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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Better Call Saul Season Six, Episode Eight, “Point and Shoot”

“Point and Shoot” kicks off the final stretch of Better Call Saul by continuing the momentum of “Plan and Execution,” picking up (almost) right where we left off before the hiatus. It resolves the major outstanding cartel plot, and leaves some strong indications – as well as a few questions – about the remainder of the series. In theory, it could be difficult to make “Point and Shoot” into a compelling episode of television, since it’s mainly focused on resolving the conflict between Gus and Lalo, and thanks to the show’s prequel status, most viewers can easily guess at the general outcome of their feud, if not the specific details leading up to it. So, how does “Point and Shoot” still manage to be so (mostly) riveting? The answers have to do with some of Better Call Saul’s regular storytelling techniques and narrative conceits.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 7, “Plan and Execution”

After several episodes of moving the pieces around the chessboard, “Plan and Execution” finally advances Better Call Saul’s major story beats by concluding Kim and Jimmy’s con of Howard and addressing its fallout. It’s a tremendous conclusion to the first half of this final season, as it not only satisfies various expectations raised over the previous six episodes, but also manages to toss in a few surprises along the way. It’s easily the high point of what has been a fairly slow final season thus far, and hopefully a portent what’s to come as the series moves toward its conclusion after a brief mid-season hiatus. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 6, "Axe and Grind"

Season five’s concluding episode, “Something Unforgiveable,” raised the intriguing question of who bears responsibility for Kim’s newfound capacity for immorality. Throughout the episode Jimmy secretly suspects that he is at fault, that his influence has corrupted her into someone who is comfortable ruining someone else’s life to benefit themselves. Kim, however, pushes back against this notion, stating that she makes her own choices for her own reasons. We’re encouraged to see it both ways: yes, she is her own person, but she has also been influenced by the various stresses Jimmy has placed on her, which seem to have shifted her moral center closer to Jimmy’s more flexible worldview. “Axe and Grind” sheds further light on the question of who bears responsibility for this new-look Kim, lending further credence to the notion that her increasingly flexible morality and risk-inclined behavior is less a product of Jimmy’s influence and more of an innate character trait. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 5, "Black and Blue"

Better Call Saul, like Breaking Bad before it, is often committed to showing the incremental steps between larger events. We see how people go about their business, their working methods and habits, both professional and personal, and how they handle the minute consequences of their actions. It makes sense for these shows to do so, given that at their core they are about how their characters undergo gradual change as they wind down increasingly dark paths. However, sometimes this commitment to showing the incremental steps can lead to relatively slow episodes that exist mainly to move the characters into position for presumably more eventful and captivating episodes later on. Indeed, Better Call Saul usually has lull in the plot around episode four or five each season. Such has been the case in the previous two seasons, for instance, and season six is no different, as “Black and Blue” is largely concerned with laying track for subsequent episodes.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 4, “Hit and Run”

"Hit and Run” is one of those incremental episodes of Better Call Saul, where nothing major happens, but where plots advance bit by inexorable bit. In the hands of a less skilled creative team, it could come across as boring or rote, but in the hands of these writers, and especially in the hands of first-time director Rhea Seehorn, the episode is still incredibly compelling. It helps, of course, that Seehorn directs the hell out of it. “Hit and Run” is full of stylistic flourishes and visual nuance that enlivens the action and enhances the storytelling in various ways. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Better Call Saul, Season 6, Episode 3, “Rock and Hard Place”

“Rock and Hard Place” is the first episode of this season to feel like Better Call Saul is coming to an end, since it resolves one of those longstanding unanswered questions we’ve had since season one, this time concerning the fate of Ignacio “Nacho” Varga. Like the title of the episode implies, Nacho is caught between Gus and the Salamancas, both of whom want him dead, just for different reasons: Gus because Nacho could divulge that Gus was behind the attack on Lalo, and the Salamancas because Nacho betrayed Lalo.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Better Call Saul, Season 6, Episodes 1 and 2, “Wine and Roses,” “Carrot and Stick”

Midway through “Wine and Roses,” the season six premiere of Better Call Saul, Kim discusses a potential con with Jimmy, telling him, “It has to be paced right. We move too fast they’ll see us coming. And it has to make sense…. There has to be a reason for everything.” This line of dialogue might as well be the Better Call Saul writers making a statement about what this final season of Better Call Saul has to accomplish. It perfectly corresponds with the writers’ need to negotiate viewers’ expectations about its most pressing unresolved questions, including whether or not Kim is a part of Saul’s life during the Breaking Bad years, what finally pushes Jimmy to become the Saul we know from Breaking Bad (or if “Saul Goodman” is merely a persona Jimmy performs for his clients), if/how Nacho and Lalo survive, and what becomes of Jimmy/Saul/Gene in his post-Breaking Bad life. Pacing, as always, is key, and any surprises need to be firmly rooted in the slow progression of changes the characters have undergone as they inch closer to the material we’re already familiar with from Breaking Bad.