Double Switch Of The Con Man

Saul Goodman AKA Jimmy McGill is back, in the season 2 opener of Better Call Saul, called ‘Switch’. And a switch it is. And then it is not.

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Locked In
Like ‘Uno’, Saul’s pilot episode, ‘Switch’ starts with a black and white montage of what we can only assume is a flash-post-Breaking-Bad-forward. Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould haven’t forgotten about Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) Heisenberg-absent future. It’s a grey one. Jimmy’s working at a mall, takes out the trash after closing hours (accompanied by the song ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’ by Billy Walker), but accidentally locks himself up in the dumpster basement. There’s one way out: an exit door, with a sign that says: ‘Notice: Emergency Exit Only! If you exit this door you will activate the alarm, and the police will be notified. If you must exit and the’ – that’s as far as it goes. It’s possible that the warning’s just a precaution and no (silent) alarm will be tripped. However, it’s clear Jimmy doesn’t want to run the risk of encountering police. So he stays put. It’s a quarter past nine. It’s only until a quarter to midnight that he’s released by the cleaning guy. By that time, he’s engraved his initials in the wall. ’S.G. was here’. Or is it ‘J.G. was here’? It’s nice to get a look into the future, but I’m afraid that’s all it is. Nice. Better Call Saul is, above all else, a prequel story.

Out
Jimmy’s been offered the job at law firm Davis & Maine. A huge opportunity to break into the serious lawyer business, but he wavers. It’s not exactly clear why. I guess it’s because he just loves conning people too much. He also wonders if Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is part of the equation. Are they finally going to happen, now that he’s about to play in the big league? She assures him those are two completely separate issues. The clever thing to say. However, that’s just what Jimmy needed to hear to decline the offer. He’s out. No more law. No more lawyer. Just fun pretending to be somebody else, taking people’s money and taking them for fools.

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Clarity
This means drifting like an 80 year old in the pool and being served on, apparently. He’s done everything that was expected of him. Played by the rules. Now, what does he have to show for it? I’d say a job at a prestigious law firm, but that seems to be a minor detail. Jimmy just wants to live, by… sitting on his ass, drinking cocktails. It’s not long before Kim shows up to ask him what the hell is going on. A midlife crisis? More like midlife clarity, he says.

Perfect Recipe
To show her what he means – because he can’t quite explain it – he cons some stock broker at the bar, and lets Kim play the part of his sister. She’s reluctant at first, but gets into the groove after a while. Free food, not to mention the free (very expensive) tequila – stock man Ken (Kyle Bornheimer, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Agent Carter) insists on paying the cheque -, can do that. Jimmy and Kim exit the bar drunk and exhilarated; the perfect recipe for romance. They end up in bed together. We just get to see the morning after, though.

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Switch #2
Has it been the spur of the moment? Have Jimmy’s feelings finally been returned? My guess is they haven’t. No matter how great it was to brush their teeth together. As Kim leaves to go to work, Jimmy leaves to float around some more in the pool. That’s when it hits him. Cocktails aren’t everything either. He saddles back up, switches again, contacts David & Maine, is not too late, and settles into his new (proper) office.

PLAYUH
There’s not a whole lot of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) in the episode, but there is of Daniel Warmolt (Mark Proksch), the guy who’s been hiring him. Daniel’s gotten a bit too sure of himself and thinks he can do the exchanges with Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) by himself. Sure, he can, even without Mike as his backup. But you still don’t want to get too friendly with Nacho, especially with your new PLAYUH licence plate and the car to match it, and your full name in the glove compartment. Before he knows it, Daniel’s house is trashed and his baseball cards are gone. His secret stash, too, most likely. It’s a great role, and we haven’t seen the last of him yet. Check out Talking Saul for more inside information and a sneak peek of next week’s episode.

Into the Badlands: Hand of Five Poisons

In episode 5, ‘Snake Creeps Down’, Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas) pinned Sunny (Daniel Wu) and his pregnant girlfriend Veil (Madeleine Mantock) against each other, was Tilda (Ally Ioannides) captured and rescued, did we see Ryder’s grandfather Penrith (Millennium’s Frank Black, now as white as snow, Lance Henriksen) who fed his grandson some fabricated story about a world outside of the Badlands – which doesn’t exist, according to him, did M.K. (Aramis Knight) get a new nickname (‘The Dark One’) and got Jade (Sarah Bolger) herself poisoned. Lydia (Orla Brady) is Suspect #1.

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The Power of Hindsight
With ‘Hand of Five Poisons’, we’ve reached the 6th episode, which serves as the season 1 finale. Obviously, AMC didn’t want to commit themselves too much. A martial arts show was still a gamble. The genre had never managed to punch a hole in a wet newspaper – on television. Besides, judging by the looks of it, the production expenses must’ve been high. Ordering more than 6 hours would’ve been reckless. It’s only with the power of hindsight, that it’s a shame the series has already come to an end. There may be terrific things up ahead, though; the first season of Breaking Bad consisted of a careful amount of episodes, too (7).

Baptism
Suspecting Lydia might have been the point. It looks like Jade staged her own poisoning, to get rid of her rival sister wife. And so it happens. Quinn bans Lydia from the Fort, sending her out into the wilderness, with nothing but a bag of figurines. She’s got nowhere to go but to Penrith, her father and spiritual leader. He makes her pledge to discard all of her possessions, kind of like the High Sparrow tends to do, and take a bath, as a way of long overdue baptism (the Walk of Shame hadn’t been invented yet).

Mole, Show Your Face
Sunny let the Widow (Emily Beecham) get away last time, which makes Quinn make his second bad decision in a row; lock up Sunny, leaving his fate in the hands of M.K., his new protege. It forces the real mole to show his face: Waldo (Stephen Lang). He breaks out Sunny, tells him to get on that boat – Sunny made a deal with the River King (Lance E. Nichols) to set sail at midnight – and live the life he was born to have. Waldo’d found Sunny as a young kid, wearing the same symbol M.K. got from his mother. In other words: they both must come from the same place, the place that ‘doesn’t exist’.

At the Dolls
Sunny first makes a stop at Downtown Badlands, at the ‘Dolls’. That’s where Quinn’s going to bring M.K., to get that whole virgin thing taken care of. When they arrive, Ryder’s conspired against his father with Jacobee (Edi Gathegi). No dolls here tonight, dad. Quinn, having seen the power M.K. holds, cuts his protege, who then goes all dark-eyes on their attackers. Quinn hides in the shadows, but he’s run out of luck. Sunny’s sword goes right through him. It’s the last clip he’ll ever make.

Two Bottles of Poison on the Wall
The Widow, wounded by Sunny, has Veil taken to her – because, you know, there’s only one doctor left in the Badlands, apparently. It’s interesting to see Veil getting to Tilda. Violence isn’t the answer, they both believe. Veil wants to make sure she’s brought home in one piece, and puts down three small bottles of different colors. Two contain poison, one the cure. When Tilda’s brought her as close to home as possible, Veil tells her the blue one’s going to make her mother better. But Tilda has her own choice to make. Would the world be better off with or without the Widow?

The Monks are Coming to Get You
Meanwhile, Jacobee’s gang has been thrown through about every wall available. But there are new customers, driving into town. Monks. They want to take M.K., but Sunny doesn’t want to leave the Badlands without him. Fights a long (and awesome) fight against three equally dark-eyed gravity-defiers. He doesn’t stand a chance, though. M.K.’s put in a box – just like he started the season – and driven off to god knows where. Sunny’s picked up by the River King and transported to god knows where – but a different god knows where. He’ll be back for Veil, I’m sure. But like I said, just when we’re hooked on this brilliant martial arts curiosity, it’s over. Hopefully next year, Sunny’s motorcycle ride will last a few more miles.

Into the Badlands: White Stork Spreads Wings

It’s week 3 in the Badlands, a fictional region, populated by martial arts armies, dollhouses, Barons and the question of what’s out there beyond the forest? M.K. (Aramis Knight), the kid with special powers – which he’s unable to control at this point – escaped, but is right back where he started from; in the hands of Sunny (Daniel Wu).

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War
It’s war. The Widow (Emily Beecham), as she’s called, ambushed Sunny and Baron Quinn’s son Ryder (Oliver Stark). They made it out alive – one more alive than the other – but the war is on. Quinn (Marton Csokas) goes after The Widow, with his so-called ‘clippers’ as backup. He finds her, fights her, beautifully choreographed, until he’s got her pinned down. She’s got nowhere to go, lying on the floor, unarmed. Quinn’s got his sword ready, but because The Widow is vital to the story and needs to stay alive, he gets a migraine. He doesn’t have long to live, we knew that, and now it’s starting to show. The headache overtakes him, The Widow flees through a secret underground pass-way, to an old house; their ’sanctuary’.

Apprentice
M.K. saved Sunny’s (and Ryder’s) life last week, during the ambush. He’s between a rock (Quinn) and a hard place (The Widow) and feels his best option is to start an alliance with Sunny. They both want to get out of the Badlands anyway. M.K. to find his homeland, Sunny to start over with his girlfriend and soon to be mother of his child, Veil (Madeleine Mantock), and leave the wars between Barons – which seem to break out every few years – behind. M.K. is going to be his apprentice. Quinn agrees, but promises to keep a close eye on him.

New Doctor
Because Quinn made the decision to kill his doctor – because… I’m drawing a blank here. Because he’s a terrible man? Your guess is as good as mine. I know, he said it was because no one can know about him dying, including the doctor, apparently, but that’s just silly – he needs someone else. Who better than the doctor’s daughter; Veil? She was called in earlier, to check in on Ryder who just wouldn’t wake up. She drilled into his skull, which released the pressure on his (swollen) brain, and he opened his eyes. The perfect woman to figure out a way to cure Quinn. Veil knows he killed her parents, though, so that’s going to be a little uncomfortable, to say the least.

In the Dollhouse
Sunny and M.K. are trying to find out where The Widow’s hiding. Their one and only lead is the girl who set up Ryder. A working girl, called Angelica (Teressa Liane) in the dollhouse downtown – if there is such a thing in the Badlands, but I’m guessing there is. Sunny pays her a visit, but she’s not just good between the sheets; she knows how to use a knife. Once again it’s a brilliant fight sequence, albeit short, with the two of them jumping through windows and jumping from one balcony to another. Unfortunately, the girl has no intention of being taken alive.

With One Hand
There is, however, a better way to get to The Widow. M.K. has a special relationship with her daughter Tilda (Ally Ioannides). He keeps bumping into her after all, so that should be easy enough. But M.K. is a stubborn kid. Doesn’t want to take Sunny’s word for anything. That’s why he’s taken to Waldo. It’s no surprise he’s played by Stephen Lang (Avatar, Terra Nova). If there’s another alternate universe being created, Lang’s your man. He does get more sympathetic, too. From ultimate baddie on Pandora, via hard-ass in the Cretaceous period, to cocky but also funny Man In Wheelchair on Into the Badlands. He teaches M.K. a lesson. With one hand. We’ll have to wait and see if the apprentice has learnt anything from it. Still, even though M.K. is a brat, he does have a softer side, which makes him likeable. Usually it’s one way or the other with younger actors.

Into the Badlands: The Fort

It’s like AMC ordered an adolescent but not too adolescent action drama, set in a world like Divergent, The Giver, Wayward Pines and The Maze Runner, with the boy from The Last Airbender, martial arts, samurai swords and motorcycles. Welcome to ‘The Badlands’.

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All of the Above
Yes, Into the Badlands is all of the above, and more. I can only imagine the pitch Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville, Charlie’s Angels) gave to the AMC execs. The best thing is, this new – very high conceptual – show isn’t as ridiculous as you might think. First of all, it’s beautifully shot. Not just the fight scenes. Everything. Forests, mansions, cellars, sewers, nights of heavy rain. Because nothing tells you where you are and/or when you are (‘Louisiana, 1924’, for example), you don’t know what you’re looking at. The past? Present? America? China? An alternate timeline, such as The Man in the High Castle? What’s going on here?

The Baron House Rules
It doesn’t take long before you’re sucked into this world – no matter where or when it takes place. It’s happening. Get on the bike or turn off the TV. Leading man is a guy called Sunny (Daniel Wu, The Man with the Iron Fists), a (lone) soldier in the army of the ‘Baron’, called a ‘clipper’. It quickly becomes clear he’s not to be messed with. Even without using his sword. For some reason, he’s got all of his victims tattooed on his back (just a small line, not their names or faces; that would be ridiculous). I guess it’s to scare people, who knows. Maybe it’s one of the Baron Rules. Speaking of which, Quinn (Marton Csokas, Xena: Warrior Princess, Rogue, Klondike), the man keeping everything together, may have as many wives as he pleases. That sounds like a nice bonus, because he’s on his way out. His son Ryder (Oliver Stark, Luther) should step in his shoes, but the brat’s clearly not ready for it yet.

The Great Beyond
And then there’s M.K. (Aramis Knight, Dexter, Boston Legal, General Hospital), the boy with magical powers. But not only that. He’s from a place far, far away. Somewhere beyond the Badlands. That place even has its own symbol, so it must exist, even though everybody believes there’s ‘nothing out there’ (where have we heard that before?). Of course, our hero’s the one most curious about it. So when M.K. gets thrown into the cellar, to be killed the next morning, Sonny helps him escape.

Pregnant
I like the fact that everything goes without saying. This is just how it is, in the Badlands. They’re called the Badlands, and that’s what they are. There are the Barons, like the seven Burroughs, one of them lead by a mysterious red-haired lady (Emily Beecham, Damages, The Village), who’s also quite interested in M.K. Sonny’s got a girlfriend, Veil (Madeleine Mantock, The Tomorrow People), who’s pregnant. Sonny doesn’t take the news very well. Quinn’s wife (his most beloved one, I assume) Lydia (Orla Brady, Fringe, American Odyssey, Shark, Sinbad) is up to something. It’s safe to say her agenda’s different from her husband’s. She saw Sonny help M.K. get away, so I expect Sonny either being sentenced to death or blackmailed.

Here It Is
Just when you thought an American martial arts series was never going to happen, here it is. The pilot couldn’t be more promising, which is a little surprising, given it’s directed by David Dobkin, someone who made a name for himself with Wedding Crashes, The Change-Up and The Judge. Okay, to be fair, he’d also done Shanghai Knights. I sure hope he can keep it up, because ‘The Fort’ was directed superbly.

Fear the Walking Dead: Pilot

Sequel? Prequel? Vehicle? It doesn’t really matter, because despite the title, Fear the Walking Dead completely stands on its own. There’s no overlap with big brother The Walking Dead, because it all takes place before the zompocalypse.

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Junkies
Well, before might not be accurate. It’s set right at the beginning of the zombian epidemic. The first one to spot it, is junkieboy Nick Clark (Frank Dillane, whose body-which-is-more-like-a-skeleton of work includes Sense8), who can’t believe his eyes. He encounters his female junkie friend in an abandoned church, eating the lips off of presumably one of the other junkies. She’s gone full zombie, judging by her sparkling eyes.
He runs, gets picked up by the police, thrown onto a hospital bed and cuffed to it. What did he see? Everybody else is fine, the whole world is fine. When (assumably) his stepfather Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis, Gang Related, Trauma) stops by the church, zombiegirl is gone with the wind.

Viral
After that brief moment of zombism, it takes a long time before we get to see something like it again. They weren’t kidding; the title of the show is more about the Fear than it is about Dead people Walking. Things do start to unravel quickly, though, when towards the end of the Pilot, a police arrest gets leaked online. Cops shoot a man, multiple times, but he gets up. They shoot him again, he gets up again. A new highschool viral video is born. No one’s using the word ‘zombie’, so I guess for some reason the show takes place in a world where George A. Romero doesn’t exist.

Front Row Seat
Nick escapes the hospital the exact same way every television character in a similar situation has ever done, and hides. Travis and Madison (Kim Dickens, Deadwood, LOST, Sons of Anarchy, House of Cards) go look for him. They’re both teachers and very correct, thoughtful people, burdened with a junkie for a son, but it’s not because of the drugs that Nick’s seeing things. They’re no hallucinations; he’s never had them before. He’s actually witnessed something, and when Travis and Madison find him – well, eventually they are asked by Nick to come -, they get a front row seat to the weird phenomena that is the Undead.

Teacher Talk
A lot of highschool, a lot of teacher talk and a lot of ‘what’s going on’; that about sums up the Pilot. It’s not bad, though, just a bit one dimensional – but what show or movie about zombies isn’t? This is just the start of it; we can expect more in the coming weeks. There are zombies popping up occasionally now, but they’ll no doubt grow in number and then all teacher talk, highschool- and junkie drama will be thrown out the window.

The Future
It’ll be interesting to see how the zombie disease will spread, how people will try to stop it, and how the whole world ultimately gets taken over. It’ll be like Outbreak, only with an actual outbreak. We know the direction everything’s headed; The Walking Dead has shown us the future, but knowing how it ends/ties into its predecessor, doesn’t take away the suspense. They do have to up the ante, though. It’s funny to hear Travis explain to his students that ‘nature always wins’, but at some point we want to see some action.
What we need to be is afraid there’s an ugly, flesh craving lunatic behind the corner – any corner. So let the epidemic spread slowly, but please do try to build some tension and scare us with frightening zombies when we least expect it. I’m sure that’s the plan, so stay tuned.

Humans – or – The British Kyle XY

Channel 4 and AMC conceived it together, but their new show Humans looks and feels much more like a British Kyle XY than an American remake – which it is – of the Swedish series Äkta Människor (Real Humans). Despite the fact AMC’s trademark – depth – has been thrown overboard, the pilot’s nevertheless an entertaining piece of sci-fi.

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Synth
If I had to guess, Channel 4 produced the show and put AMC in charge of the leader and music score; both things echo the style of Halt & Catch Fire. Everything else clearly comes out of the same factory that made Spooks and MI-5.
The series is a variation of Bicentennial Man. Human looking robots are everywhere and they serve as slaves, basically. They’re a bit stiff, but then again, the show takes place in the UK. They’ve got green eyes – that’s their big giveaway. Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) purchases one of these so-called synthetics, shortened to ‘Synths’, without consolidating with this wife Laura, played by Katherine Parkinson (The Honourable Woman). She’s quite busy with work, so he figures they need someone to clean the house. He goes over to the Synth Store and buys one. His lame excuse will be ‘it’s a surprise’, when his wife comes home later.

Anita
Although Joe felt compelled to get an electronic maid, it’s odd that, for the remainder of the episode, Laura’s home quite a lot. Her work doesn’t seem like a big problem anymore, actually. They’ve addressed a plot point and then forget about it all together.
Anyway, their Synth, called Anita (Gemma Chan), does the laundry, dishes, reads a book to the youngest daughter of the house, and occasionally gets some sort of flashback. Laura’s a bit on the naggy side, but other than that, it’s a pretty normal household. Like Kyle XY; an ordinary family with a commercial product of artificial intelligence put in the middle of it. I was hoping for a scarier approach, but this family definitely isn’t something to be too concerned about – or invested in.

Stryker
So what else is going on? Where do Anita’s flashbacks come from? Well, it turns out she once belonged to a group of highly intelligent Synths. Somehow her memory got wiped clean and she was put back on the market as a smart-but-not-too-smart Home Prius. The flashbacks she’s seeing are scenes from her previous ‘life’.
The other Smarty Synths are hunted down by a man with a goatee. A sort of William Stryker – for anyone who’s seen X2. Scared of what these upgraded green-eyed beauties might decide to do once they develop some kind of humanlike consciousness, he tracks them down and studies their software by autopsy.

The Doc
And then there’s William Hurt, who plays Dr. George Millican. He’s quite fond of the older Synth model he’s having, for some reason (I can’t help thinking it’s something sexual), but the thing’s malfunctioning and misbehaving. His storyline has nothing to do with the rest that’s going on, but he’s a doctor. He might be the inventor of the Synths, for all we know.
So far, it’s a very family friendly show, with just one creepy moment and that was when Anita produced some strangely programmed laughter. If you were hoping for a dark tale of artificial intelligence mayhem, this probably isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a decent series about family issues and running robots, it is.

Better Call Saul: Marco

Maybe it’s because last week’s Pimento felt like the season finale, maybe not, but Marco – which does put a lid on the first season of the Breaking Bad spinoff – feels a lot like an, albeit nice, filler episode.

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The B
As we know, Jimmy’s cut ties with his brother Chuck and their case against the elderly home. Except for the money he’ll get when it’s all over, of course. He does, however, stay on as Bingo Caller. Still upset by his brother’s betrayal – and having to call out only B numbers, the B of Betrayal and Brother – he reveals why he had to go to jail, all those years ago, before getting saved by Chuck and the mailroom at HHM. It involved two cub scouts, a car and Jimmy defecating on it because its owner had slept with his (now ex-)wife.
It might be the least thought through scene of the whole season. Why is the letter B getting to him? Why tell that specific story? If he wanted to tell the bingo players anything, it’d be about his brother calling him a chimp with a machine gun, wouldn’t it? The story about his jail time needed to be told, but this felt a bit to contrived.

The Bar of Broken Dreams
Jimmy’s got nowhere to go, basically, after leaving everything behind. He winds up back in a bar in Chicago, to visit his old friend/ex-partner-in-scams Marco. Before he knows it, they’re back in the game, conning people for money and sex. You’ve got to give credit to the writers, for coming up with really nice scamming tactics. It’s so well written (and acted), it’s totally believable someone would fall for it. It’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Trees Lounge.
After a week of fooling people, Jimmy has to get back to Albuquerque. His former clients are all over his voicemail; he’s needed elsewhere. Marco convinces him to stay, for one last ‘heist’. In the world of drama, that means trouble – and trouble they get, but in true Saul fashion, in quite a different way than you’d expect. During their Drunk Guy With A Rolex Passed Out In The Alley routine, Marco suffers a heart attack – and dies.

The Best News of his Life
During Marco’s funeral, Jimmy gets a call from Kim. The case is even bigger than they thought, so another law firm has been brought on board. Davis & Main has set its eyes on Jimmy, mainly because the people in the elderly home keep asking for him (and because Kim and Howard put in a good word). Finally. A real firm. A real job. It’s the best news he could ever receive.
Jimmy returns to Albuquerque, only to have a change of heart at the last minute. He touches Marco’s ring, thinks back to how much fun they’ve had and how good they were at it. Also the job he did with Mike Ehrmantraut comes to mind. They had it all, but decided to do ‘the right thing’. Exit Jimmy McGill who’s ‘building something’. Enter Slipping Jimmy, on his way to becoming the scheming Saul Goodman.