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Westworld Asks and Answers All Your Questions

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This week’s episode of Westworld was easily my favorite of the season so far, as well as Lisa Joy’s incredibly strong directorial debut. The episode entitled “Riddle of the Sphinx” makes use of its title as it tackles the ultimate question. In the classic Oedipus tale, the Sphinx puts forth the riddle, “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” Oedipus answers correctly, “Man,” defeating the Sphinx and avoiding death. This is essentially the same riddle Westworld is posing. What makes a man? Can it be replicated? Can it be created?

Lisa Joy onset

The Delos Experiment

The episode opens with a breathtaking 360 one-shot pan around a starkly white, circular room, as we start to piece together items that might indicate who the occupant is. We see a flurry of looping imagery, including the shot itself,  and not limited to a record player and an exercise bike. We see a goldfish in a bowl. In hindsight, this shot tells us literally everything, but on first watch—until a few minutes in when the identity of the man is revealed—the viewer is still just taking it all in.

It’s eventually revealed that this room belongs to James Delos…well, kind of. The first hint that everything is not what it seems is when he starts pouring himself a drink and his shaking hands spill the liquid outside the cup. It’s reminiscent of a common host glitch we’ve seen before, and immediately had my mind jump. He’s a host. Young William then arrived and the two begin to talk, Delos believing he’s there for treatment and should be able to leave soon. William tells him he has to wait a little longer, there’s a conversation test as well — to test his responses. Delos doesn’t understand the use of such a test starts to grow agitated, glitching out. William hands him a folded paper and Delos looks at it confused.

We see this scene repeat again for another test of the next model. William talks to the tech this time, who tells him they’ve made progress but they’re just not there yet. He has this model terminated and they start all over. In their last meeting, it’s Ed Harris’ Bill that meets with the new Delos model. Things are supposed to be going better but Delos starts glitching again. Bill hands him the paper once more and it’s revealed to have their whole conversation on it, word for word. Delos can’t handle it and starts breaking down. Bill leaves, defeated, and tells the tech not to terminate him, that his decay could be worth observing over the next few days.

I loved this sequence, which shocked me considering the post-park trip William and Delos don’t particularly interest me. They essentially shot what could have worked on its own as a short film. It’s brilliant. With the introduction that they’re trying to “bring forth Lazarus” as Ford suggested the future leaning towards in season one, and combine host with human, the showrunners push forward the concept of what truly makes us human and further blurring the lines between hosts and humans. The idea is that they use the DNA to make a host body replica of the human and somehow craft their consciousness to insert into the host. I’m not entirely sure how this works for the immortality concept, because your old mind is not just waking up in this new body, it’s a replicated mind. Presumably it would just be for the people you’re leaving behind? I’m not sure but I’m excited the show is getting farther in its exploration of the grey and questionable areas of AI.

The worst part of this is we learn that Logan overdosed a long time ago. Guess that means no more dreaming of who will play old Logan on the show. But yeah, William and Delos might want to take a look at all the devastation their business has earned them.

The Return of Elsie

Clementine drags Bernard all the way to the mouth of a cave and leaves him with a shotgun. He stumbles around, clearly still not doing well, and walks into the cave. There he finds Elsie, her foot chained up to the rock, a bucket, and protein bar wrappers scattered around. She shrinks away from him as soon as she sees him, reminding him that he attacked her and put her here the last time he saw her. Bernard tells her that it was only under Ford’s instructions, that she knew too much.

He starts fritzing out and she takes the gun from him, walking away. He hurries to follow her, holding out the tablet as he shakes, begging her to help him. She hesitates but when he falls to the floor she relents. She rushes over and it’s revealed that her mentor and friend is a host. Her reaction is pretty chilled out for someone having this shocking truth dropped on them, but maybe after her current situation and working with hosts all day, it would take a lot to shock her. He updates her on everything that’s happened since. She tells him he need cortical fluid but there’s nowhere nearby.

That’s when Bernard remembers that he’s been there before—or rather goes into a memory of having been there before. There’s a lab there. In what I imagine what Disney World’s secrecy policy on hiding the work behind the scenes, he flips up a rock to open pull the lever opening the door to the elevator.

Once inside, they find corpses everywhere. Dead scientists and dead drone hosts. Except for one. Elsie has never seen anything like it before and thrusts her gun at it before Bernard can warn her not to threaten it. The drone host runs at her and she shoots it down. Bernard walks through the space, lost between his memories and now. He tells Elsie he’s been here before but starts convulsing again. Elsie, now equipped with the tools, injects some cortical fluid into him and revives him.

As they walk around, they see host building facilities and code they don’t recognize. Bernard says he’s seen it before; in Abernathy’s head. They also see red versions of the mind eggs we saw in episode 1, and Bernard recalls being sent here by Ford. They see a locked door that Elsie insists on breaking through. Inside, they discover James Delos’s testing area and observation quarters. It’s a mess and the techie is dead. Elsie slowly approaches the circular chamber when Delos, gone mad, attacks her. Bernard rescues her, knocking Delos out. Once safe and far away, Elsie terminates him.

Bernard tells her that was James Delos, who died so many years ago. She says it’s impossible, but he now knows what they were doing in the facility: they were trying to impart human consciousness into host bodies. Bernard gets lost in memory and remembers the last time he was here. He takes a mind egg on Ford’s orders but can’t recall who it was for. It’s revealed that it was Bernard who ordered the drone hosts to kill the scientists and then snap their own necks in a brutally eerie scene. For all of Ford’s talk of letting them be free, he has made Bernard do so many fucked up things on his behalf. Bernard kills the last scientist.

Now the big question is…who is actually a host? Who is the mind egg that Bernard stole? My guesses (as is I’m sure most of reddit) reach toward something to do with the quest the Man in Black is on. The door. Will this mind egg be on the other side of it? If this is the case, and it seems to be because this is quite a Man in Black personally centric season, the person has to mean something to him, has to illicit a change. Perhaps Juliet? A direct effect of his actions. Or as I’ve heard thrown around and also think could be plausible, a young version of himself? Or, which wouldn’t really work but my selfish desire for him to come back is taking charge, LOGANNN (just kidding).

Possibly Racist Woman Learns Native Language

We see the woman who escaped from Raj World last week back and captured by Ghost Nation. She’s set down beside Stubbs who assures her to just wait for back up to arrive. She tells him she has no intention of sticking around and starts translating what the Ghost Nation tribe are saying. Stubbs remarks that people don’t usually pay attention to their narratives, let alone learns the language. She says she hates people. I think this is meant to be an endearing moment, but I’m not going to forget the fact that this is a woman who found pleasure in minority subservient and oppressive Raj World where she could hunt tigers for a hobby. Doesn’t really scream moral compass to me, but maybe they’ll explain more later.

Stubbs tells her they aren’t killing the humans, just rounding them up. Ghost Nation take their captives to a shore where they present them to the First One. The woman grabs a flaming staff and escapes, while Stubbs looks on helpless. The First One nears him, telling him he’s only alive so long as the last person who remembers you is. Then they disappear and the humans are free to go. I’m excited to see what they do with Ghost Nation because I know Lisa Joy has talked a lot about them subverting the racist park narrative they were assigned this season, but I can’t say we particularly have seen that yet.

The Man in Black Finds A Conscience? 

The man in Black is still on his journey with Lawrence when they pass by a railroad track being built by Chinese laborers. However, instead of normal ties, they are using people. A mix of hosts and guests, the hosts that forced them to work the railroad and the hosts that participated in the oppressive narrative.

Noticing the new direction of the tracks, the Man in Black declares they must make their way through Lawrence’s town to get where they are going. Once they get there they are greeted by the Confederados Teddy let escape last episode (come on Teddy, don’t let men who fought for slavery just run rampant). They have taken over the town to find their weapons that were stored there somewhere. Lawrence says he knows where they are, that they should use it as a bargaining chip later, but the Man in Black stands up, telling Craddock exactly where they are. This is just insurance; his real bargaining chip is that they don’t know where it is that they are looking for, but he does. He promises to lead them there.

Craddock agrees after torturing some townspeople. He has a drink with the Man in Black and monologues about being death. He calls over Lawrence’s crying wife, as a beat up Lawrence sits tied up outside in the rain, and tells her to carry a shot glass full of Nitro to her husband. She shakes, and it recalls a scene of the Man in Black similarly torturing her in Season One. The Man in Black gets up, frustrated, and declares himself death. He shoots Craddock and then takes out the remaining Confederados. Taking the glass from Lawrence wife’s hands, he shoves it down a crawling Craddock’s throat and gives Lawrence the shotgun to shoot. Lawrence tells Bill that his family is thankful for what he’s done and his cousins want to come help them on their mission.

As the Man in Black rides out across the field at sunset with his men, a rider comes upon them and it’s none other than the Raj World woman, who is revealed to be Emily, his daughter.

I think a lot of people suspected that after last episode, and I’ll be interested to see how her inclusion in the group shakes things up. This episode was incredibly interesting for the Man in Black because it’s almost as if the danger of death has caused him to question his treatment of the hosts. Perhaps brought him closer to them now that everything is more real. I doubt we’re going down a full on redemptive arc for him, but some complexity akin to what I first felt for William would be good.

Overall definitely my favorite episode of the season so far and an astounding directorial debut by Lisa Joy! And next week…Shogun World!


Images courtesy of HBO

Currently a film major with a focus in directing and a passion for all things writing, film, television and theater, oh my!

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It’s Cults and Courts on Riverdale

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Ah, Riverdale… You problematic fave, you! After the imperfect but still charming first season, the show hit a major bump in its second year. From ever-changing tones and convoluted plotlines to poor character development (or lack thereof), season two of Riverdale have mostly been a mixed bag of disappointments.

Will the show be able to overcome the infamous sophomore slump? Or will it keep digging itself into a deeper hole? Join me on this recap journey to find out, starting with Episode 3×01: “Labor Day.”

Recap

We start off in a courtroom, where Archie Andrews’ summer-long trial (for a murder he didn’t commit) finally comes to an end. In her closing argument, the DA recaps Archie’s impressive resume of dumb-things-he-probably-shouldn’t-have-done from the previous season: creating vigilante groups, beating up people, and as a cherry on top, allegedly killing a boy. It’s not looking good, folks. In her turn, his attorney (aka Mama Andrews) does her best to remind us of the Archie we know and love—a good-hearted person, always willing to help and protect those close to him. She also reminds the jury there isn’t any strong evidence, such as murder weapon or credible witnesses, to tie Archie to the crime.

As the jury is sequestered for the Labor Day weekend, Archie is determined to make the most of what could be his last days of freedom for a while, starting with good ol’ milkshakes at Pop’s with the gang. There we briefly see Dilton and Ben, playing a DnD type of game and being weirdly hostile towards Jughead. Betty, Jug, and Veronica want to discuss strategies of proving Archie’s innocence, but he’d rather just have some fun with his friends than waste his precious time on useless theories. Cheryl Blossom makes her usual dramatic entrance and brags about her summer travels with Tony before inviting everyone to the end-of-summer pool party.

Back at the Coopers’, we meet the new, transformed Alice Cooper, who spend all summer getting brainwashed enlightened at the Farm, with some help from Polly and a guru named Edgar Evernever. They’re very determined to get Betty on board, but she prefers to get her help from licensed professionals like Dr. Glass, who she’s been seeing.

Meanwhile, Veronica makes an unsuccessful plea to her father to stop his games and save Archie from prison, considering Hiram’s the one who’s framing him. Daddykins, however, is insisting on his lack of involvement and therefore can’t do anything about it.

At the Serpents’ camp, Jughead and FP give Archie an honorary Serpent tattoo, in case he does end up going to juvie and would need some protection. We also see Jughead slowly getting acclimated to his new role as the Serpent King, giving orders and talking strategies.

It’s Cheryl’s party time! It seems like Cupid was quite busy this summer, because love is definitely in the air. Josie and Sweet Pea are all cuddled up and enjoying, according to Josie, the last days of their summer fling. Kevin casually proposes a “friends pact” with Moose to lose their virginity asap, though it’s not quite clear if he means to each other (also I thought that ship has sailed for Moose?). Dilton is also there, giving Jughead weird looks.

The fun gets interrupted when Fangs informs Jug that their rival gang, the Ghoulies, stole Hot Dog, the Serpents’ talisman dog. Jughead and the rest of teen Serpents decide to go on a rescue mission that night. It goes not as smoothly as they’d like, with Ghoulies already waiting for them. Before the altercation turned violent, Cheryl was able to save Jughead and Hot Dog with…*cough*… her archery skills. Serpents are able to leave unharmed, but Ghoulies make it clear that they’re not planning of staying away from the Northside anymore.

They’re really sticking with the archery thing, huh?

The same night, Veronica attempts to sneak into the hotel where the jury is sequestered, in hopes she can maybe persuade at least one of them of Archie’s innocence. Unfortunately, she gets caught by Sheriff Minetta, who was sent there by her father in anticipation of such a stunt. Her mom comes to get Veronica from the police station, where they get into an argument about Hermione’s complicity in Hiram’s bullshit. Hermione tries to explain that Ronnie’s “beloved only daughter” insurance policy doesn’t exactly cover her as well, so her choices are limited.

The next day the Core Four are going on a little trip to the Sweetwater Swimming Hole, to spend the last day before Archie’s verdict together. Right before leaving, Betty is confronted by Alice and Polly, who found out Dr. Glass doesn’t exist and Betty just made him up so she can forge an Adderall prescription. Somehow, she’s able to shrug it off and still go hang with her friends.

At the Swimming Hole, Archie reflects on the events of the last year, and even though he didn’t actually kill that Cassidy kid, there’s still enough guilt inside of him to think that maybe he does deserve to go to jail. As the sun sets, the couples split up in their own little corners and have sweet private moments. Betty confides in Jug about her mental struggles, while Veronica assures Archie she will stay with him no matter what the trial’s outcome is, no matter how hard he tried to convince her not to.

It’s verdict day! Just as Jughead was about to leave for court, he gets a visit from a very distressed Dilton. He starts mumbling about the roleplaying game they played at Pop’s, how it’s so much more than just a game, and how’s “he’s real!”. The Gargoyle King is real. Jughead, understandably being a little preoccupied with his best friend’s trial, asks Dilton to wait ’till he comes back, and then they can talk.

At the court, the jury is unable to reach a verdict, so to avoid a mistrial the DA offers a deal: time served and two years in juvenile detention if Archie pleads guilty to manslaughter. Despite everyone’s objections, Archie agrees to take the deal so he can spare his friends and family another lengthy and painful trial (and obviously punish himself for being a dumbass last season).

After the trial, Fred Andrews and the rest of HRDTTR (Hot River Dads To The Rescue) promise Mama Andrews that they’re gonna prove Hiram Lodge framed Archie while she’s in Chicago working on the appeal. Back at home, Veronica declares a war on Hiram, stating he doesn’t have a daughter anymore after Hiram admits he’s done all of this to punish Ronnie for choosing Archie over her family.

Jughead comes home, but there’s no Dilton in sight. He left a scroll though, with a map on one side, and a drawing of a creepy goat-headed skeleton creature on the other. The map leads Jug to the Fox Forest, where he finds undressed Dilton and Ben, with some symbols carved on their backs, kneeling before the shrine of the creature from the drawing. Dilton is non-responsive but Ben wakes up, spitting out blue goo.

Does anyone else hear tongue clicking? Just me?

Back at her house, Betty finds her mom, Polly with the twins, and some other people, presumably from the Farm, hanging out around a bonfire. It appears they’re about to throw the twins in the fire but worry not because instead of falling, the babies levitate above it. After having enough excitement for one day, Betty collapses and starts having some kind of seizure, which prompts Alice to run to her help.

Thoughts

Maybe my judgment is still clouded with a mess that was Season Two but I gotta say, I really enjoyed this episode. It mainly kept focus at the Core Four’s bond, and that’s one of the best things going for this show. The trial itself does raise a lot of questions from the legal point of view, but we’re not here expecting Law and Order, so I’ll…allow it.

Archie continues being an absolute dumbass, even if his intentions are good. Really not looking forward to his prison storyline.

As for the cult stuff, on the one hand, I do like a dark supernatural twist, even if it’s probably not real. On the other hand, cult storylines can get really frustrating. It was hard enough seeing Alice turn into an absolute dimwit around Chic, so I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be even harder watching her under the influence of this Edgar person. It’s still unclear whether the Farm and whatever Ben and Dilton got themselves into are in any way connected, and if any of it will tie into the upcoming Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Either way, I’m excited!

Camila Mendes really shined this episode! Without Veronica’s usual cringy dialogue—which usually sounds like that episode of Friends where Joey tried to write an adoption letter using Thesaurus—Camila really got the chance to display her talent. She still called Hiram “Daddy” an uncomfortable amount of times, but… Baby steps, people! Baby steps!

So what did you think of the premiere? What storyline peaked your interest?

The next week promises some spooky shenanigans and a possible comeback of a certain beloved Serpent! Are you excited?


Images courtesy of CW

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Here We Glow: Black Lightning 2×01 – The Book of Consequences: Chapter One: Rise of the Green Light Babies

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Black Lightning, Anissa, and Jennifer with the phrase Get Lit

Welcome back, Black Lightning fans! Our beloved superheroes are back for a second season, and this premiere started off right where the last season’s finale left off, so let’s jump in.

Proving itself to always be paralleling real life, we open on a news report in which video of cops choking a ‘suspected Green Light Baby’ to death is being shown. It’s a stark opening, and it fits the show, which has never shied away from the realities of police brutality in a white supremacist society.

Immediately we cut to this episode’s true MVP, Lynn, who is being questioned by the ASA. Lynn stands her ground, as she does throughout this episode in multiple situations, including while arguing with Jefferson who can’t seem to see her as having just as many (or more) gifts as him. Lynn never reveals anything to her interrogator and insists that she needs and deserves access to the pods with the Green Light Babies because she’s the expert on Green Light. Needless to say, the questioner thinks only of how annoyed he is that she’s making his job difficult, but Lynn manages to pull some strings and continue studying with access to the pods.

Boss lady.

Meanwhile, the federal government has decided that it now owns the pod people, because of course they did. The community needs to raise at least $500,000 to be able to afford to bring a lawsuit against them for custody. Naturally, our shero Anissa Thunder-slaps a bunch of guys in a trap house and steals the money, delivering it to the church where some of the families have gathered for Bible study.

While Anissa does super-hero stuff on her own terms, Jen struggles. She doesn’t know how to control her powers, and is glowing and levitating in her sleep now. It doesn’t help that Kahlil keeps texting her, and her best friend calls Green Light Babies ‘freaks.’

The kid who was killed in the opening scene later wriggles out of his body bag and runs away; when Jen sees the video of this, she goes into uncontrollable glow mode and locks herself in the bathroom. When Jefferson comes home to find Anissa and Lynn worried outside the bathroom, he goes in and absorbs the extra energy into his own body. They have to figure out how to control Jen’s powers, and what those powers even are. This is a family that does things like this together, and I get the sense they’ll all rally to help her. Plus, Lynn in her queendom keeps insisting that Jen and Jefferson get therapy because their lives are not just about powers but about mental health! I love Lynn.

Glowing Jen.

Then we’ve got Jefferson himself, who has a pretty flimsy excuse for why he wasn’t at school when the attack happened last season (he was on vacation! Such funny timing!). The Garfield board is unhappy with him to say the least, and they vote to close the school entirely. Jefferson offers to resign as principle so long as it keeps the school open. We’ll see what happens with that in the coming episodes. Oh, and Henderson finally figured out that Jefferson is Black Lightning, and in their confrontation, it’s clear he feels betrayed. I suspect their alliance is imminent, because it has to be!

Lastly, let’s talk about Kara. Jefferson’s erstwhile secretary who turned out to be an ASA spotter wants out of the shady organization. She kills Cyanide in an epic and very violent battle involving an extremely sharp pair of heels. Then she goes to Gambi to ask for safe passage out of the ASA in exchange for Proctor’s mysterious suitcase that we still don’t know the contents of. He agrees (and also tells Jefferson). When Kara dons her night vision goggles to not-very-stealthily break into Tobias’s lair, presumably for the suitcase, he shoots her in the stomach with a harpoon gun. Somehow she still manages to jump out the window, so I’m sure we’ll see more of her. Tobias, for his part, seems as irate as ever, with the added bonus of an escaped victim and the loss of Cyanide.

This fam <3

That’s it for this week! Can’t wait to see where this season goes, especially with Anissa and Jen. Men get a lot of screen time on this show, but the women really make it worth watching. Here’s to season 2!


Images Courtesy of The CW

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Saul Emerges in the Season 4 Finale of Better Call Saul

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better call saul season 4 featured

How has Better Call Saul ended already? Didn’t the season just start? No? Well, back to the dregs for me, but not before one last sparkling review of yet another terrific episode. After 39 episodes, Saul Goodman has officially arrived. He arrived unrestrained at the head of one of his biggest con jobs yet. It was the perfect ending to season 4. Things will never be the same for anyone involved.

S’all Good, Man

Towards the end of this episode, I wondered if Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan were backing off the idea of revealing Saul this season. Yes, Jimmy spent most if it trying to use his brother’s death for sympathy and good word of mouth ahead of his appeal to the Bar regarding his license. It was gross to watch. By the end, though, Jimmy seemed to have gone through a long-delayed emotional breakdown.

The scholarship fund meeting seemed to have snapped something in him. Seeing the fund’s board deny some girl over past shoplifting seemed to have woken a lot of repressed emotions in Jimmy. His breakdown and ugly sobbing in his car afterwards struck me as the grief over Chuck finally coming home. Reading his brother’s farewell letter seemed like Jimmy accepting the complicated nature of his relationship with his brother.

Of course, I know Jimmy becomes Saul. I know his end fate in this struggle for his soul. When Jimmy stopped reading Chuck’s letter, though, I thought Chuck himself might at least be sacred. However terrible Jimmy becomes, he would stop using Chuck. Then he left the hearing and made clear the depths of his immorality.

It was the perfect ending to the season.

He wasn’t alone, either. Mike’s manhunt for Werner served much the same purpose as Jimmy’s exploitation of Chuck’s death. Jimmy and Mike are undoubtedly the main characters of Better Call Saul, and both completed their final plunge into the darker temptations around them. They certainly still have a ways to fall. The time will come when Jimmy is advocating murder and Mike is killing guys like Werner without hesitation. What this finale represented was the moment they stopped dipping their toes in the water and finally jumped in.

As usual, Better Call Saul did a terrific job with these moments for both characters. They still have these vestiges of something better in them. It speaks to the skill of this show’s storytelling that, even knowing where these two eventually end up, I still questioned what decision they would make. Maybe Mike would make one last stand and let Werner go. Maybe Jimmy would try one more time to go legit. I don’t know, maybe? Possibly?

And I think there’s still a possibility for both. I still see those lingering glimmers of something better in them. Jimmy using the name Saul Goodman at least protects his brother’s name from the stain of Jimmy’s future law career. Mike was not particularly happy about killing Werner. Some friction with Gus may occur because of the killing.

In the end, I guess I’m just like Kim. Kim still believed in Jimmy’s good side despite spending the entire episode helping him exploit Chuck’s death. She can’t help but see the guy we met in season 1; eager, loyal, dedicated to making Chuck proud. Actually, she can’t help but see the Jimmy McGill who worked in the HHM mail room with her. That’s the Jimmy she loves, and she can’t help but believe that Jimmy still lies deep inside Saul Goodman.

It doesn’t really matter in the end, though. We know who Saul and Gus eventually become. Here’s hoping Jimmy can escape this moral tar pit when in the Gene flash-forwards. And this episode made Jimmy’s reasons completely clear.

The scholarship fund, while obviously part of the overall con, was really THE moment where Jimmy makes his decision to be Saul. He saw himself in the girl the board turned down. He saw how they held her one mistake against her, despite all the good she had done since. And this was some teenager with just that one mistake. If even she doesn’t have a chance, what hope could Jimmy possibly have? He realized he could never make people like that believe in him. He could never make the Bar accept him as anything other than the shady, immoral little brother of Chuck McGill, someone unworthy of their trust or belief.

It hurts. It really hurts. I still want “Gene” to come out of this okay. Unfortunately, that day is a long ways away, if it happens at all.

Final Thoughts:

  • The karaoke opening was amazing. Ernest slayed “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Michael McKean called back on David St. Hubbins for Chuck’s duet with Jimmy.
  • By the way, of course Chuck has to upstage Jimmy even during karaoke. No wonder Jimmy feels so inadequate.
  • Werner’s final conversation with Mike has a lot of similarities with the Walt/Mike scene during the season 3 finale of Breaking Bad.
  • Oh, that poor TravelWire employee. Having to deal with both Mike and Lalo? Yikes.
  • Mike’s gum trick on the ticket machine was one of my favorite things he has ever done. I swear he has a trick for everything.

Season Review

Season 4 of Better Call Saul had a tall task ahead of it from the beginning. Season 3 was so powerful and remarkable, with some of the best scenes in recent TV memory. With Chuck’s suicide, the show lost the dynamic at its heart. Better Call Saul had been the story of Jimmy and Chuck. How could they replace such a powerful dynamic? Where would they go without Chuck standing stalwart across from his brother? Who could fill the acting void left in Michael McKean’s wake?

Ultimately, I don’t think season 4 was quite as good as season 3. How could it be? It’s like holding it against a season of The Wire for not being as good as season 4.

Season 4 handled the questions I asked not only well, but easily. How do they replace Chuck’s role in the story? By giving his death a central role in the story and replacing the tension between him and Jimmy with tensions between Jimmy and Kim. As anyone who read my previous reviews has noticed, both characters dominate season 4. I honestly didn’t miss Chuck’s role in the story at all because Kim did such a great job filling the void left behind.

I felt every bit the emotional stakes between Kim and Jimmy as I did between Jimmy and Chuck. Possibly more, in fact. Even at their closest, Jimmy and Chuck always maintained a noticeable distance. Most of their relationship consisted of a rivalry where they openly despised each other. Jimmy and Kim had no such relationship. They’ve been close since the beginning and always supportive. Whatever conflict pops up between them is typically resolved quickly because they want to resolve it.

This made their gradual degradation throughout season 4 really effective, as effective anything Jimmy and Chuck ever went through.

A big reason for this comes down to another question; who will replace Michael McKean’s considerable acting prowess? Rhea Seehorn takes on the challenge with ease. Well, not without ease, because you can’t be that good at acting with ease. Seehorn has always been fantastic, but she takes on the added burden and not only matches the challenge, she exceeded it. I know by this point not to expect anything from award shows at this point, but Seehorn should be a frontrunner at the next Emmys.

Rhea Seehorn stepped up and the result was Kim’s best season yet, right when Better Call Saul really needed it. Seeing Kim try so hard to be a good girlfriend and friend to Jimmy while he inevitably spiraled towards Saul Goodman made for absolutely fantastic scenes. Their parking garage confrontation from last week was as hard-hitting as anything from previous seasons. Kim’s reaction to Jimmy’s speech to the Bar and subsequent confession about it being fake was just as strong.

It also means a lot when Bob Odenkirk is as good as he is. The transition from, sweet, loveable Jimmy to the selfish Saul we end season 4 with is a hard transition to make, but he did so without issue. Odenkirk absolutely owns this role at this point.

You’ve probably noticed I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Jimmy and Kim, but not so much about Mike, Gus, and the cartel stuff. That’s true not only for this review, but throughout the season. There’s a good reason; it was easily the weakest part of the season. The one real flaw in Better Call Saul’s design continued this season, which was its struggle to reconcile its two halves.

I found the origin of the meth super lab interesting, for sure. If nothing else the storyline gave Mike good content to dig into. Thing is, it was relatively uneventful. Compared to the consistently gripping stakes of the Jimmy/Kim scenes, watching Mike pal around with German architects and construction workers didn’t match up. The conflict wasn’t really there until the end, and too late by then.

I also felt like the cartel stuff didn’t really go anywhere besides with Mike. Nacho randomly fell into obscurity once Lalo was introduced. Lalo felt more like an introduction than a contained plot of any kind. The super lab wasn’t even finished. Tuco’s cousins left the season rather abruptly.

I also have a pretty decent problem with the Gus/Hector Salamanca stuff this year. I know this opinion will be unpopular, but I’m not a fan. Tying everything in Hector’s life back to some machination by Gus felt like the kind of prequel sin you’d see in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. The incessant need to make even the most inconsequential things important somehow often cheapens the effect. Hector’s bell doesn’t need to be important. It’s just a freaking bell.

My biggest problem is in how cartoonishly evil this has made Gus. Is he really not evil enough for simply mocking and torturing a disabled man? He has to be responsible for stopping Hector’s medical treatment to make sure Hector stays in the wheelchair, unable to speak? I’m not a fan. Plus, this also doesn’t really lead to anything. It likely will next season since Hector has likely communicated to him what he wants done to Gus. For now, though, it was somewhat unsatisfying compared to the amazing Jimmy/Kim storyline.

I stress the word “compared” here. It’s like saying, “Tuco wasn’t quite the villain Gus Fring was on Breaking Bad,” as a negative. It’s not really much a negative and Tuco was still great TV.

While failing to reach the memorable heights of season 3, Better Call Saul still had one hell of a 4th season. Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan continue to head one of the very best shows on TV, and almost certainly the best character-driven show. What Better Call Saul manages in the character-development department floors me more with every season. I honestly don’t believe anything else matches their work. They have their style down to a science, and so does everyone around them, from the other writers to the directors to the actors to the set and costume design.

Better Call Saul remains a show working on a level few can compare with. Why is this season over already?


Images courtesy of AMC

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