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.

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

Making money legitimately is dull. It’s boring. It saps your soul. You know it. I know it. It sucks. We don’t want jobs. We don’t want to wake up and go to work. We don’t want to spend 40-50 hours a week wishing it were the weekend so that we could rest up for the next 40-50 hour week.

Better Call Saul might cheat a little when “Talk” sticks Jimmy in a cellphone store that’s completely devoid of customers, but it makes its point. Or rather Jimmy, classic film aficionado, makes it when he spends his first day on the job bouncing a ball onto the floor, then the wall, then catching it, over and over again. He’s imitating Steve McQueen when he gets sent to the cooler in The Great Escape. Jimmy sees legitimate employment as imprisonment.

That’s why, in the past two episodes, we saw him decline a job offer but then set into motion a plan to break into that workplace and steal a Hummel figurine. Sure, the figurine earned him more than he would have possibly made for a night’s work at a legitimate job, but that’s beside the point. (He even dismisses the money Chuck left him, which was a similar amount, as paltry.) What matters is that the thrill of doing something wrong is what he enjoys.

I was surprised last week that Ira didn’t give Jimmy shit for miring him in a dangerous situation, but I probably shouldn’t have been. Ira loves this stuff, too. They each need to make some money above board, but that’s not where their heart is, or where it could ever be. The dollars are nice. The fact that they don’t have to work soul-sucking 9-to-5s to make those dollars is nicer.

Jimmy will spend his money and never think about it again. But he’s always going to remember showing up in the middle of the night to release the parking break on somebody’s car so Ira could get out of the office. That’s what mattered. Life isn’t money. Life is experience.

And so, here, when Jimmy gets the bright idea to prey on criminal paranoia to drive traffic to his store, sure, we’re getting a glimpse of Saul. But we’re also fleshing out the Jimmy we already know. Whether he’s digging through dumpsters to help a client or buying up commercial airtime without permission to help his law firm, Jimmy bucks tradition.

Previously, it was easy to see why he’d do this; his bosses and associates might bristle, but in each case his gambit worked. Jimmy has a knack for knowing when a shakeup is warranted, whereas most of the professionals in his universe don’t.

But now, with “Talk,” I think I have a greater sense of why he behaved that way in earlier episodes. The fact that his gambits were successful might only be incidental. What really mattered is that doing things by the book bores the shit out of him. Jimmy’s shakeups were necessary to keep him interested. The moment things settle into routine, Jimmy starts bouncing that ball, wondering how the fuck to break out.

I’ll bet right now that his latest window-painting gambit will work. And I’ll bet even more confidently that Jimmy couldn’t care less. His thrill is painting the windows without permission in the first place. He knows this isn’t what anyone else in his position would do. That’s why he does it.

“Talk” is probably my favorite episode of this season so far. It isn’t the funniest, the most exciting, the smartest, or even the most interesting episode. But it’s very successful at revealing character, and helping us to understand the things we’ve already seen.

And that, I think, is a bit of a passive theme here, as evidenced by the scene that gives this episode its name.

I’ve complained about Mike’s unclear role in this show, and I could do it again. (In fact, I’m sure I will!) But “Talk” used him exceedingly well.

We open with a scene that is both a flashback and a flashforward. First, we see an out-of-focus man sawing wood and laying concrete. In a bit, a child gets to scrawl his name before it dries. The angle changes, and we see that the kid is Matty…Mike’s son. We just saw Mike and his little boy. Then we flash forward, beyond most of the events we’re about to see happen in “Talk,” to Mike at his church group.

“You wanted me to talk,” he says. “I talked.”

What story did he tell? We’re led to believe it had something to do with the flashback…and it did, but not in the way we probably expected.

Mike isn’t the kind of person to open up to anyone, least of all in a group setting. But whatever he said shocked or disturbed the group into silence.

And, well…why not? Mike must have a thousand true stories that would shock a church group. We aren’t surprised that he’s left a room speechless. We just don’t know what he chose to share.

It takes most of the episode to get us back to that point, and we see finally that he didn’t share anything at all. The flashback wasn’t something he shared; it was something he felt. His daughter-in-law speaks to the group about her fear that she’ll forget Matty. Her late husband. Mike’s son.

So when another member of the group jumps in with his own sad tale of loss, which Mike knows to be fabricated, Mike presses and humiliates him to the point that the man leaves the group, likely for good. (Though Mike isn’t any more likely to come back, I think.)

We started the episode with the suggestion that Mike opened up. We find out later that he kept himself closed as tight as ever, and took out his frustrations on, yes, a liar…but a liar who wasn’t hurting anybody.

Between these two scenes, Mike makes a friendly wager with Anita — someone who seems to be a genuine friend to him — that the man’s stories are bullshit. It’s a sweet moment. It’s actually pretty cute. Mike and Anita make plans to spend time together after the group, and they’re both on the lookout for inconsistencies in the next sob story. This should be fun.

It isn’t fun. Mike gets hurt when the story of his actual son is hijacked, and he ends up in turn hurting a man who was there for support.

We met Anita last season, and in my review for “Expenses,” I said this:

[Mike] bonds with another parishioner, and we see a side of him we’ve never seen before, on either show: Mike with a real friend. […] He lets her help pour concrete, and later listens intently to her story of her missing husband. He opens himself up to her — and to the church — in an unexpectedly warm way. He lets his guard down. He accepts help. He accepts…others. It’s a different Mike. It’s a Mike he might even like being. But it’s not the Mike we lose in Breaking Bad. We know he pushes it away.

“Talk” is the specific episode in which he pushes it away. He takes what could have been an important relationship in his life (take “relationship” in whichever way you like) and destroys it, likely permanently.

His new friend. A group of people willing to support him. A church he was actively helping.

This isn’t Mike. At least, it isn’t the Mike we know. Just like Jimmy isn’t the Saul we know.

These characters are making the decisions that separate them from who they could have been. They each have the opportunity to say, “I’m going to do this right.” And then they each, independently, decide to do this wrong.

Mike and Jimmy have comically little overlap in terms of plot. But in terms of their characters’ journeys, they’re sometimes eerily similar.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Something Beautiful” (season 4, episode 3)

As much as I come down on Better Call Saul for so frequently echoing Breaking Bad, I do have to confess that I’m part of the problem. I am indeed one of those people in the audience who gets a giddy little thrill out of seeing a familiar face. I smile. My ears perk up. I really hate to admit this, but I pay more attention.

And so “Something Beautiful” reunited us with Gayle, one of my absolute favorite characters from Breaking Bad. Why I didn’t immediately think of him when Gus learned he’d have to find someone to cook product locally, I have no idea. Maybe the mention of the DEA in the season premiere had me primed for Hank, Gomez, and possibly Marie to be the next ambassadors from that show.

Instead it was the perfectly natural — and just about obligatory — appearance of Gayle. I laughed as soon as I recognized him. I was excited. I was happy to see him.

Breaking Bad didn’t keep him around for long. He was the one for whom Gus invested in the superlab, and I expect we’ll catch up to that moment fairly soon. He cooked with Walt for a while, and then was killed by Jesse in one of Walt’s power plays. He sang karaoke. He gave a copy of Leaves of Grass to the man who ordered his death. And that was about all we got of Gayle.

I won’t go too deeply into why I like him, but it does tie into the way this episode opened.

Following on from last week’s murder of Arturo, there’s some cleanup (which conveniently doubles as setup) to be done. Victor and Tyrus stage a hit on the already dead Arturo. They blow out his tires. Shoot up his car. Blast a hole in his head. Then, because it has to look real, they put a couple of bullets into Nacho.

During that scene, right up until its final moments, I appreciated its coldness. Its calmness. Its calculation. This is the way things work. We saw organized criminals organizing their criminal activities. There was no sense of panic; they worked methodically from a comprehensive mental checklist.

And it made me realize that on Breaking Bad, we didn’t get much of that. We always had criminal activity unfolding with varying degrees of complexity, but in almost every instance we were there with Walt or Jesse, or both. Outsiders. Which means we never knew if we were seeing how these criminals actually operate, or seeing how they behave when they’re reacting to the presence of an interloper.

Here, in this scene, all of the participants are insiders. This is their world. One of them is already dead, two of them we know will die, another comes close to dying in this very episode. This is their life. This, specifically, is their life.

Gayle represents the ultimate outsider. Perhaps we’ll learn more about him that will disprove me, but I never saw him as somebody who had an evil bone in his body. He might be a bit of a showoff, but I think he mainly aims to please. He wants to prove his worth, sure, but he also wants people to be proud of him. Both Gus and Walt were in positions of power over him, and rather than bristle at that fact (or bristle for long) he sets about trying to impress them.

I always saw him as being written as the absolute best human being a meth cook could possibly be. He was intelligent, articulate, friendly, accommodating, patient. And I think that’s what made him so fascinating as a character. He was here, in this life, where throats get cut and people get gunned down and bodies are dissolved in acid. But he’s reading poetry and singing showtunes and brewing the perfect cup of coffee. He maintains everything that makes him Gayle.

Compare that to Victor and Tyrus at the beginning of this episode. (And at the end of last week’s.) They’re all in Gus’ orbit. They’re all in (or soon to be in) the same business. They’re all cogs in the same machine. But could their approaches be more different? Could their personalities? It’s such an interesting dichotomy.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Gayle being the one who insisted on cooking meth, though. I kind of always figured that Gus would be the one to pull him in, but here, in fact, Gus pushes him away. I see why. Gus himself just oversaw the brutal and cruel elimination of a problematic element. He likes Gayle, and doesn’t want him to become a problematic element for somebody else.

As we know, Gus eventually relents. And as we also know, Gayle indeed becomes that problematic element.

We know what happens, but I’m genuinely curious to see how we get there.

Better Call Saul is certainly a strong enough show on its own by this point, but the one way in which it jogs a considerable distance behind Breaking Bad is in its use of Mike. In that show, Mike simply didn’t show up unless he had something to do. Where was he when we spent time with other characters? It didn’t matter. He was out there, somewhere, being Mike.

In this show, though, we keep cutting back to him treading water, because he’s one of the major characters. It’s fine; Jonathan Banks is a delight, and my favorite part of this episode might have been Mike’s quiet refusal to even look at the Hummel figurine while Jimmy was expounding on its virtues. But, as great as he is, I find myself wondering every few episodes why he’s even here.

I’ve harped on this before so I won’t waste too much breath on it again, but it’s very strange to have a show with dual protagonists that don’t actually interact all that much. Their paths have crossed, but they’ve never overlapped for long. And this episode opens with Mike (understandably) refusing to be part of Jimmy’s narrative.

That’s fine, and his decision was true to his character. But aside from the fact that the two of them were on Breaking Bad, is there any reason for them to both be headlining, separately, this show?

Mike needs something to do. Shit, that’s a large part of his character, now that I think about it. And I probably would have been happy enough with the Hummel figurine dismissal if we hadn’t already seen the show floundering for Mike’s purpose in the previous two episodes as well. Had he disappeared for a few episodes and then popped up just to blink slowly across a table at Jimmy, that could have been great. Instead he’s almost always around, even when he has nothing to do, so it didn’t register as much more than Banks hitting his contracted number of episodes.

Speaking of Breaking Bad — as we always are, every hour of the day, every day for the rest of our lives — we got to see Ira again!

It’s Ira, kids!

…yeah, I didn’t recognize him, either. Evidently he was the owner of the pest control company that provided cover for Walt and Jesse late in the show’s run. As far as I can tell, he was in one episode. I didn’t remember him. I just watched this episode and I don’t remember him from Better Call Saul, either.

I do have to admit I liked that after he stole the Hummel figurine, he didn’t immediately slug Jimmy or something. As frustrated and nervous as he was, he turned out to enjoy the experience and the two of them seem to bond over how terribly it almost went. That was a neat little moment.

Jimmy didn’t really show us anything new this episode, and that’s okay. The most interesting bit of character work was how easily he proposes to Mike that they enlist Pryce — the pie sitter — to serve as a fence for the Hummel figurine. It’s notable that Jimmy is so fast to take someone who came to him for legal help and rope him into his own illegal activities. That’s a whole load of Saul peeking through.

I’d like to say that he also got a great moment at the very end of the episode, hollowly reading his brother’s suicide message aloud through mouthfuls of cereal, but Kim obviously owned that scene.

He reads more for the sake of it than out of any real sense of interest or investment. It’s there, it’s from Chuck, we’ll see what he says and get on with our day.

But Kim, gradually, perfectly, tragically breaks down. Jimmy isn’t laying any emotion over Chuck’s words; in fact, he’s robbing those words of emotion. But she feels it anyway. She hurts. The guilt comes welling up. Jimmy reads on without feeling and Kim feels enough for both of them.

It was painful to watch, not just because Kim was so believably hurting — God bless Rhea Seehorn — but because this is the rift between them.

As Jimmy hardens into Saul, Kim is still…Kim. They’re drifting apart. I don’t think they’ve hit the point of no return yet, but I do think it’s getting close. Every morning she wakes up, Jimmy’s just a little further away.

It would be nice to believe that she gets out while she can, before it’s too late, before it becomes something that drags her down and won’t let her go.

But I think Nacho’s situation at the beginning of the episode reminds us that that’s not how things work on this show.

We saw how Chuck got out. Heaven knows what’s in store for Kim.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...