Better Call Saul: Something Unforgivable
April 21, 2020 9:02 AM - Season 5, Episode 10 - Subscribe

Jimmy and Kim make a sideways move that takes a serious turn; Nacho gets closer to the cartel. "Pew Pew!" [Season finale]

‘Better Call Saul’ Season 5 Finale Recap: Survival Skills -- Lalo is tested in Mexico, while Kim hatches a twisted plan that leaves Jimmy stunned (Alan Sepinwall for Rolling Stone)
Better Call Saul just concluded its fifth, and best, season. A review of the finale, “Something Unforgivable,” coming up just as soon as I show you the surprise in my frunk…

“Am I bad for you?” —Jimmy

What if we’re looking at this all wrong?

We’ve assumed for a long time that Jimmy McGill would become the true Saul Goodman — not the guy wearing his clothes and using his name, but the amoral bastard who facilitated Walter White’s rise to power — out of bitterness over how Chuck and the legal establishment treated him, and/or as a response to however things seemed likely to end with Kim. The series has been framed as an inescapable tragedy in which a roguish but mostly good person gradually becomes a monster due to the world’s expectations for him. Kim, as much as we’ve grown to love and respect her, would be collateral damage in any version of this story.

“Something Unforgivable,” though, suggests that something else may have been happening this whole time, and in the process offers an entirely new path for the sixth and final season.
Better Call Saul's season finale reveals what Kim might do with time on her hands and no gun to her head (Donna Bowman for TV/AV Club; rating: A)
The genius of Better Call Saul, as it’s evolved to this point, is that Gilligan and Gould realize that it’s not Saul Goodman’s story. Saul Goodman is the condition to which the real protagonist, Kim Wexler, has to respond. And tonight she makes the fateful move in that response. Very simply, scene by scene and turn by turn, we see her experience fear, relief, hope, despair, resentment, anger, and schadenfreude. Then, finally, determined — a familiar mode for Kim Wexler — but now in a different key, with a new and chilling ruthlessness. The question of the show for the audience has been “what will happen to Kim?” This season finale brilliantly changes the terms; now the question is “who will Kim become?” Her question — “Wouldn’t I?” — is the hinge on which the show turns toward its final act.
A few tunes found in this episode.
posted by filthy light thief (43 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
And if you're already itching for clues of what will really happen next like I am, 5 Burning Questions About the ‘Better Call Saul’ Season 5 Finale — Answered -- Co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould weigh in on the series’ progression and where the story is headed for the sixth and final season (Alan Sepinwall for Rolling Stone).

No spoilers there, but some interesting discussions, including on points from this season and Breaking Bad that will be connected in the next season. Also, if it's not already obvious, it's not clear when season six could premiere. There's no in-person writers' room, but this is the work that can be done from home. Gilligan hopes Season Six will be ready to premiere in the fall of 2021, if they can begin filming this autumn, he says, “You’re going to have to ask Dr. Fauci here.”

But this episode ... Oof. In a good way. Tense, exciting, and I'm really looking forward to what happens next, whenever it comes.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:18 AM on April 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm so glad Nacho survived this season; it was disappointing to watch how little the show did with his arc last season, and it seemed like the writers didn't quite know what to do with him for most of this one, beyond reacting to the continued threats from Gustavo and Lalo. But the cartel storyline ending on a thrilling cliffhanger was perfect, and I hope we actually see at least some deeper development of Nacho's arc in the last season. Michael Mando is such a good actor; he deserves deep moments to shine.

I loved Kim's bravery as she got ready for court in the morning. It made her relief at the news Lalo would no longer be a threat even more powerful. Once again Rhea Seehorn sells the hell out of the role.

On the other hand, I thought the show kinda bungled the Kim/Jimmy arc in the finale. I mean, does anyone at this point really give a fuck what happens to Howard's career? Kim being the instigator of a new scheme to ruin Howard and get the settlement money more quickly feels out of character. I mean, I've long argued Kim is no angel (someone last week mentioned that Kim's schemes were "for the purpose of setting someone's dignity at the appropriate level" but that's clearly not true for the scam she came up with for switching the Mesa Verde plans in the Lubbock city hall), but this week's heel turn felt forced. That "pew pew" finger gun moment was cringeworthy.

Turning Kim into the prime instigator for new crimes while Jimmy objects might have worked, but I don't think this episode showed that evolution in a thoughtful way. I've been having a hard time coming up with a resolution to her story I'd be satisfied with (Jimmy betraying her yet again and her leaving him for good was the best I could envision) but this feels a little cheap.
posted by mediareport at 9:47 AM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lalo's character really helps explain why the Salamanca's get the respect they get. Hector and Tuco are all brawn. They're fearsome, but you have to wonder how they survived so long, especially when someone like Nacho can take both of them out. Lalo, however, is something else, and much more fearsome.

Nacho... my god, poor Nacho. All he wants is self-determination, but all he does is self-destruction. He's not even enjoying any of it, and perhaps that's the key. He constantly wants something that is "not this". He wants to not-do-his-father's-work. He wants to not-be-in-the-game. He wants to not-have-to-look-over-his-shoulder. Because his motivations are entirely negative, he is powerless to resist the positive motivations of others.

The Bagman episode made no sense to me (two high-powered crime syndicates, one of them great at logistics, the other at warfare, and the only safety is a septuagenarian with a chip on his shoulder?? nah), but on the whole I enjoyed this season more than season 4. Season 4 had me worried that the BSC sensibility was being crowded out by BB sensibility, especially given the death of Chuck. But Kim keeps it real. Someone here mentioned that making her the 3rd lead was a stroke of genius, and I agree. Seehorn's acting performance is just stellar.

I've been catching up on this show during covid quarantine and it's been a blast reading all your comments! Thank you so much for that. Looking forward to what's next.
posted by dmh at 9:55 AM on April 21, 2020 [13 favorites]

(me, nervously)
"Is...Kim the baddie?"

I'm glad Lalo survived after they showed how charmingly he buttered up Don Eladio. And I feel perversely sad that Nacho got such an incredible introduction -- right after a car and a lovingly wrapped box of cash! -- but will probably never get any (ahem) mileage out of it.
posted by grandiloquiet at 10:09 AM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

The sound design of Lalo's footsteps plodding off at the end was truly inspired and frightening in a "true merciless evil emerging from the darkness" way.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2020 [6 favorites]

"Is...Kim the baddie?"

Jimmy never slipped this hard.

This was rather a cliffhanger.

*climbs down from edge of seat to wait for kewb’s commentary*
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:00 AM on April 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

I find myself not really caring about Lalo that much. I'm also having trouble believing that someone as competent as Gus would send in a team of assassins that were so bad at their job. It was a pretty suspenseful scene, with some good action, but... I dunno. I wanted something more out of the finale.

That said, this season was the best yet and I look forward to the next season, which I assume will be filmed over a Zoom meeting.
posted by bondcliff at 1:01 PM on April 21, 2020 [8 favorites]

That said, this season was the best yet and I look forward to the next season, which I assume will be filmed over a Zoom meeting.

Well, there are going to be delays. I don't know when we can expect it. Maybe 2023.
posted by thelonius at 1:16 PM on April 21, 2020

I'm also having trouble believing that someone as competent as Gus would send in a team of assassins that were so bad at their job.

I had the same thought, the assassins' plan for assaulting the compound was terrible. There are lots of ways their plan might have fallen apart besides the one we saw, for example, what would they have done if Lalo had tried to flee in a vehicle? It is hard to imagine Gus hiring these guys — unless Gus deliberately hired incompetent killers because it was always his intention that Lalo would survive.
posted by RichardP at 2:50 PM on April 21, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have surprisingly little trouble with Kim breaking bad, since she sees it as being pretty righteous (and, although she doesn't say it, a hell of a lot classier than stunts with bowling balls and streetwalkers). I have little animus toward Howard--despite his stereotypical white-shoe lawyer dress and manner--since he was pretty obviously not in Chuck's league and ended up carrying his water until he could finally get rid of him--but throwing Chuck's name in Kim's face was a bad, bad, move on his part. Looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

And the thing with Lalo... it's funny that i wanted to see him go down, but it was still thrilling to see him get out of the ambush. Hot oil to the face? Roll over, Rorschach. (And, yeah, those guys didn't really handle him well, but I suspect that he built his rep on responding to people who badly underestimated him.) Wonder what Nacho does now...
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:57 PM on April 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

I see a lot of Kim's turn over this final ep as a response to, "Well, Jimmy slips a lot, but he's still failing up and doesn't get busted by the feds or lose his career over it. I'm Mrs. Jimmy, and just as smart as he is when it comes to practicing law. If he gets to be 'a friend of the cartel' without any lasting consequences, why can't I do some criming if it helps me reach my own altruistic goals, hmmmm?"

And that's the rub, y'all. Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons is pretty much the precis for this show, as well as for BB. Trying to one-up Jimmy -- or, worse, take the lead on a terrible felony-level scheme that implicates them both -- is not going to give Kim the results that she's hoping for.

I'm almost starting to feel sorry for Howard, man. He's a complete shitheel, and that hasn't really changed. But he's also already onto Jimmy, so he's going to spot their latest trick coming like it's sitting on a football field full of Klieg lights.

On preview, what Halloween Jack said. Also, those assassins were strictly JV squad material. Who TF shows up to a Cartel Compound in Mexico like that? I didn't see any silencers, ear pieces, hand signals or backup team to step in and finish the job if things went sideways. What a mess! Hard to believe Gus would hire such amateurs and then call them the best in the biz, but here we are.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:15 PM on April 21, 2020 [6 favorites]

Last week's tour de force was Rhea's Emmy bait, but let's take a moment to appreciate that tiny little "oh can't I?" smile this week. Absolute mastery of the broad and the precise. All the Emmys! Retroactively!
posted by whuppy at 6:00 PM on April 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

not happy with the cliffhangers at all

this is gonna be winds of winter redux

mark my words
posted by lalochezia at 7:10 PM on April 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hard to believe Gus would hire such amateurs and then call them the best in the biz, but here we are.

I thought it was a red flag when Gus said they were the best in the business. Why would he say something like that? Given his character I think that should go without saying. So is he trying to placate Mike? Convincing himself? Gus did mention in other episodes that he's "not ready for war" and "needs a soldier", so perhaps he really just has to take his chances with these goons. Or perhaps it's a calculated lie, and this is the best way to get rid of Nacho. But it's definitely not "unimpeachable". What a mess!
posted by dmh at 7:20 PM on April 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

They really were conspicuously awful assassins - for the reasons noted above - but also because they made such poor use of Nacho as an inside contact. The elaborately set up cell phone call would have been a perfect opportunity for them to glean tactical information - but they hung up even as Nacho was trying to provide it to them. We see Nacho hesitate by the kitchen knives before he chooses the frying pan and oil - and realise that he was close enough to Lalo to have had a better chance of killing him then and there. Yet Nacho's inside knowledge was brushed aside only to have him be a door opener. It is very hard to see the same Gus that appreciates Mike's skill, planning and subterfuge opting to entrust these big-ego blowhards. So my guess is that, more than anything else, he wanted to infuriate Lalo and test Nacho - on the quite reasonable chance that either of them should survive. In that sense, his strategy to fail is a little like his torching or Los Pollos Hermanos - part of a longer game.

As episode by episode critics, this season feels like a chess game where we have been outwitted by the writers at every turn. We were focussing so much attention on Jimmy becoming Saul, about the fate of "poor Kim" who we know is absent from BB - and on the ramifications of the marriage between the two - that we failed to see Kim become the key protagonist and mastermind. In this episode she formulated a way of resolving the Sandpiper case so as to benefit the newly-weds at the expense of Howard - a strategy far more bold and icy than the silly humiliations employed by Jimmy. We saw her boldly face up to formidable opponents - despite her knowledge of just how dangerous they could be. And we see her finally in a position where her confrontation of Lalo about needing to "be able to trust your own people" would be an obvious show of her good judgement both to Lalo and - via Mike's phone monitoring- to Gus. Kim has gone from pawn to queen in the game and, rather than worry about what will happen to her we can now look forward to seeing what she will do to the landscape she finds herself in.
posted by rongorongo at 2:48 AM on April 22, 2020 [11 favorites]

Hard to believe Gus would hire such amateurs and then call them the best in the biz, but here we are.

Their incompetence was ridiculous. But it might theoretically makes sense for Gus to be missing the mark, in terms of strategy/vetting/etc. Gus is hypercompetent by the time of BB, but in these prequel days, he's still got things to learn. The writers underlined that last week when Mike tried to warn Gus that fear is not an effective motivator, vis-à-vis Nacho; in BB, Gus goes on to say that line himself, so he's evidently learned a lesson about fear-based tactics. (I imagine we'll see this lesson play out with Nacho next season.) Anyway, I think the lesson Gus is supposed to have taken from this fiasco is that blunt force isn't a good way to attack the cartel. Like, ultimately, he takes out Don Eladio through masterful subterfuge. Not by sending goons to deal with very clever and/or suspicious people like Lalo, Eladio, etc. (Bolsa does get taken out by assassins, but then, he was never terribly sharp.)

But if the audience is distracted by the assassins patently sucking at their jobs, then yeah...the lesson might simply read as, "Hire better assassins." So, perhaps not terrific writing there.

I mean, I've long argued Kim is no angel, but this week's heel turn felt forced.

From a narrative standpoint, Kim absolutely had to break bad by herself, and then reel Jimmy along after her (with Howard as bait). Like, if her moral position were to stay fixed, then the character is just perma-trapped in that apollonian/dionysian dynamic she's had with Jimmy, where she's the pillar of reason that he dances around. In that role, she's never fully an independent narrative factor. She's just sharing the stage with Jimmy McGill's tragic swooning.

And in terms of the internal story, I had no trouble accepting the mechanism of Kim's break. After the "greater good" moral compromise she engaged in at the very outset of the season? (With the plea deal.) After the resurfacing of various emotional wounds from her childhood? After the general crucible of the past however many months, and especially Lalo's little bout of terrorism? It would have been unbelievable for her NOT to fracture along the lines she did. And I do think the pressures of this episode were the exact final blow she required. Like, I found it logical that she'd target Howard. Kim's long had problems with him, including power struggles/control issues. She's also feeling 100% done with the bankers and wealth collectors of the world. Plus, she's just endured a trauma that forced her into Jimmy-and-me-against-the-enemy survival mode; now it seems she's frozen in that formation, and particularly in her protector role. Then, Howard uses Chuck as a bludgeon against Jimmy? When that's already her Big Red Button? Oh, dear.

I did find the verbal buildup to her scheme sorta clunky; I think the script was leaning a bit heavily on Rhea Seehorn there. (Fortunately, it can afford to lean on her.) But Kim's behavior makes sense to me on a gut level.

All told, what a fine season of television.
posted by desert outpost at 3:39 AM on April 22, 2020 [13 favorites]

The ambush of Lalo was hilariously bad. I was literally laughing when Lalo ran well out of the kitchen and you could hear the machine gun fire continuing on in the kitchen. What on Earth were they shooting at?? I felt like I was watching a video gamer fight a bunch of super dumb NPCs.

There was quite lot about this episode that felt extremely contrived.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:08 AM on April 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

I don't understand how the math works out on the Sandpiper thing. When Kim and Jimmy are breaking it down, the total coming to him is 2 million. That isn't going to run a pro bono firm for very long, even if the smallest and dankest office the courthouse has to offer. She mentions the names of three people she wants to hire, so that'll give her, what, maaaaaybe 5 years, depending on expenses? Even if she's willing to pay herself very little, what's she going to be able offer folks on pretty damn comfortable salaries from Schweikart and Cokely, etc.?

The payoff doesn't feel big enough, to me. I know Howard stuck Kim in doc review, but I don't feel like that gives her enough of a personal stake to want to destroy Howard's career.

I have absolutely no issue with the Kim journey; I just expected that what she wanted would be much bigger. Kim as the unseen cartel strategist criminal lawyer made a lot more sense to me, but that's not really possible to square with her pro bono stuff.

Also, nthing the terrible assassins. Lalo left his fucking escape tunnel open for a reason, you doofuses! Did you not deserve a better death than being shot in the butt?
posted by minsies at 7:48 AM on April 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Podcast recap:
Editor and Co-Host Chris McCaleb is joined by co-creator (and Director/Co-Writer) Peter Gould, Co-Executive Producer Diane Mercer, Emmy Award-Winning* Co-Writer Ariel Levine, Composer Dave Porter, Supervising Sound Editor Nick Forshager, and Assistant Editor Joey Reinisch (also of Exploso Magico dot com, home to a number of podcasts, but not this one)

* Ariel won her Emmy for Los Pollos Hermanos employee training videos (AMC) from season one of BCS. She's now a full-fledged writer for the show.

Everyone is worried about Kim.

mediareport: this week's heel turn felt forced.

It wasn't a heel-turn just in this episode, but the culmination of the slow change of her character. Chris says it's due the "corrosive nature of Jimmy" which has been "gestating" for a while, but we're now seeing the result of it. Diane flips, saying she challenges anyone whose been watching to show to have guessed that it's "Kim's thumb on the scale that tipped Jimmy into Saul." I think most here have been rooting for her, but bracing for what happens to her. But I'd say this season (if not earlier), she's taking clear and intentional ownership of her life and actions. Jimmy may have opened the door to the rush of scamming a mark, easing her into some of these mental shifts with his justifications (using their powers for good, as he said when describing his proposed con of her client, and before that, conning marks who (in their eyes) deserve what they get.

That "pew pew" finger gun moment was cringeworthy.

Alan Sepinwall likened it to Jimmy's DBA moment, when he was reinstated and told Kim s'all good, man. Seeing that whole clip versus the little GIF excerpted in Sepinwall's review makes those moments parallel even more strongly for me. At the end of last season, Jimmy was riding a high of his own design, "it was like improv or jazz." And in Kim's final scene, she was riffing with Jimmy, imagining a way for "a career setback for one lawyer" to lead to near-term payout for elderly people who might not live to see the end of a lengthy lawsuit, as well as the formation of her own little pro bono firm.

Which makes me think that Kim is not thinking this through. Their quick estimates are that the $26 million settlement would lead to about $8.5 in attourneys fees (holee shit), and 20% of that's $2 million. They're in the ballpark for both figures—$8,666,666.67 is a third of that, and 20% of that is $1,733,333.33—but that's less than a million to start a pro bono firm, after hiring Stef away from Schweikart, Bruce from HHM, getting Viola, and then renting "the smallest, shittiest office near the courthouse." She'd do all that with $866,666 (half of the $1.7 mil, assuming she and Jimmy split it). Because she's assuming Jimmy is out of "the game" now, right? Earlier, I thought she was thinking her pro bono work could work if Jimmy was bringing in stupid amounts of money by working for the cartel, but I don't know if that's her thinking.

In short, I was following her descent (or ascent, depending on what you're marking as progress) until she was banking on a fraction of a fraction of that settlement to start a firm. I know, I know, this is late-night brilliance (it's 3:30 AM, 2.5 hours before Kim's 6 AM alarm), so it's bound to be flawed, so maybe I should stop nit-picking this.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 AM on April 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Back to the podcast - Ariel confirms that Kim has enjoyed Jimmy's scams, and is starting to see things his way. It's been an organic change, not something that was planned out long-term in the writers' room. Chris: "I wonder how far she can take this before she loses her compass." (It seems like her "north" is continuing to shift, so I'm not sure if it'll be lost, per se.)

Peter doesn't pin down the meaning of those finger guns, btw, but Chris does note that two of the people in the room are wearing crew shirts with an artist representation of Kim's finger guns.

Segue into discussion of Lalo's hacienda, finding the location and making that whole wall (off-site, then getting assembled on-site). Much of the house was (re)created as sets on a soundstage. That was complicated because there is limited soundstage space, so they had to clear out Episode 8 set (the night camping space was on a soundstage). The editors had to confirm that they had enough material before the sets were taken down.

Fun fact: more material was cut from this script (Peter and Ariel went bigger and crazier than was shot) than prior episodes in the season, if not the show.

The PD oveflow room is a real room in the courthouse, but made to look worse. The room was described in the original outline, including water-stained ceiling panels, and the flickering light. Chris described it as setting the tone to what Kim is willingly jumping into. Chris asks Dave about the music in that scene, and Dave talks about how rarely they use themes for anyone, given how quickly people change in this show (except the cousins). He says "we don't do a lot of music for Kim, traditionally, but I think it's on its way to changing." The music adds gravity, shifts the change from corporate lawyer to pro bono work, but leaves the meaning open.

Peter's wife, Nora, was the one to think of Roy Wood Jr. (Best Of clips, from The Daily Show).

It was Vince's idea to make Jimmy's discussion with Mike a one-sided conversation, and in doing so, Dave noted that it was more about the emotions than conveying information if we heard both sides of the discussion. He also notes that the mix-down period is still more fluid. Diane notes that they extended the mix-down period from two days to three, which is what they did for all of Breaking Bad and the beginning of BCS, but it wasn't working because people were doing late-night corrections. She said that this also gave Dave and other music and sound folks time to really create and add more. Peter noted that people make bad decisions late at night, at least in post. He notes that on-site work is different, and credits Diane for noticing this issue and initiating the change.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:47 AM on April 22, 2020

Peter noted that people make bad decisions late at night

...which as you say is when Kim hatches her plan :)
posted by chill at 11:33 AM on April 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Good catch :)

More from the podcast:
Getting a 3rd day to mix is helpful because there's another 10-15 minutes in episodes this season (45-48 minutes, now up to 55-60 minutes). Also, there were 48-68 sound tracks per episode in prior seasons, while now they're up to 250-300 per episode. This comes from creating nuanced local soundscapes for 6 or 7 different locations. Examples: court house scenes include the hallways, the closed room where Kim and Howard are talking, the elevator, and the basement, and probably another room or two.

Then there's recreating natural sounds. The most complicated in this episode was the 3 AM fireside chat, because the temp sound was live audio, and the bugs were very loud. And they sounded different on Lalo's side from Nacho's side. So they had to do ADR (automated dialog replacement) to re-create a quiet night-time scene. And they even listened to the scenes with music only, which is all mixed in those last days. Part of this change in direction comes from dialog and music mixers, other audio folks, and the director and some more staff, sitting in a studio, watching the pre-final episode together and sharing notes.

Peter muses on his history of manually cutting audio tape, compared to what is done now (3 minute tutorial titled "Deliverables for TV: Perfecting Audio", from Adorama).

Final discussion: when Howard confides in Kim about Jimmy's actions that came from, in his eyes, a lack of control. Ariel wrote the scene, and Peter talked about how they write from what makes sense—why would they walk into a well-lit room? Kim and Howard just step inside an empty room, and they shoot mostly with natural lighting. The final framing of Kim, looking out a little window (boxed in, in the dark), is a small call-back to prior scenes of that sort. Of Howard getting the last word, Peter says "being a truth-teller is a good way to get people to punch you in the face." Diane says "It's not going to end well for Howard in the next season," and Peter jumps in [either to prevent this being a definitive statement before the next season is written, let alone shot, or to generally tamp down semi-official statements on future events] and says "Well, I don't know, we'll see. It's a good question ... about what Kim really intends, and Jimmy has certainly pulled one on her more than once. She may have more [in?] mind than we know."

Peter: "I'm looking at Ariel, we're sitting here in the writers' room, we're about to start in a couple weeks*, I'm worried about how we're going to end it. I hope we end it right." Ariel replies "It's going to be great. Good things are happening."

Ariel Levine closes the season finale podcast with her best "Better Call Saul!" tagline.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:04 PM on April 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Diane flips, saying she challenges anyone whose been watching to show to have guessed that it's "Kim's thumb on the scale that tipped Jimmy into Saul."

I did, I did! :)

posted by torticat at 2:21 PM on April 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Torticat, yup.
posted by whuppy at 2:41 PM on April 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am impressed with how conflicted this show makes me feel. Like, I hate Lalo and love Gus (as a character) but now I want justice for Yolanda so go Lalo. And I feel like I should hate Howard, but damn, at this point I just feel really bad for him.
posted by Anonymous at 3:07 PM on April 22, 2020

Better Call Saul is usually a show with deliberately intriguing visuals, but this finale episode is much more interested in conventional shots, often shots borrowed from the lexicon of action thrillers, single-camera dramas, and other genre pieces.

There are really just three shots that call a lot of attention to themselves: Kim's peephole vision at the beginning, that stunning top-down shot of Lalo's whittling sentry, and Lalo's head entering the frame upside down as he works to elude his assassins. The rest of the episode is focused on faces, on little expressions, none more important than Rhea Seehorn's always loaded microexpressions and deep acting and Tony Dalton's final, surprising look of mounting anger mixed with hints of grief and wounded betrayal.

In both cases, Kim and Lalo, we have a character who seems even more unfettered than before. If Lalo has not chosen this, it's still the case; rarely has he let that much of his guard down, or that much of his mask slip. And for Kim, it's all about choosing to cast off the definitions and boundaries others put on her.

This is an episode in which Kim spends a lot of time in dark or dimly lit rooms, and the easy thing would be to read that imagery as connected to her darker turn. But the opening of the episode mitigates against that; it's not Kim in a darkened room, but Kim looking out of that room, through the peephole, to see what's in the hall, to decide what to do next.

That same sense of agency resounds throughout her other scenes in dark rooms, whether it is her being given full and free choice among those public defender files, overtly insisting that her decisions are her own before the puddle-deep narcissism of one Howard Hamlin, or refusing to be bound by Jimmy's fears (early on) or his vision of Kim herself (at the end).

And Kim's agency that is the main point of much if this episode, along with anything we can read into the complexities of her character and her character's context. She's the woman who grew up with nothing and no one to rely on, and made it from the mailroom to the Bar and into not one but two white-shoe firms on her own, and who can damn well decide she's done that and wants to fight for the little guy. She's someone choosing, largely on her own, to choose what she sees as justice or the greater good over what she sees as merely power and privilege replicating and defending itself. And she is someone finding thrill, a growing thrill, in flouting the rules, getting away with it, and seeing -- or imagining seeing -- the looks on their faces.

She's The Woman seizing agency, but she's also, as desert outpost so cogently notes, Jimmy's Partner, them against the world of the Howards and the Chucks and the Lalos and, really, anyone else who has power and gets to make the rules that others live and die by.

It is an agency that is self-given at each and every point in the episode. The "tell" is in her extended scene with Howard. In the elevator, she throws off his effort to name and claim her as "an H and H alum," or to tag her with the names if the partners of whichever law firm he assumes she would be at. when Kim notes that she is on her own, and left on her own terms, it is something beyond Howard's ken. It's not just that he belongs not only to the world of the big money lawyers for whom pro bono is the Latin cognate of the French noblesse oblige, he ones who want the spectacular cases and leave the ordinary ones to pile up in boxes at underresourced PD offices.

It's also that Howard Hamlin cannot imagine being successful or even having a sense of status or meaning without being attached to a big name. The man is a human vanity plate, for whom injury to image -- his nice car with its literal vanity plate, his business lunch, his oh-so-prestigious job offers and advice -- is injury to self. No wonder his best efforts amount to spitting out the name sof the people that built his firm -- his father, the other H, and Chuck.

It doesn't work on Kim, of course. Kim is, in so many ways, done with fragile masculinities in this episode. If she's gentler in brushing aside Jimmy's efforts to get her to live in his trauma or as his conscience -- the phrase "better half" skulks unpleasantly to mind -- it's perhaps because she sees him as one more little guy, someone who should be protected pro bono publico.

This is a show that is full of men who nurse their narcissistic injuries, and this has especially been an episode full of them. There's Gus Fring still nursing his anger at having to burn down his own restaurant to keep his schemes afloat, and more broadly still certain that his partner's death entitles him t do whatever he must while Nacho's father is just a bargaining chip.

There's Lalo Salamanca -- a man who can barely remember who he kills , enraged at the death of a beloved servant, the only sort of "beloved" someone like that could have, and at the betrayal of a subordinate he had finally started to see as something like a human being. There're the swaggering Don Eladio and the quietly fuming, overlooked middle manager Juan Bolsa, the latter of whom tries passive-aggressive digs to maintain his boss's esteem while the former delights in seeing his employees snap at each other and offer exorbitant gifts to curry favor with him.

Even the likes of Nacho and Mike, despite having other concerns and touches of real empathy and concern for others, are, we cannot forget, essentially driven by such things. For Mike, it is the compartmentalized family life that both justifies his actions and serves as his self-defined, self-serving sense of atonement for poor Matty. And Nacho, as dmh notes, is always trying to get himself out of whatever situation he's in, because he always wants something else, is powered largely by a kind of underlying certainty that he deserves more or better or...something. "Respect," he tells Don Eladio, but whose respect, and for what reason?

And, of course, there's Jimmy, the man who started the entire series -- well, this series -- bristling at being told he was "the kind of lawyer guilty people hire," and who, here, is at his least powerful, his least in control, and certainly his least capable. Notice the way his efforts to set terms for others devolve, very quickly, into pleading, or into resigned acceptance.

It's quite a contrast with the "Saul Goodman' we've been expecting, or even the dogged Jimmy McGill we have seen. So many earlier episodes have been about Jimmy playing at chivalry, trying to win back Mesa Verde for Kim or force Kevin Wachtell to back off. He plays at being the con man who outwits everyone and makes what needs to happen happen, and all for his poor, besieged lady love. That most of his help has been unwanted and unasked for doesn't matter; for Jimmy, it was equal parts proving that he could protect Kim and drawing her into necessary complicity with him. He never seems to have considered that she has consistently seen through this, and loves him anyway, and doesn't see their mutual complicity as anything other than mutually chosen.

More generally, his entire approach to life has been to try to seize the story, to write it, to get what he wants. But he has always been reactive, in some sense. His con man persona is based on the kinds of people he saw humiliate his father, and his actions against Chuck, against Howard, for Kim, have always been driven by a kind of impulsivity or by a desire for respectability on someone else's terms. Consider his own courthouse confrontation wit Howard, where jimmy, having just had no choice but t o inflict further harm on a grieving family, rants about his godhood and Howard's puniness in increasingly unhinged, frantic tones and gesticulations. Contrast Kim's casual, self-assured manner throughout this episode.

Indeed, Jimmy is emerging as a character who, like Nacho, finds that his efforts to gain something for himself put him more and more in others' power. His idea of status has always been imitative. The con man who took n someone else's idea about never being a sheep among wolves, the would-be lawyer who was going to be Another Chuck McGill, the guy who took Davis and Main's job because he was going to be the man Kim wanted, and now the man who could have been a rich cartel lawyer or (pathetically) imagines he's going to be "in the loop" with Mike because they want trough something together. Jimmy's always looking for a model of masculinity to live up -- or down -- to, an image he can inhabit.

Here, having been stripped of a few illusions, and traumatized, he seems to have hit rock bottom. Where Kim grows self-assured and makes big plans, he is surprised, his objections weaker, his effort at a grand self-sacrifice --leaving Kim to save her from what he's mixed up in -- easily undone when Kim simply lets him know that she gets to choose, too, and then offers him comfort food and collaboration on pranking Howard, and then makes her big pitch.

It's the kind of thing he would have done without asking her at all: it takes a case Jimmy helped build, a payout he worked towards but isn't getting, and sets up a con t get him his supposed just deserts and punish only those guilty of holding him back. And from it, Kim imagines a whole happy life. That's the sort of thing Jimmy did in earlier seasons, but on a smaller scale, with less foresight and planning. And where Jimmy's calculus was always personal -- who did what to whom -- Kim's is in part purely utilitarian: "a career setback, for one man" against all the people who would benefit. This is Jimmy McGill done better by someone else.

It's a show turned upside down, the ostensible protagonists no longer driving the action and no longer center stage. (notice how little of Mike there is, and how little Jimmy actually motivates events, despite his insistence that he has brought all this bad onto Kim and himself? Nacho, of course, is still where he's been for some time now, following two sets of conflicting orders from two masters.

Who is left to drive the action? Lalo and Kim, both now acting on their own. His estate burning, his guards and his staff slaughtered, Lalo fakes his death and limps into the night alone, to seize the initiative himself against his enemies, all of whom have acted through proxies. He does not use others as instruments of violence or subterfuge; he does it himself. And Kim, of course, has sloughed off fear and the trappings of ready-made prestige to demand fulfillment on her terms, to take from the white-shoe firms and give to the PD defendants, to mount a bloodless coup and flip the hierarchies upside down.

And it's an episode that ends with Lao and Kim each setting up -- or proposing to set up -- a daring con. "I'll help you," Lalo tells the assassin, regarding the exaggerated report of his death. Say, how, again, does Kim make her pitch to Jimmy? Why, it'll help him, help them both, help indigent defendants and people the existing structures of power would never trust, never take in.

And that's the link across the episode: Kim's finger guns, her mock violence, are of course the counterpoint to the very real guns and real violence of Lalo Salamanca. And Lalo's plot, too, revolves around seeing, around reversals. this is literal in the case of his upside down view into his escape tunnel when he ambushes his pursuers, and, much as Kim peeped into the hall looking for Lalo, Lalo peers into that tunnel, upside down, to see his assailants before deciding to seize the initiative.

From a metafictional perspective, the episode is about flipping the script and the premise: the fates of Jimmy, Mike, and Gus are written in stone, to a large extent. They cannot drive the action because those narrative inevitabilities hem them in the closer the show comes to its resolution. The characters who can change, surprise, and take news turns are Kim, Lalo, and Nacho. Given that the Gilliganverse has so often been about flawed white men, the show's narrative focus, too, seems to be taking a longer view than it had before, to be driven by a different point of view.
posted by kewb at 6:01 PM on April 22, 2020 [17 favorites]

It's called character arc people. Characters are supposed to subtly change over time due to the influence of the people around them and that's what makes the story. They're not supposed to respond to every situation with perfectly optimized robotic precision.
The show has been building up to this forever. I started noticing it a long time ago.
Kim started out lawful good and Jimmy started out chaotic good. Now Jimmy is getting pulled into chaotic bad and pulling Kim down there with him. It seems pretty obvious to me.
posted by bleep at 11:45 PM on April 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I felt let down this episode. The pacing felt off, but maybe that's just because we are having a "plant seeds for a new season" episode right on the heels of the best episodes this show has produced. But I would have been happier if the Lalo story had been finished, or if something more momentous happened with Kim and Jimmy.

I'm on the fence about Kim's turn to the dark side. On one hand I get it, she's being corrupted by Jimmy, she always had a scammy side to her, and now she's feeling her oats. Cool! But then her scams were always so sweet and silly, played more for the momentary thrill of being Giselle than any long con. I definitely don't feel like the writers had this planned all along. Maybe it was the plan this season though. But it's kind of a whipsaw going from "I hate my corporate job" to "I want to help people really in need as a public defender" to "I'm gonna destroy this guy's career because he's kind of a schmuck."

I hate the idea of Howard Hamlin being the fulcrum of the final season's hijinx. Way too small a fish for Kim and Jimmy, isn't he? I guess they've made some calculation they can profit from destroying his business but I didn't quite follow how that's gonna work. Mostly I just think there's a bit too much Ham in the Hamlin character, it's exhausting watching him.

But I have faith in the writers. And excitement for the certainty of a final season. Whenever they're able to produce one, that is.
posted by Nelson at 7:28 AM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

The writers have put in a lot of work to keep Howard sympathetic, otherwise it would to be too easy to root for our protagonists when they destroy him next season.
posted by whuppy at 7:43 AM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Did anyone notice this?

After Kim says "wouldn't I?" in their last exchange around 56:35 (counting without commercials), there's a reverse shot to Saul and then a cut back to Kim. And at that moment I think they combine two shots using a morph effect. Her hair moves strangely and her expression changes in a slightly unnatural way. It's a little jarring but it must be intentional, or at least a last minute decision to combine the two instead of using a single shot.
posted by condour75 at 6:32 PM on April 23, 2020

I find it a little odd that people wonder why Kim has it in for Howard so much. Pride in her skill and resentment for not being taken seriously has been a big thing for her, and Howard exiling her to doc review was just the kind of petty humiliation that was calculated to show her her place. Of course she was resentful, of course she was furious. Now, with just a little inspiration, she's thinking in terms she might have intuitively avoided in the past: real, no-shit cold revenge. This isn't just about how Howard and Chuck treated Jimmy, it's how Howard treated her, and Chuck let him do it.

I have no problem with Kim, feeling a bit powerful after staring down Lalo and a little less tethered to conventional morality than usual, coming up with a way to just give Howard a "career setback."
posted by tclark at 7:18 PM on April 23, 2020 [9 favorites]

One of the “really bad what-ifs” Kim mentions for Howard is misappropriation of funds. So if they make some money go missing and pin it on Howard, maybe Kim is putting those funds in her budget for her new practice.
posted by mikepop at 8:42 PM on April 23, 2020

After Kim says "wouldn't I?" in their last exchange around 56:35 (counting without commercials), there's a reverse shot to Saul and then a cut back to Kim. And at that moment I think they combine two shots using a morph effect. Her hair moves strangely and her expression changes in a slightly unnatural way. It's a little jarring but it must be intentional, or at least a last minute decision to combine the two instead of using a single shot.

Wow, good eye to notice that. Yeah, I think you caught them retiming Seehorn's performance in the cutting room, probably just to make the two eyeblinks happen at the same time as the smile, or maybe to combine those two performance elements from two different takes. Usually those kinds of edits are better hidden, but they're more common than you might suspect. In this case, the sudden shift in her hairline does give it away.
posted by Mothlight at 1:48 PM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

this is gonna be winds of winter redux

mark my words

I've been musing on this for a while. At first, I thought you were talking about the end of the TV series Game of Thrones, but I think you're talking about GRRM's long-pending final novel in the series.

Either way, I think both the TV series and books differ significantly from BCS in a few key ways: this isn't the work of a sole author, or driven by two guys who confess that they kind of fell into the thing as a successful con job (Boy Genius Report's repost of a series of tweets).

Peter and Vince have extensive TV show development history, and from the podcasts, it sounds like everything is a group production in the best sort of ways. Instead of one or a few guys who try to carry everything forward, there's a team in the writing room, and there are extensive meetings to discuss the tone and drive of episodes and scenes. And now they're working with more time to edit the episodes, so there's less of a mad rush there, too.

I realize I'm being a bit of a fanboy, and ignoring the fact that Peter and Vince have also confessed to making some of this all up as they go along (they didn't have a grand picture painted for multiple seasons here to segue into BB). But again, I think of the fact that they're working from experience, and with a thoughtful creative team.

That said, things could still fall apart. Or fail to come together.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 PM on May 4, 2020

My fear is that one of the main actors dies (virus or other cause) before it's safe to begin production and the last season is fucked.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:29 PM on May 7, 2020

Get your own New Mexico "NAMAST3" license plate!
posted by rhizome at 11:26 AM on May 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I dunno...Danny Trejo just turned 76, and he could easily kick my ass. The older folks in this cast will probably be okay regarding ordinary causes. Regarding covid, I would imagine Jonathan Banks doesn't go to the grocery store himself anyway. If in a year or two from now film production is still unsafe, I think missing the last season of Better Call Saul will be the least of our worries.

I finally finished watching this season last night, and while I was a little stunned by the level of incompetence shown by the assassins (the plan -- half a dozen men with machine guns kill one man, but first a guy has to...unlock the fucking door???), it was nice to be reminded that not every trained killer in this show is at the superhuman levels of Mike. What kind of former military operatives (I imagine) end up working as mercenaries for a drug dealer? Probably not the best and brightest.

I halfway wonder if the last season won't see the two halves of the show's world converging in some insane fashion, like Lalo roping Howard into his schemes. I feel sorry for Howard as it is, man.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:25 AM on May 18, 2020

I wonder if there's a dramaturgical name for the Howard character, flip-flopping between pitiable and headed for redemption. "Too little too late, or finally using his powers for good?"
posted by rhizome at 3:10 PM on May 20, 2020

What kind of former military operatives (I imagine) end up working as mercenaries for a drug dealer?

The Los Zetas cartel was formed by Mexican Army special forces that deserted to become the security force for the Gulf Cartel. Los Zetas are one of the largest cartels in Mexico.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:38 AM on July 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

At least once an episode, my partner or I pause playback to yell "Where is Rhea Seehorn's Emmy?!?" at no one in particular. We never plan to do this, but Kim will have a line delivery or a body language moment or a facial expression, and then suddenly the video is paused and we are yelling again, because holy shit her performance is so precise and controlled and yet somehow also totally natural, and even though I say I don't care about awards it feels like that level of craft merits, like, *some* kind of professional recognition.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 3:45 PM on July 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Saul Goodpeople, take note: April 18. There's also news of "three new digital series connected to the show: Slippin’ Jimmy, an animated series set in Jimmy’s childhood; Cooper’s Bar, an unrelated series that’s being directed by and co-stars Seehorn; and a continuation of the show’s Emmy-winning Employee Training Video series of shorts." Odenkirk also talked to NYT about his on-set heart attack (link is to AVC excerpts; anyone wants to put up a nonpaywalled link, that would be cool).
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:36 AM on February 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

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