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Halloween Memories

I recently wrote a piece for the Horror Writers Association newsletter on Halloween memories. If you’re not an HWA member (it’s not just for writers—artists, editors, publishers, and fans can all join), check them out at hwa.org.

In retrospect, I should have titled this I REMEMBER HALLOWEEN. Never pass up an opportunity for a Misfits reference!

HALLOWEEN MEMORIES

Asking me to settle on a single, measly memory of Halloween is like asking me to name my favorite taco shop (I can probably get it down to a top ten but that’s pushing it), but here goes nothing. My favorite memory of Halloween is the specials!

Anyone who’s heard me pontificate on my influences for any length of time knows that I’m a huge fan of GARFIELD’S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE. That, along with KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE and the Scary Stories books are my earliest horror memories. I remember ripping open the Sunday paper the week of Halloween, scanning the network listings to see what cartoon specials were spookily displacing their regularly-scheduled programming, and then circling them all with a magic marker so my dad would know what he needed to tape on our BetaMax unit (the last time he was ever an early adopter of anything—fool me once and all that). Garfield and his pirate ghosts were always a particular favorite—there are some legitimately great scares in there, from the opening scene with the unhinged and terrifying Binky the Clown to the King in Yellow-inspired fakeouts during the jazzy Lou Rawls number “Scaredy Cat.” And for my money, I’ve never felt quite the same flavor of dread as when Garfield and Odie are desperately searching for a place to hide in the old man’s house, knowing the pirate ghosts will be there any minute and there is nothing they can do to stop their return.

There were a bunch of other ones I loved too, from IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN to THE HALLOWEEN TREE to some of the stuff the Disney Channel reliably showed year-after-year: their eponymous HALLOWEEN TREAT AND MR. BOOGEDY (weirdly, the sequel, BRIDGE OF BOOGEDY, has a similar build to JASON GOES TO HELL, if I remember correctly). The best was going out trick-or-treating, coming back with a sackful of fun-size candy bars, and binging on both sweets and BetaMax-taped Halloween content until I passed out on the couch. Good times!

THE FANATIC is the Best Movie You Won't Watch This Year

Yep, THE FANATIC.

The horror movie directed by Fred Durst, and from the trailers looks like it’s about John Travolta going full Simple Jack for an hour and a half.

Continuing the 2019 trend of movies being way better than they had any right to be (THE BANANA SPLITS, CHILD’S PLAY, MA), THE FANATIC is freaking great. I know, I can’t believe it either. After all, it’s directed by the lead singer of Limp Bizkit, a band whose oeuvre is the sonic equivalent of your older brother slapping you across the face with your own hand and repeatedly asking “WHY YOU HITTING YOURSELF?!?!?!” One might imagine said movie to be an extended, incoherent music video set to a tedious rap rock soundtrack and rife with vaping because it’s 2019.

Yeah, opposite.

John Travolta plays loner autograph-obsessive Moose, and it’s the second best role of his career (the first being FACE/OFF, and for those keeping score at home his masterful portrayal of terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy inside of FBI agent Sean Archer’s body is still only the third-best performance in that singular film; Nicholas Cage as Sean Archer in Castor Troy’s body easily takes first, followed by Nicholas Cage’s fake mustache in the opening scene). Moose is painfully awkward, probably on the spectrum, and doesn’t seem to be aware of the concept of boundaries. And yet he’s also endearing, in a goofy overgrown-kid way, and serves as a philosophical counterpoint to cynical, scummy street-performer Todd, who’s really there to rob his audience blind. Moose might live a life of loneliness and rejection, but he’s still a wide-eyed ingenue who truly believes in the magic of Hollywood. He makes his living by pretending to be a British police officer for some reason, and his awful attempts at an English accent are one of many areas where Travolta truly shines. This weird, gritty innocence allows us to continue rooting for this bizarre man-child, even when his obsession with douchebro horror actor Hunter Dunbar takes him to some seriously dark places.

The whole cast is great here, including Devon Sawa as the aforementioned Dunbar, Anna Golja as Leah, a young paparazzo who hangs out with weirdo middle-aged men like Moose for no apparent reason, and Jacob Grodnik as the vile Todd. And that’s what really sets THE FANATIC apart. Sure, the plot is fairly predictable, but the amount of care and effort that went into creating something so ridiculous is impressive. It’s not at the level of STREET TRASH, an exploitation classic that went so far as to have a minor character record a Sinatra-esque ballad about himself to play over the end credits, but regardless of what you think of the decisions Durst makes, you can tell he’s really thought it through. One telling detail is the OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN poster in Moose’s apartment—he’s not the sort of obsessive fan we’ve seen before, one who can rattle off arcane trivia about obscure ‘70s and ‘80s horror movies at will (like I just did two sentences ago), he’s the sort of fan who likes terrible, big-budget popcorn movies and obsesses over them the way neckbeards do over Fulci or whatever. It’s different, it’s fresh, and it’s quite well-executed.

This will always be the movie the guy from Limp Bizkit directed, but I can see a world somewhere down the line where some DJ spins “Nookie” at a ‘90s throwback night and one sentient vape cloud turns to another and says, “You know the guy rapping right now did that movie THE FANATIC?”

I hope Durst keeps making movies, because he’s done something cool, and you should totally check it out.

THE BANANA SPLITS is Out on VOD Today!

That’s right, now YOU can see my #1-ranked movie of 2019. Here’s what I had to say about the Splits in my “Top Movies of 2019” countdown (half-way through the year addition):

1. The Banana Splits

Pure. Fucking. Joy. Taking the Banana Splits and making a legit horror movie is tough to pull off, and yet Danishka Esterhazy absolutely rose to the challenge. The jokes land, the gore is on point, the child actors aren’t annoying and the adult actors nail the shit out of their roles. Perhaps it’s not high art, but it’s a perfect example of a well-crafted, batshit-insane horror flick. The care and attention to detail is evident throughout (ex. and SPOILER the way one Split is taken out mirrors their first kill almost exactly). It’s a shame this movie is consigned to VOD/Blu-ray, because it’s the perfect flick to tie one on with your friends and go see on the big screen. Hoping it hits the midnight movie circuit one of these days. Goddamn incredible and I can’t see anything topping it this year.

I’m looking forward to revisiting this bad boy later this month when it drops on Blu-Ray. And then again, and again, and again, every year, for the rest of my life. BANANA SPLITS FTW!

Seriously, go watch it.

Top Movies of 2019 (So Far)

Man, it’s been a weird year for movies. Some of my most-anticipated flicks ended up being bitter disappointments, while other films that looked terrible punched WELL above their weight. Since we’re halfway(ish) through the year, I thought I’d do a top ten list now, mostly to make my year-end list easier to compile. But it’ll also be fun to see how the list changes in the back half of the year.

Okay, without further ado, let’s do this.

10. The Head Hunter

Controlling for budget, this might be in my top three. Made for a mere $30,000, the movie does a hell of a lot with what it has, and is consistently moving and compelling. Christopher Rygh does amazing work in a nearly-silent role. The set design is beautiful, and some of the devices used (the horns summoning Rygh’s monster hunter, for example) are pretty neat, working well to create anticipation and dread. Unfortunately a movie about a guy who fights monsters needs some actually monster-fighting, and the micro-budget forced them to show only the before and after of the battles. Give these guys a few more bucks and I bet they’ll do something really fucking cool.

9. Brightburn

A bunch of fun kills and some fairly tense scenes, but ultimately the idea of an evil Superman is a whole lot more novel to the average Joe or Sally Popcorn Bucket who hasn’t seen the idea done over and over again in the comics (for my money, Garth Ennis’ Homelander is a way more fun riff on the concept). Not a bad way to spend an hour and a half, but the movie was utterly predictable. I wasn’t surprised once. I think the flick would have been a little more fun with some ambiguity as to whether or not Brandon was the one murdering everyone.

8. Mega Time Squad

There’s only one thing I hate more than time travel, and that’s dream sequences. Mega Time Squad had the deck stacked against it in this respect, but its creators wisely (and unsurprisingly, being responsible for the ass-kickingly hilarious Deathgasm) chose to make a comedy about time travel, which is the one genre where it works for me. If you’re playing time travel straight, it makes my head hurt too much, thinking about all the paradoxes. In a comedy though, especially one where the time travel is conducted via magic, I’m into it. Mega Time Squad is also really Mega Clone Squad, and great fun.

7. Ma

Earlier I mentioned movies that punch way above their weight class, and Ma is the first of them. I saw the trailer in front of probably three or four movies and immediately wrote it off, but after hearing some good word-of-mouth I decided to check it out for myself. WOW. The trailer didn’t do the movie justice (it did spoil a really fucking awesome scene, though). Ma’s less a horror movie than a meditation on disconnection and loneliness. By the end I was so emotionally invested in all of the characters, I just wanted everyone to work shit out and get along.

6. Child’s Play

One more movie I was primed to hate but end up enjoying quite a bit. Just like everyone else on the internet, I wasn’t looking forward to a Child’s Play remake. At least until I saw the Wondercon panel. I’ll probably do my definitive Child’s Play rankings at some point and believe it or not the remake slots in around number three. The movie plays a whole lot like the 1990 classic Hardware, complete with sweaty, pervy neighbor, and they’ve solved the jackass internet tough guy objection to Chucky (“Dude, I’d just like punt that fucker out the window”) in a creative way that makes the franchise relevant AND scary.

Plus, the fucking bear. Oh my god I want a spin-off.

5. Avengers: Endgame

I don’t think I have anything fascinating to say about this movie. It’s an Avengers movie, it did everything it was supposed to do and kicked ass and tugged heart strings and brought the first ten years of the MCU to a respectable conclusion. Good stuff.

4. Midsommar

Ari Aster is the greatest music video director of all time. The guy knows how to craft a compelling visual, that’s for sure, and the music is top-notch. Despite the legion of dipshits in my theater that laughed at literally everything, I found the movie to be almost unbearably tense (in a good way), disturbing, and consistently fascinating. Narratively there’s almost nothing going on, and if you’ve ever seen a pagan cult movie there are zero surprises. Every character that’s not Florence Pugh or her boyfriend feels like an NPC, and maybe that’s by design, but I can’t get behind that approach. The execution is brilliant but expected—while it’s a sterling example of what it is, I’ve seen this movie before. For a new twist on the pagan cult movie, check out Gareth Evans’ Apostle. I’m not saying that’s a better movie than Midsommar, but narratively I found it the superior movie of the two.

3. Velvet Buzzsaw

Nightcrawler is one of my favorite movies EVER, and getting the band back together was a fantastic idea. I had a hell of a lot of fun with this movie. Incredibly compelling, I never felt the urge to check my phone which is my measuring stick for how good a movie on NetFlix is (regardless of how bored I am in a theater, I’m not pulling out my fucking phone like an asshole). If the movie had just been about pretentious art douchebags trying to out-douche each other over Henry Darger’s Gold, I would have liked the movie even more. The supernatural horror element felt tacked on and unnecessary, and this movie is the ultimate example of an all-time great title having fuck-all to do with the story. Still, I loved the hell out of this thing despite its flaws.

2. Knife+Heart

A contemporary, ‘70s-set take on the giallo. Moreso than last year’s Suspiria, I thought Knife perfectly nailed the atmosphere and look of the ‘70s. Everybody looks kind of sweaty and gross. I found myself forgetting all the characters were speaking French because I was so invested in the story. Anne Pareze is such a fascinating, morally-questionable creation. Her creation of a pornographic film to both exploit and cope with the tragedy surrounding her is jaw-dropping, both in how some scenes are played for painful laughs but also in what it says about her as a person—insight and indictment in equal measure. Is she trying to make a buck off the deaths of her friends, looking for catharsis in all the wrong places, or a little bit of both? Either way, watch this fucking movie, it’s amazing.

1. The Banana Splits

Pure. Fucking. Joy. Taking the Banana Splits and making a legit horror movie is tough to pull off, and yet Danishka Esterhazy absolutely rose to the challenge. The jokes land, the gore is on point, the child actors aren’t annoying and the adult actors nail the shit out of their roles. Perhaps it’s not high art, but it’s a perfect example of a well-crafted, batshit-insane horror flick. The care and attention to detail is evident throughout (ex. and SPOILER the way one Split is taken out mirrors their first kill almost exactly). It’s a shame this movie is consigned to VOD/Blu-ray, because it’s the perfect flick to tie one on with your friends and go see on the big screen. Hoping it hits the midnight movie circuit one of these days. Goddamn incredible and I can’t see anything topping it this year.

Best Movies That Came Out Last Year That I Didn’t Watch Until This Year: Apostle, Monster Party, Suspiria.

UPDATE 24-JUL-2019: So of course I post this on the same day I finally get around to watching Under the Silver Lake (that 2.5 hour run time intimidated the fuck out of me) and HOLY SHIT WAS THAT AWESOME. It’s on the list, probably between Child’s Play and Ma. Not a perfect movie by any means, there were a few threads that didn’t quite come together.

One more SPOILER WARNING.

I mostly loved the experience of watching the movie, it’s beautifully and weird and haunting and that one scene of him walking up to the stone house felt like something out of Mandy, BUT there were too many threads that didn’t come together at the end—the pirate guy’s absence being the most minor, but still noted. Mostly I was very disappointed that the grocery store trapdoor didn’t factor in, nor did the Vanna White eye-code. I expected Sarah to use that to signal to Sam that she really wanted him to come get her, for him to use the trap door, and to have some sort of confrontation. The ending of the movie mostly worked for me, just seemed odd those elements didn’t go anywhere.

Brian’s Best Films of 2018

There were a ton of great movies that came out this year, and I also caught up on a bunch of fantastic films from previous years that I missed. I was tempted to do a “top ten movies I WATCHED this year” list but that might be too confusing. So I’ll limit myself to only 2018 films, although having experienced the magic of the WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL and NEON MANIACS, I’m sorely tempted to put those on the list.

You can find recaps of these flicks all over the internet, so I don’t feel the need to reproduce them here.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the top 10 films I saw in 2018.

10. THE RITUAL

I love the hell out of Adam Nevill’s work and can only hope the success of this flick will usher in a few more adaptions, hopefully NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE (starring Tom Hardy as Knacker, please…). THE RITUAL features an amazing creature design, but also fantastic chemistry between the leads.

9. THE ENDLESS

Kind of like LOST, except at the end I was in awe of the creators’ skill at crafting a unique and unsettling vision instead of angry at them for wasting six years of my life. If I were to revisit this list next year, I’d imagine THE ENDLESS might even get bumped up a few spots.

8. PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH

I know nothing about the previous Puppet Master movies (something I’ll have to unfuck soon), but LITTLEST REICH was just an hour and a half of pure joy. I mean a guy gets his head cut off and pees on his own face, what’s not to love?

7. THE NIGHT COMES FOR US

Not a horror movie, even though it’s been covered by a ton of horror sites. What it IS is two hours of the most brutal action you’ll ever see. All kinds of kick ass.

6. A QUIET PLACE

This movie is a master class in tension. The opening scene did a great job of establishing the scenario and showing us how far the filmmakers were willing to go (all the way).

5. MANDY

A super rad journey through a series of heavy metal album covers. While I often get annoyed when people in movies stand there not saying anything to each other (looking at you, Nicholas Winding Refn), MANDY is such a surreal, fever dream of a movie that it works. Any movie that features both an axe AND a chainsaw fight gets my twenty bucks.

4. INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND

This movie did something that is pretty much guaranteed to piss me off (no spoilers), but here’s the thing—they got away with it. While there are some shades of TEXAS CHAINSAW, INCIDENT is very much its own thing, and what a fantastic thing it is.

3. ATERRADOS (TERRIFIED)

The little boy, yo. That scene alone would be enough to make me adore this movie. The way the narrative is structured echoes the hauntings in the story, and it’s all very, very cool.

2. THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW

I don’t want to sound like a hipster here, but THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW is a strong example of the argument that horror almost HAS to be low-budget in order to be truly scary. There’s one scene in particular where the father is talking to his son that might be the scariest thing I’ve seen all year. That’s it, a conversation—no monsters, no demon nuns, no levitation. Absolutely brilliant. Aside from a minor logic flaw (and what horror movie is totally bereft of that particular bugaboo), WITCH is just about perfect.

1. HEREDITARY

Toni Collette FTW. The pole. Blonde cult creep. Gabriel Byrne as a professional door-opener with a questionable accent. This movie’s a fucking masterpiece.

On Halloween

Halloween MIGHT be my favorite horror franchise. Growing up in the '80s, I remember being aware of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger through other kids at school, even though I wasn't allowed to watch the movies and they probably weren't either, at the time, so my knowledge of the slasher icons was filtered through this game of telephone. I knew what they looked like, and generally that they were BAD, but I didn't know that Freddy appeared in dreams--he was just a scary-looking dude with knife hands. My friends and I would write stories where we'd get into battles with them while skateboarding the mean backstreets of Alexandria, Virginia. At least until we started getting into real fights because Billy killed Johnny in one of his stories or vice versa. My third grade teacher swiftly instituted some limits on what we could write about, even though she still took pains to encourage our creativity.

Regardless of how little direct experience I had, the slashers were inescapable. In retrospect it's kind of weird thinking about elementary school kids dressed up as Jason for Halloween. Not as weird as a kids' animated series based on the Toxic Avenger, but up there. 

The first HALLOWEEN I saw was the much scoffed-at sixth entry in the series, THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS. I don't care what anyone says, I love it. Some amazing kills, the douchebag shock jock, some genuinely creepy moments (lightning flashes and we see Michael standing on the other side of the blinds, for example). And the scene in the hospital when Michael suddenly starts slaughtering all the cultists he'd supposedly been working for/with? Chilling. 

Since this was the '90s and I made a few bucks a week that I mostly spent on weed, CDs, and unfortunate fashion choices, it took me a while to go back and watch all the entries in the series. Now I'm the proud owner of every last one on Blu-Ray. Since I've watched every movie several times and somehow still have a girlfriend I think I'm uniquely qualified to rank the entire series.

Without further adieu, I present to the class my definitive ranking of all the Halloween movies. 

Honorable Mention: SEASON OF THE WITCH (this is worth watching for Tom Atkins' incredibly shitty alcoholic '80s parenting alone, but the entire flick is a joy).

10. HALLOWEEN V: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS

A bullet-ridden Michael commando-crawling into a river and being nursed back to health by a hermit. Tina is the Poochy of the Halloween series. Rachel is killed off unceremoniously. The psychic powers are stupid. Everybody makes dumb decisions and they're too lazy to make it NOT look like Pasadena. This movie sucks. 

9. HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION

Busta Rhymes kung fu fights Michael Myers. That's all you need to know.

8. HALLOWEEN II (Rob Zombie version)

I can see why people hate the Zombieweens (and also everything else Rob Zombie does other than scream about burning through the witches) but other than the white horse stuff I found this movie to be pretty enjoyable. The part where pro wrestler Mikey flips over a cop car is fun even though at that point we're not watching a HALLOWEEN movie anymore. 

7. HALLOWEEN: H20

After killing off the franchise's Tommy Jarvis in the first few minutes of the previous film and turning up the Cult of Thorn nonsense to 11, retconning Laurie Strode back into existence seemed like a good idea. This movies wears its late '90s influences on its sleeve. Some people criticize it as the WB version of HALLOWEEN and they're not wrong, but it's fun and has a few really iconic scenes (Michael lowering himself from a pipe one-handed). 

6. HALLOWEEN (Rob Zombie version)

Rob Zombie made half a good HALLOWEEN movie.  I don't need to spend any more time with little Mikey Myers than we did in John Carpenter's original, and seeing the escalation of Mikey killing animals and bullies ruins the impact of his sister's murder. The whole point was that his sister's murder was totally out of left field. No build-up, no warning signs. That's what was so scary about it. The second half of the movie is tense and terrifying, however, and the dynamic between Laurie and her friends works well. 

5. HALLOWEEN VI: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (Producer's Cut)

I'm only ranking this movie at #5 because of the competition. The part where the Mark of Thorn appears on Loomis' wrist at the end was a total shark-jump. 

4. HALLOWEEN VI: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (Theatrical Cut)

Already got into what I liked about it further up. Far from a perfect film but it will always have a place in my cold, dark heart.  

3. HALLOWEEN IV: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS

Kind of a stealth remake, the FORCE AWAKENS of the series. But there are a lot of cool moments, it's generally well-made, and inserts a dose of realism (and additional conflict) with the drunken Haddonfield militia running around shooting dudes in bushes. Unfortunately it also lays the groundwork for the worst elements of the series, psychic powers and unbelievable resurrections. And Donald Pleasence's makeup is, uh, distracting at best. 

2. HALLOWEEN II (orig)

THE STAIRS SCENE you guys. 

1. HALLOWEEN (orig)

Maybe not the first slasher film, but maybe the best, and it really holds up. Is John Carpenter the greatest horror director of all time? Yes, yes he is. 

UPDATE: I’ve seen HALLOWEEN 2018 and damned if I know where to put it. Definitely in the top half of the list. Maybe 3.5? It’s good, go see it.

Too Much Monster

If you haven’t seen 1990’s HARDWARE, you’re missing out. The cameo by Lemmy, the voice cameo by Dee Snider, William Hootkins*—and that’s all before we meet the MARK 13, one of the cooler killer robot designs to debut post-Terminator (a look that gets even cooler when scrap metal artist Jill gets it a fresh coat of paint). There’s much fun to be had, but the movie’s got one problem—too much monster.

Not that we SEE the MARK 13 too much—budget restrictions are often a horror director’s friend, forcing them to suggest things to the viewer, to engage the viewer’s imagination, rather than just trotting out a CGI monstrosity. But the MARK 13 does suffer from the same problem that any monster designed by a child does. Ask a kid to draw you a monster and they’ll probably make it shoot lasers out of its eyes, breath fire, teleport, fly, and more. There’s a misconception that the way to make something scary is to throw more and more powers into a bucket, which only goes so far. Omnipotence isn’t that scary or even interesting. In the face of a truly unbeatable threat, there’s no reason to be afraid, just depressed. Death is inevitable.

In addition to the badass buzzsaw it sports, the MARK 13 can also inject its victims with a hallucinogenic poison. For me, this was too much. I wanted to see the robot tearing its victims apart. The poison function is an unnecessary layer of icing on an already-frosted cake. No thanks.

HARDWARE seems like one of those movies that’s kind of begging for a remake. If that ever happens, I hope they give the MARK 13 its buzzsaw and let it go to town with that, and only that. Way more fun.

*Who is probably worthy of an article/national holiday in and of himself—Hootkins appeared in both STAR WARS and RAIDERS, and even freaking BATMAN and FLASH GORDON. The guy was all over the place in the ‘80s.

We Need to Talk About Mike

Real quick, SPOILER ALERT for Better Call Saul—though I’ve got a blanket spoiler warning in effect for this blog, since I’m not talking about a thirty-year old horror flick I thought I’d throw an extra one in here. Just to be nice. Okay, really because I don’t want to hear any whining.

Anyway, SPOILERS.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s up with Mike Ehrmantraut’s storyline this season. While I’ve enjoyed the hell out of Jimmy’s (de)volution, Kim’s internal battle for her soul, Howard becoming a hot mess and the fallout from Nacho’s switcheroo with the meds, I’ve been baffled by Mike’s plot the last few episodes. His infiltration of Madrigal Electromotive and subsequent chat with Lydia were fantastic, but his story has flagged quite a bit after transitioning to his supervised construction of the super-lab.

Why? There’s no tension.

When the super-lab was first revealed on Breaking Bad, I did wonder how Gus Fring managed to build such an expansive meth-making operation beneath his laundromat. But at the same time I didn’t need to know—I chalked the presence of the lab up to Gus’s intrinsic Fring-ness. Let’s face it, the man could make the Earth rotate clock-wise with nothing more than a steely glare (I mean maybe a raised eyebrow too).

Flash forward to BCS, where we get the origin of the super-lab, which is about as interesting as the origin story of any other building. Someone built it, the end. There’s no tension to the storyline because we know that no matter what trials and tribulations the German team face, the super-lab gets built. We also know Mike doesn’t get killed by a random falling beam, and we don’t care enough about the Germans for any of their construction-related deaths to affect us one iota (although that Kai guy is kind of a jackass).

So what the hell is Vince Gilligan doing here?

I mean, he’s doing something, right? He’s Vince fucking Gilligan, not Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. Everything means something, everything has a purpose. He doesn’t have throwaway characters, as evidenced by some of the cameos and bit parts in the series (so glad to see Huell back and looking pretty damn healthy, by the way). Why is he showing us this?

Maybe because this is Mike’s heel turn.

Even though Mike doesn’t harbor any illusions about who Gus Fring is, he’s still a good guy who takes pride in his work, and wants others to do the same (see the aforementioned Madrigal montage). His word means something to him, a handshake is an iron-clad deal in his world.

He still thinks they’re going to build this lab and then the whole thing ends in Miller Time (as Mike might say).

And that’s the trick. Despite the precautions, despite the sally port, Gus Fring will not suffer these men to live once they’re done building his super-lab. Alex and Cyrus are going to slaughter them, and Mike’s going to lose his shit. He’ll confront Fring, maybe there’s even a moment where he comes close to killing him. We might end the season with a rift between Mike and Gus, but by next season that rift will be healed.

This storyline isn’t about Mike building a super-lab. It’s about the scales being pulled from his eyes, and when they are he’s not going to look away, completing his transition from cop to crook. And when we look back at these last few episodes, all the Bing Crosby montages and jackass German guys will have been worth it.