Better Call Saul Reviews: “Something Stupid” (season 4, episode 7)

“You do your thing,” Jimmy says to Kim late in the episode. “I’ll do mine.”

It’s not confrontational at all. It’s delivered with the verbal cadence of agreement — we will each play our part in this plan — but the words themselves say the opposite.

It was a piercing moment in an episode that was almost entirely about the widening gulf between these two characters, and yet it was still something of a relief.

Why?

Imagine a balloon. It inflates. It inflates. It inflates. At some point, you brace against the coming burst. You know it can’t keep inflating forever. You know it won’t keep inflating forever. It inflates. You grit your teeth. It inflates. You close your eyes. It inflates…

Then you notice the quiet whine of air escaping from a hole you didn’t realize existed. The balloon is no longer about to burst. It’s still too full, but the air is going somewhere else. It’s escaping in a less violent way. No matter what, the balloon is ruined. But knowing that the ruin is quieter, less dangerous, less explosive, brings with it its own kind of relief.

Jimmy and Kim are deflating. At least, for around 40 minutes of this 41-minute episode that’s the case. The very last development of “Something Stupid” is, true to its title, Kim calling Jimmy to suggest that maybe they won’t do things her way after all. She plugs the hole. We’re immediately in danger of that explosion all over again. You were losing Jimmy anyway, Kim. But you could have let him just…fade away.

“Something Stupid” was the funniest episode of the season so far, but it was also an emotional nightmare.

First, the comedy. Huell was in it, and Huell is, as always, a riot. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if we can have Huell pop up at all without his character defaulting to comic relief.

I’m not complaining, mind you; I don’t believe that Huell has to at some point become a tapestry of quiet desperation. But his increasing presence on the show will necessarily — as it does here — alter the balance between comedy and drama. In this episode we saw the guy flat out assault a plainclothes police officer, and it was funny. If that is going to be played for laughs, what can Huell possibly do that won’t be?

Then, of course, we have to bring Bill Burr back as Kuby. And we have to rehire Francesca so that she can become a comic figure as well. And…yeah, we’re on the slippery slope that reunites us with Saul Goodman as an expressly comic presence.

As opposed, y’know, to the increasingly problematic alter ego of a man who loses himself a little more each week.

Commenter Casey mentioned something in last week’s review that I deliberately chose not to mention in my writeup. Casey discussed the scene in which a relative of one of Jimmy’s elder law clients calls him, informing him that the old woman passed away. Jimmy asks about her, about what he remembers of her family, and about the whereabouts of her Alpine Shepherd Boy Hummel figurine.

“It’s a clear indication that Saul is co-opting what’s good about Jimmy,” wrote Casey. “Jimmy cared so much about these people that he remembers specifics from their wills — information that Saul is ready to pounce on and use for his own ends.”

The reason I held off on talking about it last week is that…well, I wasn’t sure where the show would go with it. And where it would go is what mattered.

By spending a decent chunk of time this season discussing, executing, and celebrating the theft of a Hummel figurine, Better Call Saul deliberately opened the door for us to worry in exactly the same way Casey did. And…well, I worried in that way, too.

But I wanted to wait before bringing it up, because the show could use that conversation to emphasize either of two fully oppositional points. (See again “You do your thing, I’ll do mine.”)

Jimmy’s conversation about the Alpine Shepherd Boy last week could either be a moment that reveals Saul’s co-opting of Jimmy’s positive characteristics, yes, or it could remind us that Jimmy himself — whatever else he’s doing, however far he’s willing to drift from his moral center — is still here. Is still alive. Still has hope.

It all depends on what he does next. Does he ask about the Hummel figurine so that he’ll know where to nab it? Or does he ask because he genuinely feels bad that a client he liked has passed away? The answer will either reveal that Saul is winning the battle for this man’s soul, or that Jimmy is.

Who ultimately wins? We know the answer. But the question of where we are on the map between Jimmy and Saul is the entire focus of this show, and this is an important mile marker.

I’m willing to be proven wrong (THERE IS A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING) but I think that that conversation gets to stand on its own, a moment in which Jimmy reflects on a path that was once open to him that now has closed itself off just a little bit more.

He’s sad to lose his client. He’s sad to lose that alternate future. He’s sad to lose who he was when he helped — he actually helped — a group of defrauded senior citizens get what was rightfully theirs.

And it’s a chance for us to reflect on all of that as well, and get just as sad about it.

Perhaps that conversation will even turn out to be the last point that we can genuinely identify Jimmy as Jimmy. “Something Stupid” sees him sinking knowingly and willingly into a darker existence. It’s one thing to commit a crime for some extra money, and it’s another to print up business cards with a fake identity and hire protection. One could be the work of a flawed human being headed in the wrong direction. The other is the work of a man establishing a sustainable criminal enterprise.

We even had our scene mirroring Kim’s confession last week. In that episode, she admitted to Jimmy that she’s been secretly acting as a public defender. In this episode, Jimmy admits he’s been selling burner phones to drug dealers.

The gulf between them widens. Yes, they’ve both been keeping secrets. But Kim’s secret was that she was doing good work for people who could benefit from a second chance. Jimmy’s secret is that he was helping criminals avoid the consequences of their crimes.

Every relationship has secrets. In this relationship, though, the secretiveness obscured the fact that one partner was taking steps toward becoming a hero, and the other toward becoming a villain.

And so that hole…that quiet whisper of escaping air…that steady release of pressure…it was important to me.

To many viewers, I’m sure the opening montage of Kim and Jimmy leading very different lives — separated by a vertical line even in the scenes they share — was heartbreaking. To me, it was a fucking relief.

Kim and Jimmy will split up for good. It’s not even a question of when — we’re watching it happen — but rather a question of how.

We’ve seen how characters leave Jimmy’s orbit, and Saul’s orbit. And we’ve seen what happens to characters who stick around.

I didn’t and don’t want any of that for Kim. No matter what, she’s going to get hurt. But Rhea Seehorn plays the character so well that I frequently have trouble viewing her as a character. I view her as a person. Someone I love and care about and want to see happy.

Knowing she has to get hurt, I want it to be a very specific kind of hurt. I want it to be the hurt she’ll experience one morning as she looks over at a sleeping Jimmy and realizes she can do better. I want it to be the hurt she’ll experience when someone calls Jimmy a scumbag and she understands that that’s correct. I want it to be the hurt she’ll experience when she realizes that she’s always going to love this man but he’s never going to be what she needs him to be.

I want that door to close between them and Kim Wexler to move on and do something fucking fantastic with her life. Because she can. So can Jimmy, but Jimmy chooses not to. I don’t want Kim to choose not to. I don’t care if she’s haunted for the rest of her life by thoughts of what could have been. Let her suffer in that way. That is the way I’d prefer her to suffer, because we already know what will be.

And so Kim and Jimmy deflate throughout the course of the episode. Three and a half seasons of inflating toward the breaking point and we arrive at “Something Stupid” which promises that it isn’t too late, that Kim and Jimmy may just drift apart, and whatever he does with his life can become, at long last, irrelevant to what she will do with hers.

Until the end, when she tells him they maybe won’t do things the right way. When she lets him in on some kind of scheme. When she sinks right back down to his level.

It inflates.

She could have gotten out.

It inflates.

He could have done his thing while she did hers.

It inflates.

A fair sentence for Huell — a repeat offender — will instead become something far more complex and infinitely less ethical.

It inflates…

Meanwhile, Mike talks with the German foreman, who tells him there will be one more explosion.

The other explosions happened off-camera, between episodes.

The explosion that’s still to come will happen right there on screen, and we will certainly wish it hadn’t.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Piñata” (season 4, episode 6)

After last week’s great episode, I had the sense that the season was going to really start moving. And in one way I think I was right, but “Piñata” sure doesn’t feel like it.

Things happens. Lots of things. To everybody. (Well, except for Nacho, but the longer they keep him out of the show the luckier his character is.) And yet it didn’t feel all that dynamic.

Pieces slide around the game board for a bit. There are good moments and some great ones. It’s by no means a bad episode. So why does it feel empty?

The thing I liked most about “Piñata” is the fact that each of the characters gets the chance to enjoy what they do. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that Better Call Saul is an inherently cynical show. We know where nearly all of these people end up, and we know any bright spots in their lives won’t be around forever. (“Make hay while the sun shines,” Saul eventually advises Walt.)

So Kim gets to have her cake and eat it, too, keeping both Mesa Verde and her work as a public defender…a conflict I honestly didn’t think could have a happy ending. She also gets to become a partner at a reputable law firm right out of the gate. She’s set financially, professionally, and personally satisfied.

Mike gets to do what he loves most: point out the flaws in other people’s plans and correct them. He notices immediately that Gus was setting up his German construction crew for cabin fever, and he gets to establish a far more comfortable environment for them. Everybody wins.

Gus gets to torment Hector, likely his favorite pastime. He relishes the eternal hell he plans to put the man through, and, yes, we certainly know how that ends, but it’s always nice to get Gus sinking his teeth into a menacing monologue.

We see Chuck and Howard in flashback celebrating a great win for HHM. And, sure, we know how that stuff ends, too, but it’s nice to open the episode seeing the smaller firm of HHM growing into something big and establishing a reputation before we revisit it later as it all falls apart. And, okay, Howard likely didn’t feel much catharsis with his “Fuck you, Jimmy,” but I enjoyed it on his behalf.

Then, of course, there’s Jimmy himself, who daydreams and doodles about getting Wexler-McGill back up and running. Kim taking a new job interferes with those plans, but I don’t think Jimmy has given too much consideration to that. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s trying to scrape together some money to buy that damned sign he’ll never get to hang anywhere.

And we open the episode with Jimmy embracing a potential legal future, retreating to HHM’s library for independent study. And we close the episode with Jimmy embracing his actual illegal future of brutality, intimidation, and a personal goon squad. Three dreams for Jimmy. We all know which one comes true.

But with a lack of payoff for anything, “Piñata” feels like a balls-in-the-air episode, regardless of how much forward movement there actually was.

The Germans move into their living quarters, but work hasn’t started. Mike clashes with a new guy named Kai, but we don’t have any clear sense of how, exactly, that will come to matter. Gus taunts Hector, but the guy’s still in a coma. Kim is offered a job, but hasn’t accepted it yet. Howard needs to make some kind of change to save his firm, but isn’t doing anything.

All of this is likely setup for some massive changes that will arrive sooner rather than later, but for now it’s only setup. Enjoyable setup, but setup that doesn’t play much like an actual episode. It plays more like 45-minutes’ worth of things that need to happen before next week.

The biggest question “Piñata” left me with is probably one I arrived at just because my mind was allowed to wander: How will Better Call Saul establish satisfying points of termination for these characters?

Breaking Bad had it relatively easy. The characters just had to depart from the show. Walt bleeding out, Jesse speeding away, Hector blowing up Gus, Hank going down swinging in the desert…the list obviously goes on. And anyone left when the dust settles gets to go on living their lives, finally free of what seemed to be an endless, constantly expanding nightmare.

Better Call Saul, though, can’t do much of that. It needs to bring its characters to where they were when Breaking Bad began.

In some cases, that changes nothing. We’ve already passed Chuck’s terminal point, and anything can still happen to Kim, Nacho, and Howard.

In Jimmy’s case, we know he becomes Saul, but that’s okay, too, because that really is a kind of direct closure for this incarnation of the character.

But what about Gus? We’re spending a lot of time with him, and that’s fine, but can he really go anywhere? He already manages Los Pollos Hermanos and secretly operates as a druglord. He is expanding and refining his process, but what can change? Where can they take the character? Is the Gus we know now different in any truly notable way from the Gus we knew in that other show? What is his arc in Better Call Saul? “Getting slightly better at his job,” for the record, isn’t one.

The same goes for Mike. He’s our other protagonist on a show that’s named after neither of them. He integrates himself more and more deeply into Gus’ criminal empire and he probably does some horrible things we don’t know about yet. But he’s still driven in Breaking Bad by his desire to provide for the same two family members we see him providing for here. They make it to that show okay, he makes it to that show okay, and I don’t know what about that dynamic can possibly change or even be made more interesting.

I’m invested in Jimmy because I know where he’s going, and that slope is only getting more slippery. He is losing himself, his identity, his soul along the way. That’s a journey, and it’s one worth taking.

I’m invested in Kim because I don’t know where she’s going, and I’m genuinely worried for her. When she opened up about her public defense work to Jimmy this week, I was glad because it emphasized the gulf that’s growing between them. Knowing he becomes Saul, I want her making as clean a break as possible. Right now she still has that chance. There’s inherent tension there. We know who Jimmy becomes. Who does Kim become?

But for Gus and Mike and Hector and so many of our other Breaking Buddies…where are they going? What is their narrative? I believe in Better Call Saul‘s ability to surprise me. It’s done it before and there’s no question it will do it again.

Right now, though, I’m not sure how much more it can tell us about certain characters. How much there’s left to learn. How many miles could possibly be left in their journeys.

We’ll see. This show has often proven me wrong. “Piñata,” though, doesn’t have any interest in doing so. It just sets everything up that needs to get smashed to pieces in the very near future.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Quite a Ride” (season 4, episode 5)

I’d have to rewatch to be sure, but it seems as though Better Call Saul hits its stride at about the mid-point of each season. The first few episodes tie up some old plot threads and introduce new ones. The final few build toward the concluding moments that will haunt us through the gap between seasons.

The middle is where most of the story happens. Last season’s consequences have been dealt with, this season’s consequences haven’t fully hit yet. And here, now, halfway through season four, we’re getting not just a better sense of where these characters are, but where they’d like to be, and where they’re more likely to end up.

Or, in Jimmy’s case, where we know he ends up. “Quite a Ride” isn’t content to do what most episodes do, which is assume that we remember Breaking Bad well enough that every step Jimmy takes toward becoming Saul is going to register. Here, instead, we open with a definitive vision of the future.

For the first time in Better Call Saul, the shows overlap. Saul, in a panic, gathers some cash and a few necessities (including the shoebox that we know contains some important mementos), and has Francesca dispose of evidence. Walter White doesn’t make an appearance, but the tiny apocalypse he kicked off is in full swing. The scene ends with Saul placing the phone call that will turn him into Gene.

“It was a good scene” goes without saying. Of course it was. For a few minutes, we were actually watching a new piece of Breaking Bad. More interesting to me, though, was the idea that these two shows could, at least potentially, coexist.

Until now, Breaking Bad occupied one stretch of time, and Better Call Saul occupied the stretch before and after it.

“Quite a Ride” demonstrates that the show is willing, at least this once, to occupy that middle period. Which, in theory, could mean that Better Call Saul continues beyond the point at which it links up with Breaking Bad. While Walt and Jesse are off doing one thing, we can watch Saul do something else.

I don’t know if that approach excites or worries me more. Personally, I do love this show, but I don’t know how effective it will remain if it continues beyond the firm, definitive establishment of Saul Goodman. That feels like an important termination point for the Jimmy McGill we know. It’s as conclusive as Walter White bleeding on the floor. Once we get to that point, the story’s been told.

We’ll see. I’m inventing possibilities and worrying about them. That’s what I do.

In “Quite a Ride,” we find almost every character at a low ebb. Kim is possibly rediscovering her love of the law, but one client demonstrates to her that her hard work is not appreciated and the other (unknowingly) prevents her from fulfilling her obligations to Mesa Verde. Something’s going to give. She promises Mesa Verde that it won’t happen again. Whether she’s correct or not, something important to her is going to be lost. Kim fenced herself into a no-win situation.

Howard is still reeling from Chuck’s death, and the responsibility Jimmy allowed him to bear for it. We only got one scene with Howard, but it was plenty. It was funny and harrowing by turns, and I’m interested to see where the show takes the character.

And then there’s Jimmy, whose cellphone gambit last week indeed paid off. He gets the further idea this week to purchase a trunkload of them himself and peddle them at a high markup on the streets…which also pays off. He pushes his luck a little further with some burly bikers and…that pays off, too.

At some point in this sequence, something clicked for me. I had the realization that this was an important factor in Jimmy becoming Saul. He keeps testing his boundaries, seeing what he can get away with…and he keeps getting away with it. He’s tempting fate to intervene, and as long as fate doesn’t, it’s easier and easier for him to let his morality go.

Then, of course, Jimmy is mugged by people he tried to sell to earlier in the night. In a much more brutal reflection of Kim’s situation (mirrors are an important visual motif in “Quite a Ride”) Jimmy ended up manufacturing his own conflict.

He goes home and washes his face and gives Kim roughly half the story. Which, I suspect, is more than Kim shares with him about her story. Neither of them are talking about what they’re really up against, what they’re really facing, what’s really keeping them from being happy.

And, of course, because fate intervened, he spends his next day at work scraping his latest scam off the windows.

I keep hoping that Kim’s exit from Jimmy’s life will be something along the lines of her waking up one morning and realizing she needs a change. She piles her stuff into a car, leaves a note for Jimmy, and disappears forever.

Narratively, that wouldn’t satisfy at all. I realize that.

But I care about Kim. Shit, I care about Jimmy, too, but as this episode reminded me, I already know where he ends up. I love him and I want him to hold on but I already know he doesn’t. He won’t. Better Call Saul, so far, is a show designed to assure us that he could have and chose not to.

Kim, though…I don’t want to see Kim become her own equivalent of Saul. And I don’t want her breaking down at a bathroom sink. And I don’t want her dying in a house fire. Seeing Francesca again was absolutely great, but it was yet another reminder of what Jimmy McGill reduces people to. In Better Call Saul‘s timeline, she’s still a sweet, bubbly, supportive human being. The flash-forward here reminds us that Jimmy broke her, shattered her sense of ethics, introduced her to the wonders of greed.

At the end of “Quite a Ride,” Jimmy has his monthly check-in with the Probation and Parole Division. He’s asked about his plans for the future, and he glides without thinking into a monologue about starting another law firm with Kim…a bigger one…a better one…building his reputation so much that people will recognize him as a damned good lawyer…

His PPD representative cuts him off. “Lawyer” was all he needed. But Jimmy so easily told that tale because he really believes it.

He knows what he did. He knows he resold his store’s product illegally. He knows he manipulated people at best and actively supported their own illegal dealings at worst. And he knows he got the living shit kicked out of him in a cold parking lot at one-thirty in the morning.

But he still thinks he can get this right.

When he sees the future, he sees that Kim’s still there.

“Quite a Ride” showed us the actual future for a reason.

Announcing: Halloween and Christmas!

Happy Labor Day! Let’s talk about Halloween and Christmas.

The two biggest holidays for this blog are closer than you may realize. I recently announced my Halloween plans on the official Facebook page, so be sure to follow that if you aren’t already. It’s sometimes easier for me to push quick news there if I don’t have time to write an actual post.

In short, I’ve been busy with the book lately, so don’t worry…I haven’t stopped writing, even if this blog seems a bit slow lately. You’re going to get a really great, long, intensive piece in physical form, and it’s horror-related, so I know it’s something you’ll enjoy. Just be patient; I will make the official announcement as soon as I can.

To make up for my online absence, though, this year’s Trilogy of Terror feature will be getting a bonus entry in the form of the long-overdue return of Fiction Into Film.

Fiction Into Film is a series I deeply enjoy writing for, and one I truly love, but it’s also one that takes a massive amount of work, time, and focus. As such, I never quite get to it. There’s always something else I could (or should…) be doing.

Now, though, I’ve set aside the time. Not only because I want to give you something great to read, but because it fits perfectly into this year’s Trilogy of Terror theme.

The films I’m covering this year follow the theme of The Most Dangerous Games. That is to say, they each center upon competitions of life and death. And every one of them has a unique approach to that concept.

If you’d like to follow along this year, here are the films we’ll be covering, and the dates on which the features go live.

Oct. 10 – Fiction Into Film: The Running Man (1982/1987)
Oct. 17 – Trilogy of Terror: Deathrow Gameshow (1987)
Oct. 24 – Trilogy of Terror: Rollerball (1975)
Oct. 31 – Trilogy of Terror: Solarbabies (1986)

Each of these films should be fairly easy to find, and you might get lucky and see a few of them available for streaming. You’ve got time to look, if you’re interested in checking them out beforehand!

In addition, well…I may as well announce the date and time of this year’s Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!

This will be the sixth time we all gather ’round the internet to enjoy five hours’ worth of forgotten Christmas specials, bizarre Christmas music, vintage commercials, and so much more.

All you have to do is visit this very website at the following time, and enjoy the Xmas Bashing.

The 6th Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!
Saturday Dec. 8, 7 p.m. Eastern

What will we be watching? I can’t tell you yet! But I have been working on the stream as well as the book (and as well as the upcoming Halloween posts!) and I know you’re going to wish I never dragged any of this crap back up and made you witness it.

It will be great!

As a refresher, here are the holly jolly trainwrecks we enjoyed in the past five Bashes.

The 1st Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash! (2013):

  • ALF – “Oh, Tannerbaum”
  • Lassie – “The Christmas Story”
  • Sabrina, the Teenage Witch – “Sabrina Claus”
  • Major Dad – “The Gift of the Major”
  • Charles in Charge – “Home for the Holidays”
  • Lost in Space – “Return From Outer Space”
  • Family Ties – “A Keaton Christmas Carol”

The 2nd Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash (2014):

  • ALF – “ALF’s Special Christmas”
  • The Fat Albert Christmas Special
  • Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers – “Alpha’s Magical Christmas”
  • Christmas Comes to Pac-Land
  • The Partridge Family – “Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa”
  • Santa’s Magic Toy Bag
  • Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

The 3rd Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash (2015):

  • ALF: The Animated Series – “A Mid-Goomer Night’s Dream”
  • The Bill Cosby Show – “A Christmas Ballad”
  • Full House – “Our Very First Christmas Show”
  • We Wish You a Turtle Christmas
  • Mr. Ed – “Ed’s Christmas Story”
  • Perfect Strangers – “A Christmas Story”
  • Walker: Texas Ranger – “A Ranger’s Christmas”

The 4th Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash (2016):

  • Family Matters – “Christmas is Where the Heart Is”
  • The Flying Nun – “Wailing in a Winter Wonderland”
  • The Monkees – “The Monkees’ Christmas Show”
  • Amos & Andy – “The Christmas Story”
  • Welcome Back, Kotter – “Hark, the Sweatkings”
  • The Super Mario Bros. Super Show – “Koopa Klaus”
  • Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa

The 5th Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash! (2017):

  • The Cosby Show – “Getting to Know You”
  • Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers – “I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger”
  • Inspector Gadget – “Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas”
  • Thunderbirds – “Give or Take a Million”
  • Dog With a Blog – “Twas the Fight Before Christmas”
  • Good Times – “The Traveling Christmas”
  • Kung Fu: The Legend Continues – “A Shaolin Christmas”

You may not see it here just now, but I’m working hard on getting some great things together.

Join me, won’t you? And thanks, as ever, for your patience and support. We’ll be together for the important holidays.

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