Monday, July 18, 2022

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Everyone Emerges More Broken and Isolated Following the Confrontation With Lalo in 'Fun and Games'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 6.09 "Fun and Games"

Gus attempts to smooth things over with the cartel while Mike ties up loose ends north of the border.

"Fun and Games" was written by Ann Cherkis and directed by Michael Morris

This series set out to reveal how Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman as seen in Breaking Bad. Each season has made incremental progress in that regard. The viewer could see the various contours of that transformation. Every little piece of information offered the suggestion that this could be the moment the evolution was complete. Every subsequent piece of action though only revealed how much more Jimmy still had to lose. It's more than just a name. It's an entire persona. Saul Goodman conducts himself with no shame whatsoever. He's completely callous to the rest of the world. He will suggest anything if he believes it will benefit his client. That's startling given how much death and chaos has consumed Jimmy's world. The inevitable moment still ultimately happens. None of these characters can break free of their destined paths. They may have flickering moments of humanity where they wish to convey something completely different. That's always fruitless. They can't change who they are. These are the paths laid out for them. It's still absolutely devastating when those realizations occur. Jimmy is hardly the only character who breaks either. His central journey has been the marquee event of the series. It's not the only story worth consuming. Lives have been lost along the way. It's all been in pursuit of Jimmy finding love and respect. As such, the absence of those qualities leave him completely destroyed. He knows how to compartmentalize his identity. He's rather skilled at it. Not everyone is equipped with that ability. Jimmy can still find a way to thrive as Saul Goodman. He can break free of one identity and embrace something new. That allows him to forget about all the pain he has caused. It's a way for him to move forward. That's what he is continuously trying to convince himself of. All he and Kim have to do is make it through the next thing. They have to go to work following Howard and Lalo's murders as if nothing is out of the ordinary. They have to make a statement to the police about being the last people to see Howard alive. They have to spend at least twenty minutes at the memorial service for Howard at the HHM office. They have to believe one day they'll wake up and not think about the tragedy they caused. Making all of this happen allows that progress to be made. It's a way of coping. It's the path Jimmy lays out. He has to speak it into the universe. Kim can go through the motions as well. Her turmoil is all internal. As such, it's more combustive when she finally explodes with the changes they must accept.

Jimmy and Kim are bad for each other. It's not a one-sided dynamic either. Jimmy doesn't just bring out the bad in Kim. They each tempt the other over the fun they could be having at the expense of those they dislike in the legal world. Kim was having fun with the scheme against Howard. She could remove herself from the rest of the world because she liked what she was doing. All this careful planning worked effortlessly. It's what she wanted to spend her day doing. Sure, she could argue it was all in service of earning the Sandpiper settlement and starting a public defender practice. She received that opportunity without having to scam anyone. She already had the connections to make that dream a reality. That was never what any of this was about. Kim could have told Jimmy about her conversation with Mike. She knew Lalo was alive. She knew Jimmy would sacrifice everything just to keep her safe. She didn't want to alter her life in that way. She refused to believe Lalo could intimidate the couple again. They were protected. She made herself feel safe. As such, she was distraught when faced with the reality of Lalo showing up once more and killing her former mentor. That's not what she wanted as the outcome to all of this. But now, she and Jimmy have to continue and build on the story of Howard being a drug addict. They make others suffer. It's not something they want to enjoy doing. They continue to act on these impulses. It's the lie that must be done to move on to relative safety. Jimmy recognizes the pain. It's still agonizing to Kim on a personal level. She can make life miserable for so many. She has the words and the power to do so. She sends Cheryl spiraling into doubt in the bathroom. That's necessary to avoid any suspicion on the couple. This experience opens Kim's eyes to the true despair not only of her marriage to Jimmy but to the law as a whole. She is a damn good lawyer. She has fought for many innocent lives. She has made a difference in the system. The profession is simply too caught up in her narrative with Jimmy. Practicing the law would only keep temptation on the table. She has to make a clean break. It's so difficult to get those words out. She doesn't want to explain herself to everyone who asks believing they deserve an answer. It's still completely crushing for Jimmy. He believes he can always find a way out of any situation. That's not true. Kim has complete clarity. They are bad together. She has to leave. That breaks Jimmy. That's when he becomes Saul. The loss of this relationship means he suddenly stops caring about everything else. It's then easy for him to focus on work and the immortality of his typical clients.

All of this sets the stage for Saul Goodman at the forefront for the remaining four episodes. He has practiced under that name for awhile now. However, Saul has now embraced that persona for all it entails. That's the conviction he leads with despite how depressing his life is in comparison to the lofty ambitions he once laid out. Now, it's nothing more than a life of no meaningful connections. That's what he has to accept. It's a way to shield himself from the pain. It's a thematic note that plays out with many in the ensemble. Gus survives a meeting with Don Eladio and Juan Bolsa without having to make a defense for himself. His bosses don't care about the accusation Hector makes. No one pays for Lalo's attempts to expose Gus' ambitions. The chicken man prevailed in this war. He can restart construction for his underground meth lab. It's still striking to see Gus take a moment to celebrate. It's so absolutely freeing and surprising. Gus allows himself to have fun and flirt. He marvels at his crush simply talking about something he's passionate about. Gus can envision a whole life getting caught up in this personal connection. It's not long before reality starts to sink in once more. Gus realizes the homophobia of his partners threatens to derail his master plan. He must achieve that no matter what. And so, he must forego any personal relationships out of fear over what could happen. He can't let his guard down at any moment. He was lucky with Lalo. He could defeat the seemingly invincible man. He prepared for that moment too. His vindictive nature doesn't preserve his ambitions. Those catch up to him eventually. Right now, he can only offer himself a moment to celebrate and relax. Meanwhile, Mike wants to offer humanity and answers to Nacho's father. He wants Manuel to know he will no longer be targeted by the cartel. He simply lost his son in the process. Nacho wasn't like the rest of the gangsters. He still ended up as a victim of the mentality that dominates this world. Mike can't present himself as operating outside of that world either. His speech about justice offers Manuel nothing that he actually wants. It's only more vengeance. That's the sick and twisted path desperate and selfish men pursue to wield power. It won't bring his son back. Nor will it offer much stability or compassion in the future. It's only a lifetime of dread and constantly looking over one's shoulder. That's the tragedy of this storytelling. No one can escape these paths because the formative decisions were already made long ago. It's just taken this long for everyone to see it.