For a season finale as understated as “Klick”, concluding the second-season run of a show as understated as Better Call Saul, an awful lot happened in one hour. Time and again we find ourselves referring to Saul in terms of a balancing act — between comedy and drama, between moral and immoral, between sympathetic and pathetic, between action and inaction. “Klick” lived in a few of those spaces, none more obvious than the space between subtlety and downright ridiculousness. Saul on the whole thrives in this balancing act, and in part it’s forced to do so by the predecessor Breaking Bad. Saul has to balance restraint with forward progress, treading lightly so as to remain interesting while not intruding on Bad‘s storylines.
Take the first scene of “Klick”, veering toward the latter on the scale spanning subtlety and ridiculousness. Jimmy and Chuck sit by their ailing mother’s hospital bed, Mrs. McGill lying unconscious as she closes in on death. It’s been a while, apparently, and so Jimmy recommends they go get hoagies. Chuck declines — he won’t leave his mother, not now. Jimmy? Yeah: Jimmy wants a hoagie. So Jimmy goes to get a hoagie. When he’s alone with his silent mother Chuck breaks down, perhaps remembering how Jimmy screwed his father over right before his expiration date. Chuck cries because if his mother dies then it will just be him and Jimmy, which in Chuck’s mind is tantamount to it just being him.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 2.10 – “Klick”
There’s nothing quite like a good ol’-fashioned Hoboken Squat Cobbler, amirite? You know what I’m talking about. A Full Moon Moon Pie. Seriously! Would I make this up?
If Bob Odenkirk isn’t TV’s Best Funnyman then he’s certainly #2, right behind the unstoppably hysterical Louis C.K. or the endlessly quippy Stephen Colbert. Odenkirk’s advantage is that few comedians are a part of something as brilliant as Better Call Saul, and “Cobbler” might be a microcosm of the entire series in terms of tone and humor/drama balance. The season opener “Switch” was great, pulling back for some breathing room after the comparatively cataclysmic events of “Pimento” and “Marco” and allowing Jimmy some Me Time to reflect on his epic sibling rivalry with Chuck. We didn’t see Chuck or Mike (aside from the in-episode recap of the ending of “Marco”) and it was a refreshing change of pace.
Happily, bringing those characters back in full didn’t shake up the feeling of changing pace, nor did it feel as if those characters are anything but vital to Better Call Saul. Saul is definitely a true blood brother to Breaking Bad in the sense that a minor-seeming character like Pryce or Gale Boetticher can become a crucial piece of the whole puzzle, but the heart and soul reside in the core cast. “Cobbler” felt more like a return to greatness than “Switch” because that core was out in full force.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 2.2 – “Cobbler”
Sometimes we don’t get to dive into each individual episode of Better Call Saul as deeply as we’d like. We have busy lives! Important things to do! Climb that mountain! Finish that novel! Make that bed! Drink that beer! Eat those chips! If there’s anything to knock routine by the wayside and demand our full attention, though, it’s Saul‘s ninth hour “Pimento”, the penultimate episode of the first season. The mountain and the novel and the unmade bed will have to wait (the beer and chips are right here, because multitasking); in this review we aim to pick apart the incredibly dense “Pimento” and put it all back together again.
First up: some self-congratulatory horn-tooting for kinda sorta predicting the big reveal of “Pimento” in our review of the previous episode “RICO“. We’ll save our discussion of that until after the jump for the sake of spoilers, but for now let it be sufficient to state that our reputation precedes us, that we have no equal on this earth, that the tales and songs fall utterly short of our enormity. Gaze upon our magnificence. We are fire. We are death.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 1.9 – “Pimento”
I’m such a huge fan of Michael McKean’s Chuck, brother to Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul, and “RICO” really underscored why. His casting was great based on looks alone, but soon it was clear that the character had a heck of a lot more to him than “looking like Bob Odenkirk”. The fifth episode “Alpine Shepherd Boy” delved into Chuck’s condition — a strange aversion to electromagnetism — and yet delved even deeper into the relationship between Chuck and Jimmy. Coincidentally, we also recently wrote about shots like the mailbox one above in our discussion of Michael Mann’s The Insider, so, yeah. There’s that.
First, though, before talking about Chuck’s medical/mental affliction, it’s worth recounting “RICO”s mini-flashback. Since “Uno” reached forward into Jimmy/Saul’s post-Breaking Bad life, each succeeding flashback has contributed to a portrait of who Jimmy used to be. As we discussed in last week’s review of “Bingo“, the answer to that question is really multiple answers: Jimmy’s a chameleon of sorts, shifting from street-level con-man to remorseful convict and now to mailboy at HHM, and there’s a sense that the “present-day” events are a continuation of this constant reinvention.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 1.8 – “RICO”
Better Call Saul mixed things up last night by completely switching the focus onto another character. Mike Ehrmantraut was a fan favorite in the later seasons of Breaking Bad, and his presence in the prequel/spinoff up to this point has been sort of a glorified cameo. “Five-O” took the reins away from Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy and gave them to Jonathan Banks’s tortured, pouty-faced Mike, and it was one of the most ingenious moves yet from a show that’s already pretty fantastic.
At the close of the last episode “Alpine Shepherd Boy” we saw Mike engage in a bit of a staring contest with a young woman we presumed to be his daughter. We knew Mike’s granddaughter Kayleigh is part of his motivation for moneymaking during the events of Breaking Bad, but apart from a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos we never saw much of Mike in his family life. “Five-O” broke that wide open, answering a ton of questions and raising a few more in the process.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 1.6 – “Five-O”
We’ve talked a lot over the course of the last few reviews about how Better Call Saul fares in relation to predecessor Breaking Bad. We’ve talked about Jimmy’s character, his moral standing and his concern over the presentation of his image. We’ve talked about the supporting cast and about the beautifully Bad-like cinematography, we’ve talked about the brilliant set pieces in episodes like last week’s “Hero“, and we’ve talked about how all of this adds up to something that ties into the original show but also stands alone.
We’ve also mentioned in passing that Saul has a good sense of humor, but the latest episode “Alpine Shepherd Boy” demands a somewhat more straightforward dispatch: Saul is funny. Really funny. Jimmy has the dark wit and sheer quotability we know makes Saul Goodman such a fun character (“Don’t drink and drive — but if you do, call me!”) and in Saul he obviously gets a lot more time to shine. In Bad he was kind of the comic relief (although that phrase kind of plays down his importance, doesn’t it?) and much-needed muscle relaxant amongst the insanity of Walter White’s crusade. Bad focused on the drama — Saul, while still a fledgeling series, has already found a way to play with that focus.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 1.5 – “Alpine Shepherd Boy”
Money makes people do crazy things. Though “Nacho” was ostensibly a slower episode than “Uno” and “Mijo“, the third hour of Better Call Saul took a deeper look into the good and the bad inside Jimmy McGill. The Kettleman Family, who are at this point kind of like Breaking Bad‘s Elliott and Gretchen in the way they relate to the larger plot, not only drew out this dark side/light side conflict in Jimmy but will almost certainly continue to do so in the upcoming episodes.
And as usual, a lot of that conflict and drama was implied or depicted through action. Allowing his conscience to get the better of him after accidentally imparting the knowledge of Nacho’s plan to rob the Kettlemans to his friend Kim — a new character and seeming love interest — Jimmy anonymously tips the unwitting family off to Nacho’s plan. But none of this is painfully obvious until it happens, and the expected epiphanic conscience-awakening moment is played down in favor of a more methodical and strangely exciting sequence.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 1.3 – “Nacho”
While the most obvious question was probably about how to spin a new series out of Breaking Bad, the more infrequent dilemma considered whether Better Call Saul even should be a new series. The idea of fidgeting with Bad at all is a tricky one. If you’re Bryan Cranston it’s probably a tough situation: on the one hand if you’re asked to step into Walt’s shoes again then of course you say yes, but on the other you maybe feel you’ve already done your job. You’ve done your job incredibly well, and a return might threaten to slide you into one-trick-pony status.
Though Cranston’s nowhere to be seen in the opening episode of Saul, Walt’s influence is still apparent. A nifty black-and-white intro is certainly set after the events of Breaking Bad, and we discover that Saul’s prediction about his future employment at a Cinnabon in Nebraska was prophetic. We also discover that the guy fears for his life as he pounds cinnamon into dough hour after hour, catching menacing glances from well-meaning customers. He’s miserable, and it’s both Walt’s fault and his own.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 1.1 – “Uno”