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Let’s Discuss Better Call Saul Season 6 – The First Half

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Better Call Saul is about to begin airing the second half of its final season. I originally intended to use the break as an opportunity to do an all-encompassing review piece on the first half of the season, and was initially excited to put my thoughts to words as I followed each episode week to week.

However, my excitement faded as I followed the social media chatter about the series. Part of what I love about live television is hopping online after the latest episodes and finding other enthusiasts to chat with. I learn a lot from these strangers; sometimes I don’t like a scene that they found engaging, and they help me see what I’m missing, or I find a line of dialogue inoffensive but through another’s perspective, learn that it could have been better. There are always those special episodes that everybody seems to come into agreement on, but on the average week, there are both good and bad things to be discussed.

The recent Better Call Saul discourse has not been like this, at least not from what I experienced for nearly two months. Instead of discussion, I mostly found an odd form of gatekeeping. If someone didn’t like how an episode played out or how a story was going, there seemed to be more attempts at proving the person wrong than there were attempts to see that other point of view and engage with it.

A large portion of the audience has been unsatisfied with some of this final season, and the overwhelming majority of replies I’ve seen has been unbecoming of genuine discussion. Instead, threads critiquing aspects of the show tend to follow with comments like this:

“Not every show needs explosions or action to be interesting.”

“The people complaining are the same people who binged through the show in two weeks so they could watch Better Call Saul cross over with Breaking Bad.”

“Not everyone has the attention span for Better Call Saul’s slower pace. It isn’t Breaking Bad, what did you expect?”

All three of the comments above refuse to engage with any actual criticism of the series. It’s all deflection and subtle jabs at the criticizer that they “just don’t get it.” I’ve been watching Better Call Saul from the beginning. I’ve routinely enjoyed it more than Breaking Bad precisely because of the way it uses relationships to push drama and not violence or explosions. “Chicanery” has stuck with me a good bit more than any Breaking Bad episode. But according to a large portion of Better Call Saul’s fanbase, my opinion can be dismissed because I think Better Call Saul Season 6 has terrible pacing.

Of course, not every discussion is like this, and sometimes if you scour the comments you’ll be able to come across a thread that actually engages with a criticism, but routinely the top comments, and even the top threads in general, reward dismissal of criticism. I’m not sure what has inspired this attitude towards dissenters, perhaps that’s research and an article for another time. Despite all of this, I’m hoping this article will encourage those who disagree with me to engage in a real discussion about both the flaws and successes of Season 6.

Now, time to dive into why Better Call Saul Season 6 has poor pacing.

What is pacing in storytelling? I like to think of pacing as “story momentum.” In general, pacing is a rollercoaster (a tired analogy but still a good one). You want a mix of ups and downs at the right places to maximize the emotional impact of your climax. Too many ups? The climax won’t feel strong enough or will get lost in the haze. Too many downs? The story may feel uneven when it suddenly reaches its climax, and the audience may not feel the story has “earned it.”

However, the rollercoaster ups DO NOT REPRESENT ACTION. They represent major story beats – plot reveals, character twists, emotional payoffs. The downs do not represent a lull in action; they represent areas of your story ripe for world building, exposition, and character development.

With this in mind, slow pacing is NOT poor pacing. I’ll repeat that periodically to try to cut off any reactionary retorts of “it doesn’t need explosions to be good, some of us LIKE taking time with the characters.” Slow paced shows can build tension and dread in unique ways, give us deeper insight into characters’ minds beyond their actions, and provide particularly powerful climaxes thanks to their careful approach to build up and anticipation. This does not, however, mean that every show (or every season) that utilizes a slow pace is automatically good. Season 6 of Better Call Saul, through its first seven episodes, in my opinion, has poor pacing. There are four areas in particular I want to explore to explain this perspective.

I’ll start with the simplest – Lalo Salamanca and Gus. Lalo’s storyline reaches a peak at the end of Season 5 after the Gus’ failed assassination attempt, and this new peak led to some real momentum for Lalo’s Season 6 storyline as he headed out to search for evidence against Gus. How would Lalo react to this new situation, and how will this betrayal affect him?

Lalo was absent from the following episode of the season, which I feel was a great storytelling choice because it let us see how Lalo’s mere continued existence affects Gus. Gus is on high alert, fearful that Lalo is coming after him, showing us a slightly different side of Gus, and this works. It provides a small lull from the momentum while keeping Lalo’s plot dangling in the mirror, giving the story a sense of weight and inevitability.

But then Lalo remains absent, and Gus remains fearful. There are no further character aspects being explored for several episodes.  This isn’t “slow pacing,” this is a halt. The rollercoaster has stopped because the characters have stopped. No progress is made in Gus’ or Lalo’s stories.

Some may say that Gus hiding a gun in the lab or Lalo discovering the lab’s existence is story progress, but I disagree – it’s plot. We already know Gus is paranoid and prepared, and while it is essential that we see Gus hiding the gun in the lab (or at least, I assume it’s essential, but only time will tell), it doesn’t actually move the story of Gus’ paranoia or fear forward. It’s not bad that we see this plot develop, but what did we learn about Gus through this plot that was new? Why couldn’t this have happened in the same timeframe that we saw Gus’ paranoia earlier in the season? Or perhaps an alternate version where we actually focus in on how Gus’ fear of Lalo is affecting his work at Los Pollos Hermanos, and therefore threatening his cover? That would have been something new, a new storyline that doesn’t move the plot forward at all, and would maintain the wonderful slow pace the show can excel at.

Lalo’s storyline suffers in the same way. When Lalo finally reappears in Germany, nothing new has been learned about him since he disappeared. The plot moves along and he finds a clue to lead him to the lab, but his interrogation of Werner’s man Casper? Absolutely useless in terms of the story. The audience gains nothing from seeing Lalo interact with Casper. The episode doesn’t even show the interrogation; the show just assumes in the next episode that the audience will believe Lalo got what information he needed – which already could have been assumed when Lalo found Werner’s ruler.

Perhaps one would argue that by showing Lalo’s journey, it legitimizes the lengths he’s willing to go to take down Gus, and it leaves us without the ability to question how he discovered the lab (remember when Bruce Wayne suddenly got back to Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises with no explanation and everyone talked about it for years?). Showing Lalo go after Casper avoids that pitfall. However, I disagree that this is necessary in this scenario. I’m happy to hear a counterpoint, but for me, the hunt for Casper is just an extra, action-packed episode of material that doesn’t materialize into something new, and to reiterate, pace-wise it doesn’t matter that Lalo gets an action scene here because action scenes are not necessarily story momentum. (Also, now that I’m thinking of it, Lalo totally pulls a Bruce Wayne and just randomly gets to Germany and back with no explanation as to how, so why is that information unnecessary but the Casper stuff is???).

Next is Mike, and this one is short and sweet. Why oh why oh why are we seeing Mike watch over his granddaughter and make small cutesy talk with her about stars? We have seen sweet scene after sweet scene of Mike and his family – is there really nothing else to this man? Why is this repeated? I wish the pace of Nacho’s storyline at the start of the season would have been slower, as extending his time even just one more episode might have provided Mike with a bit more to work with. Perhaps then we could have avoided this retread, as scenes that provide us information we already know halt the beautiful slow burn Better Call Saul has provided.

On the other hand, Howard’s scenes halt the momentum to show us information we DON’T need, and unnecessary information can be just as damaging to your pace as repeated information. When Howard’s wife snubs his crafted-with-love latte, I felt a huge wave of disappointment. All I saw from that scene was an over-the-top attempt at garnering Howard some sympathy before his demise. It was clear and shameless audience manipulation, and I am comfortable committing to this stance because of the lack of context. We don’t actually know enough about Howard’s situation for this sympathy to be gained naturally, so the scene has to go out of its way to tell us how we should feel. Howard’s wife snubs him, but what if Howard was a huge jerk to her? What if she is dismissing him this way because of something awful she did? How can I feel bad for Howard without knowing what exactly happened?

This took me out of the story because the scene was so meticulously designed to garner sympathy for the man without doing any of the real work to set Howard up to earn it in this context. Howard has earned enough sympathy through the rest of the show already – we don’t NEED more, and if the writers felt Howard needed more then they should have worked Howard’s personal life into the story more naturally in the past. Remember when Howard was devastated from Chuck’s death in Season 4? That was great! New facets of the man were revealed while complicating his relationship with Jimmy. It pushed him forward to make specific decisions, and continues to influence his perspective on things (even being alluded to in his final scene). Does the reveal of a failing marriage do any of that for Howard? What does it accomplish?

What particularly bothers me about this is that the show had a perfect opportunity to have its cake and eat it, too, without resorting to blatant audience manipulation. Part of what makes Howard’s demise so harsh and affecting is Jimmy and Kim’s lack of foresight. They never considered anything beyond their personal perspective regarding Howard, and I feel the reveal would have worked much better (and more naturally) if we learned about his marriage issues at the same time Jimmy and Kim did. Giving the audience secret insight into Howard’s life that Jimmy and Kim didn’t have undercut the moment he told them, because we can’t react alongside Jimmy and Kim. We also would only have had Howard’s perspective to rely on, with no risk of being influenced by a wife who is so incredibly detached from her husband that the only explanations are that she’s totally heartless or Howard did something to deserve it.

Perhaps she’ll be important moving forward, and the real purpose of the scene was to establish that Howard’s wife now knows about Jimmy’s involvement, but throwing this scene in just for sympathy and establishing future plot-points is closer to strapping on the seatbelt than it is to moving smoothly around a couple of turns. It’s clunky, and while potentially establishing plot, the scene of Howard’s failing marriage does nothing to change his character and does little to shift audience perspective of him in a way that couldn’t have been accomplished just as effectively, if not more effectively, with less scenes dedicated to it. And who knows, maybe those scenes could have been used to give Mike a slow, character based scene that doesn’t involve loving his granddaughter.

And finally…the scheme. The plot of Jimmy and Kim’s scheme is fine (if personally a bit uninteresting to me, which isn’t a flaw), but the execution fails in two ways that hurt the pace of the season.

First, and a clear running theme of the season – Jimmy and Kim do not develop much as characters during each of the meticulous steps of the scheme that we see. Sometimes a lack of development can be good pacing, such as in Season 4, where Jimmy’s lack of development is the point of the story. That isn’t the point of the Season 6 story, though, and Jimmy and Kim’s characters stand still for multiple episodes while the scheme is being put into action. For those who feel that seeing all of these actions take place over multiple episodes (instead of one or two) serves the story, I ask which parts of these characters changed or grew during these scenes? What character attributes that may be examined moving forward (such as their arrogance) are being reinforced in a way that could only be achieved by seeing so many steps over so many episodes?

Second, the scheme is hidden from the audience. I can see why this decision was made, particularly after hearing from those involved with the show that they feel, “[If the plan goes wrong, you should explain it first. If it goes right, you don’t need to.]” I agree with this theory to an extent, but each story is different and requires different approaches. In this case, because the scheme against Howard lasts for so long, the lack of information ends up creating a lack of tension, and tension is particularly important to maintain when telling a slow-burn story like this.

If we don’t know what the plan is, we don’t know what needs to go right nor what can go wrong. This can be fun and beneficial at first, as trying to get the audience to piece together the scheme is a great way to increase engagement. Personally, I’ve never been all that into figuring out plots like this, as I’m more interested in how plots affect the people involved. Not knowing what can go wrong leaves me guessing at what’s happening instead of feeling dread or panic with the characters, and as the story continues with no clear sense of stakes, trying to piece the puzzle together just isn’t enough. Eventually, it passes the point of intrigue in not knowing what can go wrong because we don’t even know what happens when things go wrong. What will the consequences to Jimmy and Kim be if they fail? Will they end up in prison? Get someone hurt? What are the stakes? Without these stakes, there is little story within this plot. We have Jimmy reluctantly asking Kim about the plan, Kim’s amazing question to Jimmy, “You think we’re wicked?”and then a long halt before Kim eventually turns her car around.

And Kim turning around and abandoning all pretenses that she’s doing any of this for the greater good – excellent. Kim and Jimmy literally getting off to Howard’s demise (one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen) – excellent. The result of this scheme is one of my favorite stories the series has ever told, and it seems most fans agree. In fact, I saw a ton of posts from both sides praising the climax of the story.

And yet, of course, I saw lots of posts about how all the naysayers were wrong and this is what happens when you trust the show. I disagree. Better Call Saul did not justify its pacing choices with the the mid-season finale, and therefore, the pacing issues in the first half of the season remain. How you get somewhere matters just as much as where you end up, and I fully believe the first six episodes could have built to this climax even better than it did.

Not everyone agrees, but a lot of people do; many who are fans of the slow-paced, character based show that is Better Call Saul and are trying to hold the series up to the standards they personally feel it isn’t meeting. The first half of Season 6 is poorly paced. Disagree with me, argue with me, and let’s discuss, because I love Better Call Saul.

 

(P.S. Despite the disappointing discussion surrounding Better Call Saul, the memes have been absolutely top tier. I haven’t seen so many creative and uniquely specific killer jokes about a series since the 00’s.)


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    What to Watch

    Madelaine Petsch’s ‘Hotel for the Holidays’ Is a Gem Among Cliché Films

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    Madelaine Petsch's Christmas Movie 'Hotel for the Holidays' Is an Absolute Gem Among Cliche Films

    There are a lot of Christmas movies out there, which is why it’s important to make the right choice this holiday season. After all, no one has the time to waste over two+ hours on a bad movie. 

    At the top of your list should be Hotel for the Holidays, a rom-com that offers a refreshing take on a festive genre that oftentimes lacks creativity simply because the forces behind the scenes know it will make money regardless as everyone longs for a slice of familiarity and comfort around the holidays.

    There’s plenty of Christmas magic (it must’ve slipped through the cracks) in Hotel for the Holidays, and it sneaks up on you—and Madelaine Petsch’s character, Georgia—in the best possible way. It’s Amazon Freevee’s first original holiday flick, and hopefully, not the last. 

    The plot is rather simple on the surface, but it isn’t predictable as with other holiday rom-coms.

    Here’s the gist: Georgia is a young and ambitious hotel manager at the historic Hotel Fontaine (it gives The Plaza Hotel vibes from Home Alone 2), which attracts an eclectic bunch of guests, including some heartbroken singles, an infamous popstar, a European ex-prince looking for a taste of the real world, and more. They all arrive in New York City for the holidays looking for an escape from the norm, and Georgia is determined to give it to them. However, she also has her own plans and goals that get her into a bit of a love triangle with the hotel’s chef, Luke (Mesa Massoud from the live-action Aladdin), and the ex-prince, Raymond (Max Lloyd Jones from Book of Boba Fett). It also stars Kayleigh Shikanai (American Gods) as Pandora, Jami Belushi (According to Jim) as Kiki, Neil Crone (It) as Milton, and Jayne Eastwood (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) as Florence.

    Madelaine Petsch's Christmas Movie 'Hotel for the Holidays' Is an Absolute Gem Among Cliche Films

    Credit: Amazon Freevee

    Pretty early into the film, it’s obvious how Georgia’s romantic life will resolve itself, which allows the film to dig into other captivating subplots that are positively unexpected. Unlike other holiday films, Georgia values herself beyond a romantic partner, which, right off the bat, is a breath of fresh air. 

    The supporting cast plays an integral part in the film, right down to the chef’s best friend/fellow chef and the janitorial staff. They may not be the sole focus of the series, but the team behind the rom-com found a way to involve them in a way that’s natural and easy to keep up with. Pretty soon, you find yourself rooting for the happiness of everyone at Hotel Fontaine—the staff and the guests.

    The acting is also great. It’s just the right amount of feel-good so it never feels forced, nor do the character’s choices seem questionable. It’s all believable within the world they’ve created, aside from the scene where they are dining on a rooftop in the dead of a New York City winter without jackets or even sweaters. How are they not cold? As for the few over-the-top performances and characters, well, they also work—the prince’s bodyguard (AJ Zoldy) is a delight.

    If I’m being perfectly honest, the magical thing about the film is that it’s a love letter to the community of people you surround yourself with: your found family.

    The film doesn’t just settle for telling a story about two people who finally admit that they love each other because that’s tired and expected. Instead, it recognizes that romance comes in all shapes and sizes—in romantic partners, in co-workers, in friends, and even in new acquaintances that pass through your life for a brief moment (or stay awhile). 

    Madelaine Petsch's Christmas Movie 'Hotel for the Holidays' Is an Absolute Gem Among Cliche Films

    Credit: Amazon Freevee

    The storylines come together seamlessly, and the themes of belonging and acceptance—in addition to staying true to yourself, finding the inspiration to pursue your goals and ambitions, and acknowledging that it’s ok to move and find happiness on your own terms, even if it doesn’t always please everyone—help the film stand out among the other cliche seasonal offerings.

    Most importantly, Petsch shines… and it’s so deserved. The film allows her to show off her range of acting chops that, sadly, get stifled on Riverdale. The CW series may have been her mainstream big break, but it stopped working in her favor a long time ago, so it’s exciting to see her take on new projects and characters. 

    Of all the Christmas films that I’ve seen in 2022 thus far, Hotel for the Holidays is one of the best. 

    Check it out for yourself when it premieres on Dec. 2 on Amazon’s Freevee. 

    Read On:

    Your Guide to All the Must-Watch Christmas Movies of 2022

    Freddie Prinze Jr. Is Back! Everything We Know About the ‘Christmas With You’ Heartthrob

    Where Was ‘Falling for Christmas’ Filmed?


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    What to Watch

    9 TV Shows to Watch After Thanksgiving Dinner

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    9 TV Shows to Watch After Thanksgiving Dinner

    Thanksgiving is a time for reconnecting with friends and family and indulging in some delicious meals. 

    But after all the turkey, sides, and pie is cleared off the plate, the only acceptable activity is binge-watching some feel-good TV shows. 

    Here are some post-Thanksgiving dinner show suggestions:

     

    Virgin River

    You’ll be just as surprised as Mel to fall in love with the picturesque town of Virgin River. Come for the views, stay for Jack. 

     

    Hart of Dixie

    Dr. Zoe Hart arrives in Alabama looking for a fresh start and learns that the Southern way of living might actually be what’s best for her. 

     

    Gilmore Girls

    An unbreakable mother and daughter bond, a charming town that would make any Lifetime movie jealous… plus, an unspoken love for coffee? Say no more.

     

    Selena + Chef

    You might know her as a Disney Channel actress and pop star, but now, she’s adding chef to her resume. And since Thanksgiving is all about food, this is one show you don’t want to pass up. 

     

    The Cleaning Lady

    You might think it’s odd that a mafia crime drama made the list, but at its core, the series is about family and how far two dedicated and loving moms would go for their family. It’s a thrill from beginning to end! 

     

    Walker

    The modern-day update to the Chuck Norris classic hones in on family above everything, with a side of roundhouse kicks. 

     

    A Million Little Things

    A group from Boston bond under the unlikeliest of circumstances and get a much-needed wake-up call following the death of a close friend. 

     

    La Brea

    Though it falls into the “sci-fi mystery” category, La Brea hinges on a family determined to find their way back to each other despite all the obstacles standing in their way and all the sacrifices needed to be made.

     

    Dream Home Makeover

    If there’s ever a time to get inspired for a home makeover, it’s after the holidays (and during Black Friday when everything is on sale!) And the McGee family is the cherry on top! 

     

    This Is Us

    This is… a no-brainer. No show captures the essence of what it means to be a complicated, loving, flawed, and fulfilled family more than this NBC drama.

     

    Angel the Series: Why The Series is The King of Found Family Shows

    27 TV Characters Who Would Cook a Mean Thanksgiving Dinner


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    Dead to Me

    When Is ‘Dead to Me’ Season 3 Coming Out?

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    When Is 'Dead to Me' Season 3 Coming Out?

    There’s been a lot of buzz about the upcoming third season of Dead to Me, which will, unfortunately, also be the final season of the Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini-led comedy drama.

    When Will Dead to Me Season 3 Premiere?

    Well, the wait is thankfully almost over because the series is set to hit Netflix on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. 

    And that means, you’ll have the whole entire weekend to binge watch all 10 episodes to see how Jen Harding and Judy Hale’s adventures come to an end. 

    It’s been a bit since new episodes aired, however, with Dead to Me Season 2 dropping on the streaming giant in May 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic along with Applegate’s MS (multiple sclerosis diagnosis) delayed the upcoming season significantly, so it’s understandable if you don’t actually remember where things left off. 

    How Did Dead to Me Season 2 End? Let’s Recap! 

    For starters, a dog digs up Steve Wood’s body with his brother, Ben, getting the dreaded call. Judy and Jen find the money that Steve was laundering for the Greek mafia behind the frames of Judy’s art paintings, which allows them to buy out the house and get a new car for Charlie with a shiny new bow on top. Unfortunately, on their way home, they get into an accident with another vehicle… and it’s revealed that the driver that hit them is Ben, who has an empty bottle of liquor by his side. He’s a little banged up, but he drives away.  This is honestly messy, so I’m glad we’re on the cusp of the new season. And on top of all of that, Charlie finds the letter that Jen wrote (and Judy didn’t destroy), which probably includes way too much information about what’s going on. 

    Dead to Me Season 3 Trailer

    Applegate on Filming the Final Season

    Applegate, who recently received her much-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, told Variety that while filming the new season of the Emmy-award winning drama amid her MS diagnosis was challenging (she had to use a wheelchair to get to set because walking was difficult and painful), she remained dedicated to finishing out the story for fans, which we truly admire and are grateful for.

    When the creative forces behind the show asked if she wanted to pull the plug since they felt like they were “torturing her,” she replied, “But I was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no: We have to finish this story. It’s too important to our hearts; too important to our souls. And we have to give this gift, not only to ourselves — there are people that love these characters, and we’ve got to let them have their closure too.’ So, if that meant me having to take a break in the middle of the day so I could go sleep — or me just leaving because I couldn’t do anymore — then that’s what we had to do.”

    And knowing how much dedication went into it will make watching this season so more rewarding and gratifying.

     


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