Better Call Saul, "Fun and Games"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. This episode finally clarified my biggest complaint with this and the previous full season. Then it addressed the complaint, and then it justified it.

    Jimmy and Kim weren’t talking.

    Now, yes, as Eduardo pointed out, those two had some mouths on them. Their skill is in talking their way out of problems. The absolute mastery of the small scam that Kim ran on Cheryl Hamlin here: did she even know before that moment that Howard and Cheryl were barely on speaking terms? I’m willing to believe she didn’t, but used it as soon as she suspected it. So, yes, they had mouths. But so many of the scenes with Kim and Jimmy were just… silent.

    Just in the few relationships I’ve been in, I can say I believe there’s something to that, to be in tune with someone so much that some things need not be spoken to be understood. I had been complaining to myself that this show barely spent any time on its main character, when my real problem is that things were always moving with the Mike plot, the Gus plot, the Eduardo plot, the Nacho plot. With Kim and Jimmy, they were just throwing beer bottles at parked cars. Like Charlie and Stella, they came alive only when they could involve another person. The amount of screentime wasn’t the issue; it’s how I felt the show was using our time with the couple. As you’ve pointed out so many times, our vantage point means we know too well how limited their time together is.

    This is also maybe the only time I’ve ever seen a “last time on” sequence clue you in to what the current episode is actually about. Mike told them all they had to do was keep telling the same lie they’d been telling. The lie, this episode tells us, was one they told themselves: that they were in a healthy, happy relationship.

    We know Jimmy has depth, inner turmoil, hopes and dreams. He’s a (wonderfully) complex character who tries to conquer his own trauma by employing it as part of a line of bullshit (“I was jealous that Howard had Chuck’s regard”, etc.). But put him through the wringer, and all he can offer Kim is trite platitudes.

    And that, to me, is the tragedy of Kim and Jimmy: she was willing to do anything, anything at all, to make a particular mode of their relationship work. She got to be with her best friend, and have fun doing things with him… as long as she was willing to hurt other people. There’s a beauty there, but that kind of beauty is probably only ever going to end tragically for someone.

    (And similarly, Mike valuing extreme talent and efficiency, and getting his hands dirty to make sure his granddaughter is taken care of, are admirable. But even though he’s not the one out for revenge, he’s still a gangster. He’s a gangster because that’s who he works for.)

    So Kim was honest, finally, about the situation. But Saul is just going to turn another bit of life trauma into a story about his ex-wives. He didn’t have the (willingness? ability? history of modeled behavior?) to talk about the things most central to his psyche…

    …and now his entire life is talk. Bullshit talk. Talking over others. Talking on the wall of his waiting about what a hero he is. Pausing only–briefly–so that the Saul on the radio can talk. All he has to do is keep telling the same lie he’s been telling this whole time: that he hasn’t been hurt by the things other people did.

  2. I read Gus’s scene at the bar a little differently: as him letting go of a romance that was already developing, because he can’t allow the world he inhabits to threaten someone he cares about again. Until Lalo, he at least entertained the idea that he could have the ordinary things he wanted; now, he recognises that the drug trade and the revenge mission exclude him from those things. He’d be happier if he could just run a legitimate casual dining chain and get with the nice sommelier, but he chooses to go the other way.

    Just about everyone in the underworld in these shows loses infinitely more than they gain, even when they win. I think that’s part of why Lalo was so effective: he revelled in the horror of it all, and so he was the only really happy gangster we ever saw, even when he had just been shot in the throat.

  3. You made a good defense of the time jump. I absolutely hated it, but you’ve turned me. You also turned me on the time jump in Breaking Bad, which I originally didn’t hate, but now see as hack. That’s persuasive writing, Phil.

Comments are closed.