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Posts Tagged ‘Better Call Saul’

Spoilers ahead. Don’t whine.

As I wrote before, I had some doubts about Better Call Saul, even though I trust Vince Gilligan’s creative vision. Since we know the destiny (up to a point) of the two major characters, the stakes, it seemed to me, were not that high – and stakes are what make compelling drama.  If we know what happens to Mike (death) and Saul (Cinnabon), what is going to keep us coming back to Better Call Saul aside from close calls and ridiculous courtroom analogies?

"amy welborn"Well, even though I do hope that the series ultimately takes us to the “present,” at this point, one episode from the end of this first season, I’m in, and the stakes have been driven in. Firmly, ingeniously and with a huge dose of agonizing heartbreak, which, if you’re driving in dramatic stakes, is the way to go.

The question has always been….where did Saul come from? How did Jimmy McGill become Saul? In Breaking Bad, Saul answers a question about his name with the glib assertion that criminals feel more confident with a Jewish lawyer representing them, but the genius of this new series is that it takes that claim for what it is: the justification of a choice that actually goes much, much deeper.

As the series has progressed, we might have been content in our assumptions that Jimmy became Saul as a way of either hiding from his past or simply taking on less-classy persona in order to distinguish himself from the firm that (sort of) set him on his way in the legal profession.  But you know what? That still wasn’t enough. Why does someone change his or her name? The name they were given as a member of a family? 

Well, with episode 7, aired last night, we get it – you do it when you want to separate yourself from precisely that – your family. 

And it all clicks, so beautifully and sadly into place.

Jimmy McGill, on the verge of actually doing good (in the legal context) in a big way, so anxious to please his older brother, so willing to help that same brother in his illness, eccentric, brash, but endlessly and even ingeniously creative, is slapped down, rejected and yes, betrayed by his own flesh and blood who doesn’t want him getting too close with his JD from the University of American Samoa and who, after years of getting him out of scrapes and trouble, can’t believe that any good can come out of any of this.

You’re not a real lawyer. 

People don’t change. 

One could argue that subsequent events prove Chuck right – that Slippin’ Jimmy is inevitably Saul Goodman.  But the point of view on human existence is just what was expressed in Breaking Bad  – our personal qualities can take is one direction or the other. We have a choice, and as much as the pressure is to make bad choices, we still, at every moment have the freedom to make that choice – and our treatment of others influences their choices as well.

(I long maintained that the most compelling thread of Breaking Bad was Walter White’s perverse master-student relationship with Jesse. His personal corruption in turn, corrupted Jesse – instead of finding this lost former student and saying, “Hey! Let me help you!” He said, “Help me do horrible things!” Original Sin.)

Despite this deep, wounding betrayal, we won’t see Jimmy McGill portrayed as a victim – and that’s what lends Gilligan’s work even more depth – he doesn’t do fated victims with no personal agency. Yes, he could still shake it off and obey his better instincts and pursue the, if not exactly noble path, the path that is not the one to being, as he will tell Walter White a few years down the road, a criminal lawyer rather than just a criminal lawyer  (echoing the important conversation Mike has with the proto-Walter White) – and I’m guessing, just from how this first season has gone, that even though the die has clearly been cast, this won’t be the last chance Jimmy has to run up against that choice.

"better call saul" spain

Seen in Alcala de Henares, Spain.

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No, I didn’t give up the internet or blogging for Lent.  I might as well have, though, right? Eh.  It’s not like there’s no one else out there opining or sharing or venting online.

Plus the narrative out there is so very strong, I’m having to think long and hard how to navigate it and carefully say things that really need to be said.  But we’ll see.

— 2 —

We had a snow day last week and another this week.

"amy welborn"

There you go.

I get it.  Last year’s snowcapolypse (sp?) was a nightmare, happened in a matter of hours, and was absolutely unexpected.  It was nothing to laugh at.  But it made everyone exceedingly skittish around here, so this year, at the slightest hint of a system over Texas, we get all proactive and everything shuts down.  We went out late yesterday afternoon to shop for some clothes. The roads were wet but clear..and almost every store in both major shopping centers near here were closed.

Hopefully, next year, the pendulum will swing back.

— 3 —

One of my favorite Loyola Classics titles is Things as They Are by Paul Horgan.  If you don’t know about Horgan – go read this.  He’s probably one of the least-known double Pulitzer Prize winners out there.  He wrote both non-fiction and fiction, much of it centered on the Southwest, although Things as They Are is reflective of Horgan’s childhood in Rochester, New York.  His non-fiction is primarily historical – it’s what he won the Pulitzers for – and get this – the fellow never graduated from college.

(Catholic, too – awarded the Notre Dame Laetare Medal.)

That title was suggested to me by George Weigel, who wrote the introduction.  It’s an episodic, quiet, but ultimately hard-hitting (I think) coming-of-age tale.

— 4 —

A few weeks ago, I picked up a volume that collects three shorter novels of Horgans – it’s called Mountain Standard Time .  I read the first, Main Line West, and it’s very good.  Unusual and evocative, it’s about a Kansas woman, living with relatives, who is courted by a traveling salesman, marries him and is abandoned when she becomes pregnant.  What intrigued me about the plot was the turn in which the woman becomes a traveling evangelist. The story of where that takes her and her son, and the eventual tragedy – based, as Horgan says in his afterword, on an incident he had witnessed as a child during World War I – is startling.  I recommend!

— 5 —

Last weekend, we had 7 basketball games in the course of 72 hours.  I didn’t mind it too much  – basketball games are short – especially when the quarters are 6 minutes long, as they are for the younger son, whose tournament represented the bulk of those games.  One more game tonight – maybe two – and that’s done.

— 6 —

Better Call Saul is enjoyable.  No, it’s no Breaking Bad.  It doesn’t have the intensity or layers of that show (yet), plus, considering we know how Saul turns out, if the show stays in the past (and doesn’t eventually jump back up to post-BB Saul), there are no stakes at the core of it, since we know that Saul doesn’t follow the (faint) nudges of his conscience and find any sort of redemption.  Yes, there’s lots of interest along the way, but that hope that everything will turn out that is the driving interest behind drama is missing.

House of Cards? Eh.  I watched the first season, and then a few episodes of the second last year – but then it just got too ridiculous, I couldn’t follow (aka wasn’t interested in) the policy machinations, and – most importantly – lost interest because when every single character is immoral or amoral, there’s nothing at stake, and no real drama.

I watched the first episode of this season, and was sort of interested in Doug’s rehab and recovery, but am totally bored by the prospect of Claire fightin’ for her right to be UN Ambassador.  There was a bit of an uptick of interest in the show from religious quarters this week because a couple of writers addressed a scene in which Frank Underwood spits at a crucifix.  Can’t watch it anymore, these writers declared – it’s a deal-breaker. (And the threesome with his wife and the Secret Service guy wasn’t? I didn’t see that – just heard it was coming, and at that point, stopped watching. Ew.)  I haven’t watched that episode yet (maybe I’ll dig it up, maybe not), but it seems, from what I have read, that that scene is perfectly consistent with the Underwood’s character.  It’s not a sympathetic person doing it – it’s a murderous (literally), horrible, evil guy. Evil people spit on Christ,  and then walk away – figuratively and even literally.

— 7 —

Speaking of the Cross…

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

"amy welborn"A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

amy-welborn4

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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amy-welborn4

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Lent is coming!  Full list of resources here, but take special note today, if you don’t mind, of these Stations of the Cross..and pass it on to your parish!

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

"amy welborn"A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

amy-welborn4

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Podcast listening?  Not much of great interest this past week, since I’m mostly concentrating on that Couch to 5k thing.  I’m up to Week 8! 28 minutes! (But that’s on an indoor track – we’ll see what happens when I am able to go outdoors again, given the harder surfaces and more, er, varied terrain outside.

So, Melvin lost me this week with Phenomenology. I tried – I really did, but listening to philosophy talk about Husserl, Heidegger and meaning through earphones while running with youth basketball going on below was pretty much a lost cause.  What was interesting was this program on Zola in England.  After the Dreyfus trial, Zola fled to London – by doing so, he enabled keeping the case open.  While in England, he began work on his last series of books, the first of which was called Fecundity or Fruitfulness – and, although Zola is a hard slog (I read Lourdes – barely), the premise is fascinating and timely – in which Zola blames oppressive social and economic systems for discouraging the lower classes from reproducing, decrying contraception, abortion and child abandonment….

— 3 —

I’m currently reading The Colony, which is about the history of the leper colony at Molokai. The origins of the place are so sad, an example of incompetent and deceptive government action in the face of tragedy.

Related, but somewhat contrasting is this fascinating story that provided me with a brief excursion down the rabbit hole this past week:

In 1803, King Charles of Spain ordered an extraordinary expedition: Smallpox was, of course, taking a terrible toll on the Spanish colonies so…..

On September 1, 1803, King Charles IV of Spain, who had lost one of his own children to smallpox, issued a royal order to all royal officers and religious authorities in his American and Asian domains, announcing the arrival of a vaccination expedition and commanding their support to

  • vaccinate the masses free of charge,
  • teach the domains how to prepare the smallpox vaccine, and
  • organize municipal vaccination boards throughout the domains to record the vaccinations performed and to keep live serum for future vaccinations.

The expedition to vaccinate the population in South America against smallpox was a public health undertaking of staggering proportions. A small group set out by ship and horse to traverse present-day Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, carrying the vaccine and administering it in villages and cities along the way. The territory was not only vast but also brutally harsh, with precipitous mountains, dense jungles, and uncharted rivers. The expedition traveled in primitive riverboats and on mules when the terrain was too rugged for horses.

First Destination: Puerto Rico

The María Pita left the Spanish harbor of La Coruña on November 30, 1803, with the smallpox vaccination expedition team consisting of a director, Dr. Francisco Xavier Balmis; an assistant director, Dr. Jóse Salvany Lleopart; and several assistants and paramedics. The ship reached Puerto Rico in February 1804 with its cargo of vaccine serum preserved between sealed glass plates; also onboard were 21 children from the orphanage at La Coruña who carried the vaccine through arm-to-arm vaccinations performed sequentially during the ship’s journey, and thousands of copies of a treatise describing how to vaccinate and preserve the serum, recounts José Rigau-Pérez in an article on the smallpox vaccine in Puerto Rico.

More here and here. 

— 4 —

I’m going to try to do a learning post tonight, but in short, this week was a week of lots of science (properties of matter, heat transfer), art (printmaking) and puzzles (logic chapter of Beast Academy)

"amy welborn"

Also, here’s a fun thing:  Hit the Lego store when the staff is unpacking a shipment and you just might find yourself the recipient of big bags of random pieces they don’t have room to stock in those bins on the back wall….and it might be your lucky day.

— 5 —

Through reading H. Allen’s Smith’s The Pig in the Barber Shop, I discovered a book called Father Juniper and the General, "amy welborn"written in the late 50’s by another American ex-pat in Mexico named James Norman.  It’s in the Don Camillo – Father Malachy genre – priest does battle with and outwits local civil/social authorities, and it’s amusing.  I’m surprised I’d never heard of it, considering I thought I’d read or at least heard of every vaguely Catholic themed middle-brow book published in the US in the mid=century when I was editing the Loyola Classics, but apparently not!

— 6 —

I actually accompanied my kids to the movies the other day (they are old enough to go on their own, together now) – Big Hero 6, which was…good!  As usual with movies today (get off my lawn!) the climactic battle goes on waaaaay too long, but the setting – a mythical more Far Eastern version of San Francisco – was fascinating and the animated characters were surprisingly well individuated.

Speaking of movies: over the holiday weekend, we watched Strangers on a Train, which I enjoyed for some fantastic set-pieces and Robert Walker’s compelling performance, and didn’t enjoy for the mostly-stiff other performances and off-putting amoral tone surrounding the murder of Granger’s wife and the “happy ending” of him and his paramour.  I just thought that was so weird.

Also, The Trouble With Angels, which I hadn’t seen in a while, but is so good. Still. I had remembered the Hayley Mills’ character’s embrace of religious life as more of a surprise, and while it is a bit of a twist, the really observant viewer can see it coming, and her spiritual discomfort and awakening is sketched rather well, as she confronts her own fears about getting old and dying , encounters mercy again and again in the Rosalind Russel’s Mother Superior, and observes the ties of family among the sisters, a kind of family she’s never experienced herself.  It’s based on a memoir called Life With Mother Superior by Jane Trahey, a female pioneer in advertising, and the Hayley Mills character is based on a friend of hers who really did go on to become a Dominican Sinsinawa! 

— 7 —

 

Better Call Saul actually looks like it might be…good.  When it was first floated, I thought, “Oh, no….” and when it was announced as a thing, I thought, “Not a good idea.”  But in reading about the show’s premise, in which there are actually emotional stakes at work and seeing previews, I’m getting excited.  I’ve read a couple of reviewers who opine that it’s better than BB…hard to imagine,but… Love the logo!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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