Monday, July 22, 2024

Better Call Saul Deals in Deep Dissatisfaction

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How have we already finished 4 episodes of Better Call Saul? I swear, for such a methodical show the seasons sure go by quickly. “Talk” continued the methodical shuffle towards the future of these characters. This was one of those episodes that kind of defines the good and bad of Better Call Saul. Or rather, the style that will either draw you in or turn you off. But I suppose most episode 4s are like that.

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

The previous episode saw everyone hit a bit of a crisis point. After season 3 monumentally shifted all their lives, they’ve spent the season so far trying to find new direction. We know where some of these characters end up, while others we have only vague ideas about. One thing is for certain; everyone’s miserable for some reason and they’re all trying to find something to pull themselves out.

With Chuck finally placed firmly in the past, Better Call Saul’s characters finally took stock of their lives and began planning these futures. All the while it became clear just how stuck they had become in their various ruts, or how dissatisfied they were with doing things a certain way.

Some of these examples were small. After all, I can’t really compare Jimmy’s dissatisfaction over actually working an honest job with Mike’s still-unresolved anger over his son’s death. But the common theme of “Talk” was definitely this sense of dissatisfaction and anger over life. Jimmy can’t stand working a job and found new inroads into the kind of criminal activity he’d rather be a part of. Kim’s dissatisfaction over her law career has her loitering in courtrooms all day and basically volunteering for public defender work. Nacho continues to suffer physically and mentally beneath Gus Fring’s thumb.

However, the star of the episode was no doubt Mike. He’s been the co-star of Better Call Saul, right beside Jimmy, yet so far has had little to do in season 4. He lives in quasi-retirement while Madrigal launders his money. Mike has always been a man most content with something to do, and this sort of retirement has proven deeply dissatisfying. His adventures tearing apart the safety procedures of Madrigal warehouses began because of boredom.

The reasons for his dissatisfaction delve much deeper, though, and have more to do with how this increased time on his hands forces him to think on his son Matt’s death. “Talk” revealed just how dangerously angry Mike still is over this tragedy. He seemingly balanced on the brink of violence during the group therapy sessions he attends with his daughter. When she talked about finally having a morning where she wasn’t consumed with sorrow thinking about her dead husband, he took it personally, as if her healing was some affront to him. He focused more anger on yet another Madrigal warehouse and its workers.

While he was right about the liar in the group therapy, he turned it into misguided outlet for his anger as he attacked that man and the group as a whole.

The episode ends with Mike finally giving in to what Gus has likely wanted all along: Mike working directly for him. Mike thinks he realized the “game” Gus was pulling on him, yet I’m not sure he realizes what the real game actually was. Gus recognized Mike’s anger and boredom and used it to draw him in. It’s possible that I’m giving Gus too much credit here, but I don’t think so. We see over and over the brilliance and foresight he has for this line of work. It’s not like Gus can’t recognize the potential in someone who was his steadying hand away from successfully assassinating Hector Salamanca. I think he played this out perfectly to get Mike on his side, and Mike doesn’t realize the extent of it. And we know he never will.

He, and everyone else, began acting to escape the dissatisfaction of their lives. “Talk” created tantalizing possibilities for their futures, both those we know and those we don’t. Jimmy will likely use his new job to create criminal contacts, and possibly even replace the vet as the go-to guy for underworld work. Kim will begin taking public defendant work, and I wonder if her arc will lead to her seeking a judgeship. Mike, of course, began the work he will do the rest of his life as Gus’s enforcer.

The only one stuck is poor Nacho Pinkman, but I’m sure he will find his way soon. Maybe even through Jimmy.

Mandatory Negativity

I know I have a tendency to rave like a fanboy during my Better Call Saul reviews, and in the process ignore some of its flaws. Some of this is because I don’t consider certain flaws to be flaws. Many dislike the pacing where I typically don’t, for example. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize flaws, or areas of the show some consider flaws, however.

And so I want to talk about the one thing bothering me so far about this season: the jarring difference in pacing between the various characters.

Some of this is intentional and effective. Jimmy’s storyline has been nearly nonexistent so far for the reason I talked about above, to communicate the deep dissatisfaction Jimmy feels towards his life. However, this has created a jarring difference in pacing so far that might affect the show if not addressed. The storylines are moving at drastically different paces, leaving me a bit unsure about the timeline of it all.

I really wonder just how the events of this season fit together. Jimmy’s storyline feels like it could take place over a week. Same with Kim’s. It seems to me like very little time has passed since Chuck’s death and the start of the season. Meanwhile, the cartel storyline moves blindingly in comparison. Gus found out about Nacho, blackmailed him, began his move to acquire territory, and set the twins to wipe out Salamanca rivals top territorial opportunities.

With some storylines moving so fast and others moving so slow, yet with both supposedly taking place at the same time, it feels jarring. It feels like either one side moves way too slow, or the other way too fast.

It’s also feeding in to one of the biggest fears I had entering season 4, which is the possible over-BreakingBaddening of Better Call Saul. I don’t think there’s any question right now that the best plot of season 4 so far has been the cartel storyline. Not just because of the pace it moves at, but because of the real, mortal stakes behind its events. I love Jimmy and Kim, and I love their storyline, but right now it lacks the same gravitas the cartel storyline does.

This remains my one real complaint about the show, one anyone who reads my reviews knows about, and it feels particularly bad right now. Before the cartel storyline at least felt like it moved at the same pace as the lawyer side. Now that it moves so much faster and engages me so much more, the difference feels like even more of a flaw. Sometimes this season, I feel like I’m again watching Breaking Bad with Saul Goodman as a side character.

I love Nacho’s character, and I love Mike, and I’m always glad to have more of Gus. In the end, though, this is Better Call Saul, not Better Watch the Cartel Wars. I hope Jimmy takes a firmer stance in the season’s plot here soon.

I’m sure he will, and I don’t worry particularly much about it. But hey, sometimes I need to remind everyone that I don’t mindlessly praise everything about this wonderful show and see the same potential downfalls everyone else does. I just don’t expect them to actually produce a downfall. And now that I got this out of the way, starting next week I can return to my regularly scheduled fanboying.

Other Thoughts:

  • One more pet peeve. I’m always annoyed when someone calls 911 in TV or movies and then just hangs up. You know what happens if you do that? Cops show up at your door. I know this from childhood experience involving a crappy landline phone that double-dialed buttons.
  • I was ready to complain about the Twins massacring a rival gang, too, because you can’t do something like that without intense police attention. They’re back to Mexico, though, so no problems here. Good job, Better Call Saul!
  • I love how Mike can’t turn off his investigative nature. While everyone else in group was focused on emotional supporting, he sits there and parses the details of their stories. And seriously, Mike, your daughter-in-law confesses to finally finding true healing from the trauma of her husband’s death and your reaction is anger? That’s messed up.
  • Smartphones have made monotonous jobs like Jimmy’s new retail job far more bearable. Now we just play on them during those long days without customers rather than bounce balls off the window for 8 hours.
  • I wonder if Kim recognized Jimmy’s lie about the job and how he used it to deflect her encouragement towards therapy. She will notice if he keeps putting it off or, even worse, lies about going.

Images Courtesy of AMC

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