Better Call Saul Reviews: “Breathe” (season 4, episode 2)

In last week’s review, I focused on one story rather than all three that were in the episode, expecting the other two would pick up in “Breathe” and I could talk about them more completely then.

I made the right judgement. As much as I could have said after “Smoke,” it felt a bit end a discussion of Jimmy’s ever-loosening morals to say, “Also Mike did a comedy routine with some idiots we’ll never see again.” Both things happened in the same episode, but it didn’t feel as though they belonged in the same review.

And, sure enough, “Breathe” picks up both of those threads I neglected, but only one of them reaches any kind of real milestone.

Season four began with three major plots unfolding concurrently. The first, and certainly the most important to this show rather than as setup for Breaking Bad, was the aftermath of Chuck’s death. This plot involves Jimmy, Kim, and Howard, and was the focus of “Smoke.”

But we also had the impending fallout from Hector’s heart attack, which involves a number of characters but is mainly centered upon Nacho and Gus for now.

The third and simplest of these was Mike’s security consultation of a Madrigal facility. We’ll deal with this one first, as it’s the one that’s advanced the least and, I’d argue, has revealed the least.

I don’t intend for that to sound dismissive — even if I guess it is, in one sense — because Mike’s consultation was fantastic. It was an excellent example of the kind of long scene Better Call Saul does (and Breaking Bad did) so well, opening at a point of confusion for the audience and gradually layering in context until you can understand what’s happening, allowing the “reveal” to come organically.

This was fun. I’ve gushed many times about my love of Jonathan Banks playing Action Grandpa, but I think this is the first time we’ve seen Mike employ his particular set of skills toward expressly comic ends. Nobody was in danger, nobody needed protection, nobody needed to escape. Mike’s background as a cop goes a long way toward justifying his immense capability in terms of offense and defense, but this was a nice chance to see — without any distraction — that his powers of observation are just as sharp.

This week Lydia meets with him and tells him to back off, but he doesn’t. It’s a nice exchange and Laura Fraser is a welcome presence, but I don’t think we learned anything there that we didn’t already know. Mike likes money, but only if he earns it. When he received that check for doing nothing last week he got right off his ass and did something. That’s about it.

I suspect the show is just killing a bit of time with that character until he needs to do something important. No real progress here, but it was fun jogging in place for a while.

The Hector thread is the one that really moves forward in this episode. It’s becoming more and more likely that Nacho’s pill-swapping scheme is what results in Hector’s eventual paralysis. I wondered at the end of last season if it would turn out to be another fakeout, like Mike with his sniper rifle. Better Call Saul can toy with our expectations — or rather foreknowledge — in a way that very, very few shows can.

And, hey, it still might. Or maybe I’m just hoping we get to see a little more of Hector being menacing. He spent so much of his Breaking Bad time in a wheelchair that I’ve really enjoyed Mark Margolis giving a more thorough performance of the character.

“Breathe” ends with what I think was one of the best scenes Better Call Saul has given us so far, and yet it still wasn’t the best scene in the episode. (More on that in a bit.) Nacho and Arturo, representing Hector, meet with Victor and Tyrus, representing Gus. Gus’ crew attempts to shortchange Hector’s. After some loaded silences and implied threats, Gus’ crew gives in and Hector’s crew gets their full cut.

Nacho and Arturo walk away, and we see figures approach them from between two Los Pollos Hermanos trailers. I surprised myself by saying, “Oh, shit,” out loud. It’s Gus with his boys. He puts a plastic bag over Arturo’s head and lets him slowly suffocate.

Pretty intense on its own, but it throws the interpretation of the previous scene into much more interesting places. Victor and Tyrus never meant to shortchange Nacho. They — and Gus — were testing him. Seeing how far he’d push. Seeing what he was made of. Seeing how he’d behave when he thought the big guys weren’t looking.

Tyrus tells him to take what they’re offering or to leave with nothing. What Nacho does reveals who he is, and how valuable he’ll be to Gus in the future.

Nacho is now under Gus’ thumb. He can ostensibly work on behalf of the Salamancas, but it’s Gus he’ll need to answer to. The fact that he pushed back against Gus’ men and got his full share might be the only reason he’s alive. Had he let himself get stiffed, Nacho wouldn’t be any more useful to Gus than Arturo was.

And so Nacho is trapped. He cannot serve two masters, and yet that’s exactly what he’ll need to do from this point forward.

Unlike the rest of the big players in this thread — Gus, Hector, Tuco, the cousins, Victor, Tyrus — we don’t see Nacho in Breaking Bad. His story has an unknown point of termination. He might get out — as he promises his father in this episode — or he might get taken down. We saw a number of characters get offed just so another character could make a point in Breaking Bad. We didn’t know any of them nearly as well as we know Nacho. Better Call Saul has seen to it that even a potentially senseless death would have meaning.

Personal prediction? I think the DEA gets him and he provides the information that leads them to Tuco in exchange for his freedom or a slap on the wrist. That’s based on almost nothing, though, so don’t go betting on it.

And, hey, speaking of the DEA, was that Marie Schrader working as the receptionist at the copy shop, standing in front of an appropriately purple wall? She had no lines so she wouldn’t have been in the credits, but that’s what I think I saw…and the episode ends with a suggestion that we haven’t seen the last of that place…

Actually, Jimmy stealing the figurine could somehow factor into Marie’s kleptomania…

Okay, that’s enough jumping ahead.

The big story in the previous episode was Jimmy’s reaction to Chuck’s death. He allowed Howard to shoulder the blame, and almost immediately lit up again. He remains bright and cheery — at least outwardly so — in “Breathe,” but it doesn’t feel the same. There was something about his sunny demeanor in the opening scene as he made breakfast that made it feel far more like I was watching Saul Goodman than Jimmy McGill. It felt a little phonier. A little more calculated. Just a bit artificial.

I could be wrong, and reading into something that isn’t there, but Kim picks up on something, too. So much so that she unloads on Howard later that day. And…well, maybe she has a point. I absolutely believe Howard has good intentions. He’s still a lawyer, a businessman, a professional, but he does have a heart. When he told Jimmy he believes Chuck’s death was intentional suicide, I’d bet he really did think it was the right thing to do.

Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t.

But Kim sees that Jimmy’s just slightly “off,” and she blames Howard for being insensitive. Or, rather, she screams ruthlessly and emotionally at the man who until recently was her employer. (And who, it must be said, has lost his friend, mentor, and partner, and is blaming himself for it.)

It was great. It was an important scene. Rhea Seehorn has been the most consistent highlight of Better Call Saul so far, and the way in which she will fight for Jimmy is…

…well…

…it’s the saddest fucking thing imaginable.

Kim is capable, competent, loyal, intelligent. And she’s throwing her support behind a man who is gradually shedding his humanity, who is creeping by the hour toward the repulsive alter ego that will replace Jimmy forever.

I don’t know that anybody’s ever fought for Jimmy before. His father refused to believe Jimmy was stealing from the family store, but a flashback in season two’s “Inflatable” showed us that that may not have been the problem anyway.

Jimmy’s lived a life surrounded by people who either coddle him or condemn him, and associated through much of his life with other thieves and grifters.

Who was there to fight for him? Who was there to convince him he was worth fighting for? Who saw him as a human being? As someone who deserved to be lifted up rather than reacted to? Who knew and understood his past and still believed there was a place for him in the future?

It’s Kim.

Only Kim.

Season three was Chuck’s story. It was a long, frightening march over the event horizon. He’s gone now. He isn’t coming back.

Which leaves season four free to focus on peeling Kim away next.

My heart hurt watching her yell at Howard. Not just because the man didn’t deserve to be harangued for what was at worst poor judgment, but because the woman who harangued him did it on behalf of Jimmy.

Because she cared that fucking much about Jimmy.

And Jimmy leaves her in bed that very night to step outside and plot a petty burglary of a Hummel figurine.

He’s sliding away from the most important thing he’ll ever have, and toward a whole lot of shit he’ll wish he never touched.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Smoke” (season 4, episode 1)

I skimmed an interview with Peter Gould before the premiere of Better Call Saul (I was trying to avoid direct spoilers) and he mentioned that he toyed with the idea of jumping ahead in time after the end of season three. In fact, they toyed with that idea a few times already on Better Call Saul, and did the same when writing Breaking Bad. But each time, they realized there were still stories to tell right where they were.

I’ve said before that my main issue with the final stretch of Breaking Bad was its willingness to jump ahead in time. In any other show, that would neither have mattered nor registered. Breaking Bad, though, spent the vast majority of its run moving deliberately from point to point. We followed every step from A to B to C, so that we could trace not so much the workings of the plot, but the evolutions of the characters.

We didn’t jump from A to C; we watched every painful moment of the characters changing along the way. Loosening their personal moralities. Rationalizing their increasingly appalling behavior. Altering the way they see themselves, and the way others would see them.

Jumping from A to C might have still given us a good show. It’s given us many great shows. But it wouldn’t have given us Breaking Bad.

I think it’s okay that the Better Call Saul writers sat down in a room and wondered whether or not they should leap ahead, but I’m relieved they didn’t. Moreso than Breaking Bad was, Better Call Saul is a specific (if sometimes unfocused) story of personal change.

Jimmy McGill to Slippin’ Jimmy to James M. McGill to Saul Goodman to Gene Takovic with probably a few other incarnations yet to be explored.

Jimmy’s story is inherently a story of change. So was Walter White’s, but in Breaking Bad there was another hook for the narrative and marketing to hang upon: how far will a dying man take his dangerous scheme?

I challenge you to provide a similar surface narrative for Better Call Saul. There isn’t one. We started this show at point A, and met Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad at point C. To skip B is to skip Better Call Saul.

When the idea of this spinoff was first bandied around — a Saul Goodman prequel — I was willing to believe it would be worth watching. I was willing to believe it would be funny and well acted and well written. I wasn’t really willing to believe it needed to exist. After all, what story could it possibly tell? The story of how Saul Goodman came to like money?

And, of course, nothing (or very little) of what we see in Better Call Saul was in anybody’s mind when they were writing for the character in Breaking Bad. So much more the achievement, then, that this show has found not just a story worth telling, but one so unpredictably mired in and driven by tragedy.

It’s not the story of how Saul Goodman came to like money. It’s the story of Jimmy McGill slowly, agonizingly, terrifyingly losing his grip on his own humanity.

I love Jimmy. I love Saul. But I love Saul as a character, as comic relief, as often the sole buffer between enjoying Breaking Bad and being overcome with despair. By contrast, I love Jimmy as a human being.

I think it’s fair to say Jimmy McGill is a good person. Not a great person, but a person with a heart. A person who cares. A person who feels remorse.

He’s a person capable of so much. He’s cunning, clever, resourceful. He’s sweet. He’s motivated. He’s charming.

He has all of the qualities we typically associate with the hero. Better Call Saul is the story of how (and why) he instead became the villain.

That may sound a lot like Breaking Bad, but I think it takes a supremely inattentive viewing of that show to believe Walter White started out as anything like heroic. Breaking Bad did a great job of layering in from the beginning the fact that Walter White was kind of a piece of shit.

Jimmy McGill, by contrast, wasn’t. He was an opportunist. A bit selfish. He had a checkered past. But within the confines of this show, he’s done very little but try to build himself up legitimately. To rise above his station. To become the person by all rights he should be.

But life holds him back. It pulls him down. Walter White was dealt a bad hand in terms of the cancer, yes, but how he responded to it, the help he refused, the path the followed, the life he chose not to abandon when the cancer went into remission…well, those things were his decisions. Jimmy McGill faces blow after blow. He doesn’t face one (admittedly large) tragedy and willingly throw his humanity away…he’s gradually worn down. He’s slowly beaten. He’s dragged away from where he wants to be toward where the universe has decided he will be.

That’s Jimmy McGill.

And that’s why I think the strongest indication that he’s becoming Saul Goodman happens in this episode, when Howard Hamlin blames himself for Chuck’s death…and Jimmy lets him.

We’ve seen Jimmy wear Saul’s clothes and use Saul’s name, but I think that’s the first time he’s shown us the blackness of Saul’s soul.

Kim blames herself. Howard blames himself. Jimmy learns that he’s actually the one to blame, if anyone is, and he feeds the fish. Makes some coffee. Lets somebody else take up his cross.

And that’s what we miss if we jump ahead in time. We miss Jimmy McGill sitting on the couch and Saul Goodman standing up from it.

—–
Note: iTunes seems to have made some kind of change between last season and now that prevents me from taking screengrabs. Even Print Screen doesn’t work; I just get a black rectangle. Way to punish me for not pirating, Apple. Anyway, the odds are good I’ll just have to rely on AMC’s boring official episode photos this season. I’m probably more disappointed than you are, but it was nice to pick the moment of each episode that actually resonated with me, rather than the one AMC thinks should have. For the record, this review would have featured Jimmy smiling after feeding the fish.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Lantern” (season 3, episode 10)

It’s easier at the end of a serialized season to reflect on that batch of episodes as a whole than to reflect only on that chapter.

That’s because we’ve reached the end, at least temporarily, and as threads are tied up and pieces shuffled into place for the eventual season four, what we’re really left with is perspective. We talked a bit last week about how an ending can define a journey. And, frankly, I think last week’s episode was more than enough proof of that fact.

So leave it to “Lantern” to illustrate it even better.

More than ever before: spoiler warning.

“Lantern” ends with Chuck burning himself alive in his living room. Of course, if you don’t see a body, the best you can do is assume. But, two points about that. First, neither Breaking Bad nor Better Call Saul have been in the habit of false deaths or surprise resurrections. If you’re led to believe something, it’s nearly always because it actually happened. You may well be missing some necessary context, but the end result doesn’t change. And second, we’re clearly led to believe that this final.

There are ways out of this. Maybe Jimmy is parked across the street, sees the fire, and rushes in to save his brother. Maybe Chuck has second thoughts and crawls out onto the lawn. Maybe Walter White falls through a time portal and resets the universe. So, yes, no matter what, season four can do whatever it wants to do. There’d even be a minor precedent for it: in the first episode of season two, Jimmy walked back the decision he made at the end of season one.

But I don’t get the feeling that’s what the show will do here. At least, I hope it doesn’t. Better Call Saul is very much a show about consequences. About dealing with fallout, both expected and unexpected. About doors closing on you and finding fewer and fewer of them left open with each passing day. Undoing this would help very little, and wouldn’t really seem to be within the intentions of the show. Especially since “Lantern” brings so many other decisions to a head, and forces the characters to face their consequences.

Before we get to that, though, let’s talk about Chuck. The ending of “Lantern” positions him as the emotional centerpiece of season three. We opened with him having one kind of breakdown, and close with him having another, very different one. He started off (in flashback) feigning new depths of his illness, and ended experiencing them for real. The notable difference between the two is that when he was only playing, he was simply a confused and batty old man. Here he’s unhinged and, ultimately, suicidal.

To go from one to the other requires a journey. The slip from being so in control of a situation that you can fake your symptoms to being so helpless that you’re at the mercy of them is significant, and season three as a whole describes that transition.

Chuck rose and fell and then rose and fell again throughout the course of these ten episodes. He got the upper hand over his brother with a surreptitious recording, and was then exposed and humiliated in a courtroom. That experience placed him on a genuine road to recovery that saw him make significant progress and start to get his life back together, just for it all to come crashing down. Likely for good.

He played his hand tonight against Howard, and lost. “You won,” Howard says, and I know he believes it. After all, nine million dollars of Howard’s own money and loans in his name were promised to Chuck just to get him to shut up. But for Chuck, it was his last way back in the door at HHM, and it closed instead. Howard would rather be millions of dollars in debt than work with Chuck for another day. That stings.

And it makes his eventual breakdown that much more believable. In that meeting with HHM’s key stakeholders, Chuck was acting and speaking as though he were in control. The reality was very different. When it hit him, he was left literally speechless. His former colleagues gathered to applaud him…but he left the building alone. It was over.

For Chuck to die here…it would make a perfect kind of sense for the character. To Chuck, power was important. He was an intelligent man. A gifted lawyer. A savvy judge of character. He had knowledge and abilities that nobody else had. He stood out in his field. He was respected. He built a massive, successful firm from the ground up, and he did it through hard work and tenacity.

But doors close on you. We watched it happen.

Chuck’s death would also make a perfect kind of sense for Jimmy’s character. His older brother told him, point blank, “The truth is, you’ve never mattered all that much to me.” For that to be the last thing he ever hears from his brother…well, that would obviously be meaningful. And would be a completely understandable shove forward on the road to becoming Saul Goodman.

Chuck’s snipe also punctuates a lecture to Jimmy — the latest and possibly last — about how Jimmy is doomed to hurt those around him. Why regret anything? The cycle begins anew. People get hurt. Jimmy feels bad, sure, but if people get hurt again…what does that say about Jimmy?

I think I know what it says about Jimmy, and it’s not what Chuck thinks it says. You each have your own feelings as well. But the fact is that this is coming from somebody Jimmy admires, cares about, and loves. For him to hear that Chuck believes others would be better off staying far away from him…that’s painful. That’s cruel. And that’s bound to lead to some soul searching. Where, ultimately, he’s going to decide that his soul isn’t worth much at all.

To Jimmy’s immense credit, he does his best to undo much of the damage he caused. He’s correct that he can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but if he can get some old ladies to be friends again — even at the cost of his reputation — he’ll do it. It’s similar to what he did for Chuck in “Klick” last season; he confesses to his own wrongdoing just to help somebody else feel better. He’ll set himself back to pull somebody else forward. That’s Jimmy…not Saul.

But at some point, he stops doing that. At some point he starts putting himself above others. At some point he doesn’t have the twinge of conscience that makes him do the right thing.

Doors close on you.

I will add that I really liked seeing Erin playing along to help things work out…even if she wasn’t “playing” all that much. She’s a great character and one I was glad to see again. Hopefully it won’t be the last time we see her…or Francesca. We know that the latter plays a big part in Saul’s life, but for now, she’s let go. Just because she hitched her wagon to a dual practice that wasn’t fated to last. Another great character kicking around the universe, looking for a path forward.

Elsewhere Nacho deals with the consequences of his own actions…which endanger his father almost immediately. I mentioned before that Nacho is the one true wildcard in that section of the story. We know exactly what becomes of Hector, Tuco, Gus, Victor, et al. But Nacho’s fate is unknown, which means he’s the one character that can unexpectedly die. I still don’t think we care about him anywhere near as much as we cared about Jesse Pinkman, for instance, or Hank, or even Gayle, but if Better Call Saul chooses to develop the character further, we could be in for some real heartache in the future.

Oh, hey, I might as well bring this up since I see people talking about it elsewhere: Yes, Saul mentions Ignacio when he meets Walt and Jesse in Breaking Bad, and we’ve been told that he’s referring to Nacho. Some folks have taken that to mean that Nacho is alive at that point in time…but that isn’t true at all. All it means is that Saul doesn’t have knowledge of his death. He could be lying in a shallow desert grave at that point. The only thing it proves is that the lawyer believes he’s still alive.

Okay, sorry, just wanted to clear that up. Nacho’s fate is very much in flux, and possibly in jeopardy. His gambit with the pills pays off this week, and he even gets the opportunity to cover his tracks as everyone else scatters, but Gus gives the boy a knowing glance. This is either good news or bad news for Nacho. Gus does a fantastic job of keeping that uncertain.

Then there’s Kim…who takes some well deserved time off. I don’t have much to say about her at this point, except that I’m very curious to see where the character goes next.

None of our major figures are in the same place now as they were when season two began. Howard is in debt without a partner, Francesca’s been let go, Kim is on indefinite leave, Jimmy’s no longer practicing, Chuck’s on fire…

Season three began with such promise for everyone. Season four will begin with so little left clearly ahead for any of them.

Doors close on you.

Notably absent in the finale was Mike. Which was an odd choice. I’m sure it wouldn’t have fit so I’m not complaining, but ideally I would have put his short scene with Lydia in this episode instead, just to give him an ending as well.

Instead it just feels odd not to check in with our deuteragonist. Then again, Mike’s been pretty…underutilized this season. Both seasons one and two had a lot for him to do, but here he spent several episodes just following a trail. Sure, it led him to Gus…but aside from that, did Mike really have a story? Or did he just jog around the map for a bit?

I expect season four to rectify this. Now he’s on the payroll, and he can get up to all manner of shenanigans with those wacky chicken slingers. But season three seemed like an awful lot of effort to move him incrementally forward.

I still think Better Call Saul is at its best when it’s not setting a place at the table for Breaking Bad. We’ve seen that show. We know that show. We can watch that show any time.

I want Better Call Saul to be about Jimmy. About who he is. About how he changes. About what matters to him and why he’s doomed to lose it.

So far, Gus, Hector, Tuco, and even Mike don’t factor into that much, if at all. It’s a separate story competing for airtime, shouldering Better Call Saul out of the way to make room for characters that won’t matter to this series as much as they mattered to one that’s already off the air.

That’s my wish as season three ends. Better Call Saul is so good that I want to spend more time with it, and I want to know that the time I am spending — all of it — serves this show and not its smarter, more popular, more admired older brother. Gus and Hector and all the rest of those crazy kids can pop up all they like…but they need to be a part of Jimmy’s story. They can’t be an irregular distraction from it.

For now, though…that’s it. The door has closed on season three, and I appreciate you taking the time to watch along with me. I know these reviews don’t get as many comments, but a lot of people seem to read them. I can only hope you’re enjoying them as much as I am.

Oh, and if you’re curious what song was playing when Jimmy went to visit Chuck, here you go. It’s one of my favorites, and one of the saddest compositions I’ve ever heard. It was used to incredible effect here. The perfect soundtrack to the last time Jimmy would ever see his brother alive. Or, as Thomas Pynchon put it in Gravity’s Rainbow, “Certainly not the first time a man has passed his brother by, at the edge of the evening, often forever, without knowing it.”

See you in a year for season four.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Fall” (season 3, episode 9)

There are a number of television episodes that are made — nearly or entirely — by their endings. “Abyssinia, Henry” from M*A*S*H. “Time Keeps on Slippin'” from Futurama. “The Best Christmas Ever” from Moral Orel. Hell, even ALF‘s “Alone Again, Naturally.” Or, to be more relevant to the matter at hand, “Dead Freight” from Breaking Bad.

I’m not arguing that these are bad episodes if viewed in isolation from their endings. I am arguing, however, that they are enhanced, enriched, and defined by those endings. Take away the final punch and you’ll probably still have something good, but you’ll also have something extremely different.

Those endings provide the context. They’re filters we don’t get until just before the credits roll, but through which we’re meant to view the entire episode. They’re reveals that provide the tools for understanding what it is we just watched. And, in each of the above cases, we don’t even realize we need those tools along the way. We believe we’re watching one thing. It’s rolling along. We’re enjoying the ride. We have a solid idea of where we’re going.

And then…

Crash.

The journey is the story, but the destination defines the journey. Where we end up — or fail to end up — redefines the steps we took along the way.

So Lt. Col. Henry Blake never makes it home. Fry’s grand gesture goes unseen. Orel’s prayer goes unanswered. ALF catches a fleeting glimpse that may have actually just been wishful thinking. An innocent child is murdered to protect a group of criminals.

And Kim drives off the road.

I love Rhea Seehorn. I believe strongly that Kim Wexler is one of the best things on television right now. She’s a rich, believable, important character that regularly pushes Better Call Saul over the line into greatness.

But I’ve wondered about the character before, both within and without these reviews. I’ve wondered if she isn’t too good. If Better Call Saul needed a love interest for Jimmy to work his way through fairly quickly, but who turned out to be too good to let go.

So the question for me — as much time as we spend with her, as well-spent as that time is — was always how long we had left with her. She departs before Breaking Bad begins, and that’s a deadline that seems to approach more rapidly with every episode. What’s more, though: we know* that Jimmy and/or Saul gets married and divorced several times before meeting Walter White, and so, presumably, we’ll also need time to work through those relationships post-Kim.

Kim’s time is necessarily abbreviated, and then abbreviated again. Eventually she and Jimmy will split up for good. Does she leave him for a better opportunity? Does his increasingly seedy behavior drive her away? Is she collateral damage in the fallout of some criminal activity Jimmy or Mike gets up to?

“Fall” doesn’t definitively provide an answer, but it provides another possibility: she becomes a danger to herself.

That’s something I never guessed. Kim’s so collected. So capable. So…great. Surely her destruction would have to come from an external force.

But “Fall” ends by suggesting that it may not.

The funny thing is that it could have, if that were the lesson “Fall” wanted us to pull from it. All the show would have had to do is have her take a shot with Jimmy before rushing off. Have her dawdle for another five minutes and drive 60 instead of 55. Have her explain the situation to her oblivious partner rather than rush out.

Any of those simple, natural responses would have passively reinforced Jimmy as the destructive presence in her life.

But none of that happens. She takes command. She leaves.

She crashes.

And the camera pulls out so that we can survey the damage right along with her.

Of course, it’s worth rewinding. The reason Kim took an additional client at all is due to the fact that Jimmy wasn’t financially pulling his weight. She knew she’d need to make up the difference, so she broke her vow of exclusivity with Mesa Verde to work on an oil rights dispute. That does, in fact, shift the indirect blame back onto Jimmy.

Right?

Well…as much as I can’t fault Kim for planning ahead, the fact is that Jimmy has been pulling his weight. Not in the best or most ethical or most reliable ways, but he’s been paying up on schedule…and springing for dinner. What’s more, he was even celebrating by episode’s end the fact that money would no longer be a concern for him. He’d covered his debt to her.

Thinking through the problem and being responsible, is what led to her downfall. Had she taken a mindset similar to Jimmy’s (a vague “That is tomorrow-talk,” as he claimed in “Off Brand”), she’d be fine right now. She wouldn’t have taken another client. She wouldn’t have had to pull extra all-nighters. She wouldn’t have nodded off behind the wheel.

Instead, she rightly identified that Jimmy was unreliable and took steps to fix the problem on her end.

That was the smartest possible thing to do in her situation. And that was her problem.

As much as we love Jimmy and Kim together, I think we all wanted to count on the fact that he’d be the damaging influence in her life. I don’t think any of us wanted to see her as her own problem. I don’t think anyone wanted to have to look a second time at her admirable qualities and see them as flaws. I don’t think anyone wanted Kim to be…human.

We want to believe that our troubles aren’t our own. That we could be so much more than we are, so much happier, so much healthier, so much richer, so much more popular if it weren’t for…something. Something beyond our control. Our looks. Our place of birth. Our parents. Our dead-end career. That dumbass we wasted too many years with. If it weren’t for…something, we’d be okay.

And part of growing up — truly growing up — is realizing that, with very few exceptions, it’s not something. It’s us. It’s our habits and patterns and thought processes. It’s our hangups and fears and anxieties. It’s who we are that holds us back. It’s the monster in the mirror.

Poor Kim faces the monster at the end of “Fall.” And this, I feel, positions her for the most important emotional arc of the season. I could be wrong, of course, but the rest of “Fall” doesn’t feel like it’s moving its characters toward their final positions before being placed back in the box.

Chuck and Howard clash. Mike makes things official with Gus. Hector takes his pills. Nacho tries to protect — if not exactly save — his father. Jimmy does right by his old Sandpiper clients in an unexpectedly callous way.

It’s not as though things are stagnant. The pieces are moving. They’re interacting. They’re making progress.

But throughout the episode I had to keep reminding myself that there was only one more left this season, because nothing felt like it was approaching any kind of terminal point.

And then Kim crashed.

“Fall” deposited her in a situation that leaves her with no more room for blindness. Unless, of course, she chooses wilful blindness.

Kim Wexler is positioned for a change. Nothing felt as though it was headed for the finish line but, suddenly, immediately, in the blink of an eye, that’s exactly where she ended up.

The destination defined the journey.

—–
* It’s possible that he lied to Walt about this for…some reason, but so far “eh, he lied” has never been this show’s answer to any bit of backstory, and I don’t believe they’d start pulling that crap with something so significant.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Slip” (season 3, episode 8)

Better Call Saul skipped a week to avoid airing a new episode on Memorial Day. That’s something we all feel here and now, but it won’t matter for those who are binging the show on Netflix or DVD in the future.

And…you know what? I think I’m glad we had a silent week between episodes. I think that extra, empty space actually helped. I think it made a few things matter a bit more than they would have otherwise. Or, at least, it helped to make it feel as though they were landing at different times.

That empty space, I’m sure, was unintentional. It certainly wasn’t part of the pitch sessions, it wasn’t in mind when the scripts were being written, and it was of no concern to the editors working day and night to package up the footage. But it worked. It was a bit of accidental, passive worldbuilding. An intermission during which we didn’t see the characters, but they kept moving.

It’s reflected in a few of the stories, I feel. Howard, unseen, has been meeting with clients to protect the reputation of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. The guitar shop, unseen, has aired and reaped the benefits of Jimmy’s commercial. Chuck, unseen, has been coming to grips with his mental health issue, which with impressive speed he seems to accept completely as being a mental health issue. Nacho, unseen, has been rehearsing, detail by detail, his plot to switch Hector’s pills.

Alright, yes, “unseen” isn’t strictly true in any of those cases. We see a snatch of each. (Presque vu, as Chaplain Tappman might put it.) But those snatches are meant to orient us. The passage of time, on the other hand…the expanse of time…the loose ticking of the clock in the background as the characters make more, more, more progress toward what they want…

That we don’t see. That’s what the empty space last week provides. That’s why I believe more in the progress we see here than I might have otherwise.

When Nacho drops the pills into Hector’s pocket, he wasn’t lucky. He was rehearsed. We’re seeing the evidence of empty space. Of early-morning hours spent practicing in the dark. Of repeating, repeating, repeating, repeating, not until he could do it but until he could do it any time, from any angle, without thinking, without having to think, without having to focus, without missing ever again, because he knows he will only get one chance, because he knows he will be sweaty, because he knows his hand will shake, because he knows this is the only opportunity he will ever have and a mistake — any mistake — will get him killed.

That’s how Nacho filled his empty space.

Each of the characters filled theirs.

It was surprising to see Chuck pulling his life together rather than wallowing or resisting, but it does make sense. Chuck never realized he was broken. He needed to be shattered completely before he was aware enough to fix anything. Now…he’s trying, bless him. He wants to do better. And as much as I am on Jimmy’s side at this point, Chuck does deserve to live a better life than the one he created for himself. He’s taking steps to get there. Small steps, but he’s doing it.

And as Chuck begins his rise, Jimmy takes a fall. Literally, yes, but there’s also the fact that he regresses to his broken state: that of Slippin’ Jimmy. It’s a desperate act, but it’s one he knows he can rely on. And it works. No, I didn’t want to see him get reduced to that again — after all we’ve learned about him, after all he’s grown, after all he’s proven he’s capable of — but I can’t really blame him.

Jimmy’s tried multiple times to make a fair (if not entirely honest) living. Whether he’s tracking the Kettlemans down in the woods, digging through dumpsters for evidence, writing and producing a commercial for his firm, or funneling customers into a guitar shop, his good deeds get him nowhere. He falls back to the ground. He proves his worth, and it might even be acknowledged in some superficial way, but he’s slapped down where he belongs.

That’s what he gets for his trouble, his effort, his dedication. He gets reminded of his place in the universe, as he was here by the brothers who owned the guitar shop and realized they could cheat him out of their arrangement.

So he slips.

Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because he knows it works. It’s not his fault. The universe left him with no other choice. He can work his ass off to climb some temporary step or two…or he can slip on a drumstick. Morally, he should do the former. Rationally, the nature of the universe in Better Call Saul insists he do the latter.

Jimmy’s competency bites him. It always has. He’s good at what he applies himself to, but where does playing by the rules get him? Where did it get his father? It’s no coincidence that we opened tonight’s episode in the sunk McGill family business. Where would it get Nacho’s father? (Well, hopefully we won’t have to find that out.)

The Better Call Saul universe — like this one — rewards bad behavior. Not exclusively, but easily enough that it’s a viable option, and often enough that it might be the smarter option.

It’s not sustainable (we all know how Breaking Bad ended for each character involved, and we know without question that Jimmy loses Kim, his career, and his identity), but who’s worried about sustainability?

I have bills to pay at the end of the month. The judge said I have to finish my community service this week. I need to find a client and produce a commercial to air tomorrow.

Sustainability?

We’re just trying to make it through the day.

We’ve tried to do things the right way, and it hasn’t worked. You can’t blame us, now and then, for trying the wrong way, just to see what happens.

And when that’s what works…over and over, repeating, repeating, repeating, repeating, why wouldn’t we keep it up?

We’ve learned our lesson.

It’s not our fault the universe decided to teach us that one.

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