“Better Call Saul” Season 2 – Pride, Love and the Different Paths of Corruption

Better Call Saul Season 2 Poster

    “Better Call Saul” is a show that may surpass “Breaking Bad” in the end if it continues to have this level of quality in storytelling and character development. From the minor characters to the big ones I’ve come to care about them in different ways (though not Chuck) and can’t wait to see where their stories go. The major themes this season were the different roads to corruption…ranging from love and wanting to impress another, to pride and all the pros and cons that come with it.

    Vince Gillian and Peter Gould is a truly an amazing storyteller and the way he expresses character and themes and intertwines them so richly is just masterful.

SPOILERS ahead

The story continues Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) path to becoming Saul. This season he becomes a member of his brother Chuck’s (Michael McKean) Law Firm. Things aren’t all they are cracked up to be though…Elsewhere Mike (Jonathan Banks) is pulled deeper into the world of the Cartel.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Arthur Albert continues to shoot beautiful shots in this, especially in regards to the isolation of Chuck, Jimmy and Mike. They are all different types of alone and he uses darkness and light in a space to show this, creating some stunning storytelling.

The Soundtrack – Dave Porter did a great job with a soundtrack, the soundtrack gives  a feeling of desolation but manages to create moments of hope, humor and power within it.

The Writing – Vince Gillian and Peter Gould once again have wrote gold. Whether it is characters, themes or events…they capture the action of it all so well. In this season we truly get how the Saul character came about and by the end can guess what prompts the name change.

The Characters – Gould and Gillian are amazing character writers and the characters are what really drive the action of the show. There are many more “Breaking Bad” cameos but none of them feel shoe-horned in. They fit the story and events and are a part of it.

Lawson – Jim Beaver is fantastic in this! This is his return and we see him helping Mike choose a gun a few times. He plays a guy who loves his weapons and can also be generous with them too. He’s all business yet personable.

The Cartel – The Salamanca family and the Cartel are a fascinating group who we never really fully got to know in “Breaking Bad,” this season explores more of their history and the politics of their organization as Hector is still healthy so we see how he runs his area of the operation.

Leonel and Marco Salamanca – The Twins are back! These two don’t do much but the aura of threat they give off is impossible to get away from. Whether it is showing Mike they could kill his Granddaughter from his pool, or just hanging around as Hector’s bodyguards. You don’t mess with these guys.

Tuco Salamanca – Tuco is back when Nacho contracts Mike to kill him. We see how much this guy scares everyone around him and how everyone knows he’s unstable and crazy. After what went down last season between him and Jimmy it is great to see him in relation to Mike who ends up getting him arrested, though later Hector frees him by having Mike lie to the police.

Hector Salamanca – Mark Margolis is back as Hector and Hector is in his prime with no threats that he knows of. This leads to him walking all over Mike which almost leads to his death, until someone stops Mike from taking the sniper shot. Can’t wait to see how this character ends up in a Wheel Chair.

Nacho Varga  – Michael Mando continues to humanize a character that would be a bit part on any other show. In this we see his main goal was just power and surviving and Tuco going to prison made that possible. He’s in deep with Mike though and has a respect for him even though he sees Mike doesn’t kill and he thinks that is stupid. I don’t see him surviving the series just due to how dangerous the Salamanca’s and the Cartel are.

The Protagonists – The protagonists are really the big drivers of the action and the main protagonists this season are Kim, Mike and Jimmy…each bringing us a different perspective on the choices they make.

Kim Wexler – Gillian and Gould finally know how to write a fully well rounded female character and Rhea Seehorn plays it masterfully. In this we see her go from cautious to finding pride in her work and going Independent with Jimmy. She is also there holding Jimmy in check and reminding him to not leave a trail as she knows Chuck wants to destroy them both for not being under his power.

Mike Ehrmantraut – Mike has been developed so much more in this show versus “Breaking Bad” and I love how it has been handled. We see an ex-cop who goes full mercenary and in the end is ready to kill another, which is one thing we’ve seen him swear off many times this season. Someone stops him from killing Hector and I think it is Gus as he wants a much more complete revenge against the man who wronged him.

Jimmy McGill – This season we see everyone around Jimmy likes him more than Chuck. From Chuck’s wife, to their mother and most of the people at the firm. This envy leads to Jimmy being targeted as well as Jimmy’s own wanting to do his own thing. This season we see how the look of Saul comes around as he’s inspired by a balloon person and begins being a terrible person at the office so they’ll fire him but he can still get the money from the case he brought them. Odenkirk is awesome as we see a man acting from his love of Kim but also his need to do his own thing and be free. I really like Jimmy, in the end it is his love for his brother that may cost him all he’s built…as his brother records him admitting to a felony.

Independence and Agency – Jimmy and Kim represent this best as we Kim sticking with the Firm even as she’s walked all over, while Jimmy seeks a way out and has a hard time accepting them as working together but not partners. He does come to accept it because he loves her, while the Firm keeps trying to take away all she built. This story is a constant dance as we see Jimmy’s extreme agency leads to him illegality and also ability to be manipulated by Chuck, while Kim though she was miserable was in a stable position with money.

What Makes a Good Person? How Do you Measure it? – This is a question the show poses and we see represented in Chuck and Jimmy. Jimmy does a lot of questionable things, but they often lead to good ends and often come from a place of love. Chuck follows the rules and is a manipulator who does everything for pride an ego. They are the inversion of one another’s intentions and through them and other characters this question and measure of the what it means to be “good” is explored.

The Ending – Chuck uses his “condition” to manipulate Jimmy into admitting he changed the papers and replaced them back as we see Chuck will go to any length to bring his brother down.

Okay: Chuck McGill – He isn’t sympathetic, which is a shame as he’s acted really well. More could be done to humanize him I think as I sympathize more with the Salamanca’s than I ever could with Chuck. They are honest in what they are…Chuck is just an awkward sociopath who wants to hurt his brother.

Cliffhanger Ending – If the show was canceled I’d hate this ending, but knowing it probably won’t be i’m okay with the cliffhanger, with the note on Mike’s car saying “Don’t,” and Chuck recording Jimmy’s confession secretly. So much happens and the way they ended it is like a punch in the gut.

This season was nearly perfect! The only things that could have been handled differently were the cliffhanger ending and humanizing Chuck more. all he does is act cruel and manipulative. I get he hates Jimmy but he must have loved him at some point too, or he’d have never got him out of prison. I hope Season 3 will humanize his character more as we see the fallout from the choices made this season. Peter Gould and Vince Gillian are two of my favorite folks in television right now. “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” are some of the best stories I’ve ever watched and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

Advertisements

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 17 – “Ourselves Alone” – Jesse’s Plan

217_Hand_Fix

    “Ourselves Alone” finally reveals Jesse’s endgame and shows the promise in John Connor in regards to the future, as well as how different people view him and just how isolated Riley is becoming and the price of all the lies and half lives.

    The episode was directed by Jeff Woolnough and written by Toni Graphia and Daniel T. Thomsen.

      The story involves Riley fearing Cameron has discovered her secret as Cameron’s glitch has returned and Sarah Connor begins to fear that they have stayed in one place for too long of time and just how out of the loop she is in her son’s life.

The Pros: Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor is trying to return to stability again in this and we see just how out of the loop she is. In some ways she pushes herself further away from John but we also see how much she truly cares about Riley. There are some good character moments of her just trying to be a mom.

Cameron – Cameron is shown to have a human side in this as we see her let John fix her glitch and that she does have feelings for him. It’s a powerful moment and we see she is at the point where she respects John’s feelings for Riley and won’t interfere. This is huge and plays a part in the next episode.

Riley – Riley’s life is being manipulated by Jesse so that Cameron will kill her and turn John against the Machines. It’s tragic and when she finds out she fights Jesse for ruining her life. This ends in her death. I actually felt it too as she was finally developed enough as a character in the last few episodes.

Jesse – Jesse’s plan is revealed in this though we don’t know her motivation for turning John against Cameron. We see how devoted and like a Terminator she has become in the process though she isn’t heartless as she never meant to kill Riley and only does so accidentally in self defense and we see how much that breaks her.

John Connor – John Connor is shown to becoming John of the future as he is distant from Riley and lets people make their own choices, even if it ends in their own destruction. In this he is so distant when he could speak up and be honest, but he never does. He’s afraid of getting hurt and becoming the man alone with Cameron as his only confidant.

The Cons: Derek Reese – He is just kind of there. He only exists so Jesse cannot tell him the truth of who she is and what she knows. Sadly this doesn’t go anywhere at all. Wasted character.

   This was a good episode but not a favorite. There was more that could have been done with Derek and even with Sarah Connor too as they are doing side quests while the main story revolves around the Jesse and Riley and Riley and John drama. The ending is good though and is sadly the only way it could have gone. Things are coming to a head and the story needs to refocus on the threat of Catherine Weaver and Skynet.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 14 – “The Good Wound” – Lies and Abuse

celebutopia

“The Good Wound” is a good Sarah Connor episode, and we finally get to see the actor playing Kyle Reese do more beyond acting all noble. In this we see that he is the survival part of her mind as much as anything else as well as her willingness to protect John from anything. Connor Trinneer (Trip Tucker from “Enterprise) also makes an appearance as an abusive husband whose a cop, and he does a good job being threatening.

The episode was directed by Jeff Wolnough and written by Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz.

The story involves Sarah’s escape from the hospital and kidnapping a Doctor to treat her gunshot wound. This leads to her manipulating the doctor as the Doctor’s abusive husband hunts her leading to a final reveal when Derek Reese finds them. Elsewhere Catherine Weaver is discovered to be a robot by John Henry and we see what lengths she will go to to meet her goals.

The Pros: John Henry – John Henry is very much like a child learning and like a child he doesn’t trust. He is the one who sees that Catherine Weaver is lying and isn’t telling him everything. Whether he believes her when she says she does all for him remains to be seen.

Catherine Weaver – She is ruthless and whether she sees Henry and Ellis as anything more than tools is still a question. She is efficient though and is a lot more deadly than the T-1000 from “T2” ever was.

Kyle Reese – Kyle is part of Sarah’s mind and feeds here paranoia and survival instincts, he also represents the part of her that is hope and keeps her from giving up…he was the one good thing that came out of a Terminator trying to kill her and that keeps her going and do whatever she can to survive and bring the fight to the Machines.

Sarah Connor – Sarah is a bit of a sociopath and we see this in how she uses Dr. Burnett, lying about an abusive husband giving her the gunshot wound since the truth would be too crazy. She’s good at reading people though and she notices that Burnett is a victim of abuse. She is someone detached from everyone in order to survive and through doing so she burns every bridge she could make.

Alvan and Dr. Burnett – Alvan is the abusive cop hunting Sarah who stumbles on Burnett and suspects her helping. Connor Trinneer does a great job as a sympathetic cop who turns out to be a monster as does Laura Regan as Burnett.

This was a good filler episode that is one of the better episodes in the series. It shows just how messed up Sarah is and also that Terminators aren’t the only enemies people face, sometimes the biggest monster is the one closest to you, not the emotionless machine sent from the future.

Final Score: 9 / 10

 

“Doctor Who” Series 8 Reflection – Of Capaldi, Illusions and a Return to the Old

Doctor Who Death in Heaven

“Doctor Who” has finally returned to form. After a questionable Series 6 and 7 (seems to be habit that in the last era of Doctors who last more than one series…that inevitably their character development and stories decline in quality (See Series 4 and the Tennant Specials). The later series of Doctor Who, whether it’s the Smith era as 11 or Tennant era as 10, eventually the themes got more scattered and the writers can out of ideas and began going more for explosions and cheap jokes, rather than actual deep stories with high quality. But, as I said before, Capaldi turned that around for the Moffat era.

This is an assessment of the entire series 8, so this will have spoilers. So be warned.

This was an era of great episodes like “Listen” (which may be one of the best Doctor Who episodes of all time), from “Time Heist,” and “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven.” There were only two terrible episodes, “Robot of Sherwood” which was insulting in how it portrayed it’s characters, and “In the Forest of the Night” which had Moffat’s worst Fairy Tale storytelling on display. But besides that it was an extremely solid and enjoyable series that had a very great theme.

If I were to define 12’s era I would say it’s themes were the cost of war on soldiers, if fighting is always the right thing to do and the nature of lies and illusions and breaking through those to reach the truth.

The greatest cost of war on soldiers is seen with Danny, who distrusts officers because of what he was ordered to do. He killed a child in the war he fought in and this is something that gives him motivation on teaching children and trying to be a good man. He lives with the guilt, just like the Doctor refuses to kill and to fight because of what he had to do during the Time War. Danny dies a soldier but his final act is in Heaven giving the child he killed a chance at life again and in turn giving up his life with Clara. The Doctor also makes the choice and rather than using the Cybermen to liberate refugees and free the world (at the cost of his soul) he lets Cybermen Humanity be lead by Danny and save the human race. It’s their battle in the end. This theme is also witnessed with the alien in :The Caretaker” which is a Robot designed to destroy and the Mummy on “Mummy on the Orient Express” who stops killing once the Doctor tells him they surrender. They than salute one another and the undead soldier is finally allowed death, or the Teller finally allowed to live with it’s partner. Soldiers can fight for what’s right but so often they are broken tools of people like Missy or the Mummy’s creator. This is the horror of war and what it’s cost can often be on soldiers…not everyone is able to have a life after like Danny did.

The second issue is if fighting is always the right thing to do. Sometimes it is, in the episode “Flatline” the Boneless keep killing and attacking people, leading the Doctor to sending them back to their dimension. He tried everything and nothing worked. In “Deep Breath” he talks with the Half-Face Man and it’s left ambiguous if the Half-Face Man took his own life out of guilt and realized how killing was wrong because of how human he had become. Capaldi’s Doctor chooses not to fight unless it is necessary or to protect another. He was only willing to kill Missy so Clara wouldn’t have to, and when Brig made the choice for the Doctor he was grateful. One theme is that even if it is necessary, killing always has a cost. Danny is very PTSD and dealing with the trauma of what he had to do when he fought, and the last paragraph covered pretty thoroughly what happens when those in power use people to their own ends and as soldiers’ in their wars. I think the Doctor realizes this, which is why he won’t let Clara become as broken as he is.

We see this theme of lies and illusions in how the series kick’s off in “Deep Breath,” where 12 asks Clara, “Am I a good man?” The Doctor sees himself as a lie to a degree and wants to make sense of what he’s become, since his existence breaks the rule of regeneration in regards to Time Lords. We see it in how Clara lies to Danny and the Doctor lies to Clara. In most cases the lies involve withholding information and it taking a tole. We see lies and illusions played out in how every person meets Missy in Heaven at the end and soon learn that Heaven is not what it appears to be and is truly a Hell. This in turn is an illusion in order for Missy to get her friend the Doctor back. She has been just as hurt from the Time War as the Doctor and just wants companionship again with her childhood friend. It is here the Doctor breaks through the illusion that the Time War foisted upon him, that he is an officer who must use others. He rejects it and gives the power to Danny and admits he is just an “Idiot, with a Box, passing through.” Though he still holding onto lies and when Missy gives him the coordinates to Gallifrey he lies to Clara about having found them, just like Clara lies about Danny returning. It takes “Last Christmas” and dealing with the loss of Gallifrey and Danny for the two to reconnect and be true Doctor and Companion again. They aren’t whole until the Dream Crabs put them through the docket of illusion leading them to face the truths of what they’ve lost and what they mean to one another.

This was a great series and if you haven’t watched it yet I highly recommend it. It deals with the “So What?” and Capaldi’s Doctor is one of the best. He’s a call back to the old Doctor’s like Tom Baker where he isn’t attracted to people and truly alien in how he doesn’t see age, he just sees people. He also is cold and detached even if his hearts are in the right places. Much of his arc is learning to care both about himself and about those around him beyond a detached level where his goal is to save as many as possible. Capaldi brings depth and humor to the role and has a great magician look to his Doctor. Now that his arc is done I look forward to seeing how he and Clara change (though Clara could have left twice this season and it would have been perfect, she would have had the best companion exit in the new series) and I hope Missy comes back. She is one of the best enemies and versions of an old enemy..,,but she deserves her own post, which I’ll be waiting on writing, especially if she’s coming back. Once again, go and check out this series. If you are fan of Doctor Who, either Classic Who or New Who, you will probably love it the same way I did.