by John Walters
Goodbye to Sandra Dee
You wanna talk crush? An entire generation of older boys and tweens walked into movie theaters in the summer of 1978 to see Grease and two hours later departed having experienced the epiphany of a lifetime. Ohhhhhhh! Hello, Puberty. Olivia Newton-John died yesterday at the age of 73 after a three-decades long, off-and-on battle with breast cancer. Yes, she was an incredibly successful Aussie pop star in her own right (arguably, the first from Down Under, even if she was born in England) but it’s her role as Sandra Dee, the goody two-shoes who breaks bad in the final scene of the musical, that will forever stamp her in my memory.
You can learn a lot about someone if you ask them which version of Sandy they prefer. The innocent, sweater-wearing lass or the “What’s it to you, stud?” black-leather diva that shows up in the final scene for “You’re The One That I Want,” filmed at Venice High School in California. Me, I’ll tell you if we meet in person, but you can probably guess. Anyway, some of us never got over or past our first crush.
And then, ruthlessly, ONJ released this song and video only a few months later. Game, set, match. No fair, really.
In the early Seventies, before the Grease mania, ONJ was a very successful pop star whose singles often bordered on country: “Let Me Be There” comes to mind, though “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “I Honestly Love You” also stand out as pure pop hits (the latter two reached No. 1 on the pop charts).
What did ONJ represent to us confused lads in the Seventies? Beauty, sure, but also innocence. At least until she watched that drag race in the L.A. aqueduct. Do yourself a favor at some point today and go back and watch “Summer Nights” and “You’re The One That I Want” on YouTube. Plain ol’ fun songs, and funny to me as they were evoking a nostalgic past, the Fifties, that had only been over for 20 or so years. Does anyone now feel that way about the year 2000? I doubt it.
Later in life, going from sex-addled to word-addled, some of us would have fun with ONJ’s name. What if she married John Salley (Olivian Newton-John Salley)? Or if she did a triple bill with Juice Newton and Elton John? Newton, John and Newton-John. But that’s just our own warped mind.
It was a magical childhood for those of us raised in the Seventies. Thank you, Olivia, for both adding to it and, in a sense, terminating it.
Going, Going, Con
It was a terrible day for grifters yesterday as two of the nation’s most infamous charlatans, Gene Takavic and Donald Trump, finally saw the first stages of their long-overdue comeuppance. Takavic, a.k.a. Saul Goodman a.k.a Jimmy McGill, is ratted out by Marion (Carol Burnett) in the penultimate episode of Better Call Saul and now must once again put his life on the run (Have you considered Alaska, Jimmy? It worked for Mr. Pinkman). Marion is too smart and when Gene makes the error of noting the difference in bail policies between Albuquerque and Omaha, an alarm goes off in her brain. We wondered why a legend such as Burnett took this role, but it’s all worth it when she looks Gene square in the eyes and says, “I trusted you.” Devastating
• The former president, meanwhile, had his home searched by the FBI, whose agents legally obtained a warrant. Of course TFG said his estate, Mar-A-Lago, was “raided,” but when has he ever been all that concerned with accuracy? Also, you have to think how many of his dimmer acolytes will have that same Marion-like epiphany about him some day. Or if they’re simply too far gone as cult members.
A few thoughts:
• A critic effusively praising BCS (or BB) is nothing new, but you have to love Vince Gilligan’s and Peter Gould’s endless attention to detail in episodes, paying off the devotion of the shows’ viewers. When Kim Wexler and her Florida boyfriend are hosting a cookout, “Escape: The Pina Colada Song,” is playing, a callback to a Season 1 or 2 episode where Jimmy fibs to a school principal that Rupert Holmes, the song’s writer and singer, attended that school (in Albuquerque; yeah, right). Or later, when Kim pulls up to the parking lot entry at the court house and the booth once occupied by Mike Ehrmentraut is now empty, as the lot is now automated. And he’s, of course, dead.
• The phone call between Gene and Kim tells you everything. This is your break-good-or-break-bad moment, your final shot at redemption. Kim, as we almost always assumed she would, falls onto the side of the angels. She chooses remorse, penitence and atonement. Jimmy, with his final shot at salvation, blows it. In fact, he amps up his skulduggery and mischief. Then again, his life is so empty at this point, and he knows there’s no road back with Kim, so he’s at that stage where Bill Murray was in Groundhog Day where he figured out new ways to kill himself each day. Jimmy needs a stiffer drink, metaphorically, and he won’t stop until it wrecks him.
• Also, the phone call is another example of the wizardry taking place in the writers’ room. We see it from outside the phone booth last week, only seeing Gene’s reaction but not hearing the conversation. There week we’re in on it. Same event, different perspective. And it explains why Gene did what he did in the final 15 minutes of last week’s episode.
• A little symmetry here. The final episode of Breaking Bad opened with Walt driving back to Albuquerque. Seems as if the final episode of Better Call Saul will open with Jimmy fleeing Omaha, perhaps also headed back to New Mexico’s largest city (and most centrally located).
Also, when we first met Kim six seasons ago, she’s standing in an underground parking lot of a law firm, taking a drag on a smoke, and she shares it with Jimmy. In her final scene last night (will she show up next week? Anyone’s guess), she leaves Saul Goodman’s office (another law firm), having just signed the divorce papers, and as it’s raining buckets, stops for a smoke under the awning. A stranger, Jesse Pinkman, bums a smoke off her. A short conversation ensues. She’s at the end of her story arc with Jimmy, the marriage is over. He’s at the beginning; he hasn’t even started cooking with his old chemistry teacher yet. Whoever conjured that scene deserves a bonus. The circle of life. An inspired idea. Jesse: “Is [Saul] a good guy?” Kim: “When I knew him, he was.”
Kim (Rhea Seehorn) may appear in the series finale, but if that’s her walk-off moment, you cannot improve upon it.
In Talking Saul last night, host Chris Hardwick asked Vince Gilligan to preview the series finale in three words. Gilligan replied, “Buy some Depends.”
Wow. It’s difficult to see how the final episode will be a banger. After all, who’s left on the villain side (I mean, except Saul himself)? So as an audience we’re completely in the dark as to how this series, really the entire Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe, will end. And that’s a credit to the show’s creators.
• As for Mr. Trump, what have we said from the beginning? Anything he accuses anyone else of, he’s doing himself. Anything he suggests happen to someone else is something that will and should happen to him. so, in short, “Lock him up.”