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‘Better Call Saul’ Review: A Mournful ‘Fun and Games’ Watches Everyone Fail to Fix What’s Broken

After the heavy physical violence in the preceding weeks, here comes a different dose of the beautifully crafted anguish that this show has perfected.

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul”

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 6, Episode 9, “Fun and Games.”]

For as much as “Better Call Saul” has functioned as a prequel, one of its undeniable strengths has been looking at what happens when the smoke clears. It’s a show that rises to its most harrowing moments, as the past few weeks have shown. The latest chapter, “Fun and Games,” is a different kind of trick, the ability to embed that same kind of stomach-dropping firepower in a handful of conversations. It’s an hour of faces of people forced to reckon with what’s now broken in their own lives, whether or not they fully blame themselves for doing the actual breaking.

Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) get the lion’s share of the opening (filled with two of the most mischievous match cuts this creative team has ever pulled off), as they each follow Mike’s instructions to continue life as normally as they can. But it’s Gus’ (Giancarlo Esposito) journey through the aftermath of his Lalo showdown that sets the tone for the soul-crushing loneliness rearing its head throughout the rest of the episode. His sitdown with the Dons is helpful not only in clarifying where cartel matters stand, but in building a bridge to where the Gus/Eladio relationship is fated to head a few seasons down the line.

It’s in his follow-up to that meeting that we get one of the most illuminating Gus sequences of the entire season. His solo trip to a local restaurant is a counterpoint to his usually unshakeable Los Pollos Hermanos exterior. There, his customer service permasmile is almost unflappable, like he’s a combination manager and mascot. Seeing him out in public on something other than a business deal opens up another side of Esposito’s performance. Director Michael Morris opts to spend just as much time in the wine chat with David the sommelier (Reed Diamond) on Gus’ reactions. It’s a kind of genuine, uncalculated kind of interaction that Gus is rarely afforded (or that he rarely affords himself).

That turn from an almost daydream haze — brought on by whatever more than the wine he’d allowed himself to want — to the crushing weight of reality is Gus’ personal tragedy in miniature. It’s a valuable addition to the Season 6 refrain that everything in this world of negotiations and control and power has its price. Solitude is what Gus takes it upon himself to pay. He lets himself have a tiny taste and a few seconds’ pause before leaving the rest of the night’s possibilities on the table.

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul”

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

After offering Gus a status report, Mike (Jonathan Banks) retreats to his own empty home, where he’s reminded of the one marble still in danger of flying off the track. He takes a trip to visit Nacho’s father Manuel (Juan Carlos Cantu) in an attempt to offer him the solace that only a fellow father still grieving a son killed on the job could offer. The elder Varga’s response may seem a bit trite, considering the entire season’s been a treatise on the real difference between justice and vengeance. Yet, given all the people who’ve fallen into the trap of revenge while intending to restore some kind of moral balance, Manuel is one of the rare people in this entire web given the foresight and dignity to walk away when given the chance.

Jimmy and Kim are two people not as fortunate. Having escaped almost-certain death, that cold open montage is a test of sorts to see what’s still there and what’s missing. They each have their clients and their baby steps back to some kind of normalcy, but it’s telling who’s taking those rapid life changes the hardest. That comes into focus at the memorial of Howard Hamlin at the HHM offices. (If those remembrance photos of Howard look shockingly genuine, at least one of them came directly from Patrick Fabian’s personal feed.) Again, writer Ann Cherkis gives the pivotal character in the scene that lesser amount of dialogue, conserving it for the point when their words would carry the most heft. Kim is silent for most of the sequence, letting Jimmy offer their combined condolences.

It’s an odd choice to have the two directly confront Cheryl Hamlin (Sandrine Holt), given that they both have to know that they’re personae non gratae for more than a few of the people gathered. But whether out of penance or obligation or one last alibi grace note, they offer some insidious bits of comfort to a grieving widow. When called out on their potential contributions to his death, Jimmy goes into damage control mode. It’s not the charismatic Jimmy we’ve seen. He’s worn and dejected underneath the quick-thinking smooth talk. Sensing a new way that Jimmy might be slipping, Kim offers up a made-up story of a late-night Howard cocaine bender, the hammer blow to both Cheryl’s suspicions and psyche.

It’s a popular thought experiment to pinpoint Walter White’s point of no return, but a largely accepted answer is him choosing to let a woman suffocate in bed. The memorial feels an awful lot like Kim’s analogue, the breaking point that comes just beyond self-preservation. With the last dangling threads of their culpability hanging in the balance, Kim goes for a vicious, efficient lie designed to inflict the most distracting damage. Now with a clear view of what she’s truly capable of, Kim makes her own decision to escape. Across opposite sides of a cursed apartment living room that has seen so much implied and very real death, the last thing to go is what’s left of the McGill-Wexler marriage.

Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul”

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Without knowing what’s coming in the final quartet of episodes, this functions as its own kind of ending. For anyone in search of further proof that Seehorn earned that first Emmy nom last week, look no further than their parking lot goodbye. If there’s any reason that the apartment breakup doesn’t arrive as a shock, it’s that she says everything on her face before that final kiss under the harsh light of the covered garage. Much like the show she’s in, Kim gets the luxury of knowing that it’s the last time.

There’s an ever-so-thin line separating what Jimmy knows to be true and wants to be true. When riding high on personal or professional wins, so many of his grand pronouncements come from the first side. “Fun and Games” is filled with the latter, tiny statements that you can almost see him trying to will into fact. It’s in the way he tries to function as their joint mouthpiece, in reassuring bedside conversations and the attempted smoothing over at the memorial. Everything you need to fill in that episode-ending time jump to the garish halls of Chez Goodman is in seeing Jimmy plead for one last chance to make things right. And then failing.

It’s almost too perfect that one of the last things we’ll hear from Jimmy McGill (assuming that Saul and Omaha Gene take us the rest of the way) is “What’s done can be undone.” However you see his post-Lalo life, it’s certainly devoid of the fun that Kim claims as a motivating factor for her part in the Howard scam. It’s the relative husk of someone who survived, saw what he managed to get away with, and decided to quadruple down on a life free of personal entanglements. The tragedy of Kim’s goodbye isn’t just that she was right in saying the two were bad for each other, it’s that she was the only one who could help put off the fate that we now see might have been inevitable all along.

Grade: A-

“Better Call Saul” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC and is available on AMC+.

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