Better Call Saul Reviews: “Winner” (season 4, episode 10)

If you had asked me 10 weeks ago how excited I was to finally learn the story of how Gus dug a big hole, I would have been able to answer you very easily. But, as it has many times before, Better Call Saul found a story worth telling where I honestly would have guessed there couldn’t be any.

If season three revealed itself in its final moments to have been about Chuck, season four may have done the same thing with Mike. It’s not an easy trick to make an audience sympathize with the guy who pulls the trigger, but I was genuinely shaken up by where his story with Werner ended.

The other big thing that happened this week is that Jimmy got his license reinstated and immediately requested a DBA (doing business as) form, because he won’t be practicing as James McGill anymore. This is fine, and Jimmy’s bluff during the hearing fools even Kim (get out, Kim!), which was one of several very nice moments in his half of the episode…but it’s Mike’s that really resonated, it’s Mike’s that will echo like a gunshot in the night.

Werner was never a bad person, and Mike knew that. That’s why he stood up for him, time and again. That’s why he tried to help him. Tried to reassure him. Tried to encourage him to push through. Left to his own devices, Gus would have taken care of Werner weeks before it got to a crisis point, but Mike held him back. Mike knew Werner in a way Gus didn’t. Mike knew the guy wouldn’t be a problem.

And Werner made a fool of him. His escape last week sent Gus’ entire team on a manhunt. Even then — even as he has no choice but to hunt Werner down like an animal — Mike is trying to convince Gus not to eliminate the problem in the simplest way.

But, as Mike tells Werner late in the episode, it was never up to him.

The story of how Gus dug a big hole ended up being one of the most affecting and haunting things the show has done yet. Not because it introduced a disposable character and then disposed of him, but because of what the experience did to Mike.

Mike meets Werner and feels a degree of respect for him. Once he’s hired, Mike then treats him as a reliable partner. Somewhere down the line, Mike realizes he’s made a friend. They open up to each other. They like each other. And so when Werner, inch by inch, threatens to bring Gus’ operation crashing down, Mike makes allowances. He makes excuses. He tries to win Werner back over.

It doesn’t work. It can’t work. Mike thinks of everything. Mike knows better. But Mike wants so desperately for Werner to prove him right for believing in him that he blinds himself to the truth. Maybe we remember Kim’s relationship with Jimmy, and their own sunk costs…

It terminates in the cruelest damned scene imaginable, with Mike left to take his own friend’s life under the desert sky. It’s a very Lenny and George moment, right down to the fact that if Mike waits, someone else will come and do the deed for him. But Mike knows it’s better this way. Werner looks to the stars.

The entire scene is heartwrenching. Werner calls his wife and demands that she turn back, ensuring that the last thing she’ll ever remember him saying to her is that he doesn’t want to see her. Mike’s voice breaks as he tries to explain why there’s no other way this can end. Two men with a personal relationship know that it’s their professional relationship that will determine how this ends.

Perhaps this experience is what causes Mike to make the fatal decision to go easy on Walt in Breaking Bad. In this case, it wasn’t Mike’s decision to make. In that one, it was. He was never as close to Walt as he was to Werner, but I could understand him not wanting to pull that trigger a second time. The first time was plenty.

Mike breaks his own heart that night. Mike brings Werner to the abandoned raceway, Mike pulls the trigger, Mike carries the body back to the car. This is the life he has chosen for himself. This is a life in which you kill your friend the moment he can no longer be trusted. And, if you don’t, you pay for it yourself.

After that harrowing scene we cut to Gayle, whose giddy enthusiasm for the big hole Gus dug would normally be an episode highlight. Here, it’s all too easy to feel the weight Gus and Mike feel in the scene. They aren’t appreciative of his antics. I wasn’t, either. (And I mean that as a massive compliment to the writers.)

Even Jimmy being reinstated isn’t allowed to register as a triumph, because he hurts Kim with his phony emotions. We don’t get to believe anything will work out. Season four doesn’t let us. These characters are in their darkest corners yet, and they aren’t going to get out. They’re only going to retreat further.

Everybody has their place. Jimmy’s reminded of that this week, at a damned important crossroads in his life, when he lobbies for a young girl with a shoplifting record to get a scholarship. She’s turned her life around. She’s gotten good grades. She believes there’s something for her in the future. But when Jimmy mentions her name, all he hears in response is, “The shoplifter?”

You might not like the hole they cram you in, but you aren’t getting out, so you might as well make yourself comfortable.

Here’s hoping season five opens with Kim poking Jimmy in the eye and hopping in a cab back to Nebraska.

To everyone who followed these reviews this season, I hope you enjoyed. Thank you for reading.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Wiedersehen” (season 4, episode 9)

When this episode began and I saw Gennifer Hutchison as the credited writer and Vince Gilligan as director, I knew “Wiedersehen” was going to be good. And it was. But it was also an episode that I don’t think I can fully evaluate until I know where some things go. It’s like Jimmy speaking to his ex-client’s next of kin about her Hummel figurines in “Piñata.” We can read as much as we like into it, but it might be worth waiting to see what happens next.

There is at least one thing, though, that we need to get clear at this exact point, before we move any further.

In a heated conversation toward the end of the episode, Kim (completely in the right) lets Jimmy have it. Whenever he needs her, she drops everything for him. She bails his ass out left and right. Whatever mess he makes, she’s the first to pick up a broom and start cleaning it up.

But Jimmy doesn’t appreciate that. At least, not as much as or in the way that he should.

So Kim tells him something. She says, “Maybe next time you call, I won’t come.”

That should sound familiar. That needs to sound familiar. Because that’s exactly the position Jimmy occupied in relation to Chuck. And in season three’s “Sunk Costs,” Jimmy told Chuck the same thing. One day he’d need him…and Jimmy wouldn’t be there.

That day came at the end of season three. And Jimmy was not there.

In his relationship with Kim, Jimmy has taken on the Chuck role. He is now the needy McGill, turning again and again to the same person to keep him functional. Taking more advantage every time. Not appreciating what he has.

And, ultimately, driving that person away.

Is that how this ends? I don’t know. But “Wiedersehen” draws the parallel almost verbatim.

It matters whether or not Kim genuinely does leave Jimmy at his lowest point, when he needs her most. Of course it does. But it also matters that this relationship echoes that one right now.

That’s terrifying.

Elsewhere, another relationship sours as well. Mike and Werner were already on tenuous ground last week, and this week things seem both better and worse. Better because the work is progressing again and Werner and Mike are back to sharing details of their lives. Worse because Werner is breaking and doesn’t let Mike know just how bad it’s getting.

And then Werner is gone. Mike spots some dead pixels on the bank of surveillance monitors and quickly uncovers Werner’s great escape.

Mike’s ultimate (in a literal sense) tragedy is that he’s a softie. I mean, he’s Mike, yes, and his badassery isn’t a front. That is really who he is. But, at heart, he also wants to see the best in people. He knows better, but keeps letting his guard down. That’s why in Breaking Bad he’s able to give Walt a speech about never taking half-measures before later taking a half-measure with the man who would kill him in return.

And it’s why here he still treats Werner as a friend, still grants him extra telephone privileges, still reassures him and does him favors, just for Werner to stab him in the back.

Mike’s tragedy is that he still has a heart. It’s that in spite of how much time he spends with, around, and against scum, he still wants to believe in people. It’s that no matter how much he hardens himself against the world, he’s still willing to let someone in.

One definite development “Wiedersehen” gives us, though, is the start of what’s sure to be a satisfying face-off between Eduardo and Gus. I mentioned a few weeks ago that Gus seems to already be at his terminal point; he’s not much different here, if at all, from the character we met in Breaking Bad. So what, really, can Better Call Saul do with him?

Well, it can give him a new adversary specific to this show, and that’s what it’s done with Eduardo.

As I said last week, Eduardo is dangerous because he’s charming, he’s fun, he’s conversational. And, sure enough, as he thanked Gus for saving Hector’s life, I was willing to believe him. I knew better, and the opening scene between Eduardo and Hector all but spelled it out for us, but…Eduardo just seems so nice. He’s insincere, as Jimmy’s reinstatement committee might complain, but…well…maybe he really is willing to reach out in peace.

He’s not. Of course he’s not. But Eduardo leaves room for a maybe, whereas Tuco or Hector or any other Salamanca absolutely does not. Eduardo has people skills. He’s all smiles and compliments and flattery. Whatever eventual confrontation happens between him and Gus, we know Gus comes out of it alive. But we don’t know precisely what that confrontation looks like, and it’s impressive that Better Call Saul has found room to keep us guessing in what I thought was a tale fully told.

“Wiedersehen” mainly just moves us closer to the end of the season. It’s doing some busywork. That’s probably why they assigned this episode to one of their best writers and clearly their best director. It was an episode born of necessity, and they found the right people to elevate it. Or, perhaps, to string it up.

We’ll see what happens next week, when they finally swing the bat.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Coushatta” (season 4, episode 8)

My biggest concern with Better Call Saul — admittedly one that has not held it back from being great in its own right — is its willingness to dive clearly into Breaking Bad territory and stay there. Call it a turf war, if you like.

Breaking Bad was an immense and important piece of television that was — for almost impossibly long stretches — perfect. And Better Call Saul has an identity of its own. While it may share characters and flesh out some details that that other show introduced, this show has its own merit, its own personality, its own momentum.

And so it feels disappointing to me when Better Call Saul lets characters like Gus or Mike occupy so much screen time without telling us anything new about them. Characters like Jimmy, and until very recently Hector, don’t have this problem. They’re different incarnations of the characters from those we knew on Breaking Bad. We do learn new things about them, simply because we get to know who they used to be.

I’ve complained about it enough in previous reviews that I don’t need to get back into it here, and I’m only bringing it up because “Coushatta” is an episode that does great things with the cards unique to Better Call Saul‘s hand. In a show that is too often happy to sideline its own potential, we get an episode that shows us why these characters, and their particular stories, are worth spending time with.

There’s Mrs. Nguyen, the salon owner, who pours Jimmy a drink and gives him trite relationship advice that reveals her, beautifully, to be a character who thinks she’s in the sitcom Better Call Saul nearly was. There’s Jimmy’s commercial crew, in particular the girl who’s been taking an improv class, helping him to impersonate an entire small town in Louisiana. And there’s Werner, who…

Well, let’s give Werner a paragraph break.

I like this guy. I enjoyed Mike’s recruitment of a construction foreman in “Quite a Ride” well enough, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the new character we got out of the deal so much.

Werner is a calm, measured, gifted engineer who honestly seems to do a decent job of managing his crew while also treating them respectfully. Like Gayle — who will put the lab they’re building to eventual use — he comes across as a good person who has his own reasons for devoting his talents to the bad guys. (In this case it seems to be money.)

Perhaps most surprisingly, he gets along with Mike. Not just in the sense that they work together well, or they trust each other, but in the sense that they’re…friendly.

Of course, this is revealed to be a piñata that was strung up just so it could be smashed to pieces, but there haven’t been many moments sweeter than when Mike sees Werner sitting alone in a strip club and invites him to a nearby bar for a quiet drink.

Mike, for whatever reason, likes Werner. Perhaps he needs the companionship. I wouldn’t say that’s much in line with the Mike we know otherwise, but it’s possible. Regardless, the two share an unexpectedly personal conversation. Werner does most of the talking, which is not a surprise, but the fact that Mike opens up at all is deeply significant. He remains a man of few words, but he still confides that his father was a deadbeat.

And that lends, I think, even more tragedy to Matty’s death. Mike harbors no fondness for his father, and it’s probably safe to say that he promised himself he’d be a far better father than he ever had. It’s also safe to say that he was. And he still got his son killed.

It’s a nice moment between two characters we like and who also like each other. It’s…friendship.

Sadly there’s another character unique to this show who spoils the mood. Of course he does, right? It’s Kai. The guy Mike told his security crew to keep an eye on. The guy who’s been difficult from the very start. The guy who actually gets named, so that we know who he is when Mike inevitably has to kill him.

Good old Kai, who got too drunk and touched a stripper. Mike steps away from Werner to take care of the problem child and…well, the child isn’t much of a problem. Kai returns to the barracks to get some sleep. Mike bribes the bouncer to keep things quiet. Since we met the kid we’ve been waiting for the showdown between him and Mike, and this could have been it, right here. But it wasn’t. Kai, wisely, backs down.

Mike returns to the bar, and we find that Werner was the problem child after all.

Unreliable, unpredictable Kai really is just a kid. He’ll do and say stupid things and he’ll likely face punishment for it. But it’s reliable, predictable Werner who poses the far greater risk.

On the back of a beermat, Werner doodles some schematics and talks to two new American friends a bit too openly about the project he’s working on. It’s bad, and it only got that bad because Mike liked the guy. Mike let his personal feelings get in the way of his professional ones. Earlier in the bar, Werner teaches a young man to pronounce hefeweizen…and then buys him one. The exchange is conducted over Mike, who at any point could tell (and clearly considers telling) Werner to keep his damn mouth shut.

But he doesn’t. Werner is lonely. Mike knows it. Mike lets Werner engage in friendly chat with the outside world…precisely what he and Gus have invested so much time and energy into preventing from happening.

And now I expect that it will be Werner rather than Kai who has to be permanently silenced. The next morning as the construction crew is loaded into the van, Mike lets a grabassing Kai pass. The chicanery he got up to last night isn’t what’s important. What’s important is Werner’s foolish, drunken conversation with outsiders who are bound to remember it.

Gus even brings it up. That’s never a good sign. Mike promises that he has his eye on Werner. The piñata is ready when he is.

I honestly can’t say enough about how much I’ve liked this development. Kai (and the show) made it clear that he was a dangerous addition to the team. What’s more, Mike is the most reliable perspective we have in Better Call Saul. When he identifies something as a problem, he’s right.

And I’m sure he was right. I’m sure Kai is a pile of shit that shouldn’t be involved with this project and cannot possibly do more good than he will do harm. But while we were all focused on him, we took our eyes off of Werner. Why not? Mike trusted the guy enough. Of course we can, too.

It’s an incredible sleight of hand that’s both terrifying and impressive. Before this episode, my girlfriend said she was looking forward to Kai inevitably getting killed. That’s what we were led to anticipate. That’s why Kai existed. But knowing someone to be a problematic presence isn’t what leads to catastrophe. No…catastrophe comes when you overlook someone you thought was safe.

Then there’s the introduction of another new character that I’m already in love with: Eduardo.

Eduardo is fantastic. In one scene the smirking, sashaying chef lands as an entertaining and welcome presence in an increasingly bleak corner of the show. Throughout Breaking Bad and Nacho’s storyline here, we’ve spent a lot of time in the drug trade and met pretty much exclusively scary people.

And, well, rightly so. It’s a scary and deadly business. The Salamancas themselves have all been various shades of terrifying, from unpredictable Tuco to the immovable cousins to worst human being imaginable Hector.

Eduardo represents a different kind of character, and not one we’ve seen before. The one who will joke around with you and cook you a damned fine meal and treat you like royalty without ever letting you forget that you’re scum, you’re being watched, and you’re on borrowed time.

He’s disarming, in other words. If you meet a Tuco or a Hector, you’re on your guard. (If you meet the cousins, you’re already dead.) But if you meet Eduardo, well…he’s charming. He’s fun. He’s clearly dangerous, but mainly because you’re far more likely to let him in.

Better Call Saul has a habit of introducing cartoony supporting characters and either humanizing or ditching them as time passes. And while I’d love to say that Eduardo isn’t a cartoon, that would be a lie. But he’s a calculated cartoon. A specific, useful persona that has his place in the Salamanca empire. And while I never expected Tuco or Hector to pose any real danger to Nacho, that’s because Nacho was always — always — clearly the smarter party.

With Eduardo? I’m not quite as sure. Nacho knows how to deal with the standard Salamanca attitude. Eduardo is going to require a whole other approach, and that’s an exciting complication.

The weightiest moment of the episode definitely came at the end, when Kim might as well have announced, “I’d prefer not to make it out of this show alive.”

Throughout most of “Coushatta,” we saw Kim putting up (and Jimmy respecting) a wall between herself and her former partner. By the end of it, she admits to missing their schemes and scams. The leak in the balloon is repaired. It is now guaranteed to burst.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this when we see exactly how it pans out, but right now I want to say that I’m surprised this wasn’t a season finale moment. Kim willfully turning to the dark side would seem like a nice breaking point, leaving us all to wonder specifically what that will look like. Instead we get two more episodes that will (to some degree at least) have the opportunity to show us.

I’m not complaining. I don’t know which approach I’d prefer. But this feels like the natural point of temporary closure, and it’s pretty gutsy and thrilling that the season has decided to continue beyond it.

Two more weeks. The warehouse is full of piñatas. Season four is going out swinging.

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It inflates.

She could have gotten out.

It inflates.

He could have done his thing while she did hers.

It inflates.

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

It inflates…

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

The other explosions happened off-camera, between episodes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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