exits are NORTH and WEST
Every few months I rewatch Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. It's sort of a ritual at this point and it's strange how often I can pull something new from it, if only because I really do just adore the craft of it? There's a lot of really solid like. Camera work and shit. But some of the writing and plot developments are just absurd, in some really like... strange ways. It's really fucking funny how people say this is what "rational media" looks like, when the canonical explanation for how Walter poisoned Brock was "he stuck poison flowers in a juice box that he snuck to him at daycare", but it works by being visually compelling and having some really good performances, even if it's not always the most coherent.
This time around I've kinda soured on Better Call Saul? It's, crafts-wise, a better show, all the things I thought were really good in Breaking Bad are better, but I'm sure not like... sold on it. The seams show on Better Call Saul and sometimes, you can pull at these seams and they unravel. There's this shorthand the shows use to establish character intelligence - a character who we are told is very proficient in their field tells a story in which they were stuck on a problem, and the character who the writers want us to feel is intelligent, pulls an obscure fact from their knowledge, and it miraculously solves the issue. Walter's knowing what synchrotrons are is the same as Chuck's obscure case law pulls. It feels cheap, almost, in a way that doesn't really line up with the other ways characters are shown rather than told, since this happens in the same franchise where the scene of Jimmy trying so very hard to make the mug that Kim got him as a present fit into the car that Davis and Main bought him happens. That's a good character beat, if not a little heavy handed, because it's shown and not told in that way, and it's in the same show where characters will barrel through their backstories at the camera. They're good performances but Mike tearing up over the death of his son is in the same universe where The Fly Episode happened.
It also hits this weird problem where it attempts to bridge the gap between its start and where Jimmy is at the start of Breaking Bad. In my mind Jimmy is the character that people who are fucking stupid think Walter is - a good person, falling from grace. But the show isn't just about Jimmy. It's also about Mike, and Gus, and the Salamancas, and Ignacio. I really like Mike when he's in Breaking Bad - he's a good addition to the group dynamic, the seemingly-calculating Walt and impulsive as all fuck Jesse is really nicely counterbalanced with the knowledgeable and restrained Mike, but it's lost when Mike is the main character. He plays a straight man and the straight man himself is not the joke itself. My friend Jane said it best - he's a good addition to the tapestry but when he's on his own he is a very beige character. He's not interesting without a cast to play off.
The need to connect the dots from there to Breaking Bad is also tough on the series, since a lot of the show is spent on this when it could be spent on better things. The opening of the series is so strong - Jimmy talking down Tuco from murder to breaking legs is a just, sublime start and gets Jimmy engaged in the Salamancas plot, but I don't know why the Salamancas plot is even here. It's a very strange bent of explaining things that don't really need to be explained - Lydia is in this. Bless everyone's hearts - they're having a lot of fun with the roles, I can only imagine how much fun Mark Margolis is having playing a Hector that can act with more than just his face, and the tonal juxtaposition of things like the cousins being in the show against Jimmy having an all-nighter at a print shop to defraud his brother is like, it's very funny sometimes. But I don't know why it's here when it doesn't really add anything new? It retcons some pieces of one-off dialogue to be a bit more lore-heavy, the first thing Jimmy says when he's held at gunpoint by Walt and Jesse is references to two characters in this show but I don't know how much I even like that.
Did anyone want to really know how Gus built his distribution network? And if they did, did they want it to be this? I dunno. It's really weird, flaccid storytelling that just kinda passes in one ear and out the other in a way that is strange considering how much I like every individual piece of the show. It's just like, I've been here before. I know how this ends, and even if I didn't, there's no tension here.
Maybe this is a nothing thing to write about but I have poster's disease so I gotta put it somewhere, I guess.