Tag Archives: Breaking Bad

Better Call Saul 2.1 – “Switch”

Jimmy McGill is at any given time more than Jimmy McGill. He’s Slippin’ Jimmy, the scam artist specializing in falling on black ice and selling fake Rolexes. He’s “Charlie Hustle”, according to Howard Hamlin, the scrappy upstart lawyer with an unparalleled relentlessness. Eventually he’s Saul Goodman, the best possible lawyer to have provided you’re guilty. And eventually, in a post-Breaking Bad world, he’s Gene, the manager of the Cinnabon in that mall in Omaha. All of these personalities share what would appear to be major character traits, primarily a highly-charged relationship to the local criminal underworld and a serious gift of gab.

It’s what they don’t share, the traits that Jimmy sheds like dead skin as he moves from label to label, that find purchase in “Switch”. The first season of Better Call Saul surprised pretty much everyone by having a real emotional core to support the wicked humor, something that brought it fully into the deserving company of Breaking Bad. “Switch” strengthened that connective tissue in an important way, in a sort of add-by-subtracting way, drew nearer to it by moving further away. It’s vital that Saul measure up to Bad, but it’s far more vital that Saul stand as a strong series unto itself.

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The Leftovers 1.10 – “The Prodigal Son Returns”

Sometimes drama is hard. Part of the reason why people are throwing around phrases like The Golden Age of Television is because great drama often implies a certain longevity, a depth not only of feeling but of space and time as well. Rust Cohle’s True Detective arc spans more than a decade, and we’re allowed insight into that arc for eight hours rather than for the limited runtime of a film. Walter White’s (d)evolution is likewise more effective for the time it takes building itself. In the coldest sense television allows what comic book chronology allows, simply more, and thus more of a compounding effect in the later hours or later seasons. True Detective and Breaking Bad are intense in their final sequences mostly due to brilliant writing, brilliant directing, brilliant acting — nothing replaces storytelling (preach!) — but partially due to what came before.

And yes: sometimes drama is easy. Fabricated drama isn’t hard to find. Heck, take Best Picture winner Argo, which climaxes with a harrowing scene at the airport where the heroes are really just standing in a room sweating as to whether they’re about to be let out of the country or not. Quick cuts are made to the drama, vehicles holding the bad guys hurtling along the tarmac. It’s all spiced up, and usually when you have to spice up your scene with cuts to action that simply happen faster and faster as the music plays faster and faster — well, maybe there’s another way to extract drama, a less easy way, an infinitely more effective way. Argo is hardly the worst example. The cringeworthiest one that leaps to mind is all the extraneous shit going down at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, because Spidey battling his enemy isn’t enough. And Spidey battling two enemies isn’t enough. And Spidey battling two enemies while a hospital full of people is in danger and a plane full of people is about to crash isn’t even enough, so throw Gwen Stacey in there. There we go: amazing.

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Narcos – Season 1

Narcos has a rookie season that moves like a final season. Netflix has been in the TV game for a while now, with their flagships House of Cards and Orange is the New Black both entering fourth seasons soon, and it’s rare that a Netflix series falls wide of the mark — Bloodline, Daredevil, and Sense8 all drew in high-powered acting and directing talent and were almost immediately renewed for second seasons. Narcos, with the pacing and and urgency of a well-established series and character arcs that would normally be stretched over the course of a lesser show, might outdo them all.

A large part of what sets this story apart from the pack is the fact of this story being a true one. Pablo Escobar has been portrayed several times by all the people you might expect — there’s Benicio Del Toro just last year in Paradise Lost, Javier Bardem next year in a new biopic, and then John Leguizamo (okay, so maybe not who you’d expect) in yet another biopic the following year — but the infamous Colombian drug lord has never been viewed under a microscope like this. It’s Wagner Moura who steps into Escobar’s patterned polos here in Narcos, and he’s up to the considerable task.

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The Leftovers 1.4 – “B.J. and the A.C.”

Right down to the title of the show, The Leftovers isn’t necessarily one for subtlety. Any time something isn’t where it’s supposed to be, a parallel is drawn to the mysterious Departure that inexplicably claimed 2% of the world’s population. This is Drama, capital D, and these people have Problems, capital P, and sitting down to an hour of cap-D plus cap-P — especially “B.J. and the A.C.” — can end up being too much CAPS LOCK to handle if you’re not ready for it. But on one level The Leftovers sacrifices subtlety intentionally, I think, allowing for clarity instead. Supreme clarity, in fact, and one that should make nearly every other show on television envious.

Take the opening Breaking Bad-esque montage of “B.J. and the A.C.”:

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The Red Road 2.6 – “Shadow Walker”

Aaron Guzikowski said he was going to break Jason Momoa in the second season of The Red Road, and in the finale “Shadow Walker” we get a glimpse at what the writer might have meant by that. Momoa’s Kopus spent much of the first season manipulating the people around him in such a way that Walter White would have been proud, but season two showed a few cracks in the otherwise stoic armor. The final hour blew those cracks open and ended up being a solid end to a shaky and uneven season.

And that title — “Shadow Walker” — gets to the heart of Kopus’s character (and Harold’s character, too) and relates beautifully to the title of the show. In my limited understanding of Native American spirituality, the “red road” is the right path, the good path, the road to redemption. Whether we’re talking about the taut first season cat-and-mouse game between Kopus and Harold or the flagging, multifaceted plots of the second, it’s always been clear that this shifting morality is at the heart of the show. Both main characters walk the red road to varying degrees, as does Junior, as does Jean, as does every other character in the show. Kopus and Harold are the most interesting (in theory) because they’re foils: Harold is the police captain and family man who gets to where he is by lying, Kopus is the ex-convict who just might be starting to see the light.

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The Red Road 2.5 – “The Hatching”

I’m really surprised there are no movies called The Penultimate Hour. It’s a decent title in a James Patterson sort of way, or in a Van Damme sort of way. The closest thing might be Philip K. Dick’s novel The Penultimate Truth, or the 2007 documentary on the author called The Penultimate Truth About Philip K. Dick. Those are great titles. There are a few movies called The 11th Hour — and funnily enough, there is James Patterson book by that title — and I suppose that means the same thing. “Eleven” doesn’t carry the same force as “penultimate”, though, does it?

The only thing any of this has to do with The Red Road is that “The Hatching” is the penultimate episode of season two, the literal penultimate hour, and that’s generally the hour in which…well, what happens in the penultimate episode of a season? It used to be the case that season finales were tantamount to a bunch of awesome stuff, meaning the previous episode was usually spent getting everything set up for the fireworks. That’s changed recently. Game of Thrones made a casual tradition of having the ninth episode of each season (the penultimate of each in the case of Game‘s 10-episode seasons) be far more action-packed than the ensuing finales. Breaking Bad‘s “Ozymandias” delivered finale-level intensity with two episodes still to follow, and Better Call Saul‘s penultimate hour “Pimento” was likewise the season’s best.

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Better Call Saul 1.10 – “Marco”

It’s been a week since the conclusion of the first season of Better Call Saul. “Pimento“, far and away the best single episode of the season (although I loved “Hero“), made sure Jimmy’s world was flipped upside down as we headed into the finale hour. Relationships that once meant the world to our morally-challenged lawyer are now seen in a different light, and people Jimmy once thought to be the scum of the earth are suddenly something else entirely.

It’s fitting, then, that “Marco” gives a name and a history to Jimmy’s one-time best friend Marco. In “Hero” we saw a glimpse of Slippin’ Jimmy’s adeptness in the short con game, and if he’s The Sting‘s Johnny Hooker then Marco is his Luther Coleman. After the events of “Pimento” Jimmy returned to his old stomping grounds and found Marco exactly where he left him, asleep at a bar in the middle of the afternoon, scraping by on a crappy job and a handful of half-assed scams.

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Better Call Saul 1.9 – “Pimento”

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.

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Better Call Saul 1.7 – “Bingo”

I was away from Better Call Saul for two weeks. The Mexican prison in which I was caged had neither televisión nor computadora, and for some reason the chip in my brain that live-streams anything and everything related to Breaking Bad directly into my eyeballs seemed to be out of juice. Por favor, I wheezed, necesito…Saul. My captors never budged. At length I escaped with the help of a beautiful young Mexican woman named Alejandra, by foot, by horseback, by freight train bound for the States, by the skin of my teeth. I collapsed onto my couch seventy-two harrowing hours later. As “Bingo” began I felt like I’d missed something, I felt disconnected, I felt for the first time like I actually needed the previously on montage. I felt lost. I longed for Alejandra.

Oddly enough, “Bingo” was actually partially about exactly that: is Jimmy going anywhere? Even if you forget about him for two weeks, is he still just going to end up in the same place he started? This is a guy who constantly reinvents himself with chameleonic disregard for each successive former self. The episode “Hero” went a long way to depicting this, first showing the con man Slippin’ Jimmy, then the upstart lawyer Jimmy McGill, then the coiffed and suited James M. McGill, Esq. beaming down from that billboard. The trick of the thing, of course, was that it’s all still Jimmy. That billboard thing was a con, plain and simple, just like the kind Slippin’ Jimmy used to pull.

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The Red Road 1.6 – “Snaring of the Sun”

The first season of The Red Road ends with a whole lot of action, but the finale also manages to depict some important moments of character development as well. Junior takes a decisive step toward the dark side, Jean comes to terms (sort of) with the long-ago death of her twin brother, and Harold and Kopus find themselves in new positions as well. “Snaring of the Sun” isn’t as well-written as the penultimate episode “The Great Snake Battle“, but it makes up for that with some fantastic direction by Terry McDonough. McDonough has a solid body of work in television that includes three episodes of Breaking Bad and the Better Call Saul episode “Nacho“, so here’s to hoping he returns to The Red Road in future seasons.

It’s very possible that two of my story-based qualms with Road will have evaporated following “Snaring of the Sun”. First is the unevenness of Jean’s character — she’s necessarily all over the place, emotionally dragged around by Harold and, indirectly, by Kopus. But her smooch with the latter midway through “Sun” is cringeworthy, not just because of the usual kisses-are-cringeworthy reason but because this is the guy she’s pinned her brother’s death on for decades. Sure, she’s just discovered he had nothing to do with it. So she’s suddenly attracted to him? Anyway, the second qualm is the convenience of the taped recordings of Jean’s brother Brian (I called him “Scotty” in a previous review — refuse to change it) and “Sun” actually wrapped up that storyline well. I’d be surprised if those tapes pop up again.

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