SIlicon Valley – Season 3/Episode 2 “Two in the Box”

Synopsis and Review of Silicon Valley Season 3 Episode 2 “Two in the Box.”


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Silicon Valley, HBO’s highly successful comedy, created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, finished its third season in June. This is my continuing synopsis and review — for Episode 2 “Two in the Box” written by Ron Weiner and directed by Mike Judge.


The episode opens with Richard back at the doctor [Andrew Daly]. He is either hypochondriacal or a glutton for punishment. The doc proclaims him to be healthy, so much so, he tells him if he didn’t know better, he’d say Richard was pregnant. He asks if he’s had any lifestyle changes. Richard explains he got fired and now works as CTO under a new CEO at Pied Piper (PP), Jack Barker, and is optimistic about it. The doc is incredulous he’d work under anyone at his own company, and tells Richard he needs to check his testicles. Richard asks why, a hernia or something? He starts to prepare for the exam. Just want to make sure they’re still there, the doc gaffaws at his gallows humor. To opening credits.

Erlich, Dinesh, Gilfoyle, Jared, and Richard take the elevator to the posh Pied Piper office for the first time, and see the new logo Jack had made. The old one, he claims, was “a little phallic.” Jack gives them a tour. Haroki, a Japanese gardener, works on an indoor water feature for proper feng shui. A micro-kitchen will be catered by a Chef Amy so the guys are never hungry at work. Richard inquires if they can afford it.

Jack sits Richard down in his office and explains the miracle that is Google and how by providing cuisine and massages, they succeeded in retaining the best and the brightest. He points out a plaque on the wall called “The Conjoined Triangles of Success,” something he invented and was now taught in business schools. “Growth” is at its foundation.

Meanwhile, Dinesh and Gilfoyle get themselves settled in engineering. They play Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who gets the big monitor. Dinesh wins, provoking Gilfoyle to ask if he doesn’t just play Rock, Rock, Rock, like what they’d do in Pakistan. Jack and Richard overhear them and Jack tells Gilfoyle to just order a large monitor. He asks Jared if he’d like one, too. No, Jared says, he’s a BYOC guy.

After Jack leaves, Jared shyly asks if he could have the box the monitor came in. Why? Dinesh asks, So you can sleep in it? No, Jared, replies, not missing a beat, he hasn’t slept in a box for years. He’s been living in Noah’s guesthouse. Now, with Piped Piper’s success, he can afford to move back into his condo, which he had been Airbnb-ing to cover the mortgage. He’s been missing his tub, and Noah’s been using a lot of hate speech lately. Erlich takes his leave, obviously useless, and tells them, “I gave you this.” He takes cartons of coconut water with him.

Cut to Hooli, where, in front of his staff, Gavin Belson searches himself on Hooli Search, as he does every morning. To his consternation, he sees inflammatory articles appearing, such as “Nucleus is Tanking.” He tells the team he no longer wants to be confronted with such things. An employee asks him incredulously if he’s instructing them to fundamentally alter the neutrality of the Hooli search algorithm in violation of the public trust. Google, he notes, is being sued for that very thing by Yelp. Of course not, Gavin reassures them. Moments later, staff tells Nucleus division employees Gavin’s wishes. They balk, saying they don’t work there anymore (they had been fired in Episode 1.) You do for the next ten days, they’re reminded, and they must do it unless they wish to quit and forego their severance packages. Gavin loyalist, Patrice [Jill E. Alexander], looks disgusted with them.

In an attractive building, Jared tries to unlock the door to his condo, but the inside chain prevents this. His tenant peers out. Jared politely says he’s confused: he thought the tenant would be out according to their agreement. A change of plans, he’s told. The tenant says he can’t afford to move or to pay rent, so… Through some convoluted logic, he explains to Jared that he can’t afford to pay because of all the tech companies moved in, raising rents and since he, Jared, works in tech, it all kinda evens out. “That makes no sense,” Jared says. “I know, right?” the tenant replies. Jared kindly offers to let him stay a couple more weeks max, but then he’d have to take legal action. The tenant slams the door on him.

Jared relays his ordeal to Richard back at the house, who asks where he slept last night. “I did not,” Jared admits, keeping a stiff upper lip. Then he, Richard, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle leave for a surprise breakfast at work, leaving Erlich behind. Jared reveals the surprise is gluten-free waffles, saying he had requested them from Chef Amy since he had too many dietary restrictions to leave it to chance.

Erlich interviews a new potential “incubee” who catalogs malware, trying to entice with him with the expensive unpasturized coconut beverages in the fridge. That’s not the concern, the incubee tells him, it’s the room–it’s kind of a dump. Erlich reassures him it will look great next month, but the incubee tells him he’ll need it earlier than planned. In background, Jian Yang purposely spills water out on the floor.

At Pied Piper, Jack has hired a sales staff, who are introduced to the guys at the company pool table for the first time: You’re not hiring engineers first? Richard asks. “God, no!” Jack exclaims.

At the PP conference room table, Keith (from Northeast Regional) [Shannon McClung], Don (of Systems Integration) [Phillip Jeanmarie], Jan “the Man,” (Director of Inside Sales) [Erin Breen], and Doug, (shadowing Keith) [Eddie Liu] listen to Richard’s presentation about PP.

Jack is mysteriously called out of the meeting and Richard learns from Sales that Jack told them Pied Piper would be business facing, not consumer facing. It’s a misunderstanding, Richard says, the plan is for PP to be marketed as “freemium” to people first and sold at a premium to businesses later. Then why are we here? they ask. Richard leaves to find Jack at the elevator, and Jack confirms he said it would be enterprise. Talk to your guys, he urges Richard, promising he won’t compromise the platform. Profitability cannot wait.

Back at the house, Erlich presents Jian Yang with a Japanese kimono (even though he’s Chinese) along with a request to leave, even requesting he bow in acceptance. Jian Yang is pissed and ceremoniously throws out the kimono.

Richard informs Dinesh and Gilfoyle of Jack’s switch to enterprise, which they agree to since it seems like Jack knows what he’s doing. Gilfoyle notes they’ll still be building the neural net and not scrapping peer-to-peer delivery.

Jared learns eviction will take a year. Richard fumes having to rewrite a part of the business plan, hoping it doesn’t delay them. Gilfoyle isn’t worried since “Endframe sucks and Nucleus shit the bed.”

Back at Hooli, an Endframe engineer asks another how he script digested all the strings so fast. It’s just a predictive loop, like a context tree, he’s told. They have a Eureka! moment.

Erlich gives Jared his garage to live in pending the eviction. Jared appreciates the cozy quarters. Jian Yang observes, demanding to know why Erlich is giving Jared the garage when he must leave. Erlich explains Jared’s tenant won’t move out. Jian Yang asks why he can’t go to the police. Erlich explains he got fucked over and must go to court, but the legal process will take a year. “Do you understand?” Erlich demands. He does. Jian Yang responds that he, too, will hold over for a year rent-free, like Jared’s tenant. “No recourse,” he tells Erlich.

The Hooli engineers figure out that if they stack that same loop (from earlier) on top of the bitlevel encoder they stole from Richard and then tethered it to the routine, they’d get a huge jump in speed, like Richard did at Tech Crunch (season 1). We just cracked middle out, they realize. Should we tell Gavin? they wonder. No, they decide, since they’d been fired, and realizing how much they could get from taking the idea somewhere else.

Richard learns at a sales meeting that they now want to take away the neural net but he doesn’t want to delete machine learning or get rid of cloud peer-to-peer. No, those go, says Keith. Why don’t we just do a box, Richard asks sarcastically. “A rack-mounted server-type device?” Doug asks seriously. “That’s fucking stupid,” Richard says, leaving the meeting.

The receptionist [Chelsea Ireland] tells Richard Jack is at the vets. Richard races out to find Jack in a barn where two horses mate. Jack’s breeding mare is in heat. Richard explains there is a problem with Sales. If they’re such good salespeople, then they should be able to sell the platform as envisaged, he reasons. No, Jack says, you have to give them easy things to sell or they’ll just leave.

Richard confidently makes an impassioned plea to Jack, reminding him he promised he’d never compromise the product. Jack asks him what he thinks the product is. It’s not the platform, the algorithm, or the software he says. “Is it me?” Richard asks. God, no, Jack says, the product is the company’s stock. Worry about changing the world, making the world a better place, and miracles later. Meanwhile, he says, he paid $150,000 for that semen to come out of the stallion and he intends to watch it happen. Jack then tells Richard he got a text from Keith, who said he loved Richard’s idea. Richard’s baffled.

Cut to a Sales meeting, where Richard watches a video about how PP can help companies wanting to protect their data from spies (showing Snowden), thieves (an Occupied person in a Guy Fawkes mask), and criminals (a handcuffed man), and foreigners (Dinesh). The video promises a secure data storage solution, and then shows a black box with the PP logo, and slogan, “Think inside the box. Powered by Pied Piper.”

Dinesh and Gilfoyle enter the scene gushing over a Chef Amy creation. They see the projection of the box. What’s that, they wonder? A VCR? Why does it say Pied Piper on it? And why does everyone look so happy? The episode ends.


Thankfully, (and spoiler alert!) this will be the last doctor visit Richard has this season. At this point, it’s established he has untreated panic disorder, but Richard helps himself more than the doc will, so this has played out. We’re happy to see Richard learning to live with the situation at PP and stand up for himself and his vision.

The worst part remains the opening theme music, which I think I’ll stop mentioning as we’re stuck with it. It’s some sort of electronic piece called “Stretch Your Face” by Tobacco.

The plot advanced well in this episode with Jack basically pulling the rug out from under Richard by abandoning the peer-to-peer and neural net from the platform and replacing the whole thing with, of all things, an unoriginal black box. So much for remaining loyal to Richard’s vision.

The best character growth continues to be Richard, who stands up to Jack three times in this episode. The first time, he backs down a little, the second, he’s more adamant, and the third, he makes a passionate appeal to Jack. At the end, though, he’s thwarted when the sales department goes ahead and makes a marketing video for what it is they want to sell rather than what Richard and his team planned to develop.

A close second in terms of character growth was Jian Yang, who, despite slow English has a quick wit. Not thinking, Erlich explains Jared’s plight to him, which Jian Yang throws back at Erlich, telling him he’s staying a year, too, rent-free, like Jared’s tenant. It’s debatable whether an audience would be pleased to see him develop beyond a weak, seemingly exploited immigrant into an annoying, destructive asshole. I wasn’t.

Third, we had homesick Jared, who characteristically tried to work with his Airbnb tenant amicably, but who he decided he would, in fact, have to evict. He’s still a pushover, but is at least beginning to grow a pair. Way to go, Jared!

The funniest moment goes to Jared, too, when he laughs off Dinesh’s inquiry about sleeping in the box, and soberly explains he hasn’t slept in a box for years. Throughout the season, we’ll get small pieces of his sorry backstory.

A close second was the rationalization of Jared’s tenant as to why he didn’t think he had to vacate. As one expects in this show, the script is funny, but it’s the delivery by the actors that nails it.

The most touching moments were when Jared used magical thinking to cope with almost everything bad that happened to him. His wistful eyes and shy grin make him an almost poignant character.

The coolest moment was the horse-mating scene. This may played differently among the audience, but I kinda dug it. It humorously exhibited the type of over-the-top hobbies high-earning tech execs seemingly enjoy.

The dumbest moments were Jian Yang’s. Personally, I think this character is irritating, but unfortunately, he appears written into the script for a year. Perhaps Erlich will get lucky and come up with some creative and outlandish way to get rid of this thorn in his side. Jian Yang does nothing to develop the story and is just there for a gags, which have played out at this point.

In summary, this episode did more in moving the story and main characters forward than in delivering comedy. That’s not a bad thing. Even though the show is a comedy, there is significant drama to it, as well. Here, we leave many of the major characters in bad places, wondering how they’ll deal with it. As always, the actors have been perfectly cast so the interplay in their roles and interaction with each other are spectacular. Mannerisms and facial expressions work for great reaction shots and add a lot to the comedy.


Silicon Valley – Season 3/Episode 1 “Founder Friendly”

HBO’s wonderful comedy, Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, wrapped a tremendously successful Season 3 on Sunday night. Below is my synopsis and review of Episode 1, “Founder Friendly,” written by Dan O’Keefe and directed by Mike Judge.

HBO’s wonderful comedy, Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, wrapped a tremendously successful Season 3 on Sunday night.  Below is my synopsis and review of Episode 1, “Founder Friendly,” written by Dan O’Keefe and directed by Mike Judge.


Opening Title.  

Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.


Pied Piper (PP) founder, Richard Hendricks [Thomas Middleditch], is out as CEO.  Erlich Bachman [T.J. Miller] characteristically and selfishly asks him, “What about me?”  En route to Raviga, Erlich’s van hits a Stanford robotics student’s “Bambot,” a highly resilient and slightly aggressive robotic deer.

After the credits, we open with Richard and Erlich going to the Raviga conference room for a meeting with Laurie Bream [Suzanne Cryer], Monica [Amanda Crew], and attorney Ron LaFlamme [Ben Feldman].  Laurie congratulates Richard on Series A financing of $5 million based on a valuation of $50 million, dryly saying he should feel good about having created a company too valuable for him to run, and offers him a position of Chief Technology Officer, thereby keeping his board seat and allowing his option to vest.  Richard balks.

Outside, Richard asks LaFlamme if she can do that.  She just did, LaFlamme observes, citing the bad deal Richard made against his advice with Russ Hanneman [Chris Diamantopoulos], who later sold his shares to Laurie, giving her effective control of PP’s board.

Arrogantly, Erlich thinks he should be considered for CEO, but Laurie quickly dissuades him of this ridiculous notion, assuring him he will never be CEO.  She suggests to Richard he give his input into the CEO hiring, but Richard quits instead, threatening to sue. LaFlamme then informs Richard he can no longer represent him, being PP’s corporate counsel, not his.

Later, at the house, Monica explains to Richard she didn’t have the power to stop Laurie, but that she stayed on in hopes of changing things in the future.  She informs him Raviga already brought a new highly qualified CEO aboard — “Action” Jack Barker — since Richard claimed he didn’t want any input.  The guys quickly Google Jack and confirm his bona fides.

Monica reminds Richard that no VC will fund a new venture of his for fear of being sued.  Richard counters by saying Jared, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle won’t go without him.  This is news to Dinesh Chugtai [Kumail Nanjiani] and Bertram Gilfoyle [Martin Starr]. Jared, though, doesn’t think twice about remaining loyal.

Meanwhile, at Hooli Gavin Belson [Matt Ross] makes a goodbye announcement, with Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti [Josh Brener] and Gavin’s spiritual advisor, Denpok [Bernard White], sitting front row in the audience, drinking Big Gulps.  But it’s not Gavin who’s leaving — he’s saying goodbye to all Nucleus employees, who he promptly fires.  In cultish adulation, employees gush, “Amazing!”  Denpok and Big Head, depart.

By the pool that night, Dinesh and Gilfoyle conspire, using the acronym, RIGBY, (“Richard Is Great, But Y’know…”) to qualify their conclusions that Richard was presumptuous in assuming they’d give up their jobs for Richard out of principle.

Always the external optimist, Jared finds Richard laying on the floor the next day, depressed.  He plops down a plastic case full of CTO job offers for Richard elsewhere in the Valley, among them, Flutterbeam.

Erlich meanwhile demands to meet Barker [Stephen Tobolowsky] at Raviga. After insulting him about his age, Barker claims to be a big fan of Aviato.  “My Aviato?” Erlich beams.  Indeed.

On Bloomberg TV, we see anchor Emily Chang lauding Gavin for boldly disbanding the failing Nucleus division.  In a Hooli legal meeting, Gavin is informed that the noncompete clause of the employees’ contracts have the same problems caused by the arbitration with PP (resulting in Big Head’s promotion,) but told that he can fire underperforming personnel without cause, which Gavin calculates is about one in five.  The fifth lawyer at the table looks up, saying he’s sorry, he missed what Gavin said. Gavin glares.  (This lawyer doesn’t appear at the next meeting.)

At the house, Jared sets up a meet for Richard at Flutterbeam.  Erlich appears, telling Richard he must meet Barker, who can turn PP from just a unicorn into a deca-corn.  On their way out the door, Dinesh and Gilfoyle notify Richard of their intent to stay with PP.   Richard is livid, angrily questioning their ability to scale the platform without him.  He was the one who coded it.

At Flutterbeam, Richard is introduced to the “rad” new project called “‘Stashe” he’d be overseeing.   He’s dismayed to see it’s a high latency plugin that can put a mustache on anyone’s photos. It’s fine to have his own attorney look over the terms, he’s told.

Cut to Richard entering a correctional facility.  “Are you a lawyer here to see your client?” an officer asks him.  No, he says, I’m a client here to see my lawyer.  The officer lets him in without further inquiry.


 Richard consults with his disgraced attorney in jail. 

Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Richard enters a visiting room where his prior lawyer, Pete Monahan [Matt McCoy]  sits across from him in a prison orange jumpsuit.  He soberly tells Richard he’s prepared to serve his time after he had consumed alcohol, which he thought was organic tea, and then ran around in a blanket with a meth high, assaulting a police horse with a shovel.  He looks at Richard’s Flutterbeam contract, lamenting he can’t redline it because prisoners aren’t allowed pencils.

Back to the house where Dinesh and Gilfoyle realize they can’t figure out how to scale the PP platform without Richard.  Preposterously, they decide to just pretend they’re giving up the project out of solidarity with Richard, in hopes he’ll take them on at Flutterbeam.

Back to the visiting room where Monahan hasn’t been persuaded Flutterbeam is a good match for Richard. He convinces him to at least meet Barker.  Better to eat shit, because you may end up eating worse, he warns Ricard.


Big Head has been a thorn in Gavin’s side since the beginning.                                                                           Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.

At Hooli, Big Head meets with Gary Irving [Gabriel Tigerman] in Human Resources to sign his severance non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreement.  He wants to keep his employee ID to visit his friends on the roof. Gary tells him he no longer has friends at Hooli.  Big Head considers not signing it.  It’s a good severance package, Gary assures him.  Big Head agrees $2 million is good.  No, it’s $20 million, Gary informs him.

Meanwhile, Richard meets Jack at his luxury home and the two have a heart-to-heart. Jack understands and appreciates Richard’s honesty and thanks him and walks Richard to his car.  Jack tells Richard the deal won’t go through without him. We get that Richard thought Jack would push for him, but instead, Jack simply says he’ll backs out of PP altogether.  It seems he considers Richard to be indispensable. Richard rethinks his position. The episode concludes with Richard backing up his car to talk to Jack again.


Richard and “Action” Jack Barker at Barker’s home. 

Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.


The premiere lived up to high expectations and picked up at a critical point in the story, propelling the season forward well.  It set up Big Head’s wealth and Jack’s influence.

Whether and to what extent the characters’ facial expressions and mannerisms are scripted, under the influence of the director, or interpreted by the actors themselves matters little to the viewer as it’s done so effortlessly and effectively.  The comedy obviously begins with solid, tight scripts, driven by an inherently intriguing and (to this outsider, at least) bizarre culture and one easy to satire.  And this entire cast is sublimely superb, including new character, Jack Barker, introduced here.

The worst part is the opening: the animation is good, but the cacaphony of the intro music is grating, even if thankfully short.

The best plot advancement was taking PP from the incubator stage to a growth phase with Series A financing.  PP can now be deemed a serious player in Silicon Valley.

The best character growth was unquestionably Richard’s.  Finally, the shy, reclusive tech genius asserts himself, leaving behind panic attacks and enuresis, which had played themselves out comedy-wise last season.  Yet, his social skills remain a challenge, along with nearly everyone else’s.  Here is the charm.

The funniest moment was when Richard entered the correctional facility and was asked if he was an attorney in to see his client.  Without missing a beat, Richard replies he’s a client to see his lawyer, and the guard brushes this off as the most ordinary of things.  Then, straight-faced,  Monahan tells him his tale of woe about circumstances landing him inside.

A close second was when Laurie told Richard his company was too valuable for him to run and that he should be proud of that fact.  The social ineptitude of most of the characters, especially Laurie, is what makes them so appealing and comedic.

The most touching moment was when Jared encouraged him, and compiled job offers for Richard, without regard for his own uncertain future.  [We learn more about Jared’s sorry personal history throughout the season, making his eternal optimism all that more endearing.]

A distant second is the rare camaraderie exhibited by Dinesh and Gilfoyle, who, despite pretexts, are, indeed, each other’s best friends.

The coolest moment was the Bambot.  While it seemed merely a fanciful moment for the writer (or a Stanford student), it had that Valley vibe we expect in the show.

The dumbest moments were Big Head’s confusion, especially as to his severance package. It’s true Richard couldn’t justify keeping him on in Season 1.  True, too, the character clearly stands for the proposition that being lucky is better than being good.  But he must’ve had at least some modicum of intellect and rudimentary math skills to have been Richard’s friend in the first instance — at least enough to know a difference between $5- and $50 million package.  He obviously wasn’t coded MR in school if he was coding at all at work.  [Throughout the season, this characterization of Big Head was, by far, my biggest peeve.]

In summary, the premiere episode launched an extremely satisfying Season 3.  I highly recommend the series as a whole and this season in particular, and will buy the DVDs on release.

All images Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.  

Screenshots are reproduced pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine of the United States Copyright Act.

“Citizen Four” A Satirical Review

We’re all in the family now.

“Citizen Four”

A Film by Laura Poitras

A Satirical Review

Citizen Four is a fun-filled film for the full family, if a little light on stunts.  It promotes traditional American values with a good dose of celebrating the government’s secular religion and its gods.  And like any good story, it has a moral, in this case, about the value of sharing.

As freedom-loving Americans, we “like” freedom of speech, but we all know we should only do so publicly.  We should always share.  After all, what’s not to love about Uncle Sam, Aunt Betsy, and Brother Barry listening in to your conversations or reading your communications?  We’re all family, anyway, and want to share our innermost feelings, fears, failures, conspiracies, high crimes and misdemeanors, curriculum vitae, and intellectual property not just with Facebook, but with the NSA, as well.  Why would some dude named Edward Snowden have any beef about that? Most of us learned the value of sharing in grade school, but no, not Ed.  No, even as a high school graduate, he didn’t learn.

Cousin Ed scared the living bejesus out of the gods of government.  And so he should have.  This slight framed, be-speckled high school graduate was a nemesis like no other.  He didn’t use hate-speech, thank god, but unfortunately, he did use fighting words.  Not just any fighting words.  The gods’ own words.  And what could be scarier than to have your own words thrown back at you?  Mighty powerful stuff from a really scary dude.  Fortunately, his weapon of choice was not a bomb, hand grenade, or even a gun, just a bombshell, hand-held mic, and a few thumb drives.  (Otherwise, it would be unsuitably violent viewing for the most vulnerable in our venerable family.)

What a party pooper that Cousin Ed turned out to be!  You’re just innocently having a family conversation, when lo and behold, Ed starts belly aching about sharing stuff. Whining to journalists. Making a federal case over it. Needless to say, hilarity ensues in this film as everybody’s nose gets out of joint over Ed’s hijinks and the government’s whole silly charade.  Fun stuff.

This is a film well worth the price of a ticket at the box office with hundreds of your closest family members in the theater (share a large popcorn), but best of all, it’s also a film everyone can enjoy alone at home and just BitTorrent — oops, I mean, share.

The Strange Case of Gilligan’s Gun

Warning. Here be spoilers! Synopsis of “Better Call Saul” Season 2 Finale: “The Strange Case of Gilligan’s Gun.”


The Strange Case of Gilligan’s Gun

It’s a wrap on Season 2 of “Better Call Saul.”  Unlike the penultimate episode, a candidate for “best of series to date,” the season’s finale, “Klick,” was more of a mixed bag.

The cold open further revealed Jimmy and Chuck’s past (at a time when Chuck was married) as the two await their mother’s last breath in the hospital.  While Jimmy’s out getting hoagies, Chuck, looking old, sits at her bedside. He sobs. She awakens briefly, only to call for Jimmy, ignoring Chuck’s presence. When she flatlines and the nurse appears, Chuck matter-of-factly asks if that’s it. When Jimmy returns, Chuck, composed, tells him she died while he was out. Jimmy asks if she had any last words.  Without missing a beat, Chuck lies and says no.

The show then returns to where it left last episode.  Chuck has fallen and hit his head on a counter after being “bombarded” by electricity at a photocopy shop, where Jimmy had previously doctored Chuck’s legal documents, sabotaging the case Chuck had pulled out from under Kim, now in her own private practice.  Last episode, Chuck had ventured to the copy shop with Ernesto to try to prove his suspicion that Jimmy had forged the documents by questioning the clerk who Jimmy had bribed to keep quiet.

Jimmy dashes into the copy shop, shuts of the electricity, and urges the clerk to call 911.  He does. Chuck lands up back in the same hospital with the same doctor he had last season, tormented by the medical tests requiring electricity.

Chuck undergoes tests.  No EKG, CATscan, Chuck pleads, you doctors don’t have my consent. There are odd POV shots, not quite Chuck’s but not the physicians’ either, depicting the terror Chuck experiences from electricity. At his doctor’s urging, Jimmy decides to obtain a temporary guardianship, pending Chuck’s recovery.   He seems to sincerely apologize to Chuck, who calls for Ernie, waiting in the hall.  Chuck demands to know from them why Jimmy was there so soon after he fell, suggesting, accurately, that Jimmy was lurking around to bribe the copy clerk.  Jimmy is speechless, and Ernie tells him he had called Jimmy because he had been worried.  In fact, he hadn’t called Jimmy.

After, when they’re alone, Jimmy asks Ernie why he said that.  Because, Ernie explained, Jimmy was his friend (from the mailroom at HHM) and Chuck had been saying terrible things about him behind his back lately.

We cut to a scene where the bearded Mexican ice cream truck driver who botched the drug money transport moans in the back of a van, hogtied, with his mouth taped shut.  The van is driven by a ponytailed Mexican and Nacho.  They drive through the desert and go through a gate.  Mike watches from his car and tries to follow discretely.

A torturous POV scene with Chuck as he’s scanned.  Meanwhile, Jimmy waits in the waiting room with Kim, as his newly-produced patriotic and poignant “Call Jimmy, a lawyer you can trust” commercial finally airs on television.  Kim loves it.  Jimmy powers down his cellphone, apparently expecting an avalanche of calls.

After protracted testing, Chuck is determined to be medically fit, having suffered only stress-related syncopy, commonly known as a panic attack, but having now entered into a self-induced catatonia.  The shot is an odd one — with Chuck’s room seeming to reflect off a mirror.  Seemingly angry with the doctor, Jimmy sits down to wait for Chuck to recover, while Kim stands by.

Cut to Mike and the weapons-dealer he met in a prior episode, practicing long-distance shots with some sort of assault rifle. He center hits the target.  The dealer recommends he use .168 hollow point bullets.  Mike takes one box.  The dealer wipes his prints off the weapon, saying “no offense” to Mike. “None taken,” Mike replies.

Through a time-lapse shot familiar to the show, a day later, Chuck awakens in his dark hospital room where Jimmy waits.  He demands water from Jimmy and asks about any involuntary psychiatric commitment. Insisting it’s just a temporary guardianship, Jimmy takes Chuck home, getting him to agree to have Ernie come by later.  Jimmy leaves.

Now alone, Chuck goes to his dark garage full of obsolete electronic items, and with a wooden utensil, retrieves something out of a box which he takes inside.  A music score plays.

Mike takes the weapon and hides out, laying in wait, presumably to shoot a youthful and spry Hector presumably issuing orders to the cousins.  Crickets chirp. Through the crosshairs, Mike watches the cartel’s cars and hut.  Ponytail digs a hole while the others wait in the hut.  From the hut, we hear hollering before returning to Mike and the crickets. Mike cocks his weapon, but never seems to get an unobstructed shot of Hector because Nacho always seems to be covering him.

One of them shoots Beard. He falls into the hole. Mike observes them through his scope. They go back inside.  Mike watches Ponytail bury Beard.

Suddenly, Mike hears a car horn blare in background.  He packs up, returning to his car, where a branch has been wedged to blow the horn.  He removes the branch. The horn stops.  On his windshield he sees a small sheet of paper that warns him simply, “Don’t.”  He looks around with a shotgun and sees no one.  Mike’s weapon never fires this episode.  What’s up with that?

Jimmy, who now runs his own solo practice in the same office as Kim, is interrupted by a call from Howard, Chuck’s law partner at HHM.  Howard asks Jimmy if he’s responsible for something alarming Chuck has apparently done.  Jimmy leaves his office with a waiting room full of elder law clients (presumably due to his riveting TV commercial) to go see Howard, leaving Kim to tend to them by getting them coffee and donuts, and after referring to her as his “associate,” and “young lady.”

Jimmy drives his yellow jalopy to Chuck’s house.  Now locked-out without a key, he bangs on the door until Chuck lets him in.  Chuck has draped aluminum foil on his walls to approximate the effects a Faraday cage to protect himself from anxiety-producing electromagnetic energy.  These walls are just plaster and lathe, he observes, invisible to radio spectrum.

Jimmy urges him to stop for just a minute so they can talk.  Chuck relents.  Jimmy tells Chuck that Howard told him he had quit HHM and the practice of law.  Chuck says he only retired.  Jimmy stresses how important the law is to Chuck.  Quite presciently perhaps, Jimmy comments Chuck can’t retire until he gets Jimmy disbarred and runs him out of town on a rail.  Yes, Chuck says, but he made a mistake and harmed his client. He could no longer perform his lawyerly duties. Instead of admitting to a mistake, he had blamed Jimmy.  He cries, the second time we’ve seen him do so, and in the same episode.

Apparently remorseful, Jimmy reveals that everything Chuck had accused him doing, he had, in fact, done for Kim’s benefit, who had secured the account in the first instance and who had earned and needed it.  He admits Chuck’s brain functions fine. He adds he thought Chuck would just gloss over the error like any “normal” person and move on.  Knowing that now, Jimmy asks if he can tell Howard Chuck wouldn’t retire.  Chuck nods his assent.  Do you realize, Chuck inquires, you just confessed to a felony?  I guess so, Jimmy answers, but you feel better and it’s your word against mine.  He leaves.

The camera reveals: the item Chuck had brought in from the garage was an old cassette tape recorder.  He got Jimmy on tape.  With his wooden utensil, he shuts the recorder off.  The finale ends.

What’s So Wrong with The X-[position] Files, Anyway?

Chris Carter’s ’90s classic television show gets updated…and it’s good.

What’s So Wrong with The X-[position] Files, Anyway?

Back in the late 90s, Chris Carter’s “The X-Files” on Fox was one of only a few shows I watched with any degree of regularity.  I recall it as a dry period in television.  Today, by contrast, we’re in a Golden Age, or, as some have suggested, seemingly reaching “Peak TV.”

Thus, I was hopeful about the return of “The X-Files” as a six episode miniseries this winter.  These hopes were dashed when I read the early reviews from those who had the opportunity to preview it prior to broadcast. It generally didn’t bode well for my old favorite.

For anyone inexplicably unfamiliar with the show, the show featured two FBI special agents, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) who were relegated to a basement office in the J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building in Washington, D.C. to investigate unexplained or unsolved crimes of a paranormal or unexplained variety, dubbed “X-files.”

Scully, a skeptic, who was also conveniently a medical doctor/scientist, was initially planted to debunk Mulder’s conspiracy-minded theories, though we later learn his presence wasn’t exactly coincidental, either.  His self-purported mission in life was to find his younger sister, who went missing as a girl, and who he suspected was abducted by alien forces, facilitated, we’re led to believe, by the government.

Some episodes were “monsters-of-the-week” — stand-alone, or self-contained episodes about the supernatural or unexplained phenomena. Other episodes followed the increasingly complex government conspiracy concerning the existence of extraterrestrials. These mythology episodes, for which the show became famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view, were highly serialized and became increasingly convoluted and never really reached any conclusion.  From time to time, the show ventured into comedic episodes.

The cross-genre versatility of the show was remarkable, even in its day, when 22 episodes were the norm rather than the exception. It would be virtually unthinkable today, especially with abbreviated seasons, to produce a show which stretches across genres the way “The X-Files” did.

The series followed the two agents’ relationship as it developed.  Ultimately, Scully and Mulder (as they oddly called each other) got together in the biblical sense and had a baby, William, who was given up for adoption ostensibly for his own safety because his parents had unearthed such sinister forces. These forces were never fully explained in the original series, and the ambiguity over its nine seasons on Fox was both maddening and intriguing to fans, or self-styled “x-philes.”.

At another point, Scully had an unusual cancer ostensibly caused by, it is suggested, her own abduction by aliens.

Some of the major recurring characters included Assistant FBI Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), their boss, who sometimes overlooked, or even encouraged their zealous investigations.  The mysterious Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) was a dark force who said few words but, we learned, apparently pulled a lot of strings in the government conspiracy.

This miniseries, or Season 10, didn’t necessarily illuminate the mythology, but neither did it obscure it. It expanded and contemporized it. The negative reviews were, I think, unduly harsh, and overall, I view the season very favorably, if too short.

One complaint of reviewers involved heavy exposition, particularly in the episodes penned by Carter, earning the series the moniker, “The Exposition Files” by one snarky viewer.

But the show, by its nature and history, was generally exposition-heavy. Good stories sometimes involve doses of exposition, but when it’s presented in an engaging way, if it’s light-handed, doled out incrementally, and presented in an interesting visual way, it’s unobjectionable. Some exposition was voice-over to reorient the viewer. Some sought to illuminate the science behind the story. Reviewers who complained about it were a bit hypercritical, and perhaps a little forgetful.

Another problem people seemed to have was the clunky dialog.  I didn’t consider the dialog the show’s strong suit originally, so again, I’m forgiving about this.  Since when do lovers call each other by their last names, anyway?

The third major issue raised was the show’s unevenness.  It never was consistent.  In the days when 22 episodes per season was the norm, some scripts were inevitably produced before their time.  From the beginning, too, the show shuffled between monster-of-the-week, mythology, and even the occasional comedy, so you’d never really know what to expect. In the current world of TV, this flexibility is unheard of. Over the years, fans have rallied around one type or the other; preferred some episodes over others.  It is still true today.  In that regard, the new miniseries was, I think, a resounding success.

As to the claim it seemed like a money-grab, I don’t know how to respond.  Art for art’s sake is fine, but I’m also quintessentially American and don’t blame anyone for trying to capitalize on their previous success.  “The X-Files” is deserving of its franchise and I don’t begrudge it.

Finally, some asserted Anderson and Duchovny’s performances fell flat.  That was always the case, as well.  I seem to recall some of Carter’s interviews or commentaries where he discussed his dislike for talking with one’s hands or expansive gesturing.  The actors, I think, had the flatness baked into that cake from inception.  Furthermore, Mulder and Scully were clearly depressed, at least at the outset of the new series, when not only had the X-Files come to a close, but so had their relationship.

Here’s hoping for a longer Season 11.  It’s deserving, timely, and  beautifully produced.  I want to believe we’ll have one.

“Better Call Saul” Breaks Better Than “Breaking Bad”

About midway through the second season of “Better Call Saul,” I admit I’m still delighted with the show…more so than Breaking Bad.

“Better Call Saul” Breaks Better  Than “Breaking Bad”

About midway through the second season of “Better Call Saul,” I admit I’m still delighted with the show. When Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” (“BB”) prequel began over a year ago, I envisioned it, at best, as being a sort of “The Lone Gunman” styled spinoff.  The Gunmen were the comic relief characters of the “The X-Files,” much as Saul Goodman was in “BB.”

I was a fan of both “The X-Files” and “BB,” and it was because of his work on the former that I knew who Gilligan was when AMC first promoted the show. Name recognition as “BB’s” showrunner (in an age with showrunner-as-celebrity), along with the tantalizing title, geared me up for “BB” at the outset.

The show’s hook, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher diagnosed with cancer has his last hurrah manufacturing crystal meth, was certainly original. Early on, though, I had difficulty buying some of the premises of the plot.

Why, I wondered, would any American school teacher ever be without health insurance? School systems are known for, yes, low pay, but yes, good benefits, too. (Remember this was before the ACA, but still…)  True, you might have to be smart enough to enroll for the benefits, but wasn’t Walter supposed to be smart? And wasn’t his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), clipping coupons and selling on e-Bay in an effort at home economy?

Why, I further mulled, wouldn’t Skyler work, however far along in even a potentially difficult pregnancy, even in some capacity, if economic difficulty befell her family? (Recall Walter, Jr.  [R.J. Mitte] had a disability, but he was of an age and self-sufficient enough to get by without her hanging around.)

As the show progressed (slowly, due to an inopportune writers strike in its first season), these incongruities mattered less, though, since the story really wasn’t about Walter’s cancer, but about his hubris and greed.

The only reason I continued watching was I knew roughly where the story was going plot-wise.  But I’m not prone, even in bouts, to schadenfreude, so that certainly wasn’t keeping me tuned in.  I really hated the characters.  In fact, other than Jesse, I didn’t even care what happened to any of the main ones.

Walt, although an adequate teacher and father, was an arrogant, boorish, and humorless man even before his unfortunate diagnosis. Skyler was a whiny, nagging hold-out. Her sister, Marie (Betsy Brandt), was even worse with her vacuousness, purple palette, and inexplicable penchant for stealing shoes. Walter, Jr. was, honestly, just plain difficult to watch. The arrogant DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), at least had the redeeming quality of having a sense of humor.  His co-workers were fine, but it wasn’t their story.

The tweekers, like Badger and Skinny Pete, were mildly interesting (if underdeveloped), but Aaron Paul, in his role as Jesse Pinkman, was the clear breakout talent in the series.  Jesse’s family, Jane, and her father added depth to his character.

Underdeveloped, too, was the couple and their backstory with Grey Matter, which may have gone a long way in making Walter a more sympathetic character, as a screwed-over scientist in a cruelly mystifying business milieu.

Skyler’s lover, Ted Beneke, who might have given her part-time employment earlier could have added dimension to her character as well, perhaps with her learning some financial tricks from him after Walt’s Grey Matter days that would test both her skills and morals in Walt’s later venture.

Gale, and later Lydia, were enjoyable but short-lived characters.   Gus Fring, conversely, was just despicable. Tuco, Tio, and the cousins were all cast well and good in a story about drug trade in New Mexico.  But personally I didn’t need more of them.

Which is a perfect lead-in to the characters of Mike Ehrmantraut and Saul Goodman, the most compelling of them, although I didn’t fully appreciate the possibility at the time. That was especially true when I heard it was dubbed a comedy, until I recalled TV Guide had originally advertised “BB” as a comedy, too.  Like I said, I envisaged a “The Lone Gunman” thing.  Not that that was a bad little show.  I rather fancied it.

I would’ve written “BB” differently, but it was Gilligan’s story and he deservedly got the big bucks. It had fits and starts due to extended hiatuses, but the finale was satisfying, and at least AMC had the decency to give it an end — along with “Mad Men.” But what Gilligan and his writers room have done in “Better Call Saul” far surpassed my most hopeful expectations and even gave us a twofer, I think, with the inclusion of Mike.

On this, his second series, Gilligan (and Peter Gould) appear to have learned a great deal from “BB,” especially in terms of character development.  They have given Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) the chance to breathe and not rushed him into the inevitable, namely, Saul Goodman.  They have provided Mike (Jonathan Banks) with a credible back story involving his dead cop son, daughter-in-law Stacie, and granddaughter, Kaylee.

They introduced Jimmy’s whacked-out brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), a law partner in a large firm, adding dimension to Jimmy, but creating another compelling character in his own right (with a strange electromagnetic sensitivity) along with fellow partner, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian). Who the other Hamlin is in HHM is remains a mystery. Associate attorney, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), plays an appropriate love interest for Jimmy.  The Kettlemans, Pryce, and others, while flawed, have appeal, manage to pique interest, and aren’t totally despicable. At least I care to know what happens to them.

My hope is that Gilligan and Gould won’t rush Jimmy into the Saul Goodman or “BB” world. We’ve been there, done that.  Jimmy has his own story to tell:  how he broke bad as a lawyer.

Now how about a pre-prequel about Mike’s ‘Nam days?