Better Call Saul Reviews: “Nippy” (season 6, episode 10)

I got a chance last week to allude to my love of format breakers, and I had no idea that one was coming up next. “Nippy” is something I’ve been wondering about since season one: a full Gene episode. I don’t know if that’s anything that I had actively wished for, but the chance that we would get one, at some point, was always in the back of my mind. One obvious possibility was that it would serve as the final episode. I’m glad that that’s no longer quite as likely, but it’s near the very end, which is probably where it belongs.

More so than most Better Call Saul episodes, discussing what happens would just feel like a summary, and I’m not keen on writing that, so this will probably be a pretty short review. I’m not entirely enamored of “Nippy,” but it certainly wasn’t bad. I think that it was about as good as a Gene episode could have been.

I did enjoy a good few things about it. The idea that Gene wouldn’t actually be able to leave his life as Saul behind is a good one. We’ve gotten only the barest glimpses of that in the previous flash forwards, where it could have been easily enough interpreted as wistfulness, as longing, as sadness, as whatever other emotional punishment we’d care to assign. Here, though, we see that he slips quickly and easily right back into his old habits. The correct emotion is “desire.”

The cab driver forced his hand, but only in the sense that the cab driver represented a threat. It’s a threat that Gene could have dealt with in many ways — he in fact almost dealt with it by getting a new identity again — but he chose to deal with it this way. When faced with the necessity of finding a path through, he chooses the path that fits him best: that of the scheming criminal.

He takes the cab driver under his wing, briefly, to give him just a taste of criminal life in exchange for the name “Saul Goodman” never being mentioned again. All of that was good, and I loved watching Gene “come alive” more and more as the episode progressed, as though the man’s blood is finally pumping again after however many years of stagnation in Omaha. Gene admiring a garish shirt-and-tie combo at the end leaves the possibility open that he will revert more substantially to his old ways, but I don’t think that we’re meant to conclude that he will. He can, as he’s proven, and he might, but it’s the possibility that will always hang over him, leaving him with yet another dilemma and, possibly, another regret to process when he goes to sleep at night, alone, in a home that his landlord would have to spend a whole three hours cleaning out if he didn’t wake up.

That confession to the security guard was intended to stall for time, but the accidental honesty in there was fucking brutal. I enjoyed that. I also enjoyed that Gene’s scheme — in terms of his own role — came down entirely to the fact that he’s a personable guy. He always has been. He’s likeable. He’s charming. He’s funny. He’s easy to get along with. And he used that both to get the cab driver off of his back and pull off a heist. It was a natural way for him to slip right back into being Jimmy.

Also, in perhaps my favorite moment in the episode, Gene shares a tactical half-truth: He tells his apprentice about Walter White walking into his office with trouble paying his mortgage and, a year later, swimming in cash. He certainly left out the most important parts of that story, didn’t he? Not least the ending…which is also what got Gene stranded here in the first place. It’s not something that he forgot; it’s something that he withheld. He knows that these stories end in disaster. We know that these stories end in disaster. This entire season has been reassuring us that these stories end in disaster.

All of that was good, and I admire the show’s guts to jump forward in time yet again…though, here, it’s almost certainly a one-off experiment. Zipping from Jimmy to Saul in the previous episode and then leaping straight into Gene for this episode was pretty daring.

Did it work?

I don’t know. Largely, perhaps, and I admire what the episode tried to do. I admire most of what it actually did. But for all of my complaints about Better Call Saul always feeling fractured with its multiple protagonists doing unrelated things, the unbroken stretch of Gene had me longing a bit for the days of a cut to Mike, or Gus, or Eduardo, or whoever else. “Nippy” feels bogged down at times simply because it has nowhere else to go; it can only move ahead, and it only moves slowly.

All of that was clearly intentional. (And, for obvious reasons, we can’t cut to other characters, especially the ones I just listed.) It’s just that I felt the length of this one much more than I usually do.

I imagine that it will be a bit better on a rewatch, when we know what surprises the final three episodes hold and this can serve as a quiet break before whatever chaos is looming. Now, it leaves us asking when they’re going to get to the fireworks factory for another week.

That’s okay. That’s fine. And I enjoyed the intermission.

I just look forward to getting back to the show, and seeing the rest of it through. I am glad that Nippy was okay, though.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Fun and Games” (season 6, episode 9)

This episode went from giving me almost nothing to talk about to giving me something very, very specific to talk about. To be clear, though, “nothing to talk about” reflects more on me than it does on “Fun and Games.” It was a good episode. It was a bit of a comedown after the chaos of “Point and Shoot,” but that’s a feature and not a bug.

“Fun and Games” explores the fallout from our most recent pair of deaths. Howard’s death resonates on the side of the law, and Eduardo’s death resonates on the side of the outlaws. Saul and Kim more than occupy the point of intersection, they are the point of intersection. They constitute not just the how but the why of that overlap. This is something that Kim comes very close to outright saying toward this episode’s end, as she finally processes just how culpable she is for what happened.

But I don’t want to jump ahead. The bulk of the episode centers around how Gus and the Salamancas move forward after Eduardo’s death, and how Saul, Kim, and a few other characters move forward after Howard’s death. Mike, the big softie, is navigating fallout, too, but he’s doing it with Nacho’s death, long after just about everyone else has forgotten about the guy.

Nacho is buried somewhere, and the moment that final shovelful of dirt covered him, he was gone. He was gone for everybody except Mike, who can’t help but try to offer the kid’s father a little bit of closure. It was a nice scene with some very good acting, and it went as well as it could possibly have gone, which is to say that, of course, it didn’t go well at all.

The standout scene in that stretch of the episode was Gus taking just a small step toward finding romance, or at least exploring something like it. He tries. He flirts. He’s not ready. He can’t let go of Max, especially with such a recent reminder of what Don Eladio did to him. I enjoyed that a lot.

The Don Eladio scene also did a great job, I think, of showing off a largely untapped strength of Better Call Saul. The show obviously outlines what happened before Breaking Bad began. We know that. That’s its whole purpose. It can also, however, make the material that we’ve already seen in Breaking Bad feel far more impactful.

In this case, I remember the episode “Salud,” in which Gus got his revenge on Don Eladio. It was an episode-length diversion that…didn’t entirely work, in my opinion. We got to see a bit more of Gus, but since we saw so little of his interactions with Don Eladio before the final confrontation, it felt like dipping into another show entirely. Breaking Bad provided a clear enough reason for Gus to want to kill the guy — this is TV, so “revenge” is sufficient — but Better Call Saul has helped to flesh this out much better, and it’s done so a few times.

Here, we see how haunted Gus still is, and we see how the experience holds him back from living a normal life. Well, a normal life for someone who already leads a double life. You get the idea. The point is that he’s scared and he’s carrying around a lot of pain. Thanks to the confrontation with Eduardo last week, that pain is physical as well. Better Call Saul makes that confrontation with Don Eladio, and Gus’ triumph over him, feel more important. It helps Breaking Bad (in that very, very specific instance) to feel like a sequel, rather than leaving Better Call Saul to feel only like a prequel.

Elsewhere, Saul and Kim go about their day, and eventually check in on Howard’s memorial service, which is also a memorial service for the moribund HHM. Kim gaslights Howard’s widow about his drug addiction, which is fucking devastating, and understandably, finally, recognizes that she hates what she’s become. She resigns as a lawyer. She leaves Jimmy.

So ends a perfectly good episode, except that it does not end there. We get precisely what I’ve been dreading since Better Call Saul started: the time jump.

I’ve alluded to my fear of this a few times, and it’s all due to the fact that Breaking Bad, for its final two episodes, leapt forward in time in a way that never felt graceful and, frankly, never felt earned. The fact that it didn’t also feel like the show had derailed itself says more about the goodwill it had built up in the previous seasons than it did about the validity of the decision to rocket forward in time at the end.

On the one hand, I get it. The show is ending, and you want it to end in one very particular place. You don’t have enough episodes left to get to that place, so you just skip the boring stuff.

But Breaking Bad benefited hugely from “the boring stuff.” It was never a show about what happens next; it was a show about how consequences continued to build. It was about what already happened, more than anything. Walt’s problem was never around the next corner; it was racing up from behind. The show jumped forward to get to “what happens next,” but that was never the interesting part of Breaking Bad, and that wasn’t how the show told its stories. I love it when shows break formats, but breaking them at the very end doesn’t feel like a room full of writers flexing their creativity; it feels like a room full of writers who painted themselves into a corner and now have to jump to get out.

My fear was that Better Call Saul, a show that similarly benefits from “the boring stuff” and is similarly a show about consequences — which this episode makes clear in spades — would similarly run low on episodes and have to jump to get out. It was even more likely here, as the show had to get to a recognizable place. Breaking Bad could have ended anywhere it liked, which is why it’s so disappointing that it chose someplace that it couldn’t reach through natural storytelling. Better Call Saul has less flexibility, since it’s a prequel.

And we got our time jump. Kim leaves. That’s it. Whatever was left of Jimmy — we saw flashes of him still in there last week — is gone. It’s Saul Goodman now. All of the pieces are in place. Barring a single flash forward to the Breaking Bad timeline in a previous episode, this is the first time that we’ve seen the character “complete” in this show, fully realized, untempered by humanity. He’s not a monster, to be clear; he’s just fucking scum.

I don’t hate it. Maybe I should, but I don’t.

Breaking Bad‘s jump forward felt arbitrary. Something had to happen, so we’ll ship Walt away, skip over nearly everything that happens after he leaves, and then pick back up when he returns to town. They set up a new life for him just to completely ignore that life because it wasn’t important or interesting. It’s difficult, therefore, to argue that this was the right narrative decision.

With Better Call Saul, though, it feels like it has narrative purpose, and it characterizes Saul.

Kim felt guilty for getting Howard killed in that apartment, and then she killed Jimmy. Saul was all that remained after she moved out. Jimmy’s transformation into Saul was explained in a few ways over time, ranging from opportunity to theatricality. What finalizes it, though, is a kind of suicide.

Jimmy has nothing left. Jimmy has no reason to be around anymore. He allows himself to become Saul, because what’s left for Jimmy? What’s left of Jimmy? Everybody he’s ever been close to is gone. The one person who made him happy has left. His life is empty. And so he puts an end to that life, permanently. He’s Saul Goodman now. Why the fuck not?

The time jump here didn’t feel graceless. It felt like fucking trauma. We didn’t skip Saul’s new life because it wasn’t interesting; we just skipped the transition, as though Saul couldn’t bear to look at it himself. He did some terrible things then. He must have. He did whatever he had to do in order to cope. He did things he’d regret, if he still had a conscience. He pushed himself further and further away from the pain because he couldn’t bear to think about it, to dwell on it, to replay in his mind over and over again all of the things that he could have and should have done differently.

He can’t remake his decisions. Maybe the healthier thing to do is just to keep moving, as fast as you can, and find something else.

It’s also very much worth noting that the time jump leaves Better Call Saul with four episodes rather than two. Not a huge difference, I suppose, but it feels more deliberate. It’s not a last-resort way of getting the characters where they need to be, because we’re still left with a little bit of breathing room.

Jimmy McGill bled all over the floor the night Kim left. He thought about who he was and he hated everything about himself. Kim did the same thing, only she did it earlier the same day. She took, we assume, a slightly more constructive way out.

Jimmy let go. He let Saul take over. Again, why not? What was even worth fighting for anymore? At some point it gets hard to hold on, especially when you realize that you aren’t holding on to anything.

So you let go. You fall. You let it end.

That was the time jump. Not narrative necessity. Instead the firm, clear, definitive break between one character lying down and the other getting up.

I had hoped to avoid a time jump. In my defense, I had no reason to expect a time jump this good, this right, or this important.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Point and Shoot” (season 6, episode 8)

Around the time we first met Eduardo, I mentioned that this show and Breaking Bad had portrayed the drug trade — this specific iteration of the drug trade, at least — as a sort of graceful dance. Deadly, yes. Horrific, yes. Massively awful for all involved, yes…but everybody had a role. Everybody understood what was expected of them and when. Nobody deviated because, as in a dance, deviation would lead to confusion. All of the participants relied on the others to follow the choreography. Everybody had a role, and part of the danger in deviation was that everything would crash down, for everybody. Deviations occurred, but they would never be the rule and would always be at the deviant’s own peril. It was in all of the dancers’ best interests to keep dancing.

Eduardo showed up on Better Call Saul and immediately started treating it instead like a bar fight. Everybody makes their own rules. Throw a punch whenever you want. Smash a chair over this bystander. Burn down the place, if you like. Eduardo was a poor dancer, but he was a great bar fighter. He could never have survived if everybody kept dancing, so he flourished by starting a brawl instead. He changed the rules. At least, he tried to.

This episode illustrates the difference. Saul Goodman, criminal lawyer, is not a good guy. He is on the side of evil, at least in terms of having a role to play that facilitates the continuation of evil. And so bad people in the drug trade come to him. He has a specific role to play, however; he’s not an all-purpose evil dispenser. There’s the choreography again.

You can speak to Saul Goodman in order to get your nefarious colleague out of jail. You can speak to him to get your money laundered. You can have him distract the police at a crucial moment. As an evildoer, you can do all kinds of things with Saul Goodman, but they are a specific subset of things that play to his skills and to his role in the dance.

You can’t — and I must be very clear about this — drive to his house and tell his wife to go murder your enemies.

At the end of the previous episode, I think I forgot that Eduardo is a bar fighter. For whatever reason, on whatever level, I still had the show’s choreography in mind. I expected Eduardo to draft Saul back into Saul-like dealings, into shifty background business, into introducing him to somebody who could more actively get his hands bloodied.

I was dead wrong. Eduardo wanted an assassin. …sort of.

That part is a bit hazy to me, and I think that it’s hazy in the correct way. Clearly, Eduardo at least suspected that Gus would meet him at the superlab. Almost as clearly, I think that that was the outcome he was hoping for. But something about the specificity of his demand to Kim — in particular, the insistence that she take a photo of the corpse — makes me think that Eduardo was hedging his bet.

In his mind, it was very, very likely that Kim would kill Gus’ body double, or somebody else. It was very, very likely that he himself would have to deal with Gus and would get a guided tour of the superlab. Even so, it was possible that the stars would align in such a way that Kim would have been the one to kill Gus. Had that happened, Eduardo would still want his trophy. (It’s worth noting, of course, that he’s is sending Kim away to commit murder, even if he were certain that Gus wouldn’t be the one who took the bullet.)

I had two predictions before “Point and Shoot” started. One was that the entire episode (or some overwhelming majority of it) would revolve around the disposal of Howard’s body. I was wrong.

My other prediction, though, was that this second half of the season would go one of two ways with Eduardo: Either it would kill him off immediately, or it would end with him still being alive, possibly with a return (or the threat of a return) in whatever flash-forward Gene sequences we get. I can maybe claim some partial credit there, but what I was actually getting at was that Eduardo couldn’t have a traditional villain’s death. We couldn’t get a back stretch of episodes in which he ran around making things more difficult for everybody else, leading to some sort of climactic confrontation. That wouldn’t have fit the character. Eduardo is not a man of structure and his character doesn’t allow for pistols at dawn. Eduardo is a force of chaos, and he’d have to depart the show in a structurally chaotic way.

He did, and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the way in which he got everybody scrambling, just to manage him, popping up over here and then over there, like the Cheshire Cat. You can’t know where he is; you can only know where he just was.

Well, I guess now we know where he is, but you get the picture.

“Point and Shoot” was great. It’s hard to say that it was a good “conclusion” to the previous episode, because this show doesn’t really allow for conclusions. Saul and Kim will still be dealing with the fallout next week. In other ways, Gus and Mike will as well. It’s certainly possible that Better Call Saul, after a very strong start to the season, will ultimately fall on its face. I don’t think that that’s likely but, at the same time, all I can really say is that they’ve managed to keep the ball in the air.

One thing I will add is that, when Eduardo died, my mind tricked me. I remembered Nacho’s death a few episodes ago, Howard’s death in the previous episode, Werner’s death before that, and Chuck’s death long ago. With Eduardo’s death, I thought, “Now we’re just left with the Breaking Bad characters.”

I realized my mistake a few minutes later, but I don’t think that I forgot Kim. I think, instead, that I’ve accepted Kim as being more than a “new character” created for this show. She’d been, at some point, for me, mentally promoted to the same status that Saul, Mike, and Gus share. The status of being bigger than “Better Call Saul characters.”

She was created for this show, without question. She is filling a very important, specific, and formative role in the creation of Saul Goodman. So are many of these characters, however. Kim, though, feels different. More important. More significant. I don’t know how well I can articulate my feelings here, but I can at least say that she feels larger than she really is. I feel as though I’ve known her longer than this show has been around, and that’s impressive work on its part. It will be interesting, and probably devastating, to see what happens to her.

I’ll need more time to digest this one, I think, and I may circle back around to it in later reviews. For now, though, I will say that my favorite moment was Saul pleading with Eduardo to let Kim commit the murder instead of him. He was flailing, of course. He didn’t have time to think anything through. He was “scheming,” but only in the most desperate sense of that word. He was so fucking scared of Eduardo in that moment, that he couldn’t leave Kim alone with him. It would have been better for Kim to become a murderer than for her to be stuck in a condo with that man.

That was fucking terrifying.

Part of me wonders if that were also…well…Jimmy. It wasn’t just Saul volunteering to be in one position while Kim took another; it was Jimmy sacrificing himself. I wonder if, on some level, Jimmy hoped she would just leave. Go to the cops, go to another city, go anywhere but fucking here. She wouldn’t commit the murder, she wouldn’t return, and Eduardo would kill Jimmy as a result, but at least Kim would be safe somewhere far away.

I don’t think that that’s what Jimmy wanted, but I do think that he would have seen that as a better outcome than most others.

I don’t know. Maybe it depends on how much of Jimmy actually still remains.

Saul would weasel out of something like this to save his own skin. Jimmy might do it to save somebody else’s.