By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – March 23, 2020)
EPISODE 5: DEDICADO A MAX
EPISODE 6: WEXLER V. GOODMAN
That word proved to be of supreme importance in the last two episodes of Better Call Saul, as it necessitates and instigates the concept of a CHOICE. Ultimately, that’s what several characters on this show are seemingly forced to make on a relatively consistent basis. And, although the stakes and circumstances are different, one of the reasons this show (and so many others) offer us a chance to relate to them is because it’s what life, at its essence, is all about.
We’re making choices right now as a country, as a state, as a city, and even individually and within our own families. We’re always making decisions, and we have to consider the ramifications of the decisions we make. And, even when the motivations might not be wrong, we usually fight off the “ends justify the means” argument. If we didn’t, we’d steal that thing we really want from the store. Something overcomes our desire to have the item, and it isn’t merely a fear of being caught. It’s what happens to us if we AREN’T.
Kim Wexler got over on Mesa Verde, on Kevin, on Paige, on Rich, on everybody other than her boyfriend, but just as her pro bono work indicates, the question is whether she can live with herself if she goes down this path. It’s a choice, just as it was for Saul to become Saul Goodman and deposit James McGill on the side of the road like an old sofa. There’s a brief moment, less than two seconds, where Saul thinks of the prostitutes he just helped in court, after asking them to take a break from their work, but rather than leaning into that feeling, he runs down the hall and uses them to try and humiliate Howard Hamlin at his lunch meeting.
Saul Goodman is the pro wrestling, turned up to 11 version of Jimmy McGill. While McGill wanted to do it honestly, Saul wants to watch the world burn. Even when he agrees to walk away from the scheme after Kim asked him to, he chooses (there’s that word again) to go behind her back and try to take ten miles rather than a yard. It nearly costs him his relationship, and almost assuredly does play a major role in it later on. That said, the open of the sixth episode shows us Kim as a teenager standing up for herself and refusing to climb in the car of her drunk mother. While that shows her character, what I noticed most was the license plate on the car she watched drive off as she walked home in the cold.
Recall where “Gene” works as a Cinnabon employee after Saul Goodman has to disappear for good? Omaha. That can’t be accidental. At the very least, he may want to be close to her, even if he could never reveal himself to her. Or, you know, she might be dead. It’s possible there’s nothing to this, but boy did my Spidey Sense ever go off when I saw it.
More choices… Mike Ehrmantraut has to make a choice, one Gus Fring lays out to him in the pueblo he funds. He says he’s different from the Salamancas, but as we know, he’s ruthless and vicious and despite wearing a tie and talking softly, he’s as bad as they come. Nacho knows it, and as we see Michael Mando subtly show the emotion of a son trying to keep his father alive, Mike gets the full picture of how trapped the young man is, and though he arrived with no sympathy for Nacho’s mistakes, he leaves with thoughts of helping him.
He chooses Gus, he helps set up Lalo through quite a caper, using the librarian, using the original detective, and getting Salamanca arrested in the 1970 gray Monte Carlo. We don’t see Mike with his daughter-in-law or family whatsoever. This is all business. But, his time working on the window and eating well in the pueblo seems to have returned him to a place of sanity. We don’t see the signs of him beating himself up over Werner in these installments, although Gus doesn’t give him much of… a choice.
Saul’s fleet of injunctions and scams to delay construction were hilarious, showcasing the comedy side of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, which they’ve always found a way to use to balance the despair, but the commercials took it to another level. When those lights went off to view that disc, all we could think is, “Only Saul.” This was something only he would have had the guts and the lack of integrity or class to do. He didn’t care. He stopped caring a few seasons ago, about virtually everything other than Kim Wexler.
When she makes her “or” statement to end “Wexler v. Goodman,” it was quite a cliffhanger. Either we end it “or maybe we get married.” She says to him something crucial though in the argument that preceded that line, namely that she lost in this ordeal because she can’t trust Jimmy. He made her a sucker, and though he talks about it like he did her a favor, she’s the one that he made the butt of the proverbial joke. However, she loves him. That’s what that walk-off shot meant. She’s wondering if marriage would create that unbreakable bond of trust she seeks, the one thing she now doesn’t feel about this guy.
As two hours of TV, this was excellent stuff. We got an awful lot of Saul in the professional gutter succeeding as a slimeball (and the actual moves he makes with Acker are so much fun to watch, especially with Odenkirk playing this character as he does), saw Mike going full-on MacGyver with the phone and the police band, got Lalo arrested, and watched Saul (and in many ways, Kim) outsmart a bunch of high-powered, rich suits, including squeaky clean Kevin, who CHOOSES to shake Saul’s hand in the parking garage and give in to every request. Incidentally, “Mr. X” and that scene at the nail salon was awesome, because it was so matter-of-fact, even the suggestion to kill Mesa Verde’s CEO, who was found to be “Salt Lake City on a Saturday night dull.”
Saul and Kim are either about to get engaged or they aren’t (that’s a choice), but we also know they’re speeding towards the side of a mountain. That said, the Nebraska license tag gives me hope that Rhea Seehorn might show up in black-and-white at the end of Season 6. Maybe she actually survives. As wonderful as the writing and development has been for that character, I’m invested in her escaping whatever impending doom Saul is unintentionally going to leave on her (their) doorstep.
Four more episodes this season and right now, our major characters are all coming off victories or they’re coming off common ground, but there’s tension everywhere. Gus is out for revenge and Saul is putting the screws to Howard, but while he’s setting the stage to blow a legitimate opportunity to stop being a lowlife, how much damage has he done to the one meaningful relationship in his life? There’s a lot more coming before this season ends. I’m increasingly anticipating a stunning close to this year…about a month away. Just a feeling, but Gilligan and Gould may want our jaws on the floor before they take their final offseason hiatus.