Reading between the lines in this week’s episode of “Better Call Saul”

Like I do every week, I watched Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s spin-off of “Breaking Bad” with my grandmother. She found the scene between Gus Fring and the sommelier “pointless,” but as a gay man, it struck me with its poignancy.

In “Fun and Games,” the ninth episode of the sixth and final season of AMC’s Better Call Saul (2015-2022), drug lord Gustavo “Gus” Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) visits a wine bar to celebrate a deal well-struck with the Salamanca cartel. While there, he chats with David (Reed Diamond), his favorite wine steward. The tension between them is unspoken, but no less palpable for that. One is reminded of “Hermanos,” the eighth episode in the fourth season of Breaking Bad. During the climactic flashback, Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) busts a cap in the crown of Max Arciniega (James Martinez) while a devastated Gus looks on, mirroring the shot of a bereaved Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in “Ozymandias.” Even though the text paints Max as a close business partner of Gus a la Walt and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), the subtext screams something more homoerotic between them, through Esposito’s gaping, silent mouth.

You don’t wage a decades-long war of attrition against a Mexican drug cartel to avenge the death of an associate.

Not since Max – and not until David – has Gus unmasked such humanity, in either series. But right when the timbre of the conversation with David reaches something close to tenderness, even though, to the untrained ear, they’re only discussing wine, David exits stage left to bring Gus a new bottle. Wisely, cinematographer Marshall Adams chooses to close in on Esposito’s face, an actor who’s already proven he can emote his way through pages of character development without uttering a single syllable of dialogue. Gus’s characteristically stoic visage cracks finely under the weight of this pathos before he cuts the scene short and exits the bar.

On the surface, the sequence does nothing to advance the plot. However, like any artfully crafted prequel should do, Better Call Saul teaches us something new about Gus’s character without simply offering him up as a cameo appearance for Esposito. We already know how Gus’s story ends, after all, and he isn’t even the man of the hour – that would be Jimmy “Saul Goodman” McGill (Bob Odenkirk). We don’t need to document every moment of Gus’s life between his showdown with Eduardo “Lalo” Salamanca (Tony Dalton) and his fateful encounter with Walter White.

But what we do need is a deeper insight into the man who loved another so profoundly, not even Max’s death could bring Gus to pursue a relationship with David.

Do you “catastrophize?”

When I sat down for a day shift in my home office yesterday morning, my company laptop started beeping at me like a bat shrieking in the night after I booted it up, with an error message populating across the screen before I could so much as log in. I scanned the QR code on my phone camera, and once I tapped through to the Dell help site, a description awaited me for the error code.

“Hard Drive – Not Installed.”

My heart started to pound. My thoughts started to race. My breath caught in my throat.

I took the error code to mean I had been fired over the weekend. I must have done something so egregious, my employer couldn’t even be bothered to give me notice. Surely, they remotely uninstalled my hard drive instead so I couldn’t inflict any more damage.

So convinced was I that I was now unemployed, I snapped at my poor grandmother when she asked me a poorly timed question. Like a drowning man, I tried pulling her under with me.

But naturally, when I reset the computer, I came to discover my life as I knew it wasn’t over, after all, and that morning’s melodrama could have been avoided altogether had I thought to turn it off and turn it back on first.

The above anecdote is an example of a cognitive distortion known as “catastrophizing.” I have no doubt my dialectical behavior group therapist will agree with me when I tell him about it later in the week.

Catastrophizing isn’t unique to my diagnosed mental illnesses, of course (bipolar I, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD). Yet I can’t help but wonder if I’m more susceptible to it because of my BPD – to be sure, what is a personality disorder if not a body of thinking errors? Combined with the persecutory delusions from my PTSD as well as the psychotic and schizophrenic symptoms of my manic episodes, I sometimes hold my grip on reality at arm’s length.

Indeed, catastrophizing is about jumping to the worst-case scenario without critically seeking out dissenting evidence first. As recently as this afternoon, when my team lead thanked me over Slack for taking initiative on a project, it set me to pacing about the room as though the tone of her message were sarcastic when, in all likelihood, it was nothing more or less than positive reinforcement.

Which is why healthy self-talk is so key, not just for you, but for the sake of everyone with whom you share your community. Because the narcissists and the sociopaths from my past abused me so holistically and at such an impressionable age that I now internalize their behavior as systemic self-oppression, nothing but negativity lies ahead for myself and everyone else around me unless I lead a revolution in my own mind and actively challenge this illogic as intrinsically as it manifests itself in my psyche.

Otherwise, I lose patience with my loved ones over nothing, and I react to my colleagues like they’re passive aggressive when they aren’t.

What’s in a name?

Here lies “Jack Trades, Master of Arts,” my short-lived (and ill-fated) pen name. Welcome to yet another re-brand.

At the risk of sounding like Taylor Swift circa 2017, I’m afraid I deleted the post titled “Who Is Jack Trades, Master of Arts?” from May or so of this year.

“I’m sorry, but Jack can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh. Because he’s dead.”

One is reminded of Lady Gaga killing her boyfriend in the “Paparazzi” music video, or leaving her “former” in a trunk on Highway 10, as I lay to rest my nom de plume. It isn’t just that “Jack Trades, MA” makes for a pithier social media bio than it does a stage name (though that has a lot to do with it) – it’s also that the promises I made in this post proved themselves unsustainable, between my master’s degree program and my full-time day job.

No, “Hunter Goddard” is already on my byline. It is what appears next to the titles I’m proudest to call mine. It is full of meaning and history, an identity I reclaim for myself from the abusers who made it so I dreaded the sound of my own name. I adopted the spelling “Godard” in my Twitter and Instagram handles because that is the Norman French translation of the Anglicized “Goddard,” from the days before my ancestors crossed the Channel with William the Conqueror; if a certain aforementioned Lady can feign “Eurotrash” with her “Haus of Gaga,” then so can I with this oldest incarnation of my name.

(Not to mention that Jean-Luc Godard is one of the French New Wave directors I revere most).

“Jack Trades,” meanwhile, is the dying gasp of a months-long and life-threatening manic episode. It was as impulsive as it was peculiar to refresh my brand around a joke from someone who is decidedly not a comedian.

Suspension of Disbelief, however, will continue to serve as my personal pop artistic experiment, a Warholian writing studio where I endeavor to elevate the mundanity of our broken world into the sublimity and transcendence of creative nonfiction. Similar to the Italian neo-realistic filmmaking style which, in many ways, saw postmodernism in the cards, I will still juxtapose my lived experiences as a gay man against the post-Cold War ruination that traumatized me into mental illness, until a whole greater than the sum of its parts rises out of the collision like sparks from a flint.

Or a phoenix born again from the ashes of its latest self-immolation.