Any Better Call Saul fan is going to read many glowing reviews and haunted reactions for this episode. “Fun and Games” was anything but. In the aftermath of the high tension from the past couple episodes, the fall was devastating. What should have been a triumph, where everyone vanquished the threats to their livelihoods and were now clear to move forward, instead turned into…emptiness. There was no victory, only emotional ruin and one of the best episodes of a fantastic piece of television.
Was this Better Call Saul’s Ozymandias? I’m scared to find out that it is not.
Much like that seminal episode of Breaking Bad, “Fun and Games” was the episode of Better Call Saul that delivered on an entire show’s worth of build-up for the characters and their relationships with each other. The most obvious example, of course, being the relationship between Kim Wexler and Jimmy McGill, but the same was true for Gus and Mike. Even though both are now dead, Howard and Nacho also received heartbreaking closure for everything that has happened during their lives and the aftermath of their deaths.
That aftermath, of course, is ruin. Kim and Jimmy’s scam ruined Howard, led to his death, the ruin of his law firm, and the end of their own relationship. As much as I was entertained by the idea of Kim being a background driving force throughout Breaking Bad, this was the inevitable, logical, sorrowful conclusion in the aftermath of Howard’s death. This is especially true since Kim knew Lalo was alive and kept it secret. That little bit of added knowledge added that little bit of guilt that pushed her too far over the edge.
Jimmy’s negative influence on Kim has been abundantly clear for a very long time. You need only look at the damage left in their wake. You know the old saying about how rolling around with pigs just gets you muddy? Better Call Saul caked Kim in the stuff. Since she went out on her own and turned a blind eye to Jimmy scamming Chuck out of Mesa Verde, her moral descent has been precipitous.
Interestingly enough, it does not seem to be Howard’s death alone that pushed her too far, but rather the memorial at HHM. It seems like that last lie to Howard’s widow was simply too much. The ease with which Kim lied about witnessing Howard’s drug use seemed to have opened her eyes to just how far she has fallen. The thrill of the scam had drained away. The fun was gone, leaving just the cold emptiness of guilt.
Jimmy has always been the type to bury his guilt deep and move on. He attributes his worst mistakes to simply being caught up in the act, and convinces himself that he is somehow not at fault. Kim has never been able to do that. Every act, every scam, every ruined life has added on to the one before. She nearly left Jimmy after Chuck’s death. Adding Howard’s death on top was simply too much.
Obviously, Kim felt a vindictive need to make Howard pay for the way he treated her and Jimmy. She wanted revenge. All it left her was emptiness.
The same thing happens to Gus and Mike in this episode. I think this was most interestingly portrayed with Gus’s bar scene. Gus Fring is one of the most interesting and iconic TV antagonists ever created, with a wealth of interesting scenes, but we have never seen him this way. He was so emotionally honest and open, so vulnerable in ways he can never allow himself to be while running either of his businesses. Here was a man celebrating a victory and drinking wine with a crush. And then he thinks of Max, and the whole thing is ruined.
(By the way, has it ever been explicitly confirmed that Gus is gay before? His relationship with Max was heavily hinted at and alluded to but this may be the first real confirmation?)
For all intents and purposes, Gus has ruined the Salamancas and gotten his revenge on Hector. Revenge is not a path to happiness or a rehabilitation from grief, though. He never truly found a way to cope with his grief or healthily move past it, and so he will just refocus his grief on finishing Hector off. This path leads him to Walter White and his eventual death at Hector’s hands. This revenge is a ruinous path with no real victory. It just pulls Gus deeper into his descent.
Mike’s scene with Nacho’s father was fantastic, and Better Call Saul spoke this theme out loud to make sure no one missed the point. Mike has always taken a perverse view of himself as a “good” bad guy who does not involve or hurt innocents and goes out of his way to protect them. Friction existed between Gus and Mike recently because of Nacho, and you can see the good intentions behind Mike’s visit to his father. He was thinking he was the good guy who was doing right by Nacho and would make sure those responsible for his death paid the price.
Problem is, Nacho’s father is a genuinely good person who spoke the truth of Mike’s “principles” for what they are; violent, destructive bullcrap. Just like Gus, Mike is heading down a path to death and ruin that ultimately sees him dead and the wealth he collected for his family seized by the authorities. What’s sad is that Mike should have known this already. He got revenge for his son’s murder by killing the cops responsible and it helped nothing.
It has been fascinating to see Better Call Saul play out in comparison to Breaking Bad. Walter White’s descent into criminality often felt like a triumph for him. For the better part of 5 seasons, it felt good when he won. We knew he was an awful person but he was taking down other awful people and television spent so many years training us to root for the protagonist. It was not until the final half of season 5, when the chickens finally come home to roost, that Breaking Bad really made the audience feel bad for rooting for him. Even then he got a hero moment in the finale while rescuing Jesse.
Better Call Saul, inversely, has made every step of Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman feel awful to watch.
So much of the audience rooted for the day we would see Saul Freaking Goodman in full form for the first time. Well, “Fun and Games” took us to that Saul for the first time at the end of the episode, seemingly moving the timeline years into the future, and it SUCKED. It felt so awful. The colorfully dressed, colorfully personable ambulance chaser we all loved from Breaking Bad was an empty shell of who Jimmy McGill used to be.
We won. We got the man we wanted for 5 seasons of Better Call Saul. And it just feels empty inside.
Images Courtesy of AMC
Have strong thoughts about this piece you need to share? Or maybe there’s something else on your mind you’re wanting to talk about with fellow Fandomentals? Head on over to our Community server to join in the conversation!