Posts Tagged ‘breaking bad’
Better Call Saul: the feel-good hit of the season? It was tonight, anyway. This week’s episode, “Rico,” administered a mainline hit of happiness from the start. Hard work, brotherly love, sticking up for the downtrodden, sticking it to bullies in business suits — if you didn’t know better, you’d think you’d tuned in to Disney movie about an underdog sports team. But the cinematography, pacing, and performances kept this surprisingly sweet Saul from sliding into schmaltz. You get to watch characters you like do something good, and do it very well. If that doesn’t put a grin on your face the size of a James Morgan McGill Esq. billboard, your case is hopeless.
Once again, Jimmy’s done the right thing at his own expense, robbing clients to save their bacon and then ordering them to re-hire Kim to save hers. But this unexpected career rebound makes her less likely than ever to leave the firm and partner with him, legally or otherwise. So he walks into the corner office he’d hoped she would one day occupy, closes the door, and flips out. Yelling, crying, punching the wall, venting years of personal and professional disappointment — who is this man, and what has he done with James Morgan McGill?
On Breaking Bad, Saul had three settings: greed, fear, and entertaining bullshit. The larval form we’ve come to know in BCS is a good deal more nuanced, yet he’s still been driven by a limited number of factors: frustration, finances, fraternal affection for his sick brother Chuck. But while we’ve seen him get bent over plenty of times, we’d never seen him break. Beneath the bluster is a human being in enough pain to make him literally lash out at the world. That’s the kind of hurt a person will radically remake their own life to avoid. It takes way more than a new name or a fancy new office, however, to leave yourself behind.
I reviewed last night’s Better Call Saul for Rolling Stone. The verdict: beautifully shot, way too much Kettleman.
The alchemists of Europe had a saying that’s still popular among mystics and spiritual seekers: “As above, so below.” The idea is that the macrocosm and microcosm are mirror images; by understanding the forces that animate mind and body, we can unravel the mysteries of the universe. It’s a concept not without its uses, art-wise: Style and substance are indivisible. Writers, musicians, and filmmakers make both large and small choices that are reflective of one another. Major themes can be glimpsed through minor details, visuals can echo dialogue, and the point of view of a character might hold the key to an entire TV show.
It’s this process that powers “Five-O,” tonight’s stunning episode of Better Call Saul. In shifting its focus almost entirely from hard-luck lawyer Jimmy McGill to aged ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut, the show also alters its look, its sound and its feel — all of this a mere six episodes into its first season. Characters are bathed in darkness and immersed in long stretches of silence, while the editing fades from one scene to the next like a dream…or a nightmare. And we see a side of Mike himself — multiple sides, even — that we’d never come close to discovering before.
I reviewed tonight’s absolutely wondrous episode of Better Call Saul for Rolling Stone. I cannot overstate the power of Jonathan Banks’s performance.
But it’s the Mike material that sees the episode really come alive, though it does so with barely a whisper. After some 40 minutes of funny old folks, space blankets, and poop jokes, things suddenly get somber. Mike sits a lonely vigil in his toll booth, an illuminated island in a sea of parking-lot darkness. He eats alone, rubbing his furrowed brow. He parks outside a woman’s home (his daughter’s?), exchanging a drawn-out glance with her as she drives away. He returns to his own house, watching old movies and drinking a cold one by his lonesome. The stately pace, steady camera work, and lack of dialogue throughout the sequence create an atmosphere of tension and menace; when a shadow moves past Mike’s window, you half expect a cartel assassin to burst in, guns blazing.
Just four episodes out of the gate, Better Call Saul is proving to be one of the most visually striking and well-acted shows currently on television. When Saul and his patsy drunkenly discuss wolf howls outside their town’s shut-down bars, or when Jimmy stands inside the Day Nail & Spa salon at night, the shots are like something out of an Edward Hopper painting. Michael McKean continues to impress as Jimmy’s mentally ill older brother Chuck, selling both the man’s pride in his baby bro’s supposed accomplishments and his crushing disappointment after risking (he thinks) his life to find out whether they’re true. As Kim, actor Rhea Seehorn has an easy rapport with Bob Odenkirk, playfully slapping his hands away from the controls of her massage chair when she comes to visit him. (She wants to go see The Thing on the big screen? She’s a keeper.) And there’s Odenkirk himself, playing an orange shirt/magenta tie man in a Haml-indigo Blue world. It’s going be a thrill to watch him suit up for real.
Conscience costs quarters. Poor panicked Jimmy McGill must have gone through half a roll of ‘em during his frantic attempts to save the would-be clients Craig and Betsy Kettleman, using nothing but Albuquerque’s conveniently located payphones. But whether he was jerry-rigging a voice modulator to warn the family or leaving voicemail after voicemail for their supposed captor, Jimmy gained something even as his wallet lost weight: our respect. “Nacho,” tonight’s Better Call Saul episode, showed that once upon a time, the Man Who Would Be Saul cared about people — which makes it a whole lot easier to care about him.
I reviewed tonight’s excellent Better Call Saul for Rolling Stone. We’re lucky this show is this good this early.
Would it be weird to call Better Call Saul lovely? Okay, not during the leg-breaking. Or the screaming about the leg-breaking. Or the vomiting after the leg-breaking. But still! After tonight’s episode “Mijo,” that’s the word that comes to mind. With its lyrical, impressionistic approach to filmmaking, largely absent from the airwaves since co-creator Vince Gilligan said, “It’s all over now, baby blue meth” to Breaking Bad in 2013, this prequel show makes for sumptuous viewing, even though its story has yet to deliver a real “this is a must see” moment….Much has been made of whether Better Call Saul has a reason to exist, given how completely its predecessor mastered this milieu. But isn’t quality reason enough? The two-part, two-night premiere of BCS has given us an unusual character (very different from an everyman who starts cooking crystal to make ends meet), and used every tool in its visual, aural, and editing arsenal to make his pre-Heisenberg life something memorable and enjoyable to watch. If that story never transforms into the runaway train that Walt’s did, so what? Stop and smell the vending-machine coffee instead.
How do you get there from here? Breaking Bad loved answering this question. Four of its six premieres began with cold opens depicting mysterious future events, only to slowly rewind time and march us toward these inevitable destinations episode by episode. Better Call Saul, the new prequel series from co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, takes this technique of narrative reverse-engineering and recreates it on a much larger scale. We already know how Saul Goodman, the con-artist formerly known as Jimmy McGill, ends up: disgraced, alone, working behind the counter of a shopping-mall Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska. What’s more, we’re intimately familiar with his story’s whole final volume: how Saul scored the biggest client of his life and eventually caused him to lose everything. The question, then, is this: Will Jimmy McGill’s long, winding road to “Saul Goodman” — and to the moment that Walter White walks into his office — be worth the trip?
Based on Better Call Saul‘s Gilligan-directed pilot episode “Uno,” the answer is yes — and despite the show’s pedigree, that was in no way a sure thing. Even great shows tend to start with their broadest material, playing to the cheap seats in order to keep butts planted firmly in them. Astute viewers may recall that Breaking Bad itself began as a splatstick black comedy before reaching its dark and terrible final form around the end of the second season, with the one-two punch of a death-by-vomit and a plane going down. Even if you feel that the series finale wrapped things up too neatly and let Heisenberg off the hook too easily, the show was brutally suspenseful, morally uncompromising, and beautifully made right up until that final pulled punch.
But “Uno” earns a favorable verdict by playing to its predecessor’s quieter strengths, not trying to top its loudest ones. That starts with Vince Gilligan, the showrunner responsible for what was arguably the most stylistically bold and formally inventive show in the New Golden Age canon. So many scenes and sequences in “Uno” were simply beautiful: the hand-held, off-center aesthetic of the black-and-white “present day” opening; the piss-yellow palette and florescent-lightbulb hum of the courthouse; the torchlit darkness of the house of Jimmy’s sick older brother, Chuck McGill, a man stuck in an enveloping cloud of obvious mental illness. If you fondly remember Bad‘s visual panache — from those pants floating in the air to that pink teddy bear, from those musical montages to that crawl-space freakout — this premiere episode makes the case that you’ve got a lot to look forward to.
I reviewed the series premiere of Better Call Saul, which was very good and not in the ways I expected, for Rolling Stone. I’m psyched to be covering the show this season!
Who is Saul Goodman? The story of how an Irish lawyer named Jimmy McGill became the sleazy, pseudonymous strip-mall ambulance-chaser who checked Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s attorney-client privilege throughout Breaking Bad will be told in the prequel series Better Call Saul, starring Bob Odenkirk, which debuts with a two-part premiere this Sunday and Monday. But Breaking Bad already gave us a lot of info about Albuquerque’s favorite “criminal lawyer”: his associates, his ex-wives, his alma mater (kinda?), his Xanax connect, and much more. We’ve pulled the files on Saul and arranged every bit of info Breaking Bad gave us on the guy in this easy, episode-by-episode timeline. There’s no better way to find out who you’re gonna call.
Hey, it’s my Vulture debut! I went through Breaking Bad and listed every tidbit I could find on Saul Goodman.
I wrote up 16 of the New Golden Age of TV’s most surprising and suspenseful scenes and sequences for Rolling Stone (with a little help from my fabulous editor David Fear). Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Deadwood, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Lost, Mad Men, Orange Is the New Black, The Shield, The Sopranos, True Detective, Twin Peaks, The Walking Dead, The Wire. Read, then vote in our neat bracket tournament thing!
Alyssa Rosenberg and I talked about Breaking Bad for 50 solid minutes on her Bloggingheads.tv show Critic Proof. Visuals, villains, fanservice, moralism, music, you name it. Full measure.
I reviewed the series finale of Breaking Bad, and by extension all of Breaking Bad, for Rolling Stone. The Heisenberg Certainty Principle.
In anticipation of tonight’s finale, here are links to everything I’ve ever written about Breaking Bad. I started covering the show for Rolling Stone with Season Five; prior to that I blogged my way through a marathon of the first four seasons. I hope you like it all.
* Season One
* Season Two, Episodes 1-3
* Season Two, Episodes 4-6
* Season Two, Episodes 7-12
* Season Two, Episode 13
* Season Three, Episodes 1-3
* Season Three, Episodes 4-7
* Season Three, Episodes 8-13
* Season Four, Episodes 1-6
* Season Four, Episodes 7-10
* Season Four, Episode 11
* Season Four, Episodes 12-13
* Season Five, Episode 1: “Live Free or Die”
* Season Five, Episode 2: “Madrigal”
* Season Five, Episode 3: “Hazard Pay”
* Q&A: Anna Gunn
* Season Five, Episode 4: “Fifty-One”
* Q&A: Laura Fraser
* Season Five, Episode 5: “Dead Freight”
* Q&A: Dean Norris
* Season Five, Episode 6: “Buyout”
* Q&A: Jesse Plemons
* Season Five, Episode 7: “Say My Name”
* Season Five, Episode 8: “Gliding Over All”
* Walter White’s 10 Lowest Lows
* Breaking Bad’s 10 Most Memorable Murders
* Season Five, Episode 9: “Blood Money”
* Q&A: Dean Norris
* Season Five, Episode 10: “Buried”
* Q&A: Betsy Brandt
* Season Five, Episode 11: “Confessions”
* Q&A: Bob Odenkirk
* Season Five, Episode 12: “Rabid Dog”
* Q&A: Steven Michael Quezada
* Season Five, Episode 13: “To’hajiilee”
* Q&A: Lavell Crawford
* Season Five, Episode 14: “Ozymandias”
* Q&A: R.J. Mitte
* Season Five, Episode 15: “Granite State”
* “Granite State” bonus thoughts
I reviewed last night’s penultimate Breaking Bad for Rolling Stone. I focused on the last things we see of Walt and Jesse before next week’s finale, which really will be the last things we see of Walt and Jesse.
I had a few more thoughts that didn’t make it into the review:
* The casting of Robert Forster as the disappearance specialist is, I think, even better than it seemed with that first flush of “Hey, it’s Robert Forster!” Seriously, to come up with an actor with the recognition factor and gravitas necessary to play that part, yet who wouldn’t be so famous or so showy that showing up for the first time in the penultimate episode would throw the whole thing off balance? That’s miracle working is what that is.
* At first I found Todd’s demurral over murdering Skyler difficult to believe, particularly after he killed Andrea and grinned while watching Jesse tearfully talk about his murder of Drew Sharp. But the only explanation for it, that he truly does respect Mr. White so much that he wouldn’t kill his wife unless she gave him no other choice, actually works, because after all it’s the only reason Walt himself is alive right now, too. If you were Uncle Jack, you’d have killed Walt, buried him alongside Hank and Gomez, taken his $10 million, and tied off that loose end for good, right? But Jack explains to Walt that they’re not doing that because Todd doesn’t want them to. If that’s true, and apparently it is because why else would they spare him, then I can buy that Todd would threaten Skyler rather than kill her, even in the face of Lydia’s disapproval.
* A bit more of a credulity strain is the vacuum repairman’s continued contact with Walt. Wouldn’t the heat on Walt make him less likely to maintain a working relationship with him, not more? Is Walt just the richest guy he’s worked with, and the money’s what’s keeping him around? If that’s the case, what’s to stop him from killing the sick and helpless and isolated Walt and taking all the money instead of accepting it in $10k/hour installments? Is it just a sense of professionalism? Even if it is, how would word of his betrayal of Walt ever get back to anyone and affect his reputation? I guess, like Heisenberg, some people just take pride in their work.
* One of my favorite moments of the episode was Marie’s disorienting arrival at and departure from her house. I loved how tight the camera was at all times, how it took a while for it to be clear what the hell was happening, how it all happened so quickly. Part of me would love if that’s the last we see of Marie, her face full of confusion and dismay, submerged for good in the chaos Walt has wrought.
* I was glad to see Carmen’s the principal now.
I interviewed R.J. Mitte, aka Walt Jr., aka Flynn, from Breaking Bad. He told me it gets crazier. He made me nervous.
Read my review of this past Sunday’s Breaking Bad, ye mighty, and despair. Certainly that was the case for dozens upon dozens of commenters.
It was something.
I interviewed Gomie for Rolling Stone! Am I happy about this?
I reviewed tonight’s episode of Breaking Bad for Rolling Stone. How about that guacamole?