Today’s a good day. Better Call Saul is back! After a season 3 that was every bit as good as anything Breaking Bad ever managed, I admit I’m a little hesitant about season 4. Last season was so remarkable and necessitates such drastic change that I worry where it will go from here.
Mind you, I don’t worry too much. If I’ve learned anything from 8 seasons of the Breaking Bad world, it’s that everyone involved deserves the trust of their audience. So let’s get into season 4’s typically excellent premiere, “Smoke.”
Sifting Through the Ashes
Understandably, Better Call Saul spent much of this episode confronting the consequences of the season 3 finale. Much of this revolved around the suicide of Jimmy’s brother, Chuck. Jimmy, Kim, and Hamlin spend the episode grieving, culminating in Chuck’s wake at the end.
This premiere did a terrific job establishing the weight of Chuck’s death on not just the characters, but the show itself. So much revolved around Chuck in the first 3 seasons. His relationship with Jimmy was the driving force of the legal side of the show. Hamlin and Kim were directly affected by their relationship. Chuck played a central role in helping Better Call Saul establish an identity outside of Breaking Bad.
The weight of this absence could be felt not just in scenes focused on it, but minor touches in direction and editing and such. The traditional Gene opening saw him wheeled out of the mall on a stretcher in the same fashion that Chuck was wheeled into the hospital in season 2. His funeral featured the song he practiced on the piano. Everyone who ever had a relationship with Chuck shows up to pay their respects.
I think I felt it most while Hamlin read his obituary. However antagonistic and outright awful Chuck might have been to his brother, he was a positive force in the world. A legal giant who worked hard all his life and made a major difference in the legal world and the worlds of everyone who came across him. He was a transformational figure who mattered a hell of a lot more than Jimmy ever could. It really made me think about who I’m rooting for and why.
For most of the episode, Jimmy appears to be broken by his brother’s death. He clearly blames himself for not seeing the suicide coming and for abandoning his brother. He shuffles through scene after scene like a zombie, rarely even saying a word. It’s easy to see how he could blame himself. Jimmy’s Bar hearing started a downward cycle for Chuck, and informing the insurance company of Chuck’s condition led to the rate increase leading Hamlin to push Chuck out of HHM. Jimmy’s actions initiated the events leading to Chuck’s decision.
Like the audience, I think hearing the obituary made Jimmy realize what the world had lost. He clearly couldn’t handle it. I don’t think the blurred view of everything in the background past his head was a coincidence. Jimmy was in a haze blinding him to everything around him. He never really saw anything, but reacted robotically.
Then Hamlin gives him an out by blaming himself. He pushed Chuck out of the firm, after all, so obviously Hamlin did it. Jimmy jumps on the opportunity to shift the blame to someone else with a vicious coldness ranking up there with anything else Better Call Saul has ever aired. Next thing you know, Jimmy’s whistling and making coffee like he’s totally absolved.
Does he really feel that way? I highly doubt it. This was Jimmy’s defense mechanism kicking in. He needs to find someone else to blame before the guilt swallows him whole.
Without Chuck or even the legal profession to lean upon, we’re probably going to see Jimmy turn full Saul Goodman throughout this season. His initial falling-out with Chuck began the process way back in season 1, and it’s been a consistent downward pattern since, only briefly dispersed by bouts of conscience. Not having Chuck around at all breaks down a significant barrier. Without his law career, Jimmy will resort to the same kind of scams and general criminal activity he was deep into before Chuck bailed him out of years in prison.
First, though, we needed an episode like this where everything feels frozen in place. We all needed to process the sense of loss here; both the audience and the characters needed this time to understand just what Chuck’s death meant to the world and ourselves. There’s a reason Jimmy, Kim, and Hamlin spent this episode basically frozen in place. Everything was forgotten for now. Kim needed to be there for Jimmy, while he and Hamlin tried to cope with extreme guilt.
Now the question posed is about how long it will take everyone to move on. Jimmy looks ready to do so immediately. Hamlin will struggle to. I expect he’ll eventually find out that Jimmy told the insurance company about Chuck’s condition and shift his blame and anger in that direction, but it won’t change anything. This was a loss both will feel for the rest of their lives. Chuck was just too damn impactful for it to go any other way.
Better Call Saul gave his towering presence exactly the send-off it deserved.
Gangland Promotion Season
While the legal side of the show remained frozen in place, however, the criminal side did not. Mike and Nacho went through the same kind of transitional change as Jimmy. Mike accepted a new “job” working for Gus while Nacho’s pill plan led to Hector Salamanca’s stroke. Both moved forward to new, broader horizons, though their comfort with this new direction in their lives differed significantly.
And while the gangland side of things still remains separate from the legal side (the one true flaw I think Better Call Saul has at this point), I think we’re finally reaching a point where this changes. I think the moment where everything merges together into a cohesive whole is finally approaching.
It’s easy to see where Nacho and Mike will merge. Nacho appears to have been given de facto control over the Salamanca operation, with Tuco in prison and Hector recovering. Good thing, right? Not really. He’s clearly stuck in a bad place, where he has to cover up his involvement in Hector’s stroke, and that won’t be easy with Gus clearly aware of what happened. Nacho’s stuck in a mess, and considering what Saul says in Breaking Bad about Nacho, you have to assume he’ll eventually be found out.
His role in Hector’s stroke definitely piqued Gus’s interest, and with his guys following Nacho around, you have to assume he eventually tasks Mike with the job. Mike’s certainly bored enough to do so, based on his showing up at Madrigal to do a job no one expected him to. Mike and Nacho already have a history, so it makes sense that they’ll eventually come together. Since Jimmy’s looking for new gainful employment and inevitably heading towards a life of crime, I imagine he’ll enter the mix this season as well.
We’ve watched all three of these characters move towards this position for 3 years now. And while it’s been a terrific journey, it’s exciting to see it finally happening. We’re not just heading towards the moment where Better Call Saul might merge its two halves to create an all-time great whole. Better Call Saul is finally merging with Breaking Bad, and it’s both exciting and terrifying.
Right now we’re seeing the changes that put everyone where they are when Breaking Bad began. We’re seeing how Gus became THE boss of the Albuquerque drug scene. We’re seeing how Mike became his right hand man. Hector will end up in his wheelchair. Jimmy will become Saul and start representing clients from that world, potentially including lower level guys from Gus’s crew. He will probably also, 3 seasons later, realize he has entered that world and make good on Nacho’s offer from season 1.
The timeline has begun to merge. It’s a little bit worrisome for one petty reason; I don’t want to see Better Call Saul’s identity vanish. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould worked so hard to give the show its own identity outside of its predecessor/sequel. Breaking Bad has always been a dominating presence on Better Call Saul, and the day would always come where the two merged. Am I particularly worried, though? Not really. Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and everyone involved in plotting the direction of this show have earned my trust twice over. I have 8 seasons of one of the best stories in television history letting me know I have little to nothing to worry about.
My excitement easily wins over my minor worries about Better Call Saul’s identity. Chuck is gone, and while I’ll miss the hell out of him, the void left in his wake will inevitably lead us to Saul and the day where Walter White walks into his office.
Season 4 is upon us, and if previous seasons of both Saul and Breaking Bad are any indication, we can expect it to somehow top everything that came before. It’s good to have this amazing show back.
- There were so many callbacks in this episode. The song at Chuck’s funeral, the similarities in Gene and Chuck’s time on a stretcher, the warehouse Mike visits at Madrigal, the bottle of rich alcohol Kim busts out that she and Jimmy conned someone into paying for, etc. What really made these moments work was how subtle they were. The episode never really shouted at you in hopes you remembered.
- Speaking of the warehouse, how perfect was it that Mike couldn’t handle sitting around doing nothing and went to actually work as a security consultant? And trust me as something working in a job with a badge and locked doors and tons of security protocols; too few people actually follow said protocols.
- Mike and his granddaughter used the homemade soakers they made back in season 2! Guess he wasn’t just using her to create the makeshift spike strips he used for the truck heist.
- Jimmy looked for work in the Albuquerque Journal. One of Chuck’s favorite newspapers. Ouch.
- There’s nowhere to really talk about the Gene sequence in the review proper, so let’s talk about it now. Did the taxi driver recognize him? Will we get another Gene sequence this season? I’d love to hear some thoughts.
- I loved the Muhammad Ali vs. Bruce Lee argument the two Madrigal employees had. Look, I actually trust a lot of the Lee stories more than most people, but Ali would obliterate him. It’s not even a question. He was the best heavyweight boxer of all time, and Lee was ultimately a small actor skilled in martial arts.
Images courtesy of AMC
Away In A Manger: Black Lightning 2×09, “Gift of Magi”
Well, my friends, we’re nearing the end of Black Lightning S2, and I think it’s time to declare a sophomore slump. Anyone here with me? Let’s get into this week’s episode and discuss.
Jen and Kahlil are still on the run, but Kahlil was cut with one of Cutter’s Special aka Poison knives, so he’s quickly succumbing. The pair find a barn, where there’s a lot of soft lantern light and Kahlil can curl up in the hay. At first they swap cute-funny stories about when they first met, but soon Kahlil can’t manage talking let alone breathing well, so Jen goes out to steal some antibiotics from a hospital. (They don’t yet know that it’s poison, they assume his wound is infected). Jen is getting really good not only at controlling her powers, but using them for specific tasks, and I’m here for it although I really wish it wasn’t in the context of this storyline.
She manages to get the antibiotics and injects Kahlil with it, but it doesn’t work. She grows increasingly desperate, and as Kahlil’s death seems imminent, she goes outside for some air and a good cry. That’s when she goes back to her brain-salon, where she sees Perenna (her brain-version of Perenna, not the real one) and a twin version of herself. Mind-Perenna tells Jen that she already has everything she needs inside of her; it’s very Inside Out. Together with her brain creations she figures out that Cutter is actually *right there* watching them through binoculars. She manages to capture her and tie her up, tasering her with her hands as a form of torture in order to get her to tell her what she did to Kahlil. It’s not long before she figures out it was a poison knife, and cuts Cutter with it so that she’ll be forced to show Jen where on her person the antidote is. Turns out, it’s in that very obvious vial on her necklace!
Jen goes to a dark place when she’s torturing Cutter, which is kind of hard to watch. Again, I’d be more interested if this whole thing didn’t revolve around Kahlil. Anyway, Jen gives both Kahlil and Cutter the antidote and they’re on their way again. But only after they declare their undying love for each other.
I’m happy to report that no one left Kahlil’s aunt for dead in her house, as Black Lightning, Thunder, and Gambi have set up camp there to help her recover from what turned out to be one of Kahlil’s pain pills and try to figure out how to find Jen. They know Kahlil is hurt so they check hospitals, and end up being in the same hospital as Jen at the same time!
Jefferson and Anissa figure out Jen was there because she left a trail aka scorch mark in her path, but the fact that she keep eluding them is driving Jefferson to be irrational and reckless. Gambi and Anissa manage to keep him under control, but Lynn is losing it too. When she’s not crying in the wreckage of Jen’s room that she destroyed, she’s trying to get Kahlil’s mom, and then his dad, to give her clues as to where they might be.
Of course neither of them can help, but along the way she grabs a gun from the Inner Sanctum aka Gambi’s basement so that’s concerning, considering her emotional state.
In a parallel storyline, Tobias has set his sights on a kid named Todd, an academic prodigy who has just been rejected for a research grant in favor of the white kid whose rich dad just funded a new wing of the university. It’s unclear what Tobias wants Todd to do, and Todd seems dubious at best until Tobias deposits $100,000 into his bank account. Money is the root of all evil, amirite? I mean, capitalism is. But that’s a discussion for another place.
Lastly, this episode ends with a scene in which a mysterious someone murders everyone in a bar in Texas before getting a phone call from his boss telling him that his next job is in Freeland. I feel like we’re about to meet a bigger bad than Tobias, but time will tell! Just someone end this Kahlil-Jen nonsense and give us our family back kthanks.
What do you think is in store for the final episodes? Are you happy with this season so far? Black Lightning is going on hiatus until the end of January, so I’ll be back then to see where we’re at. Enjoy what’s left of the year, friends!
Images courtesy of The CW
Winter Hiatus Blues
Even in December with the broadcast networks hiatus for scripted series starting, and pilot season underway, there’s so much to discuss!
The continuing behind the scenes drama of Les Moonves’ ouster from CBS, ABC’s entertainment president Channing Dungey stepping down, NBC’s Greenblatt moving on, and FOX setting up for its new leadership once the merger goes through…every big 4 network has a lot to deal with between now and the TCAs in early February. The exec panels will sure be a time… Especially if ratings come up at all.
As of this Tuesday, and as always, I’m talking about scripted ratings: FOX is number 1 with a 1.13 average followed by NBC, ABC, and CBS. CW of course is last with .35. Last month, four of the five networks had six shows at or above their overall average.
Now, ABC has eight shows, the CW has five, and the rest have six.
Across the five networks, only a third of new shows are performing above the average on their network. The Connors (considered a new show), FBI, The Neighborhood, Last Man Standing, New Amsterdam, and Manifest. The highest rated new show on The CW, Legacies hovers right below the network’s average.
Interestingly, across the board, long running shows are still high rating performers (or what’s high now) for the networks. The exception to this is SVU at a tenth below the average.
Their “success” indicates that we probably won’t lose any of the longest running shows anytime soon. Still, the network with the largest average season length (including shows yet to premiere) is FOX at 5.3 followed by CBS at 4.5. Removing the shows already cancelled and predicted as canceled doesn’t make an impact because of The Simpsons‘ whopping thirty seasons! (Unrelated but with the announcement for Crisis on Infinite Earths, DCTV isn’t going anywhere either.)
Of course some of this will shift when the rest of the new slate premieres begin in January. I do not envy the folks in charge of scheduling spring shows, especially as more time slots are lost to winter reality or competition shows.
You can put whatever new show after strong shows and still have a dud in the ratings race.
On The CW, ableist In The Dark has had zero promotion beyond the scheduling announcement that it starts after Supernatural. Their other new show Roswell: New Mexico or Roswell: TVD received the coveted post Flash slot plus actual promo. Except for The 100, their other spring shows already received cancellations, so ratings definitely don’t matter.
FOX only has two newbies to premiere, with The Passage starting after The Resident and Proven Innocent taking the 9PM slot after Cool Kids. I don’t know that people watching an hour of comedy will stick around for a procedural, but anything can happen these days.
ABC on Wednesday revealed that in a vote of confidence (or in hopes to increase viewers or to get Whiskey Cavalier onto the schedule earlier) is moving the last bit of A Million Little Things behind Grey’s leaving current slot holder Station 19 off the schedule until March. Considering AMLT hit a .7 last week… The Fix is the only other newbie to get a spring slot, starting in March in The Good Doctor‘s place. Grand Hotel is now a summer show. ABC what are you doing?!
NBC and CBS have yet to fully unveil their new schedules so more on that in January! However, pilot development is in full swing and reboots (and spin-offs) continue to rule the pack.
Predicting what pilots will make it to series this early is silly, but I do think that a chunk of the reboots in development will definitely make it to air. If they’ll get renewed is another question. Even though this year, only Charmed received a back 9 order (Last Man Standing was ordered with 22 episodes). Last year, all the shows that received fewer than 9 episodes in the fall except for Good Doctor were cancelled. So now in May, that trend continues, or the new trend is that any back order indicates a renewal.
Which is why even though I think it’s silly to bank on so many reboots in development, I know that networks are still going to do it. I won’t list all of the shows in development because there are a lot and many will die by January. The CW has three alone! And NBC already has a series order for Law and Order: Hate Crimes or as my friend calls it, “SVU but grittier” making it the seventh L&O series.
By late January, early February, the big entertainment sites will have lists of all the pilots in contention and then we can really get into the details. Until then, what shows are y’all waiting to see for the first time (or again)?
‘Legends of To-Meow-Meow’ Cranks the Insanity up to Eleven
It’s that time year of again. The Arrowverse crossover, but the Legends misplaced their invites. While Kara, Barry, and Oliver were getting acquainted with Batwoman and dealing with body switching, the Legends were dealing with their own alternate reality issues. Or should I say the Custodians were dealing with their own issues. Or, should that be the Sirens? Or the Puppets?
Yep, this was one of those kinds of episodes. ‘Legends of To-Meow-Meow’ didn’t just surpass the insanity of every other episode this season. It multiplied it, as Charlie and Constantine broke the timeline more with each attempt to fix it.
At first, Charlie hits the town on her own, going to Las Vegas to stretch her newly returned powers. Going out as Marilyn Monroe, she runs into a prison buddy, a leprechaun. She barely has the chance to warn him about faulting his powers when Mick, Nate, and Ray strut in dressed like they just walked out of an 80’s action show. Which they did, apparently, as they introduce themselves as the Custodians of the Chronology and we get ‘A-Team’ style opening credits. They kill the leprechaun without hesitation, which is a big clue for Charlie that not everything is right.
She returns to the Waverider with cat-Zari to figure out why the team is suddenly so murder-happy. She transforms into Sara, planning on just ordering them to stop. But it doesn’t work because in this timeline, without help from Constantine, Sara was killed by the unicorn at Woodstock. The team attacks her, recognizing her as a shapeshifter. Charlie makes a quick retreat from the ship, taking cat-Zari along to find John.
He’s being kept imprisoned at the Time Bureau. Because he was the epicentre of the timeline shift, he has memories from both timelines and his brain isn’t keeping up very well. When they find him, John turns Zari back into a human. Only to turn her right back when she’s against his and Charlie’s idea to save Sara instead of fixing their alteration. Charlie breaks John out, with some help from Mona and a very emo Ava. Some of the Lege- Custodians die in their fight out, but everything will be fine once they save Sara. At least that’s what Charlie and John tell themselves.
They travel to Woodstock, blasting the unicorn into rainbow gloop before it can gore anyone. But this time, when they return to their time Nate, Ray, and Mick are the ones with the memorial plaques. Plus, without the guys around, Sara, Ava, and an android?Gideon have formed a Charlie’s Angels style team that assassinates fugitives. Charlie attempts to infiltrate the team as Amaya, but her cover is blown almost instantly. She does learn the boys were killed by the Fairy Godmother. The fairy is also the reason Zari’s a cat.
John and Charlie go to Salem for their next patch job. Charlie transforms into the Fairy Godmother to trick Prudence into releasing the fairy before she can kill the boys. It seems to go off without a hitch until she returns to the jumpship. Good news, Zari is no longer a cat. Bad news, she’s now a puppet.
So is the entire team, as John learns when he boards the Waverider. They aren’t just puppets. They’re puppets that sing their own intro and have a historical figure of the day. Since the Fairy Godmother didn’t kill Mick, he became her new charge. She turned the team into puppets before Mick took her along on a crime spree.
Charlie and John keep trying to Band-Aid the timeline, but each fix ends with someone else dead in the new timeline. Yet, even when they get to a point where no one has died, John’s mind has so many timelines clashing in his mind he collapses from the strain.
He finally agrees with Zari that they need to fix the timeline properly and stop Dez from leaving. When Charlie refuses to help they leave her behind, but she’s not giving up without a fight. She transforms into Ava, heading to the Waverider to clue the team in on the magical ongoings in New Orleans. But there’s something still wrong with this timeline. All the Legends are alive. No one is made of cloth. But they still have a ‘shoot first ask questions never’ policy when it comes the fugitives. Gideon picks up on the three Constantines at that point in time. The team assumes the extras are shapeshifters, sending Mick and Ray to blast them.
Charlie finally realizes it wasn’t just John’s absence from the team that caused the changes. It was her absence. Without her, the Legends don’t learn fugitives aren’t all unicorns with a taste for hearts or Fairy Godmothers that sing about murder.
In New Orleans, this-episode’s-John stops Desmond after last-episode’s-Constantine broke up with him. He tells him he’s sorry for all the pain he’s going to cause him and wipes his memory just before still-in-a-relationship John can return. As Mick and Ray fire on this-episode-John, past-John and Desmond share a kiss which becomes the point from which the timeline fixes itself. Reality is right once again, where the only puppet person is the possessed Professor Stein and the Legends aren’t mythical creature murders. Ava and Mick even heal their rift from the last episode, finding some common ground.
John comes clean to Sara about their misadventure. He even tells her about Neron. Sara promises to help him take down his demon. So all’s well that ends well. Except, there’s no word on what happens to Mona after she met the business of the Kaupe’s claws. Nor is Hank happy the Kaupe escaped, which he learns about in the middle of a golf game with someone… something wearing Desmond’s face.
Was this the strongest’s episode of Legends? Probably not. It sacrificed some substance for the sake of 80’s spoofs and sing-alongs. But that’s not to say this episode wasn’t good. Far from it. The alternate timelines were laugh out loud funny and the Puppets of Tomorrow song is going to be stuck in my head. They were so good I’m willing to overlook characters like Ray, Nate, Sara, and Ava feeling so drastically different in their respective spoof realities. I’ll chalk up to the discrepancies in their characterizations to time being so broken.
It could have easily become frustrating watching John and Charlie patch broke timeline after broken timeline while they ignored the obvious answer. But it never got to that point because every step of the way you knew John was doing this to keep Desmond alive. John Constantine, always the tortured soul, willing to let his mind be torn apart by multiple timelines before he gives up on his love again. It’s a tragedy the timeline being fixed has to come at the cost of Dez’s soul. But maybe it isn’t lost forever.
The scene between John and Desmond pulled at the heartstrings. As did the moment when Charlie finally realized she was the missing the link for the Legends. It’s always a good moment when a Legend finds their place on this mismatched, rag-tag team. It’s hard not to compare this episode to ‘Here I Go Again’, when Zari found her place on the team. Which is a glowing compliment when that episode is one of the best of Legends entire run.
The brief callbacks to the earlier episodes was a nice way to tie off the first half of the season as well. The Unicorn was only eight episodes ago. Yet, monsters, magic, and pure insanity feel like they’re always been a part of Legends of Tomorrow. Well, pure insanity has been a fundamental part of Legends since season two.
It just shows how this series isn’t afraid to shake up its own formula. Thus far it’s worked every time, with each season being better than the last. It’s still early to call season’s four place for certain. Season’s three back half had some heavy ringers, but so far this season is on the right tracks to be the most memorable one yet. They’re sure to come back strong when they return in April.
Only Legends Could
- “You missed calls from Barry Allen, Oliver Queen, and Kara Zor-El,”
“Sounds like the annual crossover,”
“Yeah, that’s going to be a hard pass,”
This whole exchange is amazing. Easily wins favorite lines of the episode.
- You can tick off Sara Lance’s annual dalliance with death. Sara dying, almost dying, or faking dying should be a running gag at this point, but for some reason, I can never find it funny.
- Everyone just understands cat-Zari. No explanation needed. Much like when Nate understood pig-Ray.
- The CW tradition of bad wigs continues with emo Ava. (Kate Kane, by some miracle, avoided the curse.)
- In the Siren’s reality, Sara’s wielding Mick’s gun and Gideon has Rip’s.
- I want more of DC’s Puppets of Tomorrow.
- There’s a timeline where Nate and Hank die from a Garden Gnome.
- Why yes, Legends did give us the true love’s kiss fixes everything. And yes, it was a kiss for a mlm couple. Legends never ceases to amaze.
- I got a flirty vibe from Charlie and Zari at the end. Time will tell where that goes.