Hey, everybody! It’s me! And Saul! We’re back!
I was hesitant to commit to reviewing season six of Better Call Saul on the grounds that…man, everything is really, really, really, really, really hard. So forgive me if I end up lagging a bit. I’m going to do my best, but I think we can all agree that enough has happened between this and the end of season five to eat up our mental bandwidth. I love this show, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t pretend that I’ve been spending my time waiting for it to come back.
I don’t want my entire review to be a list of things that have kept me distracted over the past two years, but if you’re curious about my experience watching “Wine and Roses,” it was basically me thinking to myself, “Oh, right, that happened.”
That’s not the show’s fault, to be clear. It’s nobody’s fault. There have been more important things going on in the world. Add to that the fact that I haven’t kept up with any information about the show that’s come out since — interviews, podcasts, previews, series recaps, or anything else that AMC put out — and, basically, I ended up watching a show that I struggled to remember. So, hey, forgive me if I get anything wrong in these next few reviews.
Forgive me also if I felt underwhelmed by “Wine and Roses.” That may also not be the show’s fault or my fault. It may just be that I spent most of my time struggling to remember where everything left off. Maybe “Wine and Roses” was brilliant television. Or maybe, as it seemed to me, it was just a relatively low-key debut for a season that is necessarily going to be filled with big developments.
Two things struck me as especially interesting about the episode, from a structural standpoint.
The first and most obvious one is that we didn’t get a Gene scene to open the season. That was as much of a tradition as Better Call Saul has ever had, and I’m sure its absence is meaningful. Could I come up with five reasons we didn’t get one? Yes. Would they all be wrong and make me sound insufferable? Also, yes. The point is that it wasn’t there, and instead we got a flash forward to the tail end of the Breaking Bad era, with the missing Saul’s possessions being hauled off for an estate sale. It was a nice opening. It was cool to see where Saul lived. It seemed impressively opulent and hollow at the same time. I have no additional insight there, but the mere fact that they opened the season with it makes it notable.
The second thing is also related to Breaking Bad: As that show entered its final season, there were fewer plot strands to wrap up. We had multiple characters, obviously, but they all pulled toward a more obvious center. Better Call Saul has always had a lot of narratives at play, sometimes only crossing each other rarely. Its center is broader and looser. As such, we end up having to catch up with a lot of people who are indeed related to each other, but often by several degrees of separation. I suspect that much of season six’s tension will be generated from the fact that these largely disparate elements will be pulled closer into each other’s orbit, and I look forward to that.
For now, though, we have a bunch of characters to catch up with and not much of an idea of how or why they’re going to be relevant to each other at the show’s climax. Does Nacho laying low tie into the assault on Howard’s credibility? Does Gus feigning ignorance about the attack on Eduardo matter to Kim’s desire to snag the Sandpiper money? It’s not a bad thing that some elements of the show lack obvious connection to others, but I find it interesting that Better Call Saul has always had so many plotlines that were so distant from each other that even here, now, as the show winds down, it will still have to work hard to bring most of them together.
Maybe that’s why “Wine and Roses” didn’t feel especially engaging to me. Without knowing how these pieces will connect — and, to be frank, without assurance that they will — it’s just a reminder of how much housekeeping there is left to do. That’s okay, but I can’t pretend that that’s exciting.
The most insightful piece of the episode, for me, was Kim very briefly talking about a new young client of hers. She says that he’s a good kid who made a bad friend. The friend offered to let him drive his car to the liquor store, then robbed the place and her client became a de facto getaway driver. Is that the truth? Unless we find out more later in the season, it doesn’t matter; that’s how Kim describes it, and that’s all we get.
But that led me to think about something later in the conversation: Kim opens up the idea of sinking Howard for the sake of cashing out the Sandpiper settlement from season one. Saul — well, 80% Saul — hesitates and then says, “So we’re…uh…we’re doing that?”
Saul is not and will not be blameless, let me be clear, but it’s interesting that Kim is pushing for this behavior while Saul attempts, however ineffectively, to apply the brakes. Earlier in Better Call Saul, it would have been easy to see Jimmy as the one who robbed the liquor store while Kim got roped into it, the good kid who made a bad friend. By this point, it may be the other way around.
Sure, neither Jimmy nor Saul was a saint, but Kim’s client might not be, either. It’s just that, for simplicity’s sake, we’re meant to see him as one. He’s defined by his contrast with the person who pushes for doing something terrible. I found that interesting, and I love how natural it feels. Jimmy and Kim always brought out the worst in each other. Not in their own relationship (fascinatingly, and impressively) but in their dealings with everybody else. It’s just that we assumed that one was the good kid. Maybe the other was. Ultimately, neither is. But, hey, again, for simplicity’s sake…
I think that the story of her client also reflects what happened to Nacho. He essentially did Gus’s dirty work, taking out Eduardo, but he ends up bring the one to pay for it. Gus even admits that Nacho didn’t have a choice; he was forced to do it, and now he alone will face the consequences. Gus got what he wanted, and Nacho gets the blame.
Of course, Eduardo didn’t die, and by virtue of being the only other survivor of the massacre, Nacho is the prime suspect. Everyone believes Eduardo did die, which is bound to lead to some very rude awakenings but, for now, they’re unaware of what’s coming for them.
Eduardo and Nacho are the wildcards on that side of the story, as we don’t know what happens to them in the brief time remaining before Breaking Bad begins, but I somehow get the sense that it’s going to be more complicated than “the two of them kill each other,” just as I’m sure Kim’s departure will be more complicated than “someone killed her.” I’m especially sure of that now that she’s been revealed as less than squeaky clean.
Kim’s murder would only really have an impact on us, in this show’s context, if she didn’t deserve to die. If it turns out that she’s knowingly dealing with underhanded folks and gets killed as a result, well, sure, that’s fair, but that’s also far too easy an out, narratively. There’s more to it, and I don’t have any guess at all as to what it might be. The show is keeping me guessing, even this late in the game. I give it enormous credit for that.
To be fair, if you’re reading this, you probably already know what happens next; this and episode two aired back to back. I have access to episode two, but I wanted to get my thoughts down about this one before watching it. I’ll try to review that one within the next few days, and then we’ll proceed at, hopefully, a steady clip from there.
I’d love to say that “Wine and Roses” got me excited for season six or kicked things off with a bang, or whatever else, but it didn’t. It was just a competent, quiet start to a season that will probably get very loud very soon.
That’s not such a bad thing. Maybe I’ll appreciate it more once I know where it’s headed.