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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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    Editorials

    Walker Season 4 Premiere Review – The Quiet

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    Walker Season 4 Premiere Review - The Quiet

    Walker returned to The CW for its 4th, and, likely final, season. 

    Despite a 5-month time jump, the focus remained on serial killer Jackal, whom Walker and Trey were pursuing at the end of season 3, and the suspect that previously drove Cap. Larry James into a tailspin, effectively ending his marriage to Kelly before fate gave them another shot. 

    Only this time around, Larry’s wife, Kelly, asks Cordell not to drag her husband down this road again—a promise he intends to upkeep, though, knowing Larry, he’ll figure out that his rangers are up to something and have no other choice but to get involved, especially since Trey’s tip for a detective reveals that Jackal, whose trail previously went cold for several months, is gearing up for “something big.”

    This will be the overarching mystery of the season, while other weekly cases will also see our rangers getting into plenty of shenanigans, as they did with their pursuit of the Delmonico brothers. Also, props to all of them for taking part in a steak-eating competition and then jumping into a raid. It was bold of them, but it’s how Cordell wanted to spend his birthday, so I’m glad that despite the best-laid plans being uprooted, he was still able to feel the love from those around him.

    A lot seems to have changed in the past five months, as evidenced by Walker and Geri’s steamy hook-up. Even when everything is going wrong, we can have faith in their love being a constant, which is what fans have been hoping for since season 1. 

    There’s also Cassie, who blows back into town after taking a lengthy leave to go work for the FBI. She’s back with a newfound confidence about her abilities on the job, but she’s also struggling with a personal decision as she’s been offered a spot at Quantico, which means further uprooting her life and leaving behind her loved ones, er, Trey. 

    Yeah, Trey and Cassie kind of addressed the elephant in the room—their feelings for each other—but neither of them was honest about it, so we’ll likely get something more truthful and heartfelt in the near future. 

    Another lingering storyline is the break-in at Geri’s place that rattled Stella to her core. She hasn’t been the same since shooting and killing Witt, and it’s likely because she also lied to the police about having met him before. The officer who called her and Liam in over a “breakthrough in the case” said that the case was closed due to lack of resources, but the way he watched Stella sign the paperwork (and questioned if that’s “all she knew”) makes me uneasy—there’s definitely more to this storyline. What does he know that he’s not letting on?

    As for change, I think that in the midst of all the “I’m Walker, Texas Ranger, you’re under arrest” in case you needed the reminder, we’re also continuing to see Cordell as a flawed human and a father coming to terms with the fact that he’s about to be an empty nester. It’s the next phase of his life—and one that brings about plenty of concern over the “quiet” that will allow his dark thoughts to flourish. Hopefully, Geri will be the light to cut through all of that. 

    What did you think of the episode?

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    Wild Cards

    Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

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    Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

    I meant to write this post when Wild Cards first premiered on The CW, but time got away from me, and before I knew it, the season finale of the series was upon us! 

    I’m not a huge fan of The CW’s decision to axe some of our favorite shows in its rebrand, but what does ease the pain of losing the likes of Nancy Drew is the addition of promising shows like Wild Cards

    To be quite frank, Riverdale never did Vanessa Morgan much justice. She amassed a huge number of fans, who were mostly hoping to see her character Toni reunite with on-screen love interest Cheryl (played by Madeleine Petsch) in the later seasons, and while she was seemingly considered one of the “core” characters, she rarely got the storylines she deserved.

    We knew she could act—but Wild Cards shows us the depth of Morgan’s talents. It lets her shine, dominate, lead,  and even carry the series, opposite her on-screen partner and potential future love interest, Giacomo Gianniotti’s Ellis. 

    Morgan delivers with the role of Max, a whip-smart and very charismatic con artist who utilizes her special skillset to help a “down in the dumps” maritime officer get his mojo back—and, spoiler alert if you’ve watched the season finale, his badge and desk back. 

    Despite his initial hesitation with the idea of her joining the force as a consultant, even Ellis comes around, amazed by her abilities and the way she’s able to navigate every crime scene and follow the leads to produce results.&nbsp

    The two grow very close over the course of the season’s 10 episodes, largely due to Morgan’s delightful on-screen persona and presence. Even when it’s not clear whose side she’s really on (is she fully on board with helping the cops or does she have a larger-than-life plan up her sleeve to pull off her greatest con yet and help her dad George—90210‘s Jason Priestley—snag a “get out of jail free” card), you find yourself drawn to her and rooting for her because of her likable personality. 

    Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

    Credit: The CW

    The series not only gets us invested in Max’s character—learning about her past—and what it entails for her future, but we also find ourselves rooting for Max and Ellis to finally get together… or even test the boundaries of that electric chemistry that they share (a moment that is, sadly, ruined when her husband Olivier (Dewshane Williams) blows into town). 

    And it’s the mystery of Max that has all of us begging The CW to renew the series for a second season. We need more Max. We need more Ellis. We need more Morgan and Gianniotti. And we need answers. The good news is that Morgan told TVLine that season 2 of the quirky crime procedural is “very likely,” and trust that we put all our faith in her. 

    As for the answers I mentioned we need, well, we need to know who killed Ellis’ brother, a murder that was the catalyst for him to get knocked down from his detective responsibilities in the first place. When he met Max, he was in a hard place, still trying to pick up the pieces of his brother’s death. And though he’s come a long way, surely, the fact that he can crack this specific mystery is one that he won’t be able to pass up. 

    At the end of the finale—spoiler alert, again—Max convinced the authorities to help her pull off a heist that was two years in the works, hoping to frame her estranged husband Olivier after he steals a $33 million egg (he’s the one who betrayed her dad and landed him in prison), lessen her father’s sentence, and restore Ellis’ badge. However, there was a piece of the plan she didn’t share with Ellis—she swapped the real egg for a fake egg, and hatched a plan to disappear forever alongside Ricky and her millions. 

    She didn’t expect Ellis to figure it out, though, this was one of the weaker points in the episode because she should’ve known him better than that by now, but she figured she’d be halfway across the country and it wouldn’t matter. What she didn’t anticipate in her plan is that Ricky, who was transcribing incriminating recordings from the mob as part of their safety-net policy, would find something on the drive about Ellis’ brother, namely, who murdered him. 

    It’s at this moment that we see the biggest change in Max. She’s not the same person she was when the series first started. Her skills have become more valuable to helping than stealing, and she’s grown to care about someone other than herself and her father. She can’t, in good faith, leave with this knowledge and leave Ellis hanging. 

    And that’s where we leave off—a promising cliffhanger on a promising series with two very promising leads. 

    Your move, The CW.

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    Editorials

    Chicago Med Season 9 Episode 6 Review – I Told Myself That I was Done With You” Episode

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    Chicago Med Season 9 Episode 6 Review - I Told Myself That I was Done With You" Episode

    Chicago Med zeroed in on some personal situations for the doctors working in the ED, including Ripley (hey, Rip!), who treated an old friend from his past life, and Sharon, who was forced to come to terms with Bert’s diagnosis. 

    Ripley’s past continues to haunt him, but it’s actually illuminating for audiences who are trying to get to know him on a deeper level. I feel like I know more about him than some of the other docs who have been here for years. When a drunk man waltzed into the emergency room, Ripley didn’t expect to have a run-in with an old friend he used to hit the streets with. However, while treating his friend, he also found the beginning signs of lung cancer, which was a diagnosis that he didn’t take too lightly. When Ripley pressed him to seek out treatment, things got tense, and a fight broke out in the ED, with Ripley’s impulsive behavior rearing its head. Eventually, Dr. Charles, without casting judgment, came to save the day, informing Ripley that his friend didn’t need a doctor in a white coat but rather a friend to look out for him. He wasn’t ready to accept his diagnosis now, but hopefully, after feeling supported, he’ll come around and get the necessary treatment. 

    Zola is still finding her footing at Med, but what we’re seeing is that it’s not necessarily a bad thing because she feels strongly and passionately about taking down the corrupt system around her and fighting for her patients. She’s been told that jumping headfirst is a bad thing, but acting on instinct has proven to be beneficial, even if it does seem reckless at first. She’s prioritized her patients at every turn, she’s confident in the diagnosis she makes, and she saves lives, despite some unconventional methods. When the drug that she recommended was finally shelved, she viewed it as a win until Archer tore her up about it because it was replaced with a very expensive drug that would burden patients. It’s an odd approach considering a doctor should be happy if a drug that’s harming people or has adverse effects is taken off the market, right? Archer also didn’t stop to think about the consequences of his actions—bashing Zola and making her feel like she can’t trust her gut in situations where she’s seeing things clearly. It’s a skill to have. But her tenacity proved even more useful when she did a little more research and found the person who helped pull the drug was working for a company that produced the pricier one—thus piecing together that it was a sweetheart deal. It’s not exactly illegal, but being as perceptive as Zola is can be really useful to the hospital. 

    Also, the chemistry between her and Crockett is getting heavier and heavier, especially as he begins to realize how much of an asset she is. Let’s get this romance going! 

    Archer and Maggie teamed up amid Hannah Asher’s absence, and while he can rub people the wrong way, his advice about not holding on to a reality that didn’t exist anymore was crucial in helping Maggie move on from her divorce. She was avoiding going home and confronting the fact that Ben was gone, but it was necessary for her to move into the next phase of her life. Maggie was also inspired by a patient, who she helped convince to get her son a needed surgery so that they could both move into a more promising future together. It was sweet how the writers connected their stories—although they were so different, they both learned a great deal from each other.

    And finally, Sharon Goodwin learned the truth about Bert’s diagnosis, and it was as everyone feared—he had Alzheimer’s dementia. The news is always difficult for everyone affected, from the patient all the way to his family, who will now be responsible for taking on the care. In this case, the burden was going to fall on Sharon, even though she was his ex-wife, and she knew it would take a toll on her personal life. Trying to navigate a new relationship while getting pulled into an old one is tough, but hopefully, her new partner will understand that this is something she has to do for her former spouse. The good news is that she has Charles, who has a history with Bert, and will be a good source of support as not only a friend but a therapist. This is going to be a long road for Sharon, but hopefully, a storyline that brings more awareness to the heartbreaking disease. 

    What did you think of this week’s Chicago Med?

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