Posts Tagged ‘breaking bad’

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten: “Lantern”

June 20, 2017

In the gorgeously shot sequence that helps open the episode (following the portentous cold-open flashback in which young Chuck assures young Jimmy that everything will be alright in the story they’re reading by lantern-light together), Howard faces the older man down across the lighted arches of HHM’s conference table, before dismissing the other partners so they can speak alone. Actor Patrick Fabian is…well, after seeing him in this role, where he has to take his natural USA Network blue-sky legal-eagle-drama good looks and imbue them with complexity and depth, you wanna see him sink his teeth into something even juicier. For now, though, he’s completely convincing as a straight-and-narrow, buttoned-up guy who worked for years to protect a man he considered a friend, only for that friend to attack him when he dared suggest a different course of action. “Your first instinct is to sue me?” he asks, the incredulity written all over his face. He winds up buying Chuck out of the firm using funds drawn from his own pocket. The ensuing faux-farewell scene, in which the entire office floods the foyer to wish Chuck goodbye, is like something out of The Young Pope—figures lining balconies, overhead shots of curvilenear staircases, a system working in concert to expel a person who does not belong.

This leaves us with Chuck himself. Between his humiliation at HHM and his severing of ties with Jimmy, he suffers a psychological blow that not even his hard-fought recovery from psychosomatic illness can surmount. At first I was kind of bummed out by what ensued: prestige TV’s umpteenth homage to The Conversation, as Chuck’s mental dissolution is metaphorically depicted by his dismantling and destruction of his house in search of a stray electrical current he can’t seem to shut off at the source. But between Michael McKean’s go-for-broke performance and Dave Porter’s evocative, trumpet-based score, something happens that transcends the sequence’s origin. Before too long it’s clear that something deeper than metaphor is at work. Chuck is losing his mind, permanently. As in, it’s lost. He’ll never find it again.

The episode ends with an image that’s all but nauseating in its unfiltered depiction of this loss. With his house a debris-strewn ruin, Chuck sits at his desk, eyes vacant, his legs repeatedly—almost automatically—kicking. The only satisfaction remaining to him is that of destruction, a feeling his brother Jimmy knows only too well. He just kicks and kicks and kicks at his desk until, finally, his lantern falls off, and explodes, and starts a fire we witness silently from across the street. Chuck has no friends, no family, no sanity. But death is always there for you, waiting. Like the brother you wish you had.

I reviewed the beautiful season finale of Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

How ‘Better Call Saul’ Secretly Became One of TV’s Best Dramas

June 20, 2017

Better Call Saul has also secretly morphed into one of the most visually accomplished shows on the air. Bad‘s riotous visuals echoed its chaotic plot, but this prequel has taken a more austere, slow-and-steady approach to its storytelling – and its cinematography follows suit. Directors of photography Arthur Albert (for Seasons One and Two) and Marshall Adams (his successor for Season Three) favor shot compositions that emphasize the geometry of the spaces that Jimmy & co. find themselves in: rectangular windows, square glass bricks, the diagonal slash of a staircase, the glowing arches of a conference table’s lights. The result is an elegant claustrophobia, in which the characters look pinned to a grid or a game board, unable to control their own movements.

And during the show’s third season, Adams adapted Albert’s already impressive use of different lighting styles into a cleverly coded system, to the point where you could almost tell which character’s story we’d be following before they appeared on screen. Jimmy’s segments are brightly lit by the New Mexico sun or by the glare office-light fluorescents, casting a spotlight on his sins. Chuck exists in a shadowy world of his own making, silhouetted in the darkness of his house against a clean white haze of daylight from his windows or the glow of his indoor lantern. Mike’s nocturnal prowlings are given an amber yellow cast – the color of caution, warning and ear, all subliminally signaling us to slow down and watch out.

Saul Mighty: With some help from editor David Fear, I wrote about how Better Call Saul transcended its prequel roots to become one of the best shows on television for Rolling Stone.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Nine: “Fall”

June 14, 2017

Kim Wexler has lost control. Considering the company her partner and boyfriend Jimmy McGill will soon be keeping, if the worst thing that happens to her because of Jimmy is accidentally driving her car into a ditch, she’s gotten off easy. But while it’s easy to miss amid the fireworks between Jimmy and Chuck or the historical first meeting of Mike and Gus, not to mention Rhea Seehorn’s never-let-them-see-you-sweat performance, but this season has slowly ratcheted up the pressure on Kim to what turns out to be a physically unbearable degree. The episode is entitled “Fall,” and that’s basically what she does.

I reviewed this week’s very good Better Call Saul for the New York Observer. I talk about this elsewhere in the episode, but like Costa Ronin as Oleg Burov in The Americans, Michael Mando as Nacho Varga speaks barely a raised word and barely ever one in English and is delivering one of the best performances on television.

Cut to Black: The best (and worst) post-‘Sopranos’ series finales

June 9, 2017

It’s been a decade since “Don’t Stop Believin'” cut off in Holsten’s, and The Sopranos cut off with it. June 10 marks the tenth anniversary of the original airing of “Made in America,” the final episode of creator David Chase’s modern mafia masterpiece. Credited (correctly!) with kicking off a new Golden Age of Television, the show ended on an equally influential note: silence. We’ll never know whether mob boss Tony Soprano was killed as he sat down for dinner with his family (as in nuclear, not crime), or if his life simply went on, with the next FBI raid, hitman or plate of ziti always just around the corner. Nor are we meant to figure it out, no matter what you’ve read on the internet. For Chase, the ambiguity and uncertainty speak not only to Tony’s uniquely precarious existence, but all of ours’ as well.

Demanding, divisive and pretty much perfect for the show it concluded, “Made in America” remains the gold standard for finales to this day. In one form or another, nearly all its successors are a reflection of it, whether attempting to right its perceived wrongs or live up to its masterpiece status. Moreover, as one of the first major shows of its kind that was allowed to end in its own time and on its own terms, The Sopranosaccidentally popularized the unfortunate idea that a show is only as good as its final episode, and that if you don’t “stick the landing,” nothing that came before is worthwhile. That’s an extreme overreaction, of course — a bad finale is not a magic eraser that wipes out the hours you spent enjoying the show up until that point — but it’s a concept creators and audiences alike now wrestle with.

With Tony trapped in that diner limbo for ten years (Schrödinger’s Soprano?), we’re taking a look at six of the standout series finales that have aired since: Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Lost and Battlestar Galactica. What did they get right, or wrong, about the shows they’re concluding? What did viewers take away — and what should they have focused on instead? Should we be asking if they stuck the landing, or if they leapt into the unknown? Fire up the Journey and find out.

I wrote about some of the most satisfying and disappointing finales of the past decade, all involving really good shows, for my debut at Mic.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “Slip”

June 9, 2017

“To our four-corner strategy!” So goes the toast proposed by Mesa Verde head honcho Kevin to his right-hand woman Paige and attorney Kim as they dine out to celebrate their success and plan its next stages. On “Slip,” this week’s episode of Better Call Saul, the show does the good banker one better. It rotates between fully five functionally separate storylines, starring Jimmy McGill, Mike Ehrmantraut, Chuck McGill, Kim Wexler, and Nacho Varga respectively. Such is the strength of the series, the least flashy top-tier drama on television right now, and of the performances given by Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn, and Michale Mando, that I’d happily watch a spinoff starring any one of those five characters exclusively.

I reviewed this week’s beautifully balanced Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “Expenses”

May 26, 2017

If there’s a defining image for “Expenses,” this week’s episode of Better Call Saul, it’s of a mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially exhausted Jimmy McGill, disheartened by the failure of his latest scheme, just sitting there alone on the sidewalk, collecting himself. Everyone needs a breather now and then, including this show.

The slow pace obscures it somewhat, but season three of BCS has seen a whole lot of excitement go down from the return of Gus Fring and other figures from Breaking Bad’s drug wars to the courtroom showdown between Jimmy and his brother Chuck. The seeds of both were planted in the finale of Season Two, with Mike’s Gus-aborted assassination attempt on Hector Salamanca and Jimmy’s felony confession at Chuck’s house. The resulting sense of momentum was powerful, no matter how long it took Mike Ehrmantraut to reassemble the bug in his gas cap.

But Mike’s dealings with his future boss Gus reached a head in episode four, the courtroom drama occupied episode five, and its aftermath ate up the half of episode six not occupied by the reintroduction of the soft-spoken gangster Nacho Varga as a major player. The task of episode seven, then, seems to be to relax, regroup, and reboot. It’s the first installment of the season that doesn’t feel like a drift downward into an inexorable hell.

I reviewed Monday’s Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Six: “Off Brand”

May 17, 2017

From The Blair Witch Project to The Ring to Adult Swim, filmmakers have long been aware of the horrific potential of the VHS tape. Few have used it as subtly but disturbingly as director Keith Gordon did on Better Call Saul this week. Fresh from helping to transform Perfect Strangers star Mark Linn-Baker into a figure of menace on The Leftovers a few weeks back and working from a smart script by Ann Cherkis, Gordon closes out the episode with a look at the frenetic ad for an ad hoc advertising agency, created by an incognito Jimmy McGill to recoup the cost of the commercials he’s now legally forbidden to run. Screening the commercial for Kim, Jimmy presses pause on the VCR right at the end. At the top of the screen is the pseudonym he’s chosen for the project: SAUL GOODMAN. At the bottom, there’s the wavy distortion and static of a freeze-framed videocassette. “That guy has a lot of energy,” Kim deadpans. “It’s just a name,” Jimmy replies. But the screen says it all. That name will alter Jimmy out of recognition, and warp the whole world around him.

I reviewed this week’s episode of Better Call Saul for the New York Observer. I spend a lot of time talking about how good Michael Mando is as Nacho.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “Sabrosito”

May 4, 2017

It’s not a cold open so much as a cool, refreshing one: Don Eladio, the drug-cartel king played by the delightful Stephen Bauer, going for a dip in his lovely in-ground swimming pool. Several years later he’ll take a real dive into that thing, victim of a poisoning plot orchestrated by Gus Fring and Mike Ehrmantraut that will leave him and the entire leadership caste of the cartel dead. So much of “Sabrosito,” this week’s episode of Better Call Saul, feels like a direct prequel to that stand-out episode of Breaking Bad that the end result is the most Breaking Bad-esque episode of BCS ever. That yellow south-of-the-border tint to the film, the constant dick-measuring between Eladio and his underbosses Hector Salamanca and Juan Bolsa, Gus getting in the good graces of Albuquerque’s public servants, a confrontation with Hector in the Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant Gus personally manages designed to test his patience, a late-night deal struck between Gus and Mike as two wary men who each respect the way the other does business—it’s all straight from the BB playbook.

If you’re the sort who’s had your fill of Breaking Bad, or simply doesn’t think it should slowly assume control of its Better Call Saul host organism like the alien from The Thing, this might be cause for concern. I still think that concern is misplaced. The vibe may be familiar from BB, but it’s still unmistakably BCS in pacing and staging; as director Thomas Schnauz has noted, even the scene at Don Eladio’s compound, as direct a throwback as you can get, was shot with a more stationary and staid camera than they’d have used on the previous series.

I reviewed this week’s episode of Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “Sunk Costs”

April 27, 2017

Better Call Saul has truly gone Bad. “Sunk Costs,” this week’s episode, witnesses the return of many of Breaking Bad’s visual signatures. The hazy yellow desert coloring. The vistas of flat lands and big sky. The low-angle shots of dangerous men with the cloud-strewn blue above them. The episode-opening close-ups of various damaged objects—most notably shoes dangling from a wire until, worn down by the elements, they drop to the ground near a bullethole-ridden Spanish-language stop sign—the significance of which will not be made clear until the end of the hour (if then). Mike’s tense conversation with Gus in the middle of the empty highway, with future Head Goons in Charge Victor and Tyrus standing by, is straight out of the Walter White saga, with actors Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks exchanging terse just-so statements and queries in their own very different no-nonsense ways. BB’s style was, and is, so distinctive that its successors can switch it on at will, like a regional accent if not a whole second language.

This is still Better Call Saul, though, and even the BB-esque Mike half of the episode maintains the current series’ unique rhythms. By now the laconic pacing of Ehrmantraut’s tradecraft is the most talked-about aspect of the show, and likely the most frequently mocked as well: because I’m a good-natured sort I enjoyed Chapo Trap House podcaster Matt Christman’s joke that on next week’s episode, “Mike spends 40 real-time minutes putting a ship in a bottle.” Indeed, the show keeps the camera trained on him as he tosses a pair of sneakers into the air to catch on a power line a grand total of three times until they catch on the final throw. It’s just daring you to groan with impatience.

But watching a stone-cold operator like Mike methodically make his way through the world—in this case helping Gus sabotage their mutual enemy Hector Salamanca’s drug trafficking route by sprinkling contraband onto one of his trucks via a sniper bullet through the aforementioned drug-packed shoes—forces you to sit with sangfroid, effort, and ingenuity involved in carrying out violent, venal acts. It’s also an excuse to soak into the southwestern landscapes, the local homes and businesses, and the face of actor Jonathan Banks. It’s an experiential and ethical pacing choice, if there’s such a thing. Complaining that it’s not a pulse-pounding thrill ride is like watching Tarkovsky’s Stalker and yelling “Get on with it!”

Don’t believe the anti-prestige-TV hype part 1: I reviewed this week’s fine episode of Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

Gus Fring is on ‘Better Call Saul,’ which is great news for ‘Breaking Bad’ fans

April 18, 2017

To grab an analogy from a different fleshed-out universe, it’s quickly becoming the case that Better Call Saul is to Breaking Bad what Rogue One is to the original Star Wars trilogy. Tonally, it’s not the same thing, and it’s not trying to be. It’s subdued and small-scale instead of boisterous and universe-spanning. The lighstaber-duel-style action set pieces are deliberately absent. Hell, you even know how it’s going to end.

But just as seeing old favorites like Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Mon Mothma, and Grand Moff Tarkin in a new and unusual context managed to provide a familiar thrill without feeling like a retread, so does watching friends and foes from Vince Gilligan’s meth masterpiece pop up on BCS. It’s familiar, yes, but the familiarity serves, somewhat counterintuitively, to keep the show fresh and distinct.

As it’s done with Saul and Mike before, throwing Gus Fring into the mix will allow us to see him from a whole new angle. And we all know the kind of payoff seeing Gus Fring from a new angle can deliver, don’t we? Ding ding ding ding ding!

I wrote about how the arrival of Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring on Better Call Saul is good for fans of either show for Thrillist.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “Witness”

April 18, 2017

“Witness” is the episode Better Call Saul viewers have long been waiting for, the one in which Gustavo “Gus” Fring finally makes his debut. Gus was—or is that will be?—the primary antagonist of Breaking Bad, the series to which BCS serves as a sequel. Watching Mike Ehrmantraut and his occasional partner of convenience Jimmy McGill work their way through their relatively petty crimes toward this apex predator’s stalking ground over the course of the past two seasons has been like hearing the longest, most morbid version of “The Aristocrats” ever told.

There was every risk that the introduction of such a massive figure, a mainstay in any list of the greatest villains the medium has ever produced, would throw this relatively quiet show’s careful balance of black comedy and quiet menace out of whack. But as it happens, we needn’t have worried at all. Gus doesn’t make the kind of grand entrance that would overwhelm the show’s dual-narrative structure, in which Jimmy’s love-hate relationship with his more successful but mentally ill brother Chuck slowly drags him into criminality on one half of the ledger while Mike’s natural talent for skullduggery and bloodletting push him deeper into the underworld on the other. Smartly, the show reunites the two characters for Gus’s introduction, sending Jimmy into his restaurant for a failed reconnaissance mission at Mike’s behest. By the time we realize who he is, the Chicken Man has been milling around in the background of the shot for several seconds, sweeping up like the conscientious manager of a fast-food place he pretends to be. As Jimmy sits and looks around for a sign of the man behind Mike’s pursuers, that very man slowly, slowly, slowly draws near to him, almost brushes up against him, and passes him by. His face is always either out of focus or out of frame entirely. The effect is like you’ve gone swimming in deep water, and you’re watching a friend float around obliviously as the silver-gray shape of a shark swims right past him.

I reviewed this week’s landmark Better Call Saul for the New York Observer. Well done, folks.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “Mabel”

April 13, 2017

The slowness and silence of Mike’s side of the story is a stupendous choice for several reasons. First, it aims the spotlight directly at the facial expressions and body language of Jonathan Banks as Mike. As an actor, he doesn’t perform so much as he oven roasts, slowly and quietly allowing the characters skill, determination, ruthlessness, patience and weariness to flavor his every move. Second, it provides composer Dave Porter with a blank canvas on which to paint an engrossing post-rock musical accompaniment, miles away from the jaunty country-western kitsch of the soundtrack. Third, it gives director Vince Gilligan—working here with cinematographer Marshall Adams—the chance to let the visual dimension do much of the talking. Mike’s sections of the show are basically oceans of darkness, surrounding islands of warm yet sickly yellow glowing light in which Mike moves or sits like a castaway; that yellow color beams “CAUTION” at our brains like the lights from a roadside construction project on a rainy night. It’s a powerful contrast with the black and white of the flash-forward opening sequence, showing Jimmy’s eventual fate as Gene the Omaha Cinnabon manager; with the Office Space aesthetic of Jimmy’s 2002-era material; even with the dark wood paneling and bright “natural” daylight that characterize scenes starring Jimmy’s Luddite brother Chuck. It’s tough to think of a series with as distinct a visual aesthetic as Better Call Saul which is also willing to vary that aesthetic so much in a single episode.

Finally, Mike’s slow and steady story gives lie to the claim that Better Call Saul is becoming Breaking Bad Redux. Perhaps Breaking Bad’s magisterial final season (minus that regrettable punch-pulling finale, of course), which moved toward the destruction of Walter White with the grace and grandeur of the inevitable, makes the chaos of that show harder to remember. But from literally the first scene of the first episode of the first season, Walt’s story showed him careening from one calamity to another, creating new disasters to extricate himself from the old ones nearly every time. Mike’s story may involve Breaking Bad heavies like the Salamanca Family and, presumably, Gus “The Chicken Man” Fring; it may have more in common with that show’s violent stock in trade than the white-collar crimes of Jimmy McGill or the mental illness of his hotshot older brother Chuck; but in pacing and in tone it remains a very different proposition indeed.

I reviewed the season premiere of Better Call Saul for the New York Observer. Eff what you heard about the show getting too close to Breaking Bad; other than the characters and the overall skill involved they have very little in common.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode 10: “Klick”

April 19, 2016

SPOILER ALERT

Throughout its second season, Better Caul Saul has chronicled the parallel paths of Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut, and those paths lead nowhere but down. Jimmy blows his shot at the bigtime on the partner track at a prestigious law firm with the corner-cutting, dirty-tricking, mildly felonious behavior his older brother Chuck always said was innate in his character, culminating in a vengeful act of forgery that could cost not only him but his girlfriend and quasi-partner Kim their budding careers in independent practice. Meanwhile, Mike’s moonlighting as low-level muscle in the meth trade slowly draws him into a blood feud with the Salamanca cartel, in which both his stubborn pride and his natural criminal skill bring him ever closer to the line of cold-blooded murder that he’ll cross time and again in the years to come. We know where both these paths lead, of course: to Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, Gus Fring, and disgrace and death respectively. But by the time “Klick,” last night’s season finale, drew to a close, their paths had neither once again intersected nor reached the point of no return. Chuck caught Jimmy admitting to a felony on tape (“I woulda made Nixon proud!” he humble-brags, the tape proving him righter than he knows), but the episode ended before he could play it back to anyone. Mike had Hector Salamanca in the sights of his sniper rifle, but a mysterious message from an unseen interloper — “DON’T” — kept him from pulling the trigger. In its restraint, its quietude, its geometrically precise shot compositions, and its overall lack of anything but hints of its predecessor series Breaking Bad’s white-knuckle mayhem, Better Call Saul Season Two was a strong statement from creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan, but that statement ended with a question mark.

I reviewed last night’s Better Call Saul season finale for the New York Observer. This was quite a show this season.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Nine: “Nailed”

April 13, 2016

The parable of the Good Samaritan is in effect our culture’s first tale of AAA roadside assistance. After several more respectable types pass by a man who’s been mugged and left to die by the side of the road, a Samaritan, seen as an outcast demographic by Christ’s audience, stops to rescue him. Tonight’s episode of Better Call Saul is a rare case in which a Good Samaritan is true to his namesake. Nacho, Mike’s man in the cartel, uses the moniker to describe the nameless do-gooder who pulled over and came to the aid of the trucker and drug courier Mike Ehrmantraut hijacked and hogtied on a remote stretch of highway. For his good deed, he gets killed and buried out there, so that the cops Mike was counting on investigating the Salamanca outfit won’t be alerted to the hijacking. Do right and suffer for it? Hmmm. Put aside the homemade spike strip Mike pulls across the road like a snake-charmer to stop the truck—there may be another, more biblical reason this episode is called “Nailed.”

I reviewed this week’s tight, grim episode of Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “Fifi”

April 6, 2016

Did Larysa Kondracki just have her Cary Fukunaga moment? The director of “Fifi,” last night’s Better Call Saul, opened the episode with a single four-minute-plus shot that swirled and soared around a border crossing and the drug-courier truck attempting to pass through it every bit as complex and stunning as the multi-minute gang shootout that made Fukunaga a superstar on True Detective. But that famous sequence ended its episode. This was one was merely the beginning of an hour of some of the most carefully composed, strikingly shot, drop-dead gorgeous television of the year. With frequent BCS cinematographer and Breaking Bad veteran Arthur Albert riding shotgun, Kondracki crafted a visual achievement to rival anything on either of those shows—or Mr. Robot, Hannibal, and any other compositionally audacious series of recent vintage you’d care to name. Forget Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler: Larysa Kondracki should be the one setting up her own shingle.

I reviewed this week’s simply extraordinary Better Call Saul for the New York Observer. I really dug deep into this one and I hope you like it.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Seven: “Inflatable”

March 30, 2016

Better Call Saul a quiet marvel more concerned with doling out little discreet slivers of human behavior, preserved in musical montage sequences like individual slides in a projection reel, than in watching that behavior wreak havoc writ large. And “Inflatable,” last night’s episode, contained the most entertaining montage of the lot. Set to Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band’s “Scorpio,” a staple sample source of hip-hop’s golden age (I recognized it from “Bust a Move” and“Jingling Baby”), the sequence sees Jimmy draw inspiration from one of those godawful inflatable dancing men strip-mall stores use to attract attention to do just that—attract so much attention around the Davis & Main office that they’ll fire him rather than force him to quit and thus lose his bonus. Seventies-style split screen shots spotlight the spectacular sartorial sense associated with Saul Goodman as his prior self starts dressing loud and acting louder, from running a juicer in the breakroom to practicing the bagpipes during office hours to admitting he’s the firm’s phantom pooper. (“That was me.” “Jimmy, I just said I don’t wanna know!” God bless Ed Begley Jr., America’s funniest square.)

I reviewed this week’s Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Six: “Bali Ha’i”

March 24, 2016

Visually speaking, Kim’s face was the image that defined the episode. This began early, with a long-held look at her as she sits on her bed, listening to Jimmy serenade her answering machine with a reedy rendition of “Bali Ha’i” from South Pacific. Saul’s a show that doesn’t mind sitting with a supporting character as she sits quietly and soaks in the goofball charm of its protagonist, a guy with whom at this point she’s both furious and, despite herself, infatuated. Using this as the payoff for her morning routine, during which it becomes increasingly apparent she was waiting for him to call despite having no intention of picking up, was a lovely idea, and director Michael Slovis’s execution was inspired.

I reviewed this week’s Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “Rebecca”

March 15, 2016

The Jimmy half of Better Call Saul is very good, sure. But the Mike half of Better Call Saul feels like the onset of a panic attack. You can feel it creeping up on you like have your back turned on a menacing stranger, one who’s tracked you down and is walking his way toward you, quiet and full of bad intent. Certainly that’s how I felt as I watched the final scene of “Rebecca,” this week’s episode. As Mike Ehrmantraut sat with his back to the door of his favorite diner, Hector Salamanca materialized from the debris where Breaking Bad left him to gently request that the ex-cop help get his nephew Tuco off the hook. Nothing overtly threatening about it, of course, no visible stick to go with the carrots of a kindly disposition and a bribe of $5,000. Tio Salamanca doesn’t even bat an eyelash when Mike parries back his blandishments with deadpan disinterest: “You see what I’m getting at?” “Not really.” “I would like for you to tell the police that the gun was yours.” “Would you.” No, all the menace comes from the implications of putting these two men, these two murderers, in close proximity. We know where their stories end up, but that does nothing to lessen the tension. Rather, our knowledge increases it, investing the current moment with our foreknowledge of all the awful moments to come.

I wrote about this week’s Better Call Saul, a very sophisticated hour of television, for the New York Observer.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “Gloves Off”

March 10, 2016

Mike, meanwhile, shuffled his way into a bonafide Breaking Bad prequel. Our first guest: Lawson, Deadwood actor Jim Beaver’s folksy and efficient gun dealer, years before selling Walter White his series-ending machine gun. His scene with Mike drops a major reveal—the old man’s a Vietnam vet—and is chilling for its casual, workaday vocabulary regarding machines designed only for killing. “Too much gun,” Mike worries about one particularly large rifle. “For most applications, I’d tend to agree,” Lawson replies, as if they’re discussing which iPhone model gets the most bang for the buck. The two men respect each other for their shared calm demeanor and knowledge of the trade; given that the trade is murder, the ease with which an ex-cop and veteran can pick it up doubles as political commentary.

I reviewed this week’s better-balanced Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.

“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Three: “Amarillo”

March 1, 2016

Better Call Saul is two of the best shows on TV right now. One of them is a subtle, period workplace drama about a con man trying desperately to go straight but finding his old ways too lucrative to avoid employing in his new life too. The other is an ominous slow-burn thriller about a retired cop with the eyes of a Methuselah and the voice of a mausoleum door, slowly being drawn into a life of crime he’ll be better at than anything he was before, but which will inevitably destroy him, body and soul. If AMC put these two shows on back to back, it’d have a hell of a programming block on its hands. But if it ran the period workplace drama while some other network played the doom-laden quiet-man crime thriller in the same time slot…well, I know which one I’d DVR and which one I’d watch live.

I reviewed this week’s bifurcated Better Call Saul for the New York Observer.