Sunday, April 16, 2023

Star Trek: Picard, Season 3, Episode 9, "Vox"

For as creatively spotty and frequently frustrating as Star Trek: Picard has been, I have to admire its commitment to undoing some of the biggest missteps of the Next Generation movies. Not only has Picard resurrected Data twice (once to provide a more fitting sendoff than he received in Star Trek: Nemesis, and then again as a part of this third season’s effort to bring back all of the Next Generation characters), but now, in “Vox,” Picard has also -- at long last -- resurrected the Enterprise-D.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Star Trek: Picard, Season 3, Episode 4, "No Win Scenario"

I was cautiously optimistic heading into season three of Star Trek: Picard. After all, the trailers promised the return of many beloved characters from The Next Generation – Riker! Worf! Dr. Crusher! Lore! Moriarty!? – and the parts of season one and two that I enjoyed were largely restricted to events involving those TNG legacy characters, particularly the episode featuring Riker and Troi extensively, as well as the season one finale, which gave Data a much more emotional sendoff than he received in Star Trek: Nemesis. However, the writing in season three of Picard continues to be fairly disappointing, reproducing a lot of the problems that plagued its first two seasons (especially season two, which I thought was largely abysmal), even with a much heavier emphasis on characters and relationships for which I have great fondness.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 13, “Saul Gone”

"Saul Gone,” the Better Call Saul series finale, is certainly one of the best episodes of either Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, and might even be the very best of either series. Not only does it satisfyingly resolve the story of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman, but in doing so, it also brilliantly implements an analogy to time machines. This implementation takes many forms. For one, “Saul Gone” is about Jimmy/Saul’s attempts to go back and fix the mistakes and crimes of his past, not by literally traveling through time, but by finally being honest about their nature, atoning for them, and facing up to their consequences. Interspersed throughout are many flashbacks to different parts of Jimmy’s life, which is a narrative device that somewhat resembles a time machine, allowing us (if not the characters) to revisit the past. What’s more, these flashbacks not only retrospectively enrich previous parts of Jimmy/Saul’s story by further revealing his capacity for introspection and his attempts to wrestle with his own moral quandaries, but the characters in these flashbacks also literally fantasize about how they might use time machines to change things that they regret about their pasts. Finally, the time machine analogy is also worked into the fabric of the episode both through the reappearance of a copy of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (which itself acquires new significance), and through the many parallels “Saul Gone” creates with previous parts of the series, most powerfully in the final scene between Jimmy and Kim. All of these temporal loops and whorls, both literal and figurative, layer on top of one another, resulting in a tremendously complex, highly emotional, and spectacularly executed series finale. “Saul Gone” is one for the ages. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 12, “Waterworks”

“This guy, any good?” This is the question that Jesse asks Kim about the competency of Saul’s legal practice when she runs into Jesse outside of Saul’s office in a crucial flashback scene in “Waterworks.” It’s a wonderful moment, not just because it’s a bonus Jesse cameo, or because it represents yet one more fleeting intersection between Kim and other elements of the Heisenberg-verse (akin to her encounter with Mike in “Hit and Run”), but also because the question can be easily interpreted as being about the quality of Saul’s character, hilariously boiling down Better Call Saul’s central concern into four simple words. Is there anything morally good about Saul Goodman – any vestiges of the good person Jimmy McGill used to be, still tucked away inside of Saul – or is he rotten to the core, having fully become the jaundiced, law-bending clown we know from Breaking Bad? The extended time we’ve had with Gene these past three episodes in the wake of everything that happened on Breaking Bad suggests that the answer is complicated, and that we might not be able to make a final judgment until the series finale. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Better Call Saul, Season 6, Episode 11, “Breaking Bad”

“Breaking Bad” is a masterful episode of Better Call Saul. Not only does it deepen our understanding of why Saul got into business with Walt and Jesse in the first place, but it also draws parallels between Gene’s behavior in the present and Saul’s actions in the past, and perhaps most remarkably, somehow it does these things while also withholding a key piece of information that would better explain Gene’s actions throughout the episode, namely his decision to seemingly “break bad” himself by committing more scams with Jeff and Rick, even after Gene put it all behind him in “Nippy.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 10, “Nippy”

In “Nippy,” season six of Better Call Saul finally returns to Cinnabon Gene's life in Nebraska to resolve the conflict that began in the prologue of the season five premiere, “Magic Man,” where Gene had been identified as Saul by a cabbie that used to live in Albuquerque. In doing so, “Nippy” fulfilled my long-anticipated hope that the series would spend an entire episode set in Nebraska with Gene, although it did so not to show the past catching up with Gene (as I once speculated), but instead to show us a more or less self-contained vintage Slippin’ Jimmy caper.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 9, “Fun and Games”

“Fun and Games” finds our surviving characters, Gus, Mike, Jimmy, and Kim, dealing with the emotional aftermath of the various stresses Lalo placed on their lives. Some of their responses are profound and impactful, while others are more subtle and telling, but “Fun and Games” develops each character in new directions and reveals compelling details about them as they cope with their trauma. In doing so, “Fun and Games” finally pays off years of viewer speculation by providing deeply satisfying answers to two of Better Call Saul’s three most prominent remaining narrative questions: what happens to Kim, and what causes Jimmy to become the version of Saul we know from Breaking Bad. It’s a fantastic episode of television, easily one of the series’ best, answering these questions while also revealing layers of nuance and calling upon a wealth of serial knowledge in the process.