Better Call Saul’s “Uno” – Life Before Cinnabon

I know I said I’d do procedural dramas for the Pilot Project, but certain exceptions have to be made. Better Call Saul premiered last night, with another new episode tonight. So, fine, it’s not the typical formulaic cop show that I’m guilty of marathoning; but Saul Goodman’s a lawyer and he defends criminals so it fits in the cloud of procedurals. Right? Anyway, being a fan of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, I had high hopes and teeny, tiny reservations for this Saul-centric prequel. No matter the plot, I knew this show would be a visual adventure with its prosaic backdrop and depictions. It’s tough to imagine anyone else playing the TV lawyer, so I came in knowing Bob Odenkirk’s acting chops would surpass the expectations. Expect an Emmy nod in his direction.

While I knew the show had the makings of excellence, my only reservation was that I, admittedly, am not as enamoured by the character of Saul Goodman as most BrBa fans. Yeah, he’s hilarious and sleazy, which makes him sort of loveable. But my sick, twisted mind gravitated towards the brooding badasses who could commit murder with just one death glare – the Gus Frings and the Mike Ehrmantrauts. It is a preference though, and I do like Saul so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

Screenshot from enbouton.tumblr.com

But the hurt is apparent within the first few minutes. The episode begins with black and white scenes of a moustachioed Saul, working at a Cinnabon just as he promised Walter White. “If I’m lucky – month from now – best-case scenario, I’m managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.” The opening scenes are killing it with the cinematography. The way they portray the mundane and the melancholy of this new Saul is heartbreaking. Black and white continues as Saul pours himself a drink and watches old tapes of his Better Call Saul commercials. The colour from the TV reflects off his glasses.

The time jumps back to 2002, and the setting is a New Mexico courthouse. Saul, or Jimmy McGill according to his birth certificate, is working as a public defender for three 19 year-old knuckleheads. He rehearses his statement in the men’s washroom, and returns to the courtroom to undermine the trespassing charges. His argument is along the lines of ‘boys will be boys’. The district attorney silently drags the television forward and pops a tape in the VCR. The video shows the boys screwing a severed head. Jimmy shows no sadness or frustration over losing the case, but he becomes angry when he learns his payday for representing three clients comes down to a measly $700. He heads out to meet with a potentially big client, but has some trouble with his parking sticker. We hear the lot attendant give Jimmy some grief. I can hear you, Mike Ehrmantraut! I can see you, Mike Ehrmantraut! Have I mentioned that I love you, Mike Ehrmantraut?

Representing the potential clients, Craig and Betsy, turns out to be a bust. As Jimmy drives along a suburban road, he hits a skateboarder. However, he sees through the kid and his brother’s bullshit once they attempt to collect $500. Jimmy then drives off to the nail salon, which he tries to get Jesse Pinkman to buy in the future. These allusions to Breaking Bad are making me giddier than a schoolgirl in a One Direction concert. In his office, Jimmy goes through his bills and finds a cheque from Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill for $26,000. He heads down to the law firm, where we learn about Chuck. We’re also treated to a glimpse of that ballsy, over-the-top Saul Goodman goodness when he yells out, “And you will atone!”

Jimmy drives to a dark house and stores his keys and cell phone in a mailbox. He steps inside and we hear Chuck typing something that needs to be translated – a new identity for his younger brother, I can’t be sure. Jimmy tries to convince his older brother to cash out of the firm, but Chuck insists he’s going to beat this electromagnetism paranoia. We start to see the glaring differences between brothers. Although Chuck is now a recluse due to his supposed mental illness, he maintains to be a rather honourable lawyer (there’s such a thing?). He worries about his clients, his staff, and all the people who have no legal representation. Jimmy’s perspective is a little different. He’s tired of being paid pennies for his work as a public defender. “Money is not beside the point. Money is the point.”

Chuck tries to convince Jimmy to change his name and dissociate from the partner name. He brings up professional courtesy, but all Jimmy worries about is the fact that his brother’s broke and he doesn’t have the means to support Chuck’s strange, hermetic lifestyle. They continue to argue and Chuck finally asks his brother, “wouldn’t you rather build your own identity? Why ride on someone else’s coattails?”

Screenshot from frenchdad.tumblr.com

Jimmy is in the skate park and find the two boys from the day prior. He tells them the story of Cicero Illinois’ Slippin’ Jimmy, who collected up to eight grand from planned collisions. He arranges a hit with Betsy’s medium sandalwood (baby-poop brown) station wagon. It doesn’t go according to plan though when Betsy hits and runs. The skateboarders tail behind a truck and follow her car. They immediately drop Jimmy as their lawyer once they learn they’ve fallen into the honeypot, and now they stood to gain more money for the felony. Once the station wagon’s parked on a driveway, the skateboarders call out the driver. Instead of white, middle-aged, suburban Betsy, it’s a Hispanic older woman. “You felonied my brother!” But the woman no habla English, so they follow her inside.

The scene cuts back to Jimmy, who, after numerous attempts starting his $200 yellow relic ($300 hooker not included), has found Betsy’s car and the boys’ skateboards. He pounds on the door, and a man pulls it open. It’s Turtle, I mean, Tuco Salamanca! He has a gun to Jimmy’s face, he pulls him into the house, and we fade to black.

Better Call Saul is definitely going on the DVR list.

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Anxiety & Mom’s Spaghetti

The Real Slim Shady once spoke about anxiety in such a way that it made me feel like he was ripping out my soul and challenging it to a rap battle. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Marshall Mathers, better known as the lyrical genius, Eminem. I always found him rather angry at the world and some woman named Kim. My boyfriend likes listening to him at the gym, which is quite apropos considering the song I’m about to reference has also been credited as the Eye of the Tiger of the modern era. Can someone superimpose this video of Rocky Balboa to the audio of Lose Yourself? I feel like a video like that would convince me to get off my ass and sign up for a gym membership. Anyway, I found myself listening to Lose Yourself on the drive home; even though I’ve never had it on my iTunes, I pretty much could spit verse after verse thanks to a childhood growing up with Myx.

Lose Yourself reminded me of my experience with anxiety. I hate talking about this because I don’t like admitting failures or weaknesses. I cringe at the thought of talking about accomplishments, too. But if I choose not to tell people about the accomplishments, people call it humility; and society gives that a thumbs up. If I choose not to talk about failures, it’s pride. It’s pride because I refuse to acknowledge it and I refuse to persist. The big problem with anxiety is I often place myself in positions where I can neither fail nor succeed. I’m stagnant.

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I combed through folders of jpgs to find a recent pensive shot, but this one from 2011 will have to do.

Every new experience becomes more terrifying than it should be. It’s not necessarily more challenging or insurmountable; it just becomes tougher to get over that first hurdle. I found myself in that position today with my feet planted at the starting line. The flare gun was positioned in the air just ready to blow. My heart was pounding in my chest. My palms were clammy and I could feel my head spin. I knew colour was draining from my cheeks. My throat was so parched I was tempted to stick my head into a snow bank just so I could soothe the burn.

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy

There’s vomit on his sweater already; mom’s spaghetti

He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready

Now, I don’t know about Mrs. Mathers’ spaghetti; but my mom has been making spaghetti Bolognese with my recipe and she makes it a hundred times better than I do, that it’d be unlikely for me to ever want to expel it out of my esophagus. Catch me on a rare night after a few too many shots of Crown Royal; perhaps the line would be more apt. The two other lines though – those perfectly describe the nerves.

I’ll admit, it’s not the same crippling anxiety that makes people black out or have a full-blown panic attack in the midst of a crowd. What I experience is quiet, internal, bottled-in. But I’m not a shaken, carbonated drink with the cap twisted open. I’m shaken and left alone until I go flat. Nothing. Nothing happens because I don’t let it happen. Maybe, in that way, it’s crippling. But who knows? Let’s call the experts.

Today, though, I didn’t let it incapacitate me. I persisted. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. I pinched my palms to keep myself from freaking out; and it helped me remind myself that I wasn’t detached from reality. I was actually there. The flare shot up in the air and I sprinted forward. If I had failed, this post probably wouldn’t be up (remember that thing about my pride?); but I succeeded. Yet after the fact, my heart kept racing but something about it felt different. Colour returned to my cheeks, and you might attribute it to the February air, but there was an unmistakable confidence in my step. I felt exhilarated.

One leap forward and suddenly I felt like the world was mine. There are no positive aspects to anxiety; but if there were, the high after jumping that hurdle is probably on top of the list. To most people, it would just be a slight level up in their green achievement meter. But to me it’s a green pipe out of the second level of Super Mario. Suddenly, you’re out of that claustrophobic dungeon and you’ve got limitless sky above you, a stack of blocks from which you can leap and grab that flag. It’s one step out of that dark space where there’s no room for success or failure.

I haven’t always been like this. Growing up, I was willing to try anything and do everything. I also rarely failed at anything, apart from the insignificant quiz I forgot to study for. When it mattered, I always did rather well. Someone even once told me, when I was fourteen or fifteen, that they admired how I was so adaptable to different situations and different cliques. Then something happened and a switch flipped in my head. Everything became a bigger hurdle than it appeared. New experiences, new tests, and new people elicited the signs and symptoms – shortness of breath, heart palpitations, that feeling of nothing in the pit of your stomach,  and the glazed eyes seeing but not processing. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel normal again. I don’t know if anyone will ever describe me as adaptable. But I refuse to let it cripple me (call it pride; but I’d rather be proud than defeated).

I keep on trucking. I jump every hurdle no matter how small, even if it makes me feel sick. I want to move forward and find that normal again, or at least get close enough to it. It’s tough trying to keep it together, especially when the thought of divulging my issues make me panic like nothing else. But sometimes, people need to untangle a few knots before they can tie themselves up into pretty, little bows. I need to be vulnerable, and I need to open myself up to opportunities even if it means failure.

Eminem says, “success is my only motherfuckin’ option – failure’s not.” I’ll get there. For now, I’m sprinting and picking up speed. Wind in my hair and red clay on my heels. I’m jumping hurdles, and knocking down a few. Whether I go fast or slow, you’ll see me at the finish line.