Better Call Saul

better-call-saul-netflixBetter Call Saul, a prequel to AMC’s milestone series, Breaking Bad, further establishes co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould to be among the most intricate moral thinkers working in the dramatic arts. Whereas the first series rendered the ethical decline of a dying man who makes something of a noble bargain with his conscience—attempting to provide for his struggling family by entering the methamphetamine trade—the second series focuses on an altogether different landscape of principles.

Instead of depicting the inch-by-inch, then mile-by-mile, depravity that follows a dubious but not wholly dishonorable decision, Better Call Saul illustrates the confluence of causes that can make a man see himself in a certain way. If Breaking Bad’s Walter White is “Mr. Chips turned Scarface,” as Gilligan described him, Better Call Saul’s Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman is Willie Stark turned strip-mall consigliere.

The series, now beginning its second season, is set in 2002, some six years before the action of Breaking Bad. As such, it gives the backstory on how Walter White’s outlandish shyster lawyer, Saul Goodman, becomes the man that he is. Goodman is the epitome of the ambulance-chasing, tasteless advertising (“Better Call Saul”) attorney, complete with a debased clientele and a shameless talent for truth perversion. [Read more…]

Good Enough to Tweet

facebook-home-social-contentIf you go to any restaurant nowadays, you’ll likely see something that at one time would’ve been considered absurd: People whipping out their smartphones, taking pictures of their food, then forwarding said photograph to their friends, families, followers, catfishes, and Craigslist Killers all over creation through a variety of social media.

“Suckling Duckling with Béarnaise Bilberries”? Gotta-get-an image of that on my Facebook wall.

“Filleted Fintail in Papillote, served on the Hubcap of a Ford Fairlane”? Snapchat that sucker. [Read more…]

Brooklyn: A Drama of Discernment

BrooklynOne of the hardest things in life is having two good choices that are completely exclusive of each other. It’s not a matter of picking a major in college, regretting it, and changing to another track; not a matter of taking a job at the wrong place and eventually finding your way to another one. Many choices—perhaps most choices—can be undone, however long and laborious the undoing.

But those decisions that are irreversible, unalterable, and unavoidable are the ones that cause the most anguish, especially when there’s much to recommend both of the alternatives (of course, at times we’re cursed with an array of good options, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll keep it to two). In these dilemmas, we have an embarrassment of riches. The stakes are high: Pick one and lose the other forever.

Arguably, in this day and age, such dire consequences are less often the case than they used to be. What were historically lifelong commitments are now temporary engagements; wherever you are, you can get out pretty quickly. Affiliations, careers, and faiths are imminently interchangeable now.

Even marriage, which was once a permanent choice, has hardly the strength of a hair anymore, let alone a chain. You can divorce several times without stigma, though with somewhat more financial burden. And to our eternal shame, even children can be opted out of now, with the backing of a vast secular orthodoxy and the many huge industries that make a profit from it.

But that was not always so. There was a time when choosing meant you made a promise that honor and decency demanded you keep. In one of the loveliest movies to come along in a while, one of the loveliest characters to come along in an equally long while has to make such a choice—between two good things that she could never have predicted would present themselves. [Read more…]

Eden’s Border: Where Objects Have Stories

IMG_8506We’ll have to go back to the gun shop today. There’s no way around it. It seems that the barrel with the modified choke got left there when my mother placed the twenty-gauge up for sale sometime before Christmas. But since there weren’t any takers, we went back to the shop to retrieve it when I got home in December. Unfortunately, the owner forgot to give us the other barrel, so we’ll have to go back. My brother has decided he wants it.

The only reason she was selling this shotgun out of the many others we have is because nobody could remember how we came to own it or whose it was in the first place. Coming from a long line of hunters, our family has stories behind these weapons. Among them, there’s a rifle with a scope my grandfather deer hunted with (we used to have two buck heads that he kept mounted on his wall in the study), an A.H. Fox with an engraved plate that my other grandfather traded a man for during the Depression, a 410 that my own father began to hunt with, and an Ithaca with a sawed-off stock that I was given as a boy because the gun was originally too long for me. [Read more…]

God is Sacrificial Love

Titian_1558_Ancona_CrucifixionIf God is love, as we’re told, then what kind of love is he? In the quest to know that which is beyond all knowing—another one of those oxymorons so characteristic of religion—we find a set of pictures that for any serious adult proves ultimately unsatisfying.

Brotherly love, fatherly love, even passionate love have all been employed to express God’s essence through platitudes and poetry, paintings and precepts. God with his hand on our shoulders; God carrying us in his arms; God pining away below our windows, vexing tarts that we are. Speaking for myself, these images long ago began to cloy. To the limited extent that they can voice the truth about the transcendent, any effect they take is all worn out. The fuzz is off the velvet.

And yet, there is one image that does not lose its appeal—that beckons the beholder further in rather than tires him with what only settles and sates. One image is always fresh, with the power of pulsing blood, of throbbing lesion; and therein seems to lie the answer to what kind of love God is. [Read more…]


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