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This week’s big post is actually on another site! For Valentine’s Day, perfect stranger Casey Roberson asked me to do several things that I wasn’t comfortable with, so we compromised and I reviewed an episode of Saturday Night Live instead.

Did you know that Bronson Pinchot hosted that show? I sure didn’t. That’s probably because Saturday Night Live had just weathered some massively shitty years and took a serious blow to its cultural cachet…but Bronson was lucky enough to host just as the show started to experience an upswing.

The episode is an interesting time capsule of a sketch comedy show just starting to find its second wind, but it’s not very good. It’s mainly notable for Bronson assuring audiences nationwide that he is a massive fucking dick at both the top and bottom of the episode. Dude had a message to convey, apparently.

Anyway GO READ.

The second half of a season of a heavily serialized show like Better Call Saul needs to suggest momentum toward some clear — though obviously temporary — terminal point. “Bali Ha’i” suggests that the show is fully aware of this, as it edges our three primary characters toward decisions they won’t be able to take back.

And that particular number of primary characters — drifting around, having independent arcs, setting out on rarely overlapping adventures of their own — can prove troublesome at such a time. No, it’s not difficult, narratively speaking, to push Jimmy, Mike, and Kim separately onto the next step of their developments. But as their paths seem to diverge more often than they converge, what does that mean for Better Call Saul? Doesn’t that make it less about how Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman and more like some shared-universe anthology series?

I’m speaking hypothetically here about the problem, and I don’t mean to suggest that Better Call Saul actually has that problem. But I do think, from the standpoint of artistic construction, that it’s a question worth considering. I’m willing to believe that Kim plays some very clear, very direct, very specific part in Jimmy’s transformation…but is that because of anything I’ve seen in Better Call Saul? Or is it because Breaking Bad already told me where he ends up, and as this is its prequel series I am obligated to assume that she must?

To put it another way, if Breaking Bad didn’t exist, would I watch Better Call Saul and conclude that Kim will become more important to Jimmy as the show progresses? Or less?

The same, of course, can be asked of Mike, but we already discussed that a bit in the last episode. He was off on his own journey, doing his own thing, not really relevant to or interested in whatever the heck Jimmy McGill was doing. That was obvious. Less obvious at the time was that we could have said the same thing about Kim.

“Bali Ha’i” brings the question to a head, pushing Kim right up to a further separation from the initial, core version of the show as she toys seriously with the idea of leaving Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. No, that wouldn’t necessarily remove her entirely from Jimmy’s orbit…but it would push them, in a logistical sense, a degree further apart.

Originally Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill was the connective tissue for Jimmy, Kim, Chuck, Howard, and indirectly Mike. It’s the one thing, the one setting, the one constant they all had in common. Then Jimmy relocated and joined a different law firm. Mike’s role as a courthouse parking attendant became sidelined to focus on his independent contracting for gang members. Now Kim considers leaving, too. And she might. I hope she will, if only to see what Better Call Saul does once nearly all of its characters have left the mothership.

Of course, as “Bali Ha’i” toys with Kim further splintering the narrative, Kim herself reaches back out to tie it together. She talks to Jimmy again. She invites him to relive the high of the season-opening “Switch” by swindling a vulnerable mark, which is a nice moment. A much nicer moment is the reveal that they don’t cash these checks; they hold onto them like trophies, which is almost adorable.

But the nicest moment is that both Jimmy and Kim — each on thin ice with their respective firms — walk out on their work obligations to do this. They each know that they’re abandoning their careers (again, temporarily) to pursue something that’s more important to them: each other. They’re individually in deep shit. They individually have to claw their way back out. They individually need to atone, professionally, for damaging lapses of judgment.

Goofing around together is important, though, too. And when Kim calls Jimmy to join her, it’s clear that now, at least, it’s more important. To both of them.

One very interesting revelation to me is that Kim also worked in the mail room at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. In fact, she did so for six years. I knew that Jimmy met and befriended her when he worked in the mail room — in fact, “Rebecca” tells us that they became close within his first week on the job — but I didn’t realize that she was a direct colleague. I figured she was an attorney of some kind who just happened to get chummy with someone who was a bit lower than her on the corporate ladder. That would gibe with just about everything I’d already concluded about Kim, so I was surprised to find out that they were sealing envelopes and fumbling around with the copier together.

This adds a bit of a wrinkle to my pet theme, which is that you are what you are, and if you try to be or become anything else, the universe will slap you right back down. Certainly that still applies to Jimmy, but now we find that Kim was granted an opportunity to advance. To grow. To develop into something more. Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill even fronted the money for her schooling.

But we don’t know the full picture. She went from the mail room to the conference room, but Jimmy didn’t. We know that. She had her tuition covered. Jimmy didn’t. We know that, too.

That’s all we really know, though. And while it may complicate the theme, I don’t feel compelled to abandon it just yet. Somebody, at some point, for some reason, was willing to nurture something in Kim. Was willing to take a chance. Was willing to elevate her. Whereas Jimmy was preterite. Passed over. Refused. No matter how hard he worked or what he accomplished, he would not be afforded the same chance that Kim was.

Perhaps Kim’s place in the universe has some degree of mobility factored into it. Granted, it’s mobility that comes with a high price (or at least two high prices: firm loyalty and debt), but it is mobility. And, hey, maybe Jimmy’s does, too. We know he doesn’t end up where we see him now. Part of the Better Call Saul experience might just be finding out first-hand exactly the lengths of everybody’s leash.

Then there’s Mike, who this week is in deep shit of his own. Yes, it’s great to see Action Grandpa doing his thing. That will never get old, and I’ll take scenes like his remote-control fakeout every week until the show decides to stop giving them to me. But I have to say that I didn’t expect to see the cousins from Breaking Bad turn up. And I felt the chill when they did.

The cousins menaced Walter White in everyone’s favorite parent show, and they were a very real, very legitimate, very scary threat there. I probably should have expected them to turn up at some point — what with Tuco, Gonzo, No-Doze, and Hector already here, leaving a pretty wide opening for them — but…yeah. That was probably the biggest surprise cameo I’ve experienced in this show yet.

But it made me wonder: how does a show like this handle tension when every viewer already knows who lives? Sure, they silently threaten Mike’s granddaughter Kaylee, and I think it’s fair to say that a drug cartel menacing a little girl is a scary thing by default. But we’ve seen Breaking Bad. We know that they never get to Kaylee. We know that they never get to her mother. Hell, we know that they never get to Mike. (And how great is it that Mike eventually kills one of them directly in “I See You”? He must have felt pretty good about that.)

In fact, the one character who seems to be the most dangerous — Hector — is the one we already know comes out badly. (Though, obviously, his eventual incapacitation may in no way be a result of this particular event.) The characters we like will be okay, and the characters we don’t like are going to suffer.

That should be reassuring rather than worrying.

So…where’s the tension?

To quote an earlier paragraph, I’m speaking hypothetically here about the problem, and I don’t mean to suggest that Better Call Saul actually has that problem. It’s just interesting to consider. If everyone watching already knows who lives and dies (unlike the artful, spiraling uncertainty of Breaking Bad), what do you do?

It’s hard to say, and “Bali Ha’i” doesn’t have the answer. Better Call Saul will have to find a way to make these foregone conclusions feel uncertain, and I know that it can succeed. After all, how much of Better Call Saul did you picture when you originally wondered what made Saul Goodman who he is?

Yeah, same here.

This show has the capacity and ability to surprise. If anything, it might be playing with us by reminding viewers of that certainty before throwing a curveball. But we’ll see.

One wrinkle worth remembering, though, is Nacho. The one character we know doesn’t make it to Breaking Bad. He can still die. He can still suffer. He can still be a victim.

And that can matter. I don’t know if many people watching the show at this point care about Nacho they way they cared about Walt or Jesse or Hank, but the fact is that there were stretches of Breaking Bad that made it difficult to care about Walt and Jesse and Hank. Each of them, and many other characters, shrugged off audience sympathy at various points. Sometimes they deserved to get their asses kicked…or worse. Which is what made it all the more harrowing when it inevitably came…after they became more sympathetic and we had stopped wishing it upon them.

There’s room to play with Nacho, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I look forward to seeing it happen, though.

Anyway, what’s Noiseless Chatter without some needless bitching about something I enjoyed? (Oh, yes, I enjoyed “Bali Ha’i” a great deal. Let me make that clear.)

My Complaint of the Week is that I’m not sure I buy Hector caving to Mike’s bluster. Hector rescinds his offer of $5,000…telling Mike that that time has passed; all he gets out of it now is an assurance of safety for himself and his family. So far, so good.

Then Mike demands $50,000 instead of…y’know…$0. And after much too little deliberation, Hector agrees.

Why? What does he get out of it?

I don’t know. I question that. It’s probably necessary from a narrative standpoint, but I can’t make sense of the character logic.

Maybe at this point in his life, Hector has something of a heart. Maybe he admires Mike. Maybe he sees this as an investment on working with him again in the future. (It’d sure give him something to lord over him if he ever needs a favor.)

Or maybe, more simply, he just doesn’t want to deal with the cleanup and investigation of three dead bodies, which is going to result in far more work for him than a few years scraped off of his nephew’s sentence is worth.

My point is that there are reasons he might acquiesce to Mike’s demand, and I can think of a bunch of them. But I didn’t feel them during that scene, and I’m willing to believe the show wasn’t sure what they were, either. Hector agreed because he had to agree in order to get to whatever the next plot point is.

And that’s a shame.

Because a reason, or even the ghost of one, would have told us a lot about who he is, where his mind is, and what he’s planning next.

Six and Thirty-Six

February 4th, 2017 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (5 Comments)


Above you’ll find a picture of Bono. The dog, not the human. (The human Bono is not pictured.)

Bono is my girlfriend’s dog. He’s also my dog. He’s also my friend. He’s also family.

A few days ago we received some unfortunate news.

Bono stopped eating. My girlfriend made an appointment for him with the vet. In the meantime, he started eating again. That was good, but then, just as suddenly, he stopped a second time. And he stopped having bowel movements as well.

He went to the vet. They weren’t sure what the issue was. He didn’t seem to be in pain, and he seemed healthy otherwise.

They X-rayed him. They saw nothing.

They asked if we wanted them to perform an ultrasound. We didn’t really have a choice. Not that the vet was pressuring anybody…it’s simply that it was either have an ultrasound, or be okay with the fact that Bono wasn’t eating or going to the bathroom. In short, we’d have to be okay with knowing he was slowly dying. We went with the ultrasound.

They found that he had an obstruction. They wouldn’t be sure what it was until they opened him up. Did we want them to operate on him?

Yes, we wanted them to operate on him.

Inside his tummy they found a plastic squeaker. Something he had dug out of a toy and swallowed. I don’t know how he swallowed it. It’s big so it certainly wasn’t easy. And we don’t know when he swallowed it. We would have stopped him, and he’s never left with his toys alone. But the point is…whenever and however he swallowed it, he swallowed it.

The vet said that the squeaker had been in him for around six weeks. The plastic by the time it was removed was black and warped. His body tried to process it. For a good while, he was able to eat and digest more or less normally, though he was probably feeling some amount of discomfort. Finally, at some point, it shifted, and it blocked him up. He could no longer eat.

The squeaker was in him long enough to do a lot of damage to his insides. He’s eating again, but we need to watch him to make sure he doesn’t throw it back up. If he does well for the next two weeks they’ll remove his staples…but there could still be other surgeries in his future, depending on how he heals.

Now I’ll tell you a little bit about Bono.

Bono’s a good dog. And a good friend.

But Bono’s been through a lot.

My girlfriend and I believe that when he was a puppy, somebody tried to kill him.

She adopted him from a rescue without knowing his history, but there was something clearly wrong. His back legs don’t function very well; instead of walking normally he uses them to hop, like a rabbit. His front legs are huge and muscular, as they do all the work of keeping him upright and mobile. He has at least one rib that was broken and which healed out of place. His eye, at some point, had popped out of his head and had to be replaced surgically.

I don’t know what he went through, but I know it was bad.

When he meets somebody new, he hides. He’s friendly, but he’s too afraid to act on that friendliness. He retreats from affection. He doesn’t trust people. I don’t blame him one bit.

He even took a long time to warm up to me. He’d come close, but when I reached out to pet him he’d flee. He clearly wanted the affection, but he couldn’t be sure that I wouldn’t betray him the way he’d been betrayed in the past. When you let somebody in and they hurt you like that, you don’t forget it.

Eventually he came to trust me. He’s a sweet dog with a big heart. He’s safe now, even if he carries with him memories that keep him scared.

I don’t want to lose Bono. My girlfriend wants to lose him even less.

He’s an important part of our family. He has a place there. He gets to live a life of love and comfort that he probably never thought he’d have.

And now…he may not live.

It was sad enough to find out that he needed surgery. But it didn’t end there. It was successful, but he still might succumb to infection or complications. And even if he doesn’t…he might simply not heal the way he needs to heal. His digestive tract was torn up pretty badly. It could be a matter of time.

The vet bill was around $3,000. That’s money that neither she nor I really have. But he’s family. We had to try. The vet said he was otherwise healthy. He could have another 10 years of life left in him. We had to try, even if we couldn’t afford it.

And more bills could be on the horizon, depending on how he heals. Or fails to heal.

But I’m getting away from the point. The point is that Bono — this particular dog — want from being with people who tried to kill him to being with people who will fight, who will sacrifice, who will do whatever it takes to keep him alive.

I feel for the little guy. We have a lot in common.

Today I turn thirty-six. As I do so, this blog enters its sixth year of operation. In many ways, I wouldn’t have bet on either of us reaching these milestones.

I started Noiseless Chatter as an escape. I don’t mean that at all in a romantic sense; I mean that I had something — some things — that I needed to escape from. This was a way of…of continuing, really. Of keeping myself grounded, mentally and emotionally. Of having something to focus on that wasn’t the literal nightmare I was facing every day.

It was — and proudly remains — a profoundly unimportant site. Nothing here is urgent. Little of it is even timely. The world wouldn’t spin any differently tomorrow if there were no longer any of my wordy, meandering essays cluttering it up.

And yet, in a very real way, it saved me. It gave me something that I needed then. Not that I wanted, or desired, or wished for…but something that I really needed. Today, I don’t need it in that same way. Today, I’m better. Hell, I’ve been better for the overwhelming bulk of this site’s life.

But it’s still here. I don’t intend to quit. Because it still feels important to me. Important in its very unimportance.

On Inauguration Day I changed my mind about something. I had a silly post scheduled to go live. It was a bit satirical, but mainly silly. It was an obviously false essay about Donald Trump’s (invented) favorite films. That’s it. There’s probably the opportunity to get truly biting and vicious with that topic, but I thought the better joke would be something more like an anti-joke. Something that didn’t go for the easy targets…or, indeed, any targets. It was just there. It was the kind of thing where you’d read the headline and immediately guess what followed…except that none of it actually followed.

That’s what I changed my mind about on Inauguration Day. I didn’t post it. I just didn’t feel right about it. Not that I thought it was insulting or idiotic or rude or anything negative at all. I just knew that a lot of people would have strong feelings that day, and would open important dialogues, and would seek a kind of understanding…and I wasn’t going to (and couldn’t hope to) provide anything they might actually need.

I opted for silence over silliness.

I posted something to that effect on the Facebook page, to explain the lack of a post for the week.

Longtime reader and important human being Sarah Portland said this in response:

Don’t trivialize your work, even if it seems to pale in comparison to other things going on. Somewhere in your readership is someone looking for pause and breathe, a tiny corner of the world that isn’t screaming. It’s okay to be that corner.

I didn’t reply to that. I still don’t know that I effectively can. But it struck a chord deep inside of me.

That’s what Noiseless Chatter was to me, too, way back when I started it. A space to pause and breathe. A tiny corner of the world that wasn’t screaming.

If you look at my older posts, you might see some rough writing. You might see some insights I no longer agree with. You might see some outright hogwash. (You can see that in recent posts, though, so don’t bother digging for it.) But you won’t see much of me talking about me. And, again, you still won’t.

I started this site to escape a nightmare. The topics I covered included just about everything apart from that nightmare. Because I needed the distance. And maybe other people do, too.

People now and then contact me thanking me for something I wrote. Sometimes they thank me for something I don’t even remember writing. One specific message came from somebody who was feeling deeply depressed…so he went all the way back to the beginning of the ALF reviews and started reading them again because he knew they’d make him laugh.

I’ve written some intensely trivial stuff on this blog. But to paraphrase Sarah, I shouldn’t trivialize the trivial.

You never know where salvation will come. You never know how or when or even why you’ll find it.

It’s not there one day. It’s there another.

You go through things that should, by all rights, kill you. Then, maybe, they don’t. And things are dark for a while, and scary. You rear back from people that don’t intend to hurt you. You hide inside a shell that you promise yourself you’ll never break for anybody. Your life becomes an ongoing, perpetual response to whatever trauma it is that scarred you in the first place.

But then you meet someone. Or you find something. Or you’re touched in a way you didn’t expect to be touched by something you see, read, hear, or play.

Your life can change. You can open up. A little bit, anyway.

I still see a lot of reluctance in Bono. If I reach out too quickly to pet him, he’ll flinch. That’s because he remembers something. Something I wish I could take away from him.

But I can’t.

All I can do is offer a little space for anyone who needs it. A place without fear or hate…or anger that isn’t directed at a farting, tapdancing alien.

I created that space for myself six years ago. The fact that anyone else, at all, turns to it now is important to me.

Let’s have a great year.

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