Better Call Saul: “Off Brand”

Margaux and I discuss last night’s quiet, yet impactful, episode of Better Call Saul.

Trevor: I feel like there’s an elephant in the room regarding “Off Brand,” because it’s the episode in which Better Call Saul’s title character truly makes an appearance. But before we talk about that, I want to spend some time talking about Nacho, who at any given moment is my favorite character on the show. A lot of that has to do with Michael Mando’s sheer presence. Your eyes just naturally gravitate towards him, and he brings that same easy charisma to his character. Compared to someone like Tuco, or even Hector, Nacho feels no need to insist upon himself, or engage in any sort of posturing. He’s a lot like Gus in that way, and I find him fascinating. This is a long way of saying: how ‘bout that opening scene?

Margaux: It’s hard to imagine that Nacho isn’t included in Breaking Bad, which is a real testament to this show and the characters they’ve created. I appreciated getting a day-in-the-life with Nacho as the cold open; he is a lot Gus in the sense that takes things more seriously than those around him (Hector’s ponytailed right-hand man downplayed the stand off with Gus’s men), and that he protects this criminal dealing from his family life. Which will ultimately fail, but we’ll get to that, too.

Trevor: I like the slow burn rivalry of Gus and Hector (as well as the glimpse we saw of Gus’s eventual lab). It’s such an interesting dichotomy, which isn’t a new observation, but “Off Brand” illustrates it well. Hector freaks out about Tuco and overturns a table, while Gus spends almost this entire episode in the shadows and has only (by my count) seven words of dialogue. It could be easy for Breaking Bad and BCS to have repetitive characters, but both shows are so good at threading that needle.

Margaux: Can we touch on that more? Because I felt like “Off Brand” had a lot more fan service than we’re accustomed to, especially when you it juxtapose it with the light touch of Huell’s reappearance in “Chicanery.” For me, it was a bit of an overload. Lydia in her sunglasses and one line, location scouting with Gus to expand his operation. The mention of Tuco, the first official mention of Saul (and his knack for creating characters for commercials that speak to people). For a show that’s all about the delay, this felt like a dump. Albeit, a classy dump, but a dump all the same.

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Trevor: You absolutely have a point, and I will agree that this is the most overlap we’ve seen in a long time. But for some reason, I didn’t mind it? When Lydia showed up my first thought was “Oh shit, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle in the house!” Shortly thereafter I asked why she needed to be there and came up empty. So, yes, fan service for sure, which would be less surprising if this were the final season, but I’ve heard nothing about that. Honestly, I’m more or less okay with it, but I’d be a lot less into it if Walt or Jesse showed up. I could see a case made for Hank, maybe even Marie, but anything beyond that is stretching it. If they’re going to do it, I’d like it if they just stuck to the supporting, ancillary cast, because that’s what this show is about. Did it move the episode forward at all? Not really, and in that case it’s okay to ding the show for it.

Margaux: I wouldn’t say I minded it, or that I’m even dinging them for it. I was taken aback by how quickly it all came to a head, that we were already at this point in the story. But I suppose after last week, things were bound to start picking up steam. Speaking of last week, I can’t be the only who thought when Rebecca came around knocking on Chuck’s door that the camera would slow pan to Chuck’s lifeless body? Despite how much I hate him, I don’t want to see him die. Yet.

Trevor: You’re not alone, I also expected him to die ignominiously off screen. But I’m curious where his story is going, now that he’s on the warpath. I appreciate scenes like that – and Chuck stumbling through town looking like a damn crazy person – because it shows that for all his high-minded rhetoric, Chuck is just as impulsive and unpredictable as his brother is. I don’t think the show has exhausted their supply of Chuck stories, but it feels like the next one has to end in his death.

Margaux: If Chuck’s quest includes redeeming his sanity, you do not accomplish that by tromping around in a fucking mylar hoodie like a lunatic.

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Trevor: Didn’t you see Mylar Hoodie at Outsidelands?

Margaux: I think they’re playing this year. They’re on tour with Phish right now.

Look, it is not news that Chuck is no Clarence Darrow, unless you mean the petty version of him. Sure, I’ll allow that. He is all about the long con, and I’m not sure what holding a battery like a Big Boy and involving the doctor he hates plays into it, but it’ll be interesting to see if Chuck really can best his brother.

Trevor: I gotta hand it to Michael McKean. He’s been doing this shit forever, and the dude is a fuckin’ warhorse, and he doesn’t bring any vanity to this role. He doesn’t shy away from making Chuck look petty, vindictive, or, in “Off Brand,” pathetic. Look at him when Howard shows up, so damn sulky he’s nonverbal. You’re a grown man, Chuck. Jesus. It’s times like that that Chuck seems, to me, less despicable and more pitiable, so I commend the show for really fleshing out every character.

Margaux: This cast is known to hold their own rehearsals, run lines together, and it shows. You don’t convey a sour attitude that wordlessly without practice. Plus, you forget how likable Michael McKean is in real life because he completely disappears into this pathetic dickhead. I was surprised the conversation with Howard went the way it did, after his warning before Chuck’s testimony and his subsequent outburst, I thought he was going to ask him to resign.

Trevor: Exactly! And he was just there to share some absurdly expensive scotch and give him a pep talk! Better Call Saul spent two straight seasons making Howard Hamlin look like the world’s biggest asshole, and in scenes like that I find myself actually liking the man. When that happens I feel almost like I’ve been tricked, but I don’t mind.

Margaux: Howard’s grown on me as well. He and Kim seem to be the cooler heads, both trapped in the middle of Chuck and Jimmy. Are you ready to talk about the birth of St. Jimmy?

Trevor: The Green Day song? You know, I always thought it was an underrated track off of American Idiot.

Margaux: I hate you.

Trevor: But seriously, though, YES I AM. I love that Jimmy becomes Saul out of desperation and necessity, in more ways than one. And I really dug the disguise too. Great sight gag. Honestly I don’t really have any complaints about that scene, just praise for Bob Odenkirk’s performance. You can see, in real time, Jimmy realizing that this Saul Goodman character is a pretty good fit. And my favorite line of the show was when Jimmy tells Kim, “Guy at the station said he’s never seen so many star wipes in a row.”

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Margaux: “We’re going to Karloff this thing.” Love the film school gang Jimmy employs because they are the exact people you meet in film school. The star wipe jab and the moiré line were also pitch perfect. It’s a pretty ingenious gambit, use the air you have to sell off the rest.

Trevor: Oh, that’s what he was saying, I didn’t go to film school so I honestly thought it was a reference to moray eels. I’m not joking. So, good job on the verisimilitude, BCS. As much as I love seeing Jimmy become Saul, it also makes me kind of melancholy, because it feels like the show is inching towards endgame. Which I know is crazy, because there’s a long way to go from goateed spokesman to neon-suited ambulance-chaser, but it just reminds me that all the shows I like eventually end. Now that I’ve bummed myself out, do you want to talk stars?

Margaux: Well, Jimmy insists on keeping up his half of the rent with Kim – the montage of him calling his clients to break the “one year sabbatical” news was pure Odenkirk improv, I would love to watch all the takes they didn’t use. I think Jimmy and Kim meeting in front of the backlit glass is their new parking lot. And the way the deck has been stacked, I think it’s only a matter of time till Saul legal services (duh) emerge because I think Mike and Nacho will be in need of counsel soon.

Trevor: That sounds very plausible, and would do a nice of bringing all these disparate storylines together. I like that Nacho has slowly been reintroduced to the show.

Margaux: “Off Brand” put the brakes on a bit, which was to be expected. Now all there’s left to do is wait for the pieces to fall in place. That and wild speculation, that’s always fun.

 

4/5

 

T. Dawson

Trevor Dawson is the Executive Editor of GAMbIT Magazine. He is a musician, an award-winning short story author, and a big fan of scotch. Two of his stories can be found in Robbed of Sleep Vol. 3, available now on Amazon. Trevor lives in Denver, CO.

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