When: Monday, July 18
So much of what makes the Vince Gilligan/Peter Gould ABQ-verse effective comes from a deep exploration of cause and effect. Actions have consequences, and shows like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are deeply committed to exploring every nook and cranny of those choices. So it’s no surprise—that after all the collateral damage of last week’s incredible (and incredibly tense) mid-season premiere—Better Call Saul would take a second to relish in the quiet. As such, “Fun and Games” (written by Ann Cherkis and directed by Michael Morris) spends a considerable amount of time exploring the fallout of the deaths of both Lalo and Howard across the series’ four critical characters—Mike, Gus, Kim, and Jimmy—each with their own devastatingly tragic results.
For Mike and Gus, “Fun and Games” leverages the ghosts of Breaking Bad’s past for haunting hints at their futures. Upon finishing his clean-up, Mike stumbles upon the ID of Nacho’s father and, feeling a mixture of guilt and desire for justice, seeks him out for a conversation. Here are two men dealing with the loss of their sons, with two radically different ideas of how to move forward. For Mike, a path of revenge will eventually lead him to grizzly death upon a grassy knoll at the hands of a stubborn bastard who couldn’t leave well enough alone. Manuel Varga, on the other hand, realizes how this path will exact a heavy toll and finds the grace to let things go. It’s striking—even in a scene constructed to close off loose ends before a time-up—how the Saul writers manage to find something new to show about Mike while also providing a conclusion to his arc in this series; the image of Mike positioned behind a chain gate as if he were imprisoned is a reminder of the path he’ll continue to wander down—and the consequences that arrive as he does. Gus, on the other hand, gets to celebrate a moment of victory.
Upon concluding business with Don Eladio in another coda-like sequence that’s both a reminder of what’s to come and an echo of Breaking Bad past (albeit incredible flourishes like Gus having a near-literal fire in his eyes), we do get an astonishing bit of insight into the Chicken Man’s personal life—one which confirms any lingering doubts around his sexuality—but also allows audiences a rare moment to see Gus happy. However, it’s fleeting as Gus realizes the nature of his work can’t let him to get close to someone else in this way for fear of what may befall them. It’s both melancholy and touching in equal measure, a reminder of what Gus lost when Don Eladio killed Max poolside all those years ago.
But unlike Gus and Mike, the fate of Kim Wexler has long lingered over the show. In the stillness and quiet of this episode, the series pulls yet another gut punch and sends off Kim. After years of wondering whether or not she’d end up a victim of the cartel or caught by her fellow lawyers, Kim chooses her fate—a decision befitting how strongly defined the Saul staff has depicted her—by quitting the bar and packing up to leave town. Despite having “the time of her life” scheming with Jimmy, she can no longer handle the burden of all those they’ve hurt in their wake. The consequences of their plot against Howard are just the final straw in a series of events that started way back when they got revenge against Chuck. It is a gutting scene, beautifully rendered by both Odenkirk and the newly Emmy-nominated Seehorn, who are both at the top of their games here. And so ends any life of the man known as Jimmy McGill. As Saul dramatically jumps forward, all that’s left is a parody, a cartoon of a human that Breaking Bad fans know as Saul Goodman.
In watching “Fun and Games,” I couldn’t help but think of the promotional art for Season 4 of the show wherein Jimmy is positioned in a way that plays on those iconic comedy and tragedy masks. Now, all this time later, after the comedy comes the tragedy. And what a devastation it was. But what’s amazing is that we’re not even close to the end yet. With four more episodes to go, Better Call Saul somehow feels more open to possibility than before. In the death of not only Jimmy McGill but this part of the series, there’s rebirth too. How exciting is that? — William Goodman