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Better Call Saul, "Pimento"

Before this show premiered, I had a lot of ideas about what it could be. “Heartbreaking” wasn’t one of them, but Jesus Christ would I be hard pressed to describe Better Call Saul without using that word now.

When the possibility of a spinoff was first floated, the idea seemed to be that it would be a comedy. Technically, it still is, but it’s one that’s very much in the mold of Breaking Bad. Though the laughs may be more frequent, they’re still just the relief between tragedies.

There’s only one more episode of the season to go, so speaking about its statement as a whole isn’t completely out of the question. If you were to ask me, I’d have to say that it’s telling us, on no uncertain terms, that Saul used to be a good lawyer.

That statement requires some qualification, as the Saul Goodman who represented Walter White was good at his job, good at protecting his clients, and good at keeping legal entanglements to an absolute minimum. But as Mike says this week about criminals, you can still be a good guy or a bad guy. What you do is one thing…what’s in your heart is another.

Saul Goodman was an effective lawyer. Jimmy McGill was a good one.

The path to becoming Saul Goodman is one that doesn’t seduce Jimmy by being more lucrative…it’s simply the only path available that doesn’t return him to square one. In “Pimento,” we see just how harsh the world can — and will — be to this man. Last week’s congratulatory “fuck you” from Howard Hamlin was indeed painful. This week’s “fuck you” from Jimmy’s own brother was downright devastating.

Kim plays a very important role in this show, even if it’s almost always passive: she’s a centered character. She’s emotional and rational in fairly equal measure, at least so far. She knows that Chuck’s condition is all in his head, but she also knows better than to shatter his perceptions. And she knows that Jimmy is flamboyant goofball, but she also knows that there’s a lot of good in him.

For her to declare to her boss, as she does in this episode, that Jimmy McGill is a good lawyer, we know that that’s the truth. She wouldn’t, and couldn’t, have said it otherwise. What she’s doing, from a narrative perspective, is orienting the audience. If you’re starting to think that Jimmy McGill was a good lawyer, she tells us, that’s okay; you’re right. And if you somehow made it this far in the season without reaching that conclusion, you need to think again.

It’s important that we recognize Jimmy’s position. For the mailroom dodo to be slapped down, well, that gives us one kind of sorrow. For an up-and-coming young attorney who surprises his social betters with his competence…well, being slapped down is more than just an insult. It’s a promise that they will not, under any circumstances, let him get to where they are. He is, in a word, fucked. And they will see to it that he stays fucked, because that’s his role in the world. He shares a surname with his brother, but he cannot be allowed to become his equal.

And that’s a whole other kind of sorrow. Because Jimmy McGill was allowed the view from the mountaintop. To be told “you will never have this” before you even begin is disheartening. To be told the same thing after you’ve already caught a glimpse, tasted it, believed in yourself, convinced yourself that this was as good as yours…that’s fatal.

Jimmy has a heart, and he has a conscience. He has pride that he’s very likely feeling now for the first time, and it runs him directly into a brick wall…not even one of his own making. Had he been responsible for the way he was treated at HHM, there’d be a kind of poetic justice. Instead, he’s guilty only of not being one of them. There’s no justice at all to that, and there never will be. Sorry Jimmy. Let’s revisit the issue in six months.

The reception of the McGill brothers as they enter the law firm says everything without saying a word. A round of applause for Chuck, who returns (briefly) from a sabbatical brought on by an imaginary medical condition. He gets a hug. He makes smalltalk. People are happy to see him, and to be in his company.

Jimmy, on the other hand, is ignored. Left behind. Nobody even helps him with the boxes. Nobody apart from Kim, anyway…

The pivot that Chuck takes in this episode (is there a space-blanket under that turncoat, Chuck?) is brutal. It relies on us knowing how much Jimmy has helped him, how far out of his way he’s gone for him, from buying groceries to keeping him company to running to the hospital to unplug the machinery in his room. (Okay, admittedly that sounds horrible when you take it out of context…) And it’s reinforced all the way through this episode, with Jimmy bringing Chuck outside, reminding him of simple pleasures like fresh air and the grass between your toes. It’s Jimmy building his confidence. It’s Jimmy bringing Chuck back to life.

And so for Chuck to turn around and knife him, it’s more than just a shitty thing to do; it’s a character-defining moment for the man who would be Goodman.

It’s also a painfully necessary moment, sold completely by Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean, keeping us clear of any morally “correct” answer. I think it’s safe to say that most viewers will come down on Jimmy’s side, but the truth is hazier than that.

You can be a good man, or a bad man. (Or, perhaps, a good man or a Goodman.) But what was the good option, and what was the bad? It’s wrong to double-cross your brother, but isn’t it also right to prevent an unskilled attorney from meddling with clients that he could potentially hurt? Which matters more? One matters on the personal level and the other on the societal level. Which is more important? Which will be remembered? One is an actual wrongdoing for the sake of preventing the other hypothetical wrongdoing. Should that be taken into account? Jimmy had a long, dark night of the soul when considering what to say to Chuck. Chuck, by contrast, slept soundly, and woke up with a whistle on his lips. Somebody had to get hurt…who ended up regretting that fact?

And we haven’t even talked about Mike’s plot, which sees him working a protection gig for a nebbish drug dealer. The man is a sort of alternate universe Walter White (dealing, notably, with a member of Tuco’s gang). It provides us with an Action Mike moment for the highlight reel and also an impressively quiet meditation on what it means to be good, and what it means to be bad.

Mike’s story doesn’t tie into Jimmy’s in any direct way (though his observation that Nacho doesn’t want Tuco finding out that he’s doing deals behind his back may well explain why he doesn’t make it to Breaking Bad…), and that’s okay. For now he’s the protagonist of a concurrent story that comments on the main one, even if it so far has only rarely intersected it.

There’s so much about this show that I haven’t even been able to get to in these reviews. For that reason, I’ll do a full Season One Review after next week’s final episode review. But for now, I do want to say that the distance the show is maintaining between Jimmy and Mike is wonderful. “Five-O” saw our favorite geriatric assassin spilling his guts…but it wasn’t to Jimmy. As vulnerable as he appeared to us, he’s still a mysterious and frightening figure to our hero. And that leaves room to explore a really interesting dynamic.

They never have to bond. They never even have to achieve a kind of respect. We get to learn about both Mike and Jimmy, as neither of them learn about each other.

They can continue to serve as uniquely ridiculous figures in each other’s lives. And they’ll both deal with their own personal tragedies in very different but very compatible ways, shifting into each other’s circles without ever having an understanding of why.

It’s a shame. They have more in common than they think.

Golden Slumbers

March 29th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (5 Comments)

Metal Gear
Just a few short words about where I’ve been. Or, one short word: asleep.

This entire week or so I’ve been feeling drained and lethargic. As best I can tell, it’s due to a medication I’m on, which has recently had its dosage reduced. This is good news, at least on the whole. But my body seems to want to hibernate until it adjusts…and that’s been problematic for a few reasons. The most visible to you is probably the lack of updates on this site. It’s something that I hope gets rectified soon. Especially since there’s something I really want to get written and ready for this week.

I’ve been more or less useless outside of work, which soaks up what little energy I have. It’s nothing to worry about in the long-term, and I don’t feel sick or uncomfortable at all. Just dead, dead tired.

So…yeah. I appreciate your patience. Again, I’m hoping to have something special ready this week, and to resume my normal level of erratic productivity soon.

Goodnight.

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 nor 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.

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