rut-roh” makes sense. In the same scene from the previous episode, it was a confusing non sequitur.

So, there you have it. The Alien punchline gets botched here because it’s so far removed from the setup, and the “rut-roh” punchline gets botched there because it’s stripped of its context. ALF sure does two-parters right!

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

At the Ochmonek house, Mr. and Mrs. O are warbling some made-up German nonsense while Jake plays the drums. Super glad we added you to the cast, Jake. This show would be lost without you.

It goes on for fucking ever.

Really. I’m pretty sure I have a higher Ochmonek tolerance than anyone else on the planet, but this is just them making noise. We are filming them making noise.

…having said that, I do really like the fact that you can see Willie with his arms crossed in the mirror.

That’s a really nice touch, and it’s a perfect reflection of how I watch this show, too.

Of course, we cut to a shot of Willie that has Kate standing where she should be visible in the reflection as well, but she’s not. Kate Tanner, vampire. Confirmed.

Or just terrible blocking. Later we can see the mirror again and suddenly she’s there, so who knows. Maybe she had to go take a shit during one of the takes.

The mirror breaks at the end, with a cheap effect that makes it look like a sheet of tin foil was just bunched up into somebody’s fist. By the time it’s over and we cut back to ALF, we’re eight minutes into the episode.

Eight minutes. A third of the episode.

And nothing has happened.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

Did this really need to be a two-parter? Again, could this not have been condensed down to one decent episode, instead of two shitty ones?

It’s just like “Someone to Watch Over Me” last season. In both cases, I honestly believe we could have ended up with something good. Probably not great…but something at least fun and watchable. And in both cases, we instead get these painful slogs through act-long stretches in which nothing noteworthy, funny, interesting, important, or memorable happens.

I’ll give “ALF’s Special Christmas” credit for one thing; it was packed wall-to-wall with stuff happening. So much so that it was unintentionally comical just how much bullshit the audience was expected to choke down. But the point is that it was an hour long because Fusco & Friends had that much material.

It was bad material, but, well…so is this. That episode was doubled in length because the story (as it was…) required a larger vessel.

This, along with “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “Tonight, Tonight,” is twice the length for the sake of being twice the length. It’s ALF telling us that it cares neither about the most effective way of telling its stories nor about respectful usage of its audience’s time.

I mean, look at the screengrab. Look how far into this fucking article you are.

It’s still Flaky Pete and ALF talking. Not even about anything interesting. They’re still introducing themselves. This episode is stalling for time and I hate it. How long does it take for these two assholes to exchange pleasantries and move the fuck along?

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

Eventually, thank shitty Christ, the phone rings and it’s the Alien Task Force, doing alien tasks in their forcemobile.

The guy with his arm in a sling is calling Flaky Pete for no reason.

Just kidding. The reason is that the show needs to inject some ham-fisted tension before the commercial break. You know, the commercial break that comes halfway through the episode, which is the point we’re at right now.

And nothing. The fuck. Has happened.

Sgt. Tennis Elbow tells the hobo, “lol sry, I forgot to mention we’re going to kill the alien.”

Flaky Pete gets sad, because the hideous creature he just spent 11 minutes introducing himself to might be put down before it can spread harmful space disease to innocent people.

Over the course of a single episode, a constant escalation of tension would have worked quite well, and the Alien Task Force is a built-in mechanism for introducing that tension. But instead of twenty minutes or so of mounting dread, we get seven days between when these assholes are called and when they finally get to the house.

By that time we’re so sick of waiting that we no longer care if ALF gets flayed alive in the name of science. We just want them to fucking get there so that something will happen.

Then we cut to Willie getting mustard thrown in his stupid dumbass face

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

I take it all back. This is the best episode in the history of the world.

Back at the house, ALF is showing Flaky Pete photos of his life on Melmac. It’s a decent moment, full of Melmac lore (see a very lengthy Melmac Facts below), but it’s nothing great. You’d think that once these two finally started having a conversation we’d get to hear something interesting…and, in fairness, we do.

I’ll talk about that a moment, but first, the main thing that stuck out to me is how different Flaky Pete looks without his hat:

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

He’s a whole other person…and one that I now recognize.

Yep. That’s David Ogden Stiers.

Look him up; he’s been in a million things. Most notably though, he played Major Charles Winchester on M*A*S*H*.

This is a good actor, folks. Seeing him slumming through “ALF’s Special Thanksgiving” is brutal. It’s probably the biggest career disappointment for anyone in this show, barring maybe Uncle Albert, who played Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon.

Maybe I would have recognized him last week if not for a subconscious reluctance to link ALF and M*A*S*H* in any way.

His IMDB page, though, reassures me that this was not the last gasp of an actor who deserved much better. He’s still working consistently (and has been for what seems like his whole life), which softens the blow quite a bit.

We come very close to an interesting exchange when Flaky Pete reveals he used to be in the military, reacting to the news of Melmac’s nuclear apocalypse with a sense of true horror.

He likens that to his own experience in the armed forces…specifically, the fact that he retired because he didn’t feel anything could be worth blowing up the planet over. Sure, that’s a massively oversimplified perspective on war, but it could build into a really resonant conversation about what happened on Melmac.

It doesn’t, which is disappointing enough. The fact that this comes right after last week’s revelation that there was no war on Melmac — somebody just left a fork in their equivalent of a microwave, I guess — robs it of all meaning entirely.

What a waste of a great opportunity.

Stiers does his best to elevate his material, with a few seconds of genuinely affecting sadness when the Alien Task Force calls him to let them know they’re only 30 minutes away. It doesn’t last, but it’s a flash of talent that the material, quite frankly, doesn’t deserve.

Brian and Jake come into the living room and see ALF chilling with a hobo. Nothing really comes of it, apart from an agonizing few seconds of the camera lingering on Benji Gregory while the kid struggles to remember his only line.

The kids are introduced to the hobo, then they go back to the Ochmonek house to rat him out.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

Willie, overcome with excitement, assumes that Flaky Pete reconsidered his offer for those crack rocks.

The Tanners stand up and leave without thanking the Ochmoneks for the meal, the hospitality, or anything at all. But I guess I’m overthinking things. Since when do people make a point of giving thanks on Thanksgiving?

OH FUCKING WAIT

Last week a few commenters called me out for coming down so hard on Willie…specifically the fact that he’s supposed to be a social worker. Rightly so, at least in isolation.

Within that episode, sure, maybe he had a bad day or week at work. Maybe he was just tired of being empathetic and compassionate all the time. Maybe he really needed some downtime with his family, and therefore overreacted when that was threatened.

All well and good, except for the fact that we’ve seen Willie at work, and he’s neither empathetic or compassionate. We’ve seen him pissing and moaning about people who are nothing but polite to him, and we see it regularly. I couldn’t even tell you the last time he’s expressed gratitude for anything to anyone.

Willie, in a word, can’t suffer from being over-compassionate because he has yet to demonstrate compassion at all.

And, again, it’s worth mentioning that this could be useful in a sitcom. The disparity between his personality and his occupation could be funny. This is where I’d list a few examples of comedy characters who hate their jobs…but it’d be infinitely quicker to list those who don’t. (Leslie Knope. Kenneth Parcell. Jonas Venture, Jr. DONE.)

The insurmountable problem is that the writers are not aware of the disparity…something empasized (unwittingly) in the fact that this episode ends with the Tanners making good with Hobo Pete, but not the Ochmoneks.

As far as the Fuscoteers are concerned, the Tanners have nothing to apologize to them for. They treated shitty people like shit, so everything maintains its rightful balance. That kind of attitude is in no way compatible with a social worker who deserves raises and promotions every handful of episodes…

…and yet the writers don’t realize that. We’ve yet to see evidence of Willie treating anyone who isn’t himself like a human being. That could be a source of comedy. Instead it’s a badge of idiocy.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

Back at the house, Willie yells for a while at ALF. Then he turns to Flaky Pete, and we get to see Max Wright and David Ogden Stiers in an act-off.

It’s a big moment. Emotionally, it’s what both episodes have been building toward. Sticking these two in the center of it, and offering us no distractions from the heated exchange, the episode is counting on these two men to sell the drama.

Wright gets all of the lines here, giving him a significant advantage. What’s more, all of his lines are engineered to tug at our heart-strings. He pleads with Flaky Pete not to reveal ALF to anyone else, as that alien has become part of their family. He alludes to the danger our title character is in, and throws himself on the hobo’s mercy. He has no idea that the Alien Task Force is on the way, so all of his concern is coming, ostensibly, from the heart.

Stiers, on the other hand, just has to stand there and listen.

Guess which one of them manages the more affecting performance.

What an insult to this guy to have to play third banana to such an undeserving cast of imbeciles.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

There’s a genuinely nice, understated moment when the phone rings once. That was the Alien Task Force’s signal to Flaky Pete that they’re there.

Lynn answers it and says, “They must have hung up,” without any real interest.

Nobody takes note.

But Stiers sells the moment of internal conflict. He feels awful about what he’s done…but he’s already done it. It’s too late.

He excuses himself to wash his hands, and you can feel the rock in his stomach.

Whether or not the writers intended it, this functions as a lovely moment of awakening. A homeless man who’s been kicked around and mistreated realizes that he kicked around and mistreated somebody else. It’s not empowering to him…it’s devastating.

Stiers knows how to act. I have to believe it’s no coincidence that he does his best work in ALF when he does it silently, without having to worry about the garbage they handed him on the script.

The family starts to sing about God (yes, fucking really fucking fucking really) as Flaky Pete slips outside to meet with the Alien Task Force. We hear the Thanksgiving hymn continue in the background, making it pretty difficult to hope that he doesn’t turn the family in.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

FIVE STEVES PEST REMOVAL, everyone.

Anyway, this is Flaky Pete’s crisis of conscience. Whatever he does, he’d best do it right. He approaches the Alien Task Force (who are presumably going incognito due to the van, and yet still march around in broad daylight in full Alien Task Force regalia), takes a deep breath, and does what he knows must be done.

In a very nice — but extremely anticlimactic, considering an hour of screentime has built to this — resolution, Flaky Pete tries to pass himself off as a loony who believes himself to be an alien.

The Alien Task Force bitches for a bit about missing the game and then drives away without any further examination of the area, ignoring the astonishing coincidence that this false positive took place at the exact same address as the previous two false positives. They don’t even bother to ring the doorbell.

Why — WHY — does this organization even exist?

They shrug and leave after about five seconds of mindless hobobabble, and we return to the Tanners who are sitting around the table, holding hands and literally singing Christ’s praises.

What a treat. Exactly where I was hoping I’d end up in a show about an alien…watching some family of white assholes singing about God.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

So, yeah, not only is Willie a social worker, but he’s a devout Christian. Apparently.

What would Jesus do? Well, he’d probably make fun of his fat neighbors and act ungrateful for everything they’ve done for him.

Honestly, if this is Willie’s idea of being a good Christian, maybe his understanding of social work is equally skewed. Then again, this entire universe’s understanding of social work is skewed, so we’ll just chalk it up again to a room full of writers not giving one lone shit about their own show.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 2"

The episode ends with Brian performing his Thanksgiving play for the family, the hobo, and us. It’s a great chance to squeeze in some casual racism with ALF dressing up as an Indian and making hilarious jokes about being kidnapped by “the white man.” It’s every bit the squirt of garbage water we all deserve to get in our eyes for sitting through this shit instead of reading a book.

Brian and Lynn then explain the meaning of Thanksgiving, which we’re told is something that brings the whole world together…even though it’s an exclusively American holiday. The writers are aware that America is not the world, right?

…right?

Just before the credits come up, Willie adds that they have one celebrant from Melmac, and then tears up.

I don’t know why. I think we’re supposed to believe that his heart has been touched. Instead it just looks like he realized that his career has peaked with a show about a talking throw-rug.

“Turkey in the Straw,” as a whole, sort of sucks. It sort of really sucks. But it’s still the best thing I’ve seen in season three.

I’m conflicted. On one hand, I’m grateful for that much. On the other, I truly hope this isn’t actually as good as it gets. Do we at least have another Jodie or Dr. Dykstra episode to look forward to? I really fucking hope so…

Flaky Pete departs, and Willie says he hopes he stays in touch. He sleeps in your compost heap, asshole. I think if there’s going to be any kind of ongoing friendship, the onus is on you.

MELMAC FACTS: Flaky Pete concludes that ALF is from a cold planet, due to his fur, and mentions that his feet are suited to a muddy terrain, probably reddish-brown so that he’d blend in. His large ears suggest a thin atmosphere that doesn’t transmit sound well, and his big nose indicates a scarcity of oxygen. All very interesting, but ALF neither confirms nor denies these conclusions, because he’d rather say, “Hey! Watch the wisecracks about the schnoz!” The fact that Flaky Pete cracked wise in no way isn’t enough to quell to laughter of dead people, so fuck you for caring. Planet K-171 (I have no idea if this even exists, unlike Chiron from “Weird Science” which was used as an interesting way of weaving ALF’s mythology into our own) is known to ALF as Neesbeck, and their “national bird” is dust. Why not “global bird?” ALF regularly seems to treat Melmac like a nation as well as a planet, as though the two are interchangeable…I guess that’s just a general (and inexplicable) confusion within in the show. Melmac had orange skies and green ground. The Orbit Guard motto was “To guard the orbits, whether they need it or not.” ALF never saw combat when he was one of them. HAPPY FAPPY TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT

Better Call Saul, "Bingo"

I wondered what it would take to push a man over the line, to stop him saying “Absolutely not” and start him saying “Yes, please.” [This episode] has that answer; you just make “absolutely not” lead, reliably, to tragedy.

That’s from my review of episode three. After this most recent installment, I have to say I think I got it right. “Bingo,” as they say…

At the end of that episode, Jimmy McGill found the Kettlemans camping out. That encounter quite specifically (and quite literally) led to a payoff here. What song was it that the family was singing when he found them? Something about a dog having a name-o? Oh well; it probably doesn’t matter.

Here, Jimmy’s chickens are coming home to roost. From the opening scene — in which his Juan Valdez bump ‘n’ dump last week is less amusing to the police than it was to us — all the way to the very end, this man is facing the consequences of his actions.

Taking money from the Kettlemans was certainly the biggest mistake. While he did attempt to reposition their attempted bribe as a retainer, they refused, and he took the bribe anyway. Bad enough, and the fact that he tried to reposition it as a retainer only becomes another yoke around his neck. He was damned either way, but by attempting to help he ensured that he’d get twice as hurt in return.

The episode’s theme is summed up in the short exchange he has with Mike, when he explains that he’s doing “the right thing,” making damn sure to put it in quotes. And the tragedy is spelled out with two scenes in Jimmy’s could-be office. One of which brims with confidence and the promise of open space…and the other of which sees Jimmy breaking down, a door closing on him.

He was close in “Bingo.” He really thought he had it. With a burgeoning career in elder law — bolstered by a sponsored Bingo night for the local nursing home — he can afford to start thinking about these things. He runs out of room to stash his files. He can turn away clients. He can even steal Kim Wexler away from Hamlin. The way the shot is framed as he introduces her to her new office, we see only blue sky through the window. Nothing appears to be in their way.

Nothing, of course, except for reality. Because Jimmy’s vision of heaven — as modest as it must seem — needs to appear to him only so that it can be snatched away. He needs to believe that he can do this, so that when he actually can’t he will blame himself. He needs to feel in his bones how happy he can be, so that when it’s all ripped away it will hurt like a motherfucker.

The sweetness at the heart of Better Call Saul — at least at this early stage in its life — serves a similar purpose for the audience. The more time we spend with Jimmy, the less he seems like Saul. He has a different name, yes, but he also has a different identity. Try as I might, I can’t picture Saul Goodman giving Kim (or anyone like Kim) a tour of the office the way Jimmy did here. It was adorable, it was naive, and it left Jimmy wide open to a great deal of pain. Saul Goodman knows better, and the further Jimmy McGill drifts from that character, the more it’s bound to hurt when he inevitably snaps back.

Saul, to me, was never a bad man. He was, however, a man hiding a vague unhappiness. There was too much show about the showman. His divorces and troubled upbringing would sometimes come up, but it was mainly a feeling brought about by Bob Odenkirk’s masterful performance. As he demonstrated in Mr. Show, the funniest moments can still carry a note of sadness. Explore it or don’t; either way, it resonates.

With “Bingo,” we catch a glimpse, along with him, of an alternate future. Like Walt and Skyler touring their future home in a Breaking Bad flashback, we know what’s to come. Unlike that, however, we know that this won’t pan out. There’s never going to be a McGill, Wexler & Associates. He’s never going to be able to walk across his spacious suite and ask her where she’d like to go to lunch. They’re never going to work together on the same client.

Everything fragments. He saw how all of the pieces could fit together, but (or perhaps “and”) he failed to see that they never would.

You make a bad decision, and you live with the consequences. You can climb above your station, but you can only fight against gravity for so long.

You take the money, and you give it back. You take the client, and you give him back.

You end up in a situation that sees you fighting against something you want…forcing it away…beating it back. They call that doing “the right thing.” And, in the process, you lose something else you wanted. Probably what you wanted most of all.

The empty office becomes less of a goal and more of a reminder of what you’ll never have.

“Bingo” introduces us to a Jimmy McGill who comes dangerously close to making something of himself.

As the episode ends and he affects the voice of an invented secretary, I think he still believes in himself. But he believes in himself a little less than he did.

Time and fate and consequence will continue to wear that down to nothing. And that’s, quite literally, when there will be no more Jimmy McGill.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

At long last, we get to ALF‘s Thanksgiving episode. Hooray! And it’s…complicated. I’ve got a sort of toleration/hate relationship with this one…and, to be honest, the second half could sway me in either direction. But that’s a story for next time. We’ve got plenty to talk about before deciding if this two-parter is a heap of shit.

This episode opens with ALF teaching Kate how to use her new microwave oven, and while the joke is both lame and nonsensical (ALF is reading instructions from the VCR manual, which somehow takes ages for either of them to realize) Lynn isn’t being raped so this is already a masterpiece compared to last week.

It’s the day of Thanksgiving, and ALF has hidden all respect for the audience. Specifically, the plot hinges upon the idea that ALF doesn’t understand Thanksgiving. That’s fine, right? He’s a space alien, so Earth (or, erm, American) customs are new to him.

Yet, by now, we know this is impossible. Even if three years in our time equals a much smaller span of time in the ALF universe (which it doesn’t, as we’ll see later), we know that ALF has already celebrated Halloween (“Some Enchanted Evening”) and Christmas (“Oh, Tannerbaum,” “ALF’s Special Christmas,” “Shumway Christmas Boogie”), so it’s impossible that this could be his first experience of Thanksgiving on Earth.

In fact, since he’s celebrated multiple Christmasses, this should be at least his third Thanksgiving. The episode may even allude to this fact, as when ALF asks if he’s ever told them about Thanksgiving on Melmac, Willie offers up a tired acknowledgement that, yes, he has.

In short, they’ve been through all this crap before, so what happens here is total, irritating contrivance.

ALF ate the entire Thanksgiving turkey, raw. (“Turkey sushi,” he explains matter-of-factly, which I admit was good for a chuckle.) He does that because he’s adhering to Melmackian tradition.

On ALF’s homeworld, the equivalent of Thanksgiving was a holiday called Fappiano — named for Bob Fappiano, one of ALF’s secondary puppeteers, and not for what you think. But, again, ALF can’t be held faultless for accidentally slipping into old Melmac habits…he’s fucking been here for years. By now, I’m sorry, the hairy little fucker has to know that humans don’t like it when you eat their dinner.

He knows what Thanksgiving entails. And yet he does this. Willie and Co. seem to know what Fappiano entails…and yet they’re surprised he does this. What the living shit is even going on?

It’s pointless nonsense, relying, I guess, on the idea that everything on Earth will be perpetually new to ALF, no matter how many times he experiences it…except for all of those other times that he has a perfect, innate understanding of everything he’s never seen before.

Fuck this show.

I’ll propose a quick rewrite for “Turkey in the Straw”: ALF indeed ruins Thanksgiving, but not because he took a fork and sat naked on the kitchen floor eating everything. Instead, he has something of a handle on the holiday by now, having shared it with the Tanners and seen Kate prepare for it over the past few years. He decides to surprise her by doing something nice, and cooking the food himself. Maybe he forgets to defrost the turkey first. Maybe he carves it up and serves it raw because that’s how they did it on Melmac. Or maybe he prepares everything wonderfully, but stuffs the bird with fistfuls of Lucky’s intestines.

Who knows. The point is, you can have ALF fucking things up for other reasons. It doesn’t always have to be “ALF has no clue wtf this is,” especially since he’s been on Earth long enough now that we should be seeing more partial understandings than complete misunderstandings. You can still end up in the same place, plotwise, but you get there more naturally, in a way that maybe, just maybe, might help these characters feel real.

Anyway, Willie puts on his coat and heads out to find a last-minute turkey…something that calls to mind the exact setup of “Oh, Tannerbaum.” ALF doesn’t know the holiday, ALF destroys some necessary piece of the celebration, and Willie heads out in late search of a replacement.

Advancing ALF’s mindset from no-knowledge to partial-knowledge wouldn’t just show the audience respect…it would prevent the writers from telling the same fucking stories all over again.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

For the first time in what feels like forever, Brian has something to do. Granted, it’s wearing a silly costume, which is the writers’ customary way of saying, “We’re paying this kid, so we might as well do something with him,” but it’s nice that they at least remembered that.

He’s rehearsing some kind of Thanksgiving play with ALF, and I feel as though I’ve seen stuff like this in other sitcoms. Did any of you put on plays for your family as kids? Around the holidays? I sure didn’t, but I have no idea if this is a fictional invention or something that previous generations actually did. Was I missing out on something embarrassing? That’s not like me.

Anyway there’s a rainstorm, and then there’s something I really like. After a flash of lightning, ALF counts “One hippopotamus, two hippopatamus…” When they finally hear the sound of the strike, ALF announces the distance as “three and a half hippopotami.”

This is cute and, again, the kind of thing ALF and Brian should be doing regularly: being kids. It’s not hilarious or anything, but it’s sweet, and it’s a side of ALF I really enjoy. Counting the seconds before you hear the thunder is the kind of thing that feels well observed…and it’s a damn sight better than ALF breakdancing on the kitchen table and accidentally smashing Willie’s priceless antique gravy boat we’ve never heard about.

Then Kate brings out a decorative cornucopia full of wax fruit, and ALF tries to eat one of the apples. He stops after one bite because he doesn’t like wax, to which Kate replies that they should get a wax turkey next year.

Again, nothing great, but I am eternally thankful for just how human Anne Schedeen makes this character feel. She plays it perfectly…slightly snotty (rightly so) but still fond of the “child” who did this. She really, really deserved a role on a much better sitcom.

ALF, feeling at least slightly guilty, attempts to regurgitate the turkey…if only he can remember which stomach it’s in. In “Something’s Wrong With Me,” we learned that Melmackians have a total of 10 organs…eight of which are stomachs. Shockingly for this show, the writers seem to remember that, as ALF dry heaves for a bit and then announces, “It’s not in number eight.”

Continuity? In my ALF?

Then there’s some more lightning outside, and I have to say that the flashes are well done. We don’t linger on them…they happen while we’re looking elsewhere, and we see the room get much brighter for a moment. It’s a nice little piece of bringing life to the static set, and making it feel like an actual house in an actual storm.

I know I’m saying this pretty early in the first half of a two-part episode, and I’m bound to reconsider it later, but as of right now, “Turkey in the Straw” is already the best thing in season three.

Then Mrs. Ochmonek comes over and makes a face like she just sat on her own testicles.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Wow, we have a Brian scene and a Mrs. Ochmonek scene before we even see Lynn? That’s really surprising. I wonder what her character is supposed to be doing.

As much as I love Andrea Elson, I have to admit that having a break from the character after the muck they dragged her through last week is pretty welcome. If she’s off camera I can at least assume she’s acting like a human being, and being treated with respect. When she’s on camera, that gets much more difficult.

Mrs. Ochmonek complains about the “bum” that’s been hanging around the neighborhood. It’s not a great scene, but it does something I really like, and it’s something that happens so, so rarely that I need to celebrate it: Mrs. Ochmonek is portrayed in a believably annoying manner.

She’s not an over-the-top cartoon, nor is she a genuinely good neighbor getting abused for no reason. Here, she seems like a relic of a not-so-distant past…someone left behind by fairly recent social progress. It doesn’t make her a bad person, but it does make her out of touch, and unintentionally rude. Specifically, it comes down to the way she describes the homeless person: she keeps calling him a bum.

Kate subtly corrects her by rephrasing what she’s saying, referring to him as a “homeless person,” but Mrs. Ochmonek won’t have it. “He’s a bum, Kate.”

And I like this. At least, this aspect of this.

Having two characters differ on their terminology in the course of a conversation — differ in a way that does not, mind you, directly affect the plot — is the kind of thing you can pull off when you actually have characters. You don’t just have them explaining the story to the viewers, you have them talking to each other in a way that takes specific advantage of their own vocabularies and prejudices.

It’s not great, but it is good, and I’m always glad to see the writers meeting Anne Schedeen at least part of the way.

They don’t get far into the conversation, though, as Mrs. Ochmonek quickly accuses Kate of feeding the bum. Why does she suspect this? Because the Tanners always have saucers of milk out there to attract stray cats.

Personally, I’m now in love with the idea that while the Tanners sleep, ALF slaughters and consumes neighborhood cats that he tricks into approaching the house. Whether or not the writers intended anything near as gory as what I’m wont to picture, this is a funny line that brings some life to ALF, and lets us know that he doesn’t cease to exist when the cameras stop rolling.

It’s also better than the “ALF eats cats lol” joke from the last scene, in which Brian says it’s raining cats and dogs and ALF starts violently masturbating.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Willie comes home, soaked to the bone, and Mrs. Ochmonek mistakes him for the homeless person. (Sorry, bum.) There’s a legitimately funny moment of mild physical comedy when the wet paper bag tears open and spills its contents onto the table.

Willie couldn’t find a turkey…so he just bought a bunch of Cornish game hens.

They’re frozen solid, of course, so while Willie and Kate bicker (realistically…their voices just south of admitting frustration) Mrs. Ochmonek invites them to Thanksgiving dinner.

Here’s where we slip right back into the shittiest aspect of these characters. Willie and Kate piss and moan and try to weasel out of it, because the Ochmoneks are less wealthy than they are, I guess. Who knows. Granted, Mrs. Ochmonek just heaped abuse on a homeless man for no good reason, but somehow she still comes off as a much better human being than these two. She invites them and their kids to Thanksgiving dinner at literally the last minute, because she sees they don’t have food. Their response? Barely stopping short of telling her to go fuck herself.

I know which family I’d rather spend a holiday with.

This is still, however, the best thing about season three so far.

Mrs. Ochmonek leaves to get things ready, and the Tanners complain about the shitty-ass neighbor who just offered to take them in and feed them. Then ALF pops up through the plot window to reveal that he fed the bum.

He didn’t meet the guy, he just left some of the Thanksgiving food out for him. Which would be pretty noble, but, still, ALF did eat most of the food himself. And why didn’t he volunteer this information earlier, when the question of the food was initially raised? Why did ALF think it was a better idea to say “I ate it because I’m a cunt” than “I fed a homeless man”?

ALF also mentions that he gave some clothes Willie never wears to the guy, which makes Willie bristle and seethe like the saintly social worker we’re regularly assured he is.

Again, there could be a lot of humor in this disconnect between Willie’s occupation and his behavior, but the show doesn’t seem to realize there is one. It makes for a really odd viewing experience, in which your entire moral code is recontextualized. I mean, fuck, I’m an asshole. But compared to Willie I’m the second coming of Christ.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

The reverse shot of Willie and Kate is weird. It almost looks like it’s supposed to be from ALF’s perspective, but he’s not standing over there. He’s on the other end of the window frame, propped up on it as usual. Speaking of which…how does he reach the plot window? What’s he standing on? The angle being from much lower than we usually see him is reminding me that he’s not nearly as tall as he seems through that window. How odd.

Usually, as you know, I give this show credit whenever it tries to spice up the static visuals. Here, though…while appreciate the effort, it doesn’t work at all. It just looks like the Tanners are in a slasher movie and don’t realize that the killer midget is in the house.

Whatever. They tried. As far as the story goes, it can seem pretty sweet. After all, ALF gave some food and clothing to a homeless guy. And he did it off camera, without weeping tears of hot glue to the cloying strains of a string quartet. That sounds nice…

…but prepare to be disappointed. (Really, you should have done that long ago…). ALF says that he did it because it’s in the spirit of Fappiano.

Yeah, it’s nice that this fake Melmac holiday has a built-in element of charity, but it also means that ALF’s “good deed” is one that doesn’t actually come from the heart. Works without faith, as they say. So, good one, “Turkey in the Straw: Part 1.” We make it through another week without having to suspect that any of these idiots have a conscience.

Willie then goes outside to dig all his shit out of the garbage, and Kate asks ALF why they put up with him. Shockingly, he doesn’t have a good answer. As far as I’m concerned, this moment cements the fact that she’s just waiting for a week that Willie’s away on business to murder this fuck.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

While he’s digging through the trash, Willie hears singing, so he enters the shed to find a hobo. It’s a pretty simple scene, but according to ALF lore it took over 60 takes because Max Wright kept breaking character and offering to suck the guy off for a nugget of crack.

Willie grabs a crowbar with the presumable intention of beating a homeless man to death, or at least bludgeoning him so seriously that he won’t want to return. Can we all agree that we have a new low for social work on this show?

Honestly now. The hobo is defenseless. He’s not putting up any kind of fight. In fact, he’s facing the other way with his feet up.

Why is Willie arming himself? Was this funny? The non-existent audience seems to think so, but does anyone who’s still alive? To me it just looks like Willie’s about to take gleeful advantage of the loosely defined Stand Your Ground laws.

Oh, and in case you think this is one of those episodes that “forgets” that Willie is a social worker, Willie himself says he’s a social worker later in this scene. But don’t worry…it’s just part of a ploy to get the homeless guy off his property. I sure hope he gets another couple promotions and a few more raises out of this!

The hobo introduces himself as Flaky Pete, because, as we learned with Gravel Gus, once you become homeless you go only by a basic descriptor and your first name, in that order. What would my hobo name be, I wonder? I hope Hunky Philip isn’t taken.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Flaky Pete uses big words, which is sitcom shorthand for “not an idiot.” He also tells Willie that his starchart is out of date, because they discovered a new quasar near the Pleiades. Do starcharts even have quasars? I don’t fucking know.

Point is Willie gets excited for a moment, but then he remembers this is a bum talking, and bums are not human. Replying to him would be ridiculous, like talking to a hotdog. Willie even asks for his sweater back as he kicks the guy out. Jesus Christ…Willie’s gone from simply not helping the needy to stripping them naked before he shoves them out into the rain.

So Flaky Pete leaves while the sad music plays.

Willie peeks out to watch him go, and the act break falls just before he starts calling, “One nugget! Please! 10 minutes, just one nugget!”

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

We’re halfway through the episode, but we finally see Lynn. The break from the character was welcome, but now I’m definitely glad to see her. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss Andrea Elson until I was subjected to necessarily larger doses of Max Wright and Benji Gregory.

The family is heading off to the Ochmoneks’ house, bitching and complaining the entire time. Willie even gives a little speech to the family in which he sarcastically says that they should be grateful to the Ochmoneks for inviting them over in their “hour of need.”

Sarcasm. About kindness.

Seriously.

He’s even bitching that he can’t eat in his own house. Willie, you twisted fuck, literally two minutes ago you kicked a guy out of your shed when he had nowhere to go and just wanted to get out of the rain. Now you cry because you have two houses and two families to spend the holiday with?

Suck. My dicking. Dick.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

At the Ochmonek house, there are a bunch of relatives screaming and running in circles, basically acting like animals, because this is ALF, and if you don’t live with ALF, you’re portrayed as a blight on civilization.

Lynn sits next to some weird guy named Dudley, who tells her to call him Dud. She says, “No problem,” which I like, but I wish we didn’t have to wade through the Ochmoneks’ shallow gene pool to get there.

It’s interesting that the show is willing to humanize the homeless guy we’ll never see again (after next week, natch, when he works his Thanksgiving Hobo magic to resolve whatever this plot is), but would never dare do that for the neighbors who are constantly helping Willie’s ass.

It’s also really odd that the Tanners are being such dickshits to everybody on a holiday. They’re kicking people out in the rain and being vocally ungrateful over a meal that’s being shared with them. It’s such an odd episode. Does this end with Willie being visited by the Ghost of Thanksgiving Yet to Come?

Then Dudley asks Lynn if she remembers when they used to take baths together, which is something I have literally no clue how to interpret, so she leaves. I don’t blame her. I just wish she got off the set and kept walking.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Back home ALF is singing “Happy Fappy to me, Happy Fappy to me.”

Yes. He really is singing “Happy Fappy to me.”

Lynn then comes in with some pumpkin Jell-o to share with him, so if you were looking for a way to start your erotic ALF fan fiction, Lynn entering a room while the alien sings “Happy Fappy” is as good a place as any.

Anyway, Lynn tells ALF about what happened, and though we can barely hear it, she describes Dudley as “This guy that I used to take a bath with.”

So…fucking fuck me?

Fuck the fuck fuck fuck.

FUCK

What the fuck are they doing to Lynn this season?

Seriously…what the living cockfuck are they doing to her? She’s engaged, she’s raped, she’s bathing with strangers…it’s fucking appalling how much work they’ve done to undo everything anyone could have liked about Lynn. What happened? Did Andrea Elson key Paul Fusco’s car or something?

Just..ugh.

I know kids bathe together…but aren’t they usually bathing with family members? If I found out that my parents used to make me take baths with my cousin, who would care? Big deal. But if I found out that I used to take baths with the neighbor’s cousin, I’d sincerely think my parents were perverse, deviant maniacs.

How is any of this possible, anyway? Have the Tanners really known the Ochmoneks for twenty years? Nothing in their previous exchanges would indicate that. Shit, Willie never even knew that Mr. Ochmonek was in the war.

And even if the Tanners did know them for two decades, they fucking hate the Ochmoneks. That’s about the only thing on this show that remains consistent from week to week. Why were they stripping their children naked and locking them in a bathroom with that family’s distant relatives?

Fucking Christ Almighty.

Is this what I get for saying good things about this episode? It’s disgusting.

…but it’s still probably the best one this season.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Whatever. While they’re talking, Hobo Bobo comes to the window. He sees ALF, does a big poo, and then runs off to Willie’s shed to call the Alien Task Force.

A few times in these reviews I’ve wondered how it’s possible that people would be considered crazy if they said they saw an alien, while the Alien Task Force operates openly…and is presumably funded by their tax money. Commenters have raised the idea that the Alien Task Force might instead operate in secret…which is completely reasonable, and would address that concern entirely.

But ALF keeps reminding us that it’s not a secret organization in any way, as we see strongly reinforced by the fact that a fucking hobo knows their number by heart.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Yes, we see the Alien Task Force!

They’re watching the football game and they make fun of Flaky Pete’s description of the alien, calling him a kook.

So…now we have an even stranger question to ask. If the Alien Task Force exists, why are they calling people crazy when they say they’ve seen an alien? It boggles the fucking mind.

What’s more, the fact that they’re within driving distance of the Tanner house means that they must have lots of locations, like the EPA or something, and this is just their local branch. Either that or the Alien Task Force has only one location, and it’s in L.A.

…I’m honestly not sure which possibility is more far-fetched.

The black guy this season gets a few lines. He types in “167 Hemdale” and the computer tells him that this is the second sighting reported for that address, so it might actually be legit. The first sighting? Raquel Ochmonek, in September of last year.

That’s a reference to “Take a Look at Me Now,” which was shit, but I appreciate the attention to detail. Seriously, if nothing else, “Turkey in the Straw: Part 1″ is winning me over on continuity. That’s a kind of effort…

In fact, I was so overcome with appreciation for this attention to detail that I did some research to find out if the date of the sighting aligned with the original air date of “Take a Look at Me Now.” No such luck; that episode actually aired in October. Still, that’s very close, and it makes for a genuinely lovely narrative flourish.

Of course, this is not the second sighting at that address. It’s actually the third sighting, as Mrs. Ochmonek also reported one in the pilot. But…who knows. Maybe the Alien Task Force only counts the most recent sighting if it’s a repeat caller. Also, the blonde guy has his left arm in a sling, and I can’t tell if that’s something to do with the character or if the actor hurt himself and they didn’t bother to hide it, or…

FUCK IT WHY DO I GIVE A SHIT THIS SHOW DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Then the hobo comes in and says hello to ALF, which makes ALF do a big poo, and we get a “Next week on ALF…” teaser that’s about a tenth of this episode’s length.

What a waste of time.

These two-parters are so padded. Why not just whittle them down to 22 minutes of something interesting? “Tonight, Tonight” had an excuse if only because it was adhering to the hour-long Tonight Show format. It was garbage, but attempting verisimilitude was the least of its crimes. And last season we had “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which spun its wheels through the entire first half, eating up as much time as it could before we got to the only thing of merit: the cliffhanger.

…which was botched in the next episode anyway, but the point is you could have easily lost an entire half of that two-parter and been no poorer for it. If anything, you’d be 30 minutes richer.

But whatever. We get a clip-show of the next episode.

One of the clips is of a kid throwing mustard in Willie’s stupid dumbass face.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

I take it all back. This is the best episode in the history of the world.

Happy Fappy, bitches!!

MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac, Thanksgiving was called Fappiano. There was a Fappiano tree, and everybody would eat from the moment they woke up until all of the presents were open. There was also some kind of charitable component to the holiday. Much more interesting, though? Instead of microwaves, folks on Melmac had a device called a NukeMan. It was a tiny, personal nuclear power plant, and it was major fad. In fact, ALF says, it was Melmac’s last fad. And now we know why the planet was destroyed.

Better Call Saul, "Five-O"

“Five-O” is an episode of Breaking Bad in all but name. In fact, it plays like a one-off side story that feels of a piece with the source material, moreso than Better Call Saul does. While we know this isn’t true, would it be at all surprising if we found out that this was an old Breaking Bad concept, dusted off and given a second chance?

Throughout the course of Breaking Bad, we flashed back to see the characters in different, more innocent contexts. Walt and Skyler buy a home. Jesse builds a box in wood shop. Gus loses somebody close to him to the cartel.

Even within the timeframe of the show, we’d often flash back to things that must have happened while we weren’t looking. The show was unfolding around us, but we were elsewhere at the time. So we’d end up with a short scene Jane taking Jesse to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. Or Gayle building the superlab. Or Tortuga at the bar. All of these things happened after the respective characters were dead and gone.

On Breaking Bad, death was the end. There were no miraculous recoveries. There was no escape. Saddest, perhaps, was the fact that there was no mourning.

And yet echoes carried. One of my favorite things about the show was the fact that we could trace every one of Walt’s problems in the final episodes all the way back, logistical step by logistical step, to decisions he made in the first episode.

Everything snowballs. A bullet to the head takes your life, but not your legacy. There’s a part of you left behind. A kind of ghost that lives on in the inescapable causal slide that you once set into motion. It continues long after you’re gone. It never stops. Death is the end for the dead…but not for anyone else.

Breaking Bad loved to fill in the gaps. Even — perhaps especially — those that didn’t actually need to be filled in. It was an excuse, and a welcome one, to spend more time with these characters. As a necessary result, we learned more about them. They felt more real.

And yet two major characters never got that flashback treatment. Two of the show’s best, and richest. Two that would be high on the list of everybody’s favorites:

Saul and Mike.

While Better Call Saul gets to chart with however much depth it pleases the rise and fall of Saul Goodman, Mike is still an unknown…a creature of inference.

At least, he was. Better Call Saul gives Mike the overdue Breaking Bad treatment, flashing back to a formative moment, and giving us insight into why the character we’re listening to is the character we’re listening to. Through no kind of coincidence, the episode is called “Five-O.” While that refers to the police that drive the story, it’s also an echo of Breaking Bad‘s pilot episode…which was originally called “Fifty.” The titular character of this show also makes what’s essentially a cameo…further echoing Breaking Bad, in which Goodman would be called in for a scene or two and then dismissed so the plot could proceed without him.

In other words, we’re in old, familiar territory. It’s the story of Mike breaking bad.

It’s also a reminder — as if anyone could possibly need one — that Jonathan Banks is an absolute treasure. Front to back, “Five-O” is his episode. And he doesn’t squander one second. The closing scene, in which his dry rasp gives way to a painful break, reveals a tortured and damaged soul. The worst part? He inflicted those wounds himself.

The story is simple, and nothing about it is shocking…nor do I believe anything could qualify as a twist. We see the entire thing playing out. We know what’s coming. We’ve already been told. “You know what happened,” Mike says. And we do. We know it before it gets here.

The agony and the tension is in the waiting…and yet it doesn’t dissipate when a gun goes off. If anything, it somehow manages to ratchet up further, until the most harrowing image in a story of murder and revenge is one of an old man, sitting on a couch in the dark, admitting he failed.

When we met Mike in Breaking Bad, he made an immediate impact. My girlfriend and I talked about the character well before we knew his name. (We called him The Cleaner.) Before long we got some sense of what made him tick (his granddaughter), his history (the half-measures speech), and his internal code of ethics (continuing to pay Gus’s chain of operatives after the operation itself is no more).

But all of these things were glimpses. Flashes of a deeper humanity in what was essentially the world’s most badass grandpa. We didn’t need to humanize Mike, because we liked his broad strokes plenty.

We liked Mike because he was intelligent, he was funny, and he got things done. He was comic relief at the same time that he was threatening (quite believably) the lives of characters we’d known much longer.

Perhaps the fact that we knew so little about who he was is what endeared him to us. Could we really dig into a decidedly dangerous fixer/assassin and find something relateable?

“Five-O” says sure, of course. Why not? Whatever Mike was, at any point, he was somebody else before that. Just as Saul Goodman was Jimmy McGill (a fellow transplant, it’s worth noting), Mike was Officer Ehrmantraut. He was good at his job, and raised a son that was perhaps even better at his. And before poor, unseen Matt (the ghost in the inescapable causal slide of this episode) meets an early end, Mike forces him to compromise his morals.

It might have been a no-win situation. Matty, as he was called, could well have been shot by his partner anyway. But what happened — what Mike made happen — was worse, simple because he had a hand in it.

He tried to help, which was worse than not helping at all, because now he feels like a failure. And his son — and a husband and a father…and a good cop — is gone.

That’s what weighs on Mike’s shoulders. Those are the chains that bind him. That is the tragedy that locked him up inside.

Mike’s relationship with his granddaughter was one of Breaking Bad‘s sweetest (and therefore saddest) threads. I don’t think we needed backstory for that; it was emotionally meaningful on its own. But knowing, as we do now, that the reason she needs to be provided for at all is because Mike — in his mind — got her father killed…well, that’s heartbreaking. That’s why he did all of the worst things we saw him do in Breaking Bad. The money he left her wasn’t an atonement…it was an apology.

Of course, by the end of Breaking Bad, that money is seized, and the little girl never sees a cent of it. The odds are good she wouldn’t even know about it. He failed his son, and failed his granddaughter. The tragedy of Mike Ehrmantraut is that he wasn’t The Cleaner. He was a human being.

“Five-O” is a spotlight on one of Breaking Bad‘s strongest actors…one I never would have thought I needed. In fact, I’m still not sure I needed it. And yet…I’m glad to have it.

This is the episode of Better Call Saul I’d be likely to watch most often. It’s a perfect, simple tale, filtered through the hardening heart of a man who wishes more than anything that he could undo the damage that he did. Damage that would likely have been done anyway.

It’s the sad beginning of a new life for Mike. It’s a chance to start over, and do things right. Which is the first step to losing it all.

I fucking love Better Call Saul.

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