The Best Lines from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia S13E10: ‘Mac Finds His Pride’ [Season Finale]

It’s been an… odd season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Between dealing with the semi-retirement of one of its main characters, the struggle to keep the show fresh after 13 seasons, yet also satisfy those craving what they’ve been familiar with for all these years, the ever-changing landscape of television and what is supposed to make for good television, not to mention the ambitions of a very creative cast and crew, ambitions which are becoming harder and harder to contain, it’s made for a batch of ten episodes that could only be fairly described as inconsistent.

We started the season with The Gang trying to replace Dennis, only to realize that they couldn’t, and yet, even though the premiere promised his return, he was still absent from nearly half the remaining episodes, excused with some sort of contrivance such as a flashback or one character or another going off on their own adventures. We saw The Gang Minus Dennis celebrate Philly’s big Super Bowl win from last year over two uneven, incomplete-feeling episodes. We saw Dee try and recreate the Wade Boggs challenge from a couple of seasons back with only women, the start of a string of very topical episodes tackling #MeToo, the bathroom debate and much more, a run that crescendoed through three diverse, amazing episodes that could very well wind up on a list of best ever IASIP episodes. “Time’s Up For The Gang“, “The Gang Solves The Bathroom Problem” and “The Gang Gets New Wheels” are all instant-classics and they all work for very different reasons. The first two represent the tremendous new directions this show could wind up going, with a writer’s room stacked with newer, younger, more diverse voices capable of translating this posse of monsters to an era that’s much different than the one in which this show began nearly fifteen years ago. The latter is the kind of classic Sunny shenanigans featuring violent crime against children that remind us of how this show hasn’t really lost sight of what it’s always been, despite its aspirations to try new and different things.

And yet, even though the show was clearly preparing to launch us in an entirely new direction, I don’t think any of that prepared us for what happened in this week’s season finale, “Mac Finds His Pride”, an episode which veers so drastically to the left in its final act that it leaves you wondering where IASIP could go from here. After fifteen minutes or two of usual Sunny shenanigans, in which Frank is tasked with convincing Mac to dance on their gay pride parade float in order to I guess trick gays into coming to Paddys, the episode and the season goes somewhere very different, ending in an uninterrupted, jokeless interpretative dance in which Mac tries to convey to his father and his fellow convicts his internal struggle with being gay and coming out of the closet.

There’s no punchline. The woman Mac is dancing with is not Dee being grabbed by her private parts like the most raucous moment of that first #MeToo episode. The convicts don’t interrupt into violence after learning there’s no Blake Shelton concert, Frank doesn’t make some crass joke. Instead, the show decides to pay off the seeds they’ve been setting about Mac’s sexuality for over a decade. It decides to prove that being gay is not a punching bag for a show that’s cool with dunking on everybody. That it’s not just a character trait for Mac. Even though it was pretty cool when Mac came out of the closet last season and nothing really changed, this contextualizes it and him as a character and makes his arc meaningful.

In a weird way, it works almost the same way that the season 12 finale does. In that episode, Dennis decides he has to grow up and go raise his family. Despite the show’s best efforts to convince us that he didn’t really change upon his return this season, I think we can all agree that he sort of did. And the same could be said about Mac here. For the past season and a half, the show has been trying to convince us that Mac didn’t really change, other than being more open about what his dildo bike is for or what he’s doing with his Dennis real doll or all those peaches we see strewn across his apartment in this episode (an unsubtle nod to last year’s Call Me By Your Name and its most discussed scene). “Mac Finds His Pride” throws that out the window by admitting to itself and to its viewers that you can’t just play it cool with such a big character defining moment, especially one with as much cultural baggage as coming out of the closet. And both the show and Rob McElheney play it with style and class, not only in the amazing choreographed and performed dance at the end of the episode, but with how Mac comports himself as a real human being throughout.

And the low-key best thing about this episode is how it frames the story around Frank, believe it or not. Mac’s struggle is one we’ve seen in other shows and that, as the show hilariously points out, is hard to believe coming from someone who, in real life, is straight. McElheney and Charlie Day don’t want to shove anything down our throats and they certainly want to treat this topic gracefully, so instead, the story is told from Frank’s perspective, as an old, bigoted curmudgeon who readily admits he doesn’t and will never understand Mac and homosexuality. And yet, he’s just as surprised as we, the viewer, when he declares at the end of Mac’s dance, raucously cheering along with all the other convicts in attendance, that he finally understands.

It wasn’t only in that moment that I was pleasantly surprised by how they were treating this. All throughout the episode, Frank displays how he’ll do anything for The Gang. He’s tasked with getting Mac onto that float and never questions it. He just does it, and is willing to go to extreme lengths to satisfy his friends. And even though he has ulterior motives and questionable tactics, he decides to help Mac find his pride, his mojo by taking him around town to the gayest spots he knows. It’s weirdly sweet, as Frank reveals himself to be the true father figure on the show, which is especially interesting juxtaposed against Luther’s outright rejection of Mac, no matter his sexuality.

Of course that doesn’t take away from the last scene of the episode, which is really groundbreaking for the show and for McElheney’s character. It begs the question of where the show could go from here, if it’s forever changed or if this will just be another pivot point, much like Dennis’s departure last season. Either way, it proved that IASIP can be a lot more than just the same old show about assholes. I don’t know if this means that it will strive to be the next Louie or Atlanta in its already-announced 14th season, or if this is just an occasional out of the box thing that they could do, but it’s a great way to end a season of change. “Mac Finds His Pride” gets 9 sexy gay dances out of 10.


The Best Lines from the season finale of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

  • No goddammits this week, and obviously with the the more serious tone of the final act there were less jokes than usual, but there are still some great lines and gags in this episode. Frank’s increasingly grotesque face and how they use it to sell the point about Mac letting the blood flow or whatever is pretty great, in particular.
  • Vulture did a great piece today about the dance, including interviews with Rob McElheney and others from the show. It’s a must-read.
  • Frank: “We’re making a float for the parade… to rope in the gays.”
  • Frank: “They give me one job and I gotta deal with your feelings?”
  • Frank: “This is a much better spread than they have at the straight orgies.”
  • Frank/Mac: “One false move and these fairies could poke me full of holes.” “What year is it in your head?”
  • Mac/Frank: “You don’t know what’s going on inside of me.” “Well I’m sure there’s five or six super viruses eating out your insides.”
  • Frank: “You’re gay and you’re dancing with a hot chick who is god? The catholics really fucked you up.”
  • Luther: “My cellmate ratted on me for having an extra pillow. I cut out his tongue with a rusty pair of pliers and fed it to the maggots.”
  • Luther: “If it’s not a boy you flush that shit out and try again.”
  • Charlie: “What, are you gonna have you and me dancing on top of the gay float? The press will murder us. We need an authentically gay man. They’ll see right through us.”
  • Charlie: “Come on man, he looks like a monster, and you look like a monster. We’re not trying to invite a bar full of monster men.”
  • Sweet Dee: “You can’t get a straight man to dance, the press will murder us.”
  • Mac/Luther: “My name is Ronald McDonald.” “Haha, I named him that.”
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The Best Lines from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia S13E09: ‘The Gang Wins The Big Game’

It’s totally understandable that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s take on the Vikings’ Super Bowl win earlier this year couldn’t be contained in a single episode. The way they split it up made total sense as well; the first episode, which aired last week, saw Charlie home alone at the bar, trying to overcome the odds after he gets his foot stuck in a bear trap and can’t do his usual array of superstitions. The show saved everything else for this week’s episode, “The Gang Wins the Big Game”, in which Mac, Frank, Dee and an array of Philadelphia’s biggest losers head to Minnesota in order to attend the game and help out their team. Both episodes brought very different things to the table and structurally stood on their own.

The problem with both is that they felt incomplete. Never mind Glenn Howerton’s absence (as these episodes took place while Dennis was away raising his child in North Dakota), they just felt like two halves of an episode that would have maybe been better served if they were meshed together in one single narrative. If anything, “Charlie’s Home Alone” felt like it needed more time, and this week’s episode struggled to fill it. This is so egregious that the cold open of both episodes are both mostly just the same thing up until the point where Charlie gets left home alone.

That’s not to say that both episodes aren’t funny, and don’t fit within the framework of makes for good Sunny. In this week’s episode particularly, we get to see a lot of the great side-character from the show which have mostly gone unused this season, from Uncle Jack to Cricket to Pondy, but few of them really got a chance to shine the way they might in an episode where they’re the focus. If anything, in the IASIP side-character power rankings, it’s probably the Waiter that makes the biggest jump, even though this is his second appearance of the season (the first, in the Ladies Boggs Reboot, foretells this flashback episode). Elsewhere, we get a great bit where a pink-eye infested Sweet Dee goes on a Mr. Magoo-like adventure on her way to blinding Tom Brady in the final minute of the game, and Frank has to pass a kidney stone to save the team. As for Mac, his role in the episode feels very much like he was doing what Dennis would have been doing, which gives us an interesting glance into what a full Dennis-less season of this show would have been like (my take is that this is not the role I necessarily want Mac to be filling). It was also impressive how they got to use actual footage from the Super Bowl, not to mention footage of Philly fans celebrating after the fact. Sports footage feels like something sacrosanct in America, so it’s rather impressive that they managed to pull that off.

“The Gang Wins the Big Game” has a lot of fun elements, but I don’t think it comes together. More or less specifically because it’s missing the Charlie elements from that week. I just felt as if I wanted more from both, especially after a string of great episodes earlier in this thirteenth season, and so much hype about these episodes, knowing they were coming. And it just feels as if it would have been an easy fix if this was an hourlong episode to open or close the season. That’s why this second part gets 6 expeditions for jean shorts out of 10.


The Best Lines from This Week’s Episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

  • Goddamnit Count: 0, yet again! Maybe this is why these episodes didn’t click with me. Also no bird jokes at Dee’s expense despite being at an Eagles game.
  • Inarguably the funniest thing about this episode is how Danny DeVito has to use the shorter urinal. Also why does Mac have to take him to the bathroom?
  • Uncle Jack/Mac after Mac pulls off his giant hands: “Don’t make me go without them.” “I’m not making you go at all!”
  • Mac: “You have literally picked out the biggest pieces of shit in the city.”
  • Cricket: “I came up port side on a horse and he was a little quicker than me. Lesson learned.”
  • Mac after 11 plays of ‘Eye of the Tiger’: “It turns out there’s not that many songs about Philadelphia.”
  • Sweet Dee: “Everybody look at me, I’m a stupid Pats fan making stuff up about Dee’s eye.”
  • Mac after the Waiter falls: “This Minnesota rube, he’s not ready for your big city shenanigans, Frank!”

The Best Lines From The Good Place S03E05: “Jeremy Bearimy”

Probably the best thing about this week’s premise-altering episode of The Good Place (other than Chidi’s newly-revealed abs) has to be the fact that, prior to blowing up the plot for the umpteenth time, the show seems to make an earnest attempt to do the thing that most other sitcoms would do to slow things down. At the end of last week’s episode, our study group catches Michael and Janet opening the portal to the afterlife. Eventually, Michael is forced to reveal all to the group, as he’s done many a time in the past, but first comes an ill-fated lie, rebranding himself as Special Agent Rick Justice of the FBI’s paranormal activity squad, tasked which chasing demons ghouls and attempting to convince the four that they’re somehow part of it.

Eleanor et al instantly see through it. On any other show, they might not have. But on The Good Place, it’s totally in line with their characters to deny it, even though, a moment later, Michael is forced to give them the truth and they instantly believe it. A big fat important part about Michael’s character is that he’s bad at lying. Even the best, most finely-tuned lie, like the original Neighourhood, is going to get turned on its head, because no matter how hard he tries, it’s never convincing enough. Making up a terrible, amazing alias on the spot isn’t going to trick these four, whether they remember his previous lies or not. And yet, when he explains the truth – that they’ve died and spent hundreds of years in hell, and that the afterline’s timeline looks like the English cursive representation of the name “Jeremy Bearimy”, which also happens to be this week’s episode title – there is no objection.

This is a perfect encapsulation of The Good Place’s earnestness, and why the format works so well. The characters are consistent and have incredible chemistry with one another, no matter what crazy situation the writers inevitably place them in. What really puts it over the top, however, is the quality of the writing and what the writers choose to do with those situations, and those finely tuned characters. It’s kind of shocking how such a critical episode chooses not to be plot-driven, but instead make a point about the show’s philosophical and ethical questions. Especially since it chooses to do so without reverting back to the often-used contrivance of the show of having Chidi serve as the group’s professor.

Instead, faced with a life meaningless existence, expecting thereafter an eternity of suffering, the group is left to their own devices, as everyone chooses to take a completely different path. Michael and Janet are writing a manifesto of their experience (and based on how much the episode focuses on this you have to imagine something will come of it, like maybe the manifesto getting leaked to the public and breaking the entire system). Tahani decides to give away all of her money while Jason, in her tow, aims her towards giving it to the people he perceives might need it the most. Eleanor says she’s going to play by her own rules, as she did before her original death, but finds that she’s suddenly bound by the rules of society she was previously keen on ignoring. And Chidi, faced with irrefutable yet irreconcilable proof that his life is a lie and his lifelong struggle with indecisiveness was ultimately pointless, is merely broken. He strips down, spends hundreds of dollars on groceries, makes a disgusting chili and has an episode in front of his classroom.

And yet, while he’s having his breakdown, he winds up summing up exactly what everyone in the group is doing. Tahani’s actions are proof of virtue ethics, as she chooses to be a good person regardless of the consequences as she donates anonymously (but not the way another Ted Danson character did on Curb Your Enthusiasm). Jason chooses consequentialism, steering her virtue towards those who need it the most. Eleanor sticks with deontology, a.k.a. the actions themselves and the rules of society. Chidi simply disregards all of these options and opts to go with nihilism, since nothing matters and actions are inconsequential.

The truth winds up being somewhere in the middle, as Eleanor winds up rallying the group with a plan to do good and help people because trying is better than not trying. However, before they can get started on their new path, Larry Hemsworth shows up, unaware of what’s transpired. I kind of hope they never address his appearance and everyone just assumes Tahani dumped poor Larry offscreen.

All of this makes “Jeremy Bearimy” one of the best episodes of The Good Place and of TV this year, good enough for 9.5 wings and atria out of 10.


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The Best Lines from The Good Place S03E05:

  • Tahani Namedrops: James Cameron, “The Bodyguard’s” Kevin Costner.
  • Michael Aliases: Special Agent Rick Justice, FBI, and for Janet, Lisa “double nickname” Fuquois, AKA “Frenchie”, AKA “Janet”.
  • Seriously though, damn Chidi. And I’m not talking about his shirt that reads “Who What Where When Wine”.
  • Eleanor winds up at a bar called “Drinking Nemo.”
  • Tahani: “What’s The Good Place and, what are afterlife points and, who has the most and is it me?
  • Michael: “But you’re forgetting one crucial piece of information… right?”
  • Michael: “I could kill them all right now, it would be easy. Their bodies are very poorly made. They’re mostly goo and juice. You just take the juice out and then they’re dead.”
  • Janet/Michael: “So sorry for eternally dooming you.” “That’s our bad.”
  • Michael explaining the dot above the I to Chidi: “How do I explain this concisely… this is Tuesdays. And also July. And sometimes it’s never.”
  • Tahani: “I need you to act as my bodyguard, like my friend Kevin Costner in that movie where he was a bodyguard, ‘The Bodyguard’.”
  • Jason: “In Jacksonville, I got a flu virus named after me because I kissed a bat on a dare.”
  • Drug Dealer to Chidi: “I was just trying to sell you some drugs and you made it weird.”
  • Eleanor: “Rule number two, no more Spider-Man movies. There are way too many Spider-Man movies, so many dorky little twerpy Spider-Men.”
  • Eleanor: “In America everybody does whatever they want, society did break down, it’s terrible and it’s great. You only look out for number one, scream at whoever disagrees with you, there are no bees because they all died, and if you need surgery you just beg for money on the internet.”
  • Tahani: “Hello madam, are you poor?”
  • Jason: “I could have gone to a real doctor instead of pretending I was a big dog so I could go to the vet.”
  • Banker: “We’re technically supposed to shut down the bank if anyone from Florida even walks in.”
  • Jason: “If it’s any easier you can just put it on a GameStop gift card.”
  • Man/Eleanor: “Are you alright?” “No, YOU shut up.”
  • Chidi: “Imma eat all this chili, and/or die trying.”
  • Chidi: “And now I’m gonna eat my marshmallow candi chili in silence and you all can jump up into your own butts.”
  • Michael: “I know it’s Thursday but I’d really like to visit a LensCrafters.”

 

The Best Lines from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia S13E07: “The Gang Does a Clip Show”

One of the best things about It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is how much they can create out of so little. This has never been a high budget show. It’s seldom been a show that ventures outside of the handful of its established sets. And yet, those episodes, even the ones confined specifically within the walls of Paddy’s Pub, often wind up ranking among the show’s best.

The show has been on a helluva run in this thirteenth season, and a lot of that has to with this aforementioned efficacy. The last three episodes in particular have been incredible, starting with The Gang tackling the #MeToo movement, all within the confines of a hotel conference room, followed by an episode of classic shenanigans that ends as absurdly and as dark as we’ve ever seen on this show, and culminating with last week’s politics-infused bottle episode. The streak continued this week with “The Gang Does a Clip Episode”, another bottle episode, this time featuring clips from the show’s past before things get weird and meta and inspired by Inception. Like last week, outside of said clips and flashbacks, the action largely takes place within the confines of the bar. Hell, all five characters barely move from their seats, and the episode even comes in a little shorter than usual. And yet, remarkably, the show and the episode’s writers (Dannah Phirman and Danielle Schneider, the duo who also wrote the Wade Boggs reboot episode earlier this season) still find ways to cram it full of great jokes, unexpected twists and things we’ve never seen from the show before.

“That’s what you do when you start getting old. You start reliving the glory days because you can’t think of anything new to do.”

Those words are uttered by Dennis at some point in the episode, which features the gang sitting around reliving their memories while they wait for their phones to update to the newest version of the software, so they can go back to ignoring each other. It’s obviously meant as a self-referential dig, as IASIP is archaic as far as modern shows – especially sitcoms – are concerned. But nothing could be further from the truth about this episode, since it finds something new, something unique to do with a sitcom format that’s been around for ages.

The meta clip show has been done in and of itself. Community did it a couple of times and shows like How I Met Your Mother and New Girl even baked it into their formulas, but I don’t think I can remember a show that took actual clips from its past and changed them in order to do an Inception-style “what reality is this” bit. The way they peppered in fake clips with the real ones was great. The way reality started to change around them was hilarious; people are already talking about Frank with hair and creepily long legs, but Charlie peaking into his own memories is possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen on TV in a while. Not to mention the word-for-word Seinfeld “The Contest” recreation, complete with two Jerrys. And the best part is that it ends implying that the show going forward is ostensibly taking place within Charlie’s mind (although you could have said that about the show for the past few years, to be honest).

This feels like the kind of episode people will either love or hate. It’s both a little too meta and a little too confined, but I thought the show found brilliant ways to elevate the shortcomings of the bottle/clip episode in perfectly IASIP ways, with perfectly IASIP gags and jokes.

I truly have trouble wrapping my head around how It’s Always Sunny manages to stay this good and this consistent after so many years, no less how it’s managed to put out four bangers in a row. “The Gang Does A Clip Show” gets 9.5 software updates out of 10.


The Best Lines from S13E07 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

  • Goddamnit Count: I didn’t hear any this week! That said there were a bunch of uncensored “fucks” (and a censored R-word, curiously enough).
  • I won’t throw in any lines from the clips but my favourite is probably a tie between Wildcard/the Implication.
  • Frank: “Do you remember when I sowed myself into the couch naked?”
  • Charlie: “The way you tell that is like I was there, and I was not there.”
  • Frank on Dee’s accents: “You’re remembering the time you burned a Mexican’s house down.”
  • Dennis on Dee’s accents: “We decided that isn’t funny anymore, as a society.”
  • Dee: “Yeah, what was that, I am not an ostrich.”
  • Mac/Frank: “Wait, you went to North Dakota?” “I don’t remember Dennis leaving.”
  • Charlie: “Now I’m getting confused because I was remembering the time I spoke Chinese. They gave me a magic pill and now I speak it fluently.”
  • Frank on Seinfeld: “So Jewish.”
  • Doctor/Dee/Doctor: “Your penises have suffered severe abrasions. The skin has been all but been removed from the organs. I’ve never seen anything like it.” “And my vagina?” “I’m afraid it’s been obliterated.”
  • Dennis: “For Christ’s sakes we can’t even sit around having memories without things getting out of hand.”
  • Dennis/Frank: “Frank, are you tall and handsome with a full head of hair?” “I’d like to think so, but no.”
  • Charlie: “Dennis, everyone knows that the most annoying person in the world is Mac. So why would you want to live with him?”
  • Dennis: “I love having a roommate who spends three hours a day on a dildo bike.”

‘Arrow’ Returns with a Refreshingly Entertaining Season 7 Premiere: ‘Inmate 4587’ Recap

I didn’t really think I’d be watching Arrow anymore in 2018, yet alone writing about it. A lapsed fan of the show, I slogged through the first half of the season around this time last year before finally giving up on it around the midpoint of season 6. Slow, repetitive, poorly written and overall uninteresting, it really felt as if the show had no more runway. There are only so many interesting things you can do in a show about an underpowered, more colourful Batman-type hero with limited access to D.C.’s Rogues Gallery. Over six seasons of Arrow, we had seen it all. Personal grudges, flashbacks, unnecessarily elaborate plans to destroy Star City, copycat vigilantes, even more personal grudges… and yet, on Monday night, after some effective advertising and a severe lack of anything to watch on that night (now that Better Call Saul has wrapped its fourth season and the only remotely interesting new Monday show, Manifest, turning out to be a dud), I sat down to watch the season 7 premiere and I was pleasantly surprised!

To put it briefly, season 7 feels fresh, exciting, and willing to open the show up to some interesting places that could breathe new life into the show for the long term. While it’s still rough around the edges and still suffers from some questionable writing, the premiere, “Inmate 4587”, is entertaining and interesting enough to rope me back into the show.

But before getting into what I liked so much about the premiere, let’s recap how we got here… I left the show when Michael Emerson’s Cayden James was still toiling as an under-used generic villain plotting to destroy Team Arrow as revenge for his dead son. As, for some reason, the mayor of Star City, Oliver Queen was having trouble balancing his job, his duties as the Green Arrow, his relationship with his wife Felicity and the estranged son he was now responsible for, so he decides to build a team. Only problem is that they were all mostly greener than his uniform and also largely untrustworthy, so they split up, get back together, split up, etc. Also, the true villain of the season turned out to be one of Cayden James lackeys, Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo), who was orchestrating everything in order to take over Star City. Yadda yadda yadda, Oliver defeats Diaz by turning himself in and admitting he’s the Green Arrow, in exchange for help taking Diaz down and immunity for his friends. Diaz’s empire crumbles, the allies he hasn’t murdered turn against him and he winds up in the wind, running from Argus but also plotting to destroy Oliver.

So, season 7 begins and Oliver is in a prison filled with people who he took down, and incapable of helping the people he loves on the outside. He’s keeping his head down, minding his own business and counting the days, trying not to rile up the likes of Derek Sampson (Cody Rhodes), Brick (Vinnie Jones) and others who are jonesing at the opportunity to mess with him now that he’s vulnerable. However, he winds up getting into a series of confrontations with other inmates, one at the behest of Diaz, who wants to send him a message that he’s coming after his family. Along with what they did to a wrongfully convicted man who was asking for his protection, he decides that even as Oliver Queen in a prison jumpsuit, he is still the Arrow, and he stakes his claim as protector of the innocent in this prison and the big dog in the yard.

Just about everything in these prison sequences is great and the main reason why I’m back on the Arrow train. I love that they’re using it as an opportunity to bring back underused villains from the show’s past. I love Oliver’s arc and what he has to go through to realize who he truly is and what he must do even while incarcerated. I love his look with the buzzcut and the beard, and I love that the show is going back to its roots with the topless working out. And the fight scenes are great. They’re trimmed down, simple, but still feel raw and brutal the way Arrow has often been good at doing. There’s even some symbolism in the scene where he fights people naked in the shower. On top of being obvious eye candy, it feels like the show is telling us that it’s willing to parse things down and get back to its roots.

That being said, it’s also willing to go some crazy places, because underscoring all of this is a series of scenes set in Lian Yu which turn out to be flash-forwards, showcasing a grown up William finding his way onto the island with his father’s arrowhead (given to him by Felicity in the episode) and encountering an old Roy Harper, talking about Oliver in the past tense. Arrow has never shied away from comparisons to LOST, but to see it dive head-first into that territory with a flash-forward and a return to the island opens things up to all sorts of possibilities. We can only guess where all of this is going, but moving forward in time while keeping the old format of sideplots through flashbacks/forwards might help breathe new life into a show that seemingly lost its way when those flashbacks caught up to them. There is a legacy in the comics for an older Oliver Queen, there are things they can do in an advanced timeline, and I would be totally down to seeing them get crazy with that kind of thing.

Those two storylines are what I choose to focus on here, what I enjoyed and what is exciting me the most about this season. That being said, “Inmate 4587” isn’t devoid of problems. Everything else about the episode feels like it’s still suffering from all the things that turned me off from the show in the first place. Without being too much of a downer, here’s a recap:

  • Felicity is in witness protection as a flannel-wearing emo barista for some reason, and she’s being hit on by an IT guy whose computer she fixes and who is clearly working for either Diaz or Diggle at Argus.
  • In a sequences that felt as if it was missing a scene before and after, Diaz somehow finds Felicity, tries to kill her, fails despite the fact that he’s supposed to be a cunning criminal mastermind, and then just leaves.
  • Rene and Dinah continue to be the worst, despite the fact that I haven’t seen them for the lion’s share of a full season. Rene is training some kids in self-defense and Dinah is the police captain now (why they’d promote a former vigilante is anyone’s guess, then again the DA is freaking Evil Laurel…).
  • Their paths cross when a new hooded archer appears in town. Rene thinks he’s protecting the city, Dinah doesn’t want to mess with her immunity agreement and is also, you know, a police captain, so she tries to take him down, only for Rene to get in her way and help him escape. The new Green Arrow gives the money from a drug bust to the poor, but Dinah is not convinced. She and Rene continue to be the worst.
  • Funny enough, I could care less about who is under the new hood.

I really hope the show doesn’t wind up getting bogged down with the worse aspects of its storytelling. The show has one or two too many characters, those characters are no good and completely uninteresting and detract from the things that the show has figured out about itself. I understand that changes can’t be made overnight, so let’s hope that those are just growing pains as Arrow figures out its new self and not the bullshit that will seep through like it seems to always do.

While the premiere may seem like kind of a mixed back, the good stuff is good enough for me to be fully back on board with the show for now. They managed to make a superhero-in-jail storyline that we’ve seen a million times before (The Flash freaking did this last season) interesting and even having me hope they stick with it for a while, and while the flash-forwards could go either way, for now, they’re providing an exciting wrinkle to a show that desperately needed that kind of thing. While I won’t be writing about the show every week this season, I will certainly be watching and I’m excited to see what comes next. “Inmate 4587” gets 7.5 prison yard pull-ups out of 10.

Better Call Saul S04E04 Recap: ‘Talk’

 

In four seasons of  covering Better Call Saul, the one aspect that I have never been able to stop praising, nor will I ever stop praising, is its uncanny ability to juxtapose what’s happening to all of its characters. The severity of what happens to each of them (especially as the number of main characters expands, as this show becomes more and more about the world that will eventually turn into the madness of Breaking Bad) in a given episode tends to lie at an extreme. One might face a life-threatening situation as they slip further and further into the affairs of a dangerous drug cartel, while another might instead be dealing with the general malaise of boredom and unfulfilled potential. The next week the tables might get turned, with the latter characters dealing with a bad car accident or the brutal suicide of a loved one, while the others might spend their week taking apart a car in order to find a tracking device.

It’s a purposeful sort of irony employed by the writers, maybe to impart with the viewer the kind of ticking time bomb that a show like this has to be. This is the kind of world where, eventually, things will wind up getting severe and dangerous for everyone. But Better Call Saul is also ostensibly a modern western, and part of the point that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are trying to get across is that in such a setting, the only options are really extreme boredom or dangerous, law-breaking violence.

On the “extreme boredom” side of the coin this week we have Jimmy and Kim. They’re trying to get things back to normal now that Chuck is gone and the Hamlin types are basically out of their lives, but of course they’re both struggling. We saw it last week when Kim broke down after Jimmy read Chuck’s boilerplate posthumous letter to him. It was more of a normal reaction that Jimmy’s blase nonchalance, as he’s already put his brother in the rearview mirror, but Kim thinks that it might help if Jimmy saw a therapist. This is the early 00s, so Jimmy is desperate to avoid this and winds up taking a dead end job managing a cell phone store that barely ever sees any customers.

Now, this could be another temporary stepping stone for Jimmy, like the printing company, or it could be the kind of boring, out of the way opportunity that opens Jimmy’s world. He spends most of his first day throwing a ball against a wall, but eventually he closes the shop and heads over to see Ira, the guy who helped him with the Bavarian Boy heist, who gives Jimmy more money than he was expecting, as Bavarian Boy was the talk of the auction and started a bidding war. Jimmy is surprised at Ira’s nobility as they promise to work together again in the future, and an offhand comment from Ira about how he changes phones because anyone could be listening inspires Jimmy to paint the store’s windows to try and drum up business. We’ll see what comes of this, but it’s just an example of Jimmy’s slow decay into what will inevitably be Saul Goodman.

Kim is similarly going through an existential crisis. Last week she asked her paralegal to drop her off at the courthouse. This week, we get to see what she’s doing there. And as it turns out,it’s… not much. She spends the day observing various cases until Judge Neelix pulls her into his chambers and tells her she isn’t going to find a once-in-a-lifetime movie-like case by trolling his court, as most of his defendants are the type of guys who throw urine at their bosses. He advises her to make her easy money with Mesa Verde, and if she continues to spend her days lackadaisically observing low-level offenders, he’s going to put her to work on some pro bono cases. Kim defies Judge Neelix’s orders, so, like with Jimmy, we’ll see what comes of this.

Now, I love watching Kim watch defendants stammer their way through court, and watching Jimmy toss a superball around a quiet cell phone store, but whatever they’re doing is designed to pay off near the end of the season. They’re in a holding pattern because they’re still so far removed from the other side of the coin, and that’s the extreme drug cartel chess game being played by one Gus Fring. Last week we got a taste of the kind of scheme we’d pull regularly on Breaking Bad, elaborately staging a gang hit on Nacho and Arturo, the latter of which he murdered the night before in order to show force to Nacho. The Cousins and the rest of the Salamanca troupe don’t suspect that Nacho is involuntarily in bed with the enemy, but that’s not all Gus had in store for his new mole. The plan leads Nacho to a gang called the Espinozas, with the Cousins in the tow. After Gus’s guys drop off some money with them the night prior, Nacho points to them as the guys who killed Arturo. Nacho pitches a plan to pull some guys and take them out, but the Cousins silently tell them to hold their cervezas as they grab a bag of guns and take out the entire gang themselves.

This is a great fucking scene that holds back in showing most of the action. We know what the Cousins are capable of at this point, so director John Shiban doesn’t show us everything, but just enough to satisfy that part of our brains and remind us that there’s more at stake here than the mid-life crises of the other characters. This is the reminder of what’s looming around the corner for all of them. I especially love the way it’s shot, as it never really breaks away from Nacho’s perspective, reminiscent of a similar sequence in a movie about similar topics from this past summer, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, where a chase sequence happens entirely from the perspective of a teenage girl whose been pulled into a manufactured drug war. Of course, Nacho is a little more competent in this than a teenage girl, but just barely, as he starts the sequence as a hapless outsider with a bum shoulder, but is forced into action when reinforcements show up and does his part in helping the Cousins take out the gang. But he aggravates his injuries in the process and can barely stand at the end of it. Later we see him meet with Gus as he susses out his plan to use his new secret agent to eliminate the competition and gain territory, since the cartel won’t give the Espinozas’ turf to the Salamancas after what the Cousins did. Gus merely tells him to get some rest, and he complies, turning to his distraught father in bad shape.

Gus uses Nacho has a pawn to advance his game, and by the end of the episode, he’s on to his next move, as he turns to Mike. But Mike isn’t a mere pawn (and frankly, after a few weeks of Nacho being kind of a badass in the face of some brutal shit that Gus forces him to go through in order to keep his secret, I feel bad giving him that label), and immediately figures out that Gus has called to meet him for two reasons; first to give him shit for not telling him what Nacho was up to, to which Mike replies that it was never part of their agreement, he merely promised not to kill Hector himself. And second, to ask him to come on board for a job. We don’t yet know what that job could be, but if the episode exhausts the equivalent to a GTA level with the Cousins, before getting to this, one can only imagine what it’ll be.

Because Mike is in his own kind of holding pattern. Unlike Jimmy and Kim, though, he seems relatively content. He’s made a friend in the support group he attends with Stacy for his deceased son, he’s still doing security work at Madrigal, and in probably the most satisfying sequence in the show since last year’s “Chicanery” where Jimmy finally takes down Chuck in court, he brutally calls out a guy (played by The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Marc Evan Jackson) who is bereaving a fake wife in his group. It’s awkward and unnecessary but glorious and so Mike, as it shows us how good he is at detecting bullshit, right before he sees straight through Gus’s.

So, “Talk” takes us on a few very different journeys. Kim and Jimmy are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, Mike and Nacho are being pulled away from theirs (one a little more brutishly than the other), all while Gus Fring continues to make moves that are way ahead of anyone else’s, a reminder of what already made him one of the greatest villains of all time in Breaking Bad. It’s kind of been the story of the season so far, and it makes these individual episodes hard to judge. I’m loving everything that’s happening on the show, but it’s sort of scatterbrains because you need it all to be happening at once. I wouldn’t necessarily want an episode that’s just Jimmy throwing a ball around a store and trying to steal a stupid figurine, or an episode about Kim doing a bank’s due diligence. And if you go too far in the other direction, an episode that’s just about what’s happened to Nacho so far this season is probably too extreme. I’d totally take a show that’s just Mike assessing warehouse security or calling out bullshitters at support groups, but nevertheless, the show expertly decides to give us a little of everything, to juxtapose the varying degrees of severity for each character, because it knows that eventually they will all have to meet somewhere closer to where Gus is operating. And while that makes each individual episode less than stellar, you can easily see the bigger picture. I recognize that these episodes aren’t perfect, but I still end new iteration with undeterred admiration for the show, and “Talk” is no exception. It gets 8.5 cartel shootouts out of 10.

Better Call Saul S04E01 Recap: ‘Smoke’

Nearly fourteen months have passed since the hectic third season finale of Better Call Saul. With extended breaks among television’s top shows becoming increasingly commonplace in order to ensure quality, this isn’t all that shocking, even if it may be somewhat frustrating for fans, and probably kind of risky for the network, especially for a show like Saul, which may be safe thanks to that consistently high level of quality, but could still wind up struggling in the ratings department as a result. But, truth be told, going into the fourth season premiere, Smoke, it felt like no time at all had passed since we had last checked in with Jimmy McGill and the gang.

I vividly remember a lot of what happened at the end of last season. Who can forget Chuck’s shocking suicide, the end result of a wedge between him and his brother driven so large and irreparable by the both of them that it led to Jimmy vindictively ratting Chuck and his condition out to his firm’s insurance company, forcing Hamlin to force him out and taking the one thing that Chuck still held dearly; his career. Chuck kicking his table until the lantern tips over and sets his house ablaze is a scene that will stay etched in my memory for a long time, and it’s something that drives a lot of what happens in this premiere. But it isn’t the only thing. Everyone is facing the consequences of their actions in “Smoke”, including Nacho after he switches out Hector’s heart pills and causes him to have the stroke that makes him how he is during the Breaking Bad days. Mike takes a job with Madrigal under Lydia in order to ensure his family’s future. And, in the future, Gene takes a tumble while working at the Cinnabon.

We’ve had a lot of time to sit with all of these developments, to let them simmer, but for everyone in the show, no time has passed at all, as “Smoke” picks up right where season three left left off. And, rightfully, the premiere handles it with BCS’s trademark meticulous pace, giving everything that happened space to breathe, the same kind of space that we’ve had over the past year. And it makes sense, I don’t think it would be right to pick up some time in the future with Jimmy jumping straight into some new antics. Chuck was paramount to what made the show work in the past. He was simultaneously the show’s antagonist and its moral compass, providing balance to a Jimmy that wanted to be good but constantly teetered on the edge of evil. With Chuck  gone, and with the way things are beginning to play out on the Mike/Gus/Nacho side of things, the kind of escalation and chaos that eventually overcame Breaking Bad, is inevitably going to plague its successor.

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In fact, the premiere highlights this as it checks in with Gus and Nacho in the aftermath of Hector’s stroke. Borsa calls them in to ensure that Nacho and Hector’s guys toe the line and make sure no one encroaches on Salamanca territory. But Gus warns him that with Hector out of play, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes for his territory, which will lead to war, which will lead to chaos, which will lead to the DEA. It’s the mother of all teases for a show like this. As the name of the game on Better Call Saul becomes convergence and escalation, branching closer and closer towards its predecessor, words like “war”, “chaos” and especially “DEA” become very loaded. We already know that the Salamanca Cousins are going to be back, as well as possibly Tuco. “War” and “Chaos” could be interchangeable with their names. But “DEA”? Could we be in for an inevitable Hank Schrader or Agent Gomie appearance to fulfull Gus’s final prophecy? And with the pace that people drop like flies on this show, what’s to come of Nacho, a man who likely doomed himself the moment he went after a Salamanca, who is now being followed, and who doesn’t make any appearance during the Breaking Bad days?

That scene is Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s way of making big promises in an otherwise slow, and maybe even (necessarily) lethargic episode, as the show goes through the motions of Jimmy’s grief following the loss of his brother, reiterating Chuck’s importance to the balance of the show and making a statement about how it might need to change in his absence.

Jimmy may be turning into a bad guy, but he’s not a monster, at least not yet. He doesn’t see his brother’s death coming, and he struggles coping with it up through the funeral.  But everything changes at the end of the episode, as Hamlin confesses to Jimmy and Kim that he blames himself for Chuck’s suicide, since he took a stand and forced him out following the incident with Chuck’s liability insurance that, unbeknownst to anyone else, Jimmy orchestrated. It’s hard to tell how much of the puzzle Jimmy had filled in prior to this, but it would also be likely that he pieced together that Chuck going over the edge might have had something to do with his final, vindictive stunt. In any case, what finally gets him looking a little chipper, as the episode comes to a close, is Hamlin taking the blame for Chuck’s death, which Jimmy presumably takes as a cue to finally stop worrying about his brother. He callously tells Hamlin it’s his cross to bear. That’s telling, and kind of huge for Jimmy, because, as we’ve seen over the course of three seasons, he’s always taken responsibility for his older brother. He’s felt burdened, not only by the illness that had him delivering provisions over the last few years, but also by how Chuck always purposely held him back. He’s always felt obligated to seek out affection that, by Chuck’s own admission shortly prior to his death, was never really there to begin with. One way or another, Jimmy McGill always found a way to make Chuck his problem, even after his death. Now, with Howard taking responsibly, it instantly feels like a weight lifted off his shoulder, and a cue indicating that the show is willing to move on to some new and scary places, the kind of places teased by Gus in the aforementioned scene.

“Smoke” is a dreary, solemn episode of television. Of course, as it deals with a shocking death, that’s to be expected. Seemingly aware of this, Peter Gould provides us with somewhat of a reprieve, as the episode’s most fun and memorable sequence involves Mike pulling a Kramer and pretending to work at Madrigal for a day. This comes on the heels of Mike getting a job from Lydia, and perhaps  unhappy with the idea of not having to earn the $10,000 check (net!) that he receives in the mail. So he steals someone’s badge, putzes around the Madrigal office and warehouse, before chewing out the supervisor for all the lapses in security that he’s uncovered along the way. Mike looks genuinely happy as he’s doing this, which, in a show like Better Call Saul, can only mean that something horrible and tragic is about to happen.

Nonetheless, it’s a welcome break in the otherwise lethargic pace of a necessarily bleak episode. As much as it is a premiere, “Smoke” is also transitional. The show deliberately makes promises about its action-packed future, it gives up hope that it won’t all be solemn and depressing, but at the end of the day the point is indeed that the show has lost an important element, and needs to find a way forward in replacing him. I’m glad to have Saul back, but I can only imagine that “Smoke” is the low point of a season that will trend continuously upward over the course of its ten episodes, so it gets 7.5 cat themed birthday cards out of 10.