Better Call Saul “Breaking Bad” (S6E11)

“Why are we going off road?”

In last episode’s “Nippy”, it’s intended for us to feel worried that Gene repossessing the spirit of Slippin’ Jimmy can lead him down a slippery slope. Not so much a slope that would lead to his physical incarceration, but one that would compromise his spiritual growth. “Nippy” established that Jimmy’s draw to his former days as a con man is still a very real addiction. Even when that con backs him into a corner where he’s got nothing left but to acknowledge the trail of destruction it’s caused, he’s still left admiring its colorful lifestyle. “Nippy” shows him eyeing the Slippin’ Jimmy attire, but ends with him hanging it back on the rack as he returns to his life as Cinnabon Gene. It’s an ambiguous end implying the tension of who he is and whether he may or may not accept and learn to be better. He enjoyed the taste of Slippin’ Jimmy after a duration of suppressing it, but maybe there’s hope for him to find meaning and catharsis beyond that specific rush. Or maybe he succumbs to that flawed part of himself. Anything’s possible.

“Breaking Bad”, however, boils any hope for Jimmy McGill like a goldfish’s potential vacation home being used to cook methamphetamine. Many classic anti-hero shows such as The SopranosMad Men, and Breaking Bad have explored, in some form, the idea of redemption in their final seasons and Better Call Saul is no different. Jimmy McGill’s story is a tragedy. We are watching the tale of a deeply troubled individual and there’s no fluffing up this story. When the cold open throws us into Breaking Bad’s “Better Call Saul” episode from season 2 and shows us the kidnapping from Saul Goodman’s perspective, Jimmy begs, “Anywhere but the desert!”. Being dragged off-road back to a setting that’s host to his open grave is a powerfully scary start to the episode, underlining Jimmy’s nature to return to potentially fatal outcomes. Even after the many close, dangerous encounters which have caused so much trauma and heartache, it still results as a merely bad hangover he needs to cure with more bad behavior. He’ll feel remorse for a period, but before you know it, he’s making the same mistakes.

When Jimmy decides to return to Marion and Jeff’s house, it has nothing to do with the effort of self-preservation. At first Jeff suspects Saul may be upset that he bought his mother a new laptop which could possibly set off red flags to law enforcement if too pricey, but it’s actually Jimmy giving in to his demons. Jimmy wants to make an ally of Jeff in order to commit more scams and overturn more money. Last episode ended with Jimmy threatening Jeff to never come back or get too greedy, which is the exact trap Jimmy himself falls into. Earlier, when Jimmy finally makes contact with Francesca on November 12th at 3:00 PM (a meet-up scheduled since the cold open of season 4’s “Quite a Ride”), he is trying to figure out what money is left after the feds raided his stash locations. Unfortunately, everything’s gone but it doesn’t seem like it’s the end of the world for him. He still has access to a hefty haul, being enough to afford double the amount of his initial disappearance from Ed. There would be no practical reason for him to need any extra cash. If anything, he’s more interested in the world of his criminal associates’ well-being than the financial loss he’s suffered.

Jimmy will especially perk up when Francesca informs him that Kim has reached out, asking whether Jimmy’s alive. For any romantic, this hits like a ton of bricks. When relationships go south and you still think about that person, it means the world when you learn you’re still in their thoughts. It’s comforting. There’s a moment when Jimmy is driving back to live his life as Gene where he comes to a literal crossroads. He daydreams as he’s driving and snaps to before deciding to get back to a payphone. We learn that Kim is in Florida working for a sprinkler company, as he uses an operator to get through to her. What may have been a pursuit in comfort leads surprisingly to anger and frustration. We don’t get to hear the literal conversation as trucks roar by, but perhaps the emotions speak louder than words.

The end of “Fun and Games” had already tied a direct correlation between Kim’s departure and Jimmy burying himself deep into the world of Saul Goodman. Considering this most recent installment emphasizes the worst mistake Saul Goodman will make by joining forces with Heisenberg, we can probably infer the reason for Jimmy’s frustration. We already know he blames others for the results of his actions. He blamed Chuck’s death on Howard and Howard’s death on Lalo. Now it seems he’s blaming the entirety of Breaking Bad on Kim. He suffers while she lives freely in Florida. Kim took accountability for what happened to Howard and as far as Jimmy knows, she’s freed herself from the bad choice road. Jimmy despises his inability to do the same. It’s the exact reason why Jimmy began throwing bowling balls on Howard’s car and then some, because Jimmy hated that Howard’s pursuit in therapy allowed him to come out the other side in a healthier state of mind.

When Jesse Pinkman inquires about Lalo, it’s not for the sake of having fun reinforcing the throwaway line that gave birth to the character, but it helps highlight the problem with Jimmy’s choices. Who’s Lalo? Jimmy refers to him as nobody but you can tell the question rattles him because on a subconscious level, Lalo represents the grim reaper. Dead or alive, Lalo has evolved into more of a concept, being Jimmy’s inability to change. It’s his inability to turn back from the dangerous road. This is why he immediately requests Walt give the RV’s ignition another try, because the last thing he needs is to be sitting in the dark with his own thoughts along with two kindred spirits. He can’t risk the chance to reflect on what brought him here and what lies ahead, because he knows the answer and chooses ignorance. As the RV pulls away, it’s followed by a ghastly over-head shot of the grave Walt and Jesse dug for Saul, which eerily casts a black-and-white Gene lying within it. One of the greatest transitions the show has ever displayed.

Jimmy’s desire to reach out to Kim was most likely for the purpose of reconciliation, perhaps in the effort to not feel so compelled by his more destructive traits. Kim used to be someone who can pull Jimmy back from his mistakes, but at a certain point in their relationship, it shifted to encouragement. She knew this and left for both of their sakes. The way their phone conversation transpired may have been Kim not meeting Jimmy’s pursuit for comfort, but instead painting a more realistic picture of his current situation. His anger seems almost out of protest. There is a reality Jimmy does not want to face and of course he’s going to fight her on that. This exchange clearly has poured more grease on the fire, explaining why he doubles down on his bad behavior when he decides to prey on a series of unsuspecting barflies and steal their credit card and bank information. Perhaps Jimmy’s thought process is that if he’s unable to escape the consequences of his own actions, then he might as well go down in a blaze of glory. No more hiding. Perhaps the phone call conversation gave him further excuse to pin the blame on Kim so he can continue to embrace the worst part of himself in response. The montage of Jimmy aggressively scamming one victim after another, intercut with him sleeping around, is played to Mike Nesmith’s “Tapioca Tundra”. One key lyric is, “It cannot be a part of me, for now it’s a part of you.”

Jimmy is seen snapping out of a trance twice in this episode and both scenes are heavily related. The first is when he’s thinking about Kim on the drive back from his call with Francesca, and the second is when Mike moves onto new business after warning Jimmy not to get involved with Walter White. Kim is certainly what drives Jimmy’s decision to pursue the “crystal ship” because Walter White’s talents and potential for success is his meal ticket to capitalize on showing the world and Kim his indifference. What’s interesting about this episode is it’s not ultimately an exploration of Jimmy doubling down on a level of bad behavior he’s previously enacted, but Breaking Bad seems to have made his character even more despicable. Many fans (not all) over the years seemed to have this relentless need to pinpoint when a character finally “breaks bad”, implying the first or most true moment a character consciously makes a morally wrong decision. This is usually a pointless endeavor because being good or bad doesn’t fall onto one singular moment, but many, many moments. Whatever you are capable of, you already possess until the moment in question presents itself. So when Jimmy decides to go through with the scam against the cancer patient, it’s not the moment he finally broke bad (he’s been doing bad stuff for as long as we’ve known him), but it is him stooping down to a worse level.

When Jimmy first hears from Mike that Walter White has cancer, he seems to show genuine concern. It’s possible he sympathized with Walt as an underdog doing whatever he can against all odds, similar to the journey Jimmy’s had to endure his entire life. From Jimmy’s perspective, maybe this explains why Walter is so on edge when he first met him. However, Heisenberg’s toxic behavior wasn’t the momentary result of being in a bickering match with his partner Igor, but as we know, it would prove to persist for as long as Jimmy knew him. Walter is the guy that would physically and verbally abuse everyone around him until the very end and it leads Jimmy not to glory but to his downfall, hurting countless people in the process. Walter White is an asshole and perhaps Jimmy feels like an asshole for ever considering they were alike in any way. This explains Jimmy’s initial involvement with Jeff turning from self-preservation to a practice in self-loathing after his phone call with Kim. Not only does he put blame on Kim, but blames Walter for how things turned out, being another easy scapegoat. In other words, the cancer patient he plans to scam gets no sympathy from him this time. Jimmy actively chooses against it and when Jeff’s friend tries to protest, Jimmy becomes as vicious as he was with Kim on the phone.

Jimmy’s unraveling is properly conveyed when Marion overhears him being nasty to Jeff’s friend and his dog before whisking him inside the closed garage. Marion possibly senses there’s something off about Gene now. Once inside, Jeff’s friend brings up a good point in how they are rolling in dough so there’s no harm in letting one man not fall victim to their crimes especially when it’s an innocent man with cancer. Jimmy is combative though and persists on taking this man down. It’s also safe to say that Jimmy didn’t actually vet his marks for being single guys with lots of money, because in truth he probably resents anyone with a family. Nobody is immune from being a sucker. For Jimmy, this is not about the money as much as it’s about it being his call and if he greenlights the hit, there’s no slowing down regardless of moral conflict. For him, it’s an amateur mindset otherwise and he’s long passed mulling over what’s right or wrong. As the cancer patient himself says, “You only go around once” and that’s exactly the mantra Jimmy is using to justify his push forward.

If the phone call with Kim is the catalyst to Jimmy descending down yet another dark path, then the final moment when he breaks and enters the cancer patient’s home, is the point of no return. The visual storytelling bookends this final shot with Jimmy kicking the glass of the phone booth and serves as a callback to when Jimmy broke the door down to Chuck’s house in order to destroy his confession on tape. Jimmy has been making a series of mistakes his entire life, and the fact that the final scene is shown parallel to the fateful day he decided to pull up to J.P. Wynne Chemistry Lab, only helps show the severity of the line he’s crossed here. There has never been a cop-out resolution to a corner the writers have wrote themselves into across either show, so expect this final break-in scene to have some serious weight in the endgame. Is there redemption or hope for Jimmy to turn things around? This episode answers no.

Other thoughts:

-This is the first time we’ve ever seen Saul Goodman in any active cook site of Walt and Jesse. The three of them in the iconic RV together was certainly jarring. The way this episode interweaved these scenes together and made them meaningful was nothing short of brilliant from writer/director Thomas Schnauz.

-Jimmy may have biased reasons to justify going through with robbing the cancer patient, but he also vocalized his relation in having to take exotic pills. There’s also the Breaking Bad era scene which follows with Francesca reminding Saul to take a handful of medications. This again, helps show Jimmy’s inability to sympathize and also feeds into the self-loathing take as well.

-We get some extra information on what happens to some Breaking Bad characters, including the fact that Huell got to walk after being held in a motel room under false pretenses by Hank and Gomez. Ever since Breaking Bad ended, Huell has been living in a perpetual prison from an art standpoint for the better part of decade now. After the last Huell scene in Better Call Saul being him questioning Jimmy and Kim’s desire to sabotage Howard, it’s nice to know he was able to move on to a life in New Orleans.

-The last time we saw Jimmy singing karaoke, it was a sweet bonding between him and his brother Chuck back in the more innocent days before he knew how much his brother resented him. Now he’s using karaoke as a weapon in contribution to stealing enormous amounts of money from innocent people.

-It was excellent to see Mike wearing the same sunglasses he wore back when he was first introduced as a cleaner in Breaking Bad. We can suspect that Saul Goodman’s business is a well oiled machine in this point in time and an opportunity for Mike to willingly moonlight his services. Working for Gus in this era probably wasn’t requiring the same urgency as it was when playing chess with Lalo. It’s the golden era of the Saul Goodman and Gustavo Fring empire. Back then the phrase “putting my foot through your skull” was just playful banter.

What did everyone else think?

Better Call Saul “Nippy” (S6E10)

“How you doing Marion?”

“Great. Are you okay?”

“Oh yeah.”

Up until last episode, the final season has carefully been building to the heartbreaking context as to why Kim is out of the picture in Breaking Bad. Despite their loving relationship and the fun they have twisting the world into their favor, many people suffer as a result. Kim comes to terms with this and not only decides to walk out on Jimmy, but she quits being an attorney altogether. She garners the impressive willpower to walk away from everything she values in her life in order to make a serious change. She won’t be benefiting from the Sandpiper settlement because at this point, it’s blood money and always was. Whether Kim’s decision to leave everything behind helps her come out the other side as a better person or not, she is undoubtedly taking accountability for what’s happened and leading the charge for what she believes is best. Whereas her path for transformation and atonement is her doing, it contributes to the final nail in Jimmy McGill’s coffin because of the willpower he lacks. Jimmy’s regression into Saul Goodman has always been a result of Jimmy doubling down on his unhealthy behavior whenever his life takes a devastating blow. He’s oblivious to how his actions hurt others until they do and is willing to make up for it only when it’s too late. And if he can’t make up for it, he shifts the blame onto others. He’ll internalize guilt, grief, and trauma with an impatience for self-reflection.

So if you’re feeling a little underwhelmed by a flash-forward episode that’s about Slippin’ Jimmy getting his groove back after having just watched an episode solidifying the tragic backstory to Saul Goodman, then you’re okay in feeling that. Skipping ahead to the Gene timeline after last episode’s jump ahead towards the cusp of the Breaking Bad era is a bold, but necessary move. As soon as Jimmy McGill sits in Saul Goodman’s office chair, we know the shell of a human being he will be for an entire series worth of time. Perhaps there’s more to explore there, but for the sake of “Nippy”, we understand the spiritual toll which lead him to the point in time Gene’s at now. “Nippy” as an episode, is designed to leave you kicking and screaming. It’s one thing for Kim to be ripped from the show like a band-aid on an old wound, but the entire world beneath Jimmy has collapsed. It’s appropriate that the Better Call Saul opening theme intro abruptly reaches the end of the tape. “Nippy” allows us to feel the blunt, coldness of what it means for Kim to have left Jimmy. It’s not something she’s done to him, but a downward spiral of something that couldn’t be helped. As we near the end of the series and Gene has nobody but himself, can he turn his life around? Is there redemption for Jimmy McGill? The underlying tension to a full episode where he’s adrift as Gene, is owed to that question. Chuck argued he couldn’t change. Kim left to give themselves the best opportunity to change. So how is that going?

When we last left Gene, he declined the opportunity to be relocated again after Jeff the cab driver discovered who he was. He declared to handle Jeff himself. It was a breaking point where Gene realized his inability to suppress who he is for the sake of self-preservation. “Nippy” opens with guest star Carol Burnett playing Marion, an elderly woman on a rascal scooter who’s shopping for groceries. If you didn’t feel more adrift by the strategic placement of “Nippy” in this season, introducing a new character played by such high-caliber talent only feeds into the complete tonal shift you’re intended to feel here. When her scooter gets caught in the snow, it’s Gene who’s revealed to be in the vicinity posting up flyers of a lost dog named Nippy who we know doesn’t exist. The giddy Slippin’ Jimmy persona is abundantly present here which contrasts, almost mockingly, to the ramifications felt from Kim’s departure. Who is this new character? What is Gene up to?

After cutting the motor’s connection on the scooter, Marion accepts help to be pushed the rest of the way by Gene to her house. This is important to note considering she was introduced as someone who refuses help. Marion intended to go about things her way similar to how Gene had decided to refuse Ed’s help and take the matters of Jeff into his own hands. The difference here is that Marion accepting help leads to a rewarding friendship with Gene (or so she thinks), whereas Gene accepting Ed’s help means throwing more money at the pursuit to run and hide from who he is. That’s the conflict of Jimmy’s character. In the effort of self-preservation, Gene is taking matters into his own hands through actions proven to be the cost of having nobody in his life. Marion can switch between independence and accepting help without it being an intense character or circumstantial crisis .

The plot of this episode is Gene’s attempt to overcome Jeff and by inserting himself as Marion’s house guest, it’s revealed Jeff is Marion’s son. The miserable, suppressed person we’ve known as Gene Takovic is completely absent. What we see here is full Slippin’ Jimmy as he commands the room, absorbing any power Jeff felt he had over Saul Goodman. Jimmy is able to see ten steps ahead on what Jeff intended to do against him, being extortion, but he taps into Jeff’s deeper sensibilities, dangling the idea of reaping rewards from within the criminal paradise. The idea of Saul Goodman or Slippin’ Jimmy coming to life in order to preserve Gene’s cover is a mind trip, considering the risk of exposure is raised in the effort to lower it. However, for Jimmy, all that matters is that it’s an excuse for him to be his colorful self once again. He’s starved for it.

Across six seasons, we’ve followed Gene at the Cottonwood Mall in Omaha, and for the longest time it’s served as Saul’s final destination. The final resting place to blend into in order to evade capture. Not once would one ever consider he’d use the entire map of this mall as the target of an elaborate heist. It’s as if this is a chance for Jimmy to laugh in the face of his own dire circumstances. Jimmy’s plan here is quite creative. He’s cozying up to security to get an idea, on average, of how long the cameras can go unwatched before Frank the security guard (played by Parks and Recreation’s Jim O’Heir) can finish his cinnabon. To extend the time, Jimmy’s also familiarizing himself with Frank’s interests in sports in order to converse with him longer before the cinnabon is completely eaten. He builds a rapport with security so they can trust him, all while scoping out the geometry between the big ticket items for Jeff to steal. If Kim is out there knowing Saul Goodman is deep in hiding, you can bet the last thing she expects Jimmy’s doing is reciting silly rhymes over a megaphone as a random cab driver runs drills in an open field. Even Jeff says, “This whole thing, it seems crazy”.

One key thing to consider throughout this entire episode is that despite how cleverly thought out Jimmy’s idea is, it’s no different than any other heist he’s pulled throughout the series. Something is always subject to go wrong and people can mistakenly get caught in the crossfire. When Jeff needs motivation to go through with this scheme, Gene ironically uses Walter White as a shining example for the riches that lie ahead. When the camera pans in on the cinnabon as Frank prepares to eat it and Jimmy checks his watch for the first time, there’s a feeling of impending doom. Like a bomb’s about to go off or Jimmy tampered with it in some way. Jimmy also turns Marco’s ring on his pinky finger in this moment. This ring signifies his love for the scam but also was gifted to him after Marco’s heart attack. After how many visits from Cinnabon Gene, the same occurrence can likely happen to Frank, but Jimmy doesn’t think about that. When Marco died in the middle of their scam in the season 1 finale, his last words were “this was the greatest week of my life”. This is the positive mindset Jimmy may have in the event things go wrong, so long as he gets one last rise.

When it’s finally showtime and Jeff eventually slips and knocks himself out unconscious, Jimmy is closer to a dead end than he’s ever been. He doesn’t chalk the potential loss up in the notion of “at least I went down doing what I love” but he regresses into a desperate, stammering rant on how he has nobody in his life. He brings up his deceased parents, Chuck, and Kim as concept. He acknowledges how if he died tomorrow, nobody would care. All of this, more or less, is exactly what Jimmy knows to be true. It’s no coincidence that in this moment of desperation, the first thing he thinks of is the death and ruin of those closest to him, along with the revelation that he has nobody, but he uses this moment of awareness as if it’s the last trick in the bag. It’s a hopeful sign that deep down he carries responsibility for how his life has turned out, but once Jeff awakens and scurries off into the bathroom, a wave of relief and absolute euphoria washes over him. We saw a glimpse of Jimmy’s pain being realized, but he’s channeling it in a manner which only serves his destructive side.

What’s sad is that if Jimmy didn’t treat the entire world like potential marks, he’d be able to build a friendship with a person like Frank or Marion, but he can never get out of his own way. For him, a happy ending in his scenario is his fictional dog Nippy being found by a family a few blocks down the road, but in subtext, it’s the idea that he was able to pull off another scam and as far as he knows, get Jeff out of his hair. The frustration of this episode is that after Kim leaving Jimmy and the deterioration of Jimmy’s character throughout Breaking Bad, we’re left struggling to envision a scenario where Jimmy ever achieves a moment of genuine catharsis especially when it means nothing when it stares him in the face. After Gene leaves Frank’s security office, he retreats to a blind spot against the wall which can be interpreted as him reeling from the thrill of the close call, but on closer inspection, it appears he’s emotionally exhausted. This could involve the blind spot of his own self which he’s willing to keep unseen. With three episodes left, his character is spiritually on the line. If his idea of a happy ending is getting the upperhand on a stranger by luring him into the scam only to threaten mutually assured destruction, then that’s a somber, yet fitting note which speaks to the character we’ve followed for the entirety of two dramatic television shows.

The episode ends with Gene in the shopping mall taking interest in the colorful apparel of what he once wore in his heyday. He likes it, but he knows he shouldn’t wear it. He puts it back on the rack and walks away from the shot, out of focus, once again blending into his surroundings. He’s also carrying his Kansas City Royals bag which we can suspect he carries more as a memento of Kim than anything else. This could be a sign of hope that he cherishes the idea behind why he left her, as painful as it was. The opportunity to improve as a human being may not ever be taken, but perhaps beneath the layers upon layers of masks the man wears, there’s a part of him who’s capable of doing so.

Extra thoughts:

-Chuck referenced Carol Burnett in season 2’s “Rebecca” when trying to establish Burnett’s iconic ear tug as a signal to call it a night when Jimmy as a dinner guest becomes too obnoxious for him. I bet Jeff wishes he could have given the same signal to his mother in the attempt to get Jimmy to leave in this instance as well.

-For the past few episodes, I’ve been wondering what will become of the Better Call Saul intro after episode 10. For the previous five seasons, every episode has used the same variations in chronological order. The season finale always ended with the World’s Greatest Lawyer mug falling to the ground. It’s really interesting how they utilized the tape running out right before it smashes on the ground. What happens next is left up in the air.

-As an inventory manager myself in a large warehouse for one of the top leading convenience distributors in the U.S., I can assure you Jimmy would have been able to leave a giant crate at the receiving dock overnight with no problem. In my experience, warehouse managers are always willing to deal with issues dropped on their lap last minute in the next day (or days). I also appreciate the restraint from Jeff stealing too many of each item with high dollar amounts. Small discrepancies in inventory won’t go noticed right away. High dollar merchandise going missing will be noticed, but within 72 hours of Jeff being off the security tapes, he’s likely in the clear. Whether or not he takes Gene’s warning to stay away from him or to not get greedy is still up for debate. For all we know, Jeff might foolishly consider this a ‘get out of jail’ free card (give the police who they really want) in the event he gets caught trying to replicate this stunt in the future.

-The montage of Gene building a relationship with the security guards and getting everything in place ranks among the series best. Excellent use of the swift splitscreen panels sliding in and out of frame and “Jim on the Move” by Lalo Schifrin really pops.

-Gene may be destined to run the Cinnabon for the rest of his life, but won’t Marion think it’s odd when he never visits her again? And what will Frank’s reaction be if Gene cuts him off cold turkey. In a universe that’s been largely consequential, what can we expect in terms of what catches up to Gene? Or will the final episodes strive for something else entirely?

What did everyone else think?

Better Call Saul “Fun and Games” (S6E09)

“The next morning, I wake up, and I’m in paradise.”

“Fun and Games” is the pinnacle episode where characters have a chance to catch up with themselves after being caught up in a long-winded, spiritually-compromised pursuit. Gus, Mike, Jimmy, and Kim have been overcoming mountainous hurdles which they’ve continuously reinforced to be in the name of something greater. Now that they’ve found even ground and promising roads ahead, they’re faced with existential crisis. The opening montage of Jimmy and Kim going about a normal day while Mike and his crew clean up their apartment in the aftermath of Howard’s murder is played to Harry Nilsson’s “The Perfect Day”, covered by Dresage and Slow Shiver. The ironically dreamy drawl of the lyrics “It’s the perfect way to end the perfect day” is undoubtedly grueling as Kim has to present crime scene photos of a battered, bloodied client shortly after her having experienced first-hand the grisly murder of a close colleague she aimed to tear down. This cold open is one big lie they have to live, recapturing the normalcy of their day-to-day. How long can they keep this up? At the end, Jimmy regurgitates Mike’s advice that one day they’ll realize they haven’t thought about what happened and then they’ll know they can move on. But is that just a shallow, self-serving escape enabling one to continue on the road to ruin?

When Gus meets at Don Eladio’s estate to undergo accusations from Hector Salamanca of Gus’ failed hit on Lalo and his hateful intentions towards the rest of them, Gus has the extraordinary task ahead to not only pull off the lie, but also maintain his composure. Every beat of fulfilling his revenge not only pertains to everything going off without a hitch, but how it goes off, like savoring fine wine. Gus is not there to beg or protest. He would never allow himself to be that weak again in the face of his enemies. Instead he has prepared to allow the narrative of Lalo’s faked death speak for itself. In turn, Hector looks like an angry, biased old man while Gus gets to play the stoic, indifferent role of an equal who won’t dignify the allegations with a response. Not only is this a physical win for Gus as he gets to walk out of this confrontation alive, but he’s gifted the opportunity to have his hate be apparent. Don Eladio recognizes it but is too blinded by the financial reward Gus has to offer. As long as Eladio believes Gus’ resentment will be kept in check, Gus never has to put up the phony, smiling front. Once the cousins are taken out of the picture, Gus can be frank towards Hector with his intentions to torture him, knowing Bolsa and Eladio will never take Hector seriously.

After all of this, Gus partakes in a personal moment to himself. The war with Lalo has concluded. We find him alone at the wine bar of a fancy restaurant. A little corner of peace where he can revel in the impossible feats he’s accomplished and how far he’s come. He’s encountered by Dave, the wine steward, who seems to take excited pleasure in Gus’ presence. The two seem to have a genuine interest in each other’s company, although from Gus’ end, there’s a complicated subtext going on. It’s established that this is not the first time Gus has taken refuge in this particular spot. When Dave goes on to divulge in the careful proficiency of the wine, it’s hard to tell if Gus is reciprocating with false interest (like he seems to when Gale shares his chemistry knowledge) or if he’s simply put up a false front for so long that he’s bewildered on how or whether he should embrace his true feelings. Gus is definitely allured by this man, but perhaps he doesn’t know how to be that man again. Perhaps he feels he doesn’t deserve it until he can avenge his old partner. He confesses to Dave that he’s saving an expensive bottle of Côte Rôtie which Dave recommended, for a special occasion. We can assume this special occasion is when Gus buries Eladio, Bolsa, and the entire Salamanca family.

In another lifetime, perhaps Gus and Dave get to share in that special occasion, but there’s something more to this. When Dave eagerly shuffles off to find an unopened bottle of wine which he believes will be of strong interest to Gus, he’s left staring at an empty glass. It’s one thing that Gus feels he can’t celebrate too soon until his revenge fantasy is complete, but is this all there is? What happens when he finishes the Côte Rôtie on the night of this special occasion and there’s nothing left but the grief for his partner? Would there ever be a paradise for Gus in the event he smites his enemies? Or is the road to revenge his true happy place? Is his effort to avenge Max just fun and games to him in the end? Is it validation for him to embody the awful human being he’s always been? We know he’s been ruthless ever since his youth when he broke the legs of a coati and kept it as a pet. We know he has a dark history as a General in the Pinochet Regime. I believe Gus recognizes this brief revelation in Dave’s absence which causes him to leave. When he debriefs with Mike regarding the clean-up of Howard, he immediately instructs Mike to begin the search for an engineer who can continue work on the super lab today. Gus is burying himself back into work to mask any epiphany of his inability to achieve contentment outside his own demons.

When Mike stood at Max’s memorial fountain with criticisms of who Gus was as a person, Gus never pretended he was anyone other than who he was. The underlying selling point for Mike to assist Gus was not derived from any moral justifications of who he’d be working for, but the shared pursuit of revenge and the resources to support it. Mike had decided to play the cards he was dealt after reeling in the aftermath of murdering Werner Ziegler. If it meant he can atone through the end goal of vanquishing the cartel, then at least he’d be doing something good in this world, right? The further we progress into Better Call Saul and analyze Mike’s mindset of being the ‘good bad guy’, it becomes increasingly clear the level of delusion that’s at play. Mike had already nailed it on the head when he called Gus out for being no less evil than the Salamancas. He even knew he was attracted by revenge in the moment he decided to work for Gus. Gus literally says the word out loud, yet somehow in the time that’s passed since then, Mike has twisted the concept into something noble. Something less shallow.

Since the Lalo dust has settled, Mike makes the decision to do right by Manuel Varga by confronting him face to face on what happened to his son. Mike may have committed awful deeds, but he’s an upstanding guy when all is said and done. Again that’s all bullshit. Mike ensures that justice is coming for the Salamancas but Manuel sees straight through it. He spells it out, crystal clear, on how Mike confuses justice for revenge. These are two fathers with murdered sons and Manuel’s acknowledgement of the endless cycle of violence speaks volumes to who he is vs. who Mike is. It’s not the tragedy that propelled Mike’s behavior throughout this series, but who he always was. A gangster who tries to justify his destructive views on the world. The loss of Mike’s son only validated him. As does Kaylee and Stacey’s prolonged happiness. He needed the right pieces in the right spot for him to become the “noble” button man we’ve come to know. Mike, like Gus, is a monster just the same. He may be willing to bathe in self-reflection moreso than Gus, but he’s just splashing around. Hey may not relish in it, but he’s got no intention to change. He’ll live to chalk up every misdeed as a result of the life he’s been dealt. The road of ruin left behind is something to press onward from until the next time someone gets hurt and the cycle continues.

In “Point and Shoot”, Mike has the foresight to know that people will be suspicious when it becomes known that Jimmy and Kim’s apartment complex will be one of Howard’s last known whereabouts. Cliff Main would certainly have reason over most to suspect that Jimmy or Kim may be in some way responsible for Howard’s disappearance. An even larger hurdle to overcome would be denying any foul play to Cheryl, Howard’s wife, considering she was also informed of Jimmy’s oddly slanderous actions towards Howard. Better Call Saul could have easily taken these seeds and generated another season worth of drama but instead they use it to show how low and unstoppable Jimmy and Kim are as a duo. Just like at Jimmy’s reinstatement hearing in the season 4 finale, he digs deep into the complicated relationship he had with his brother Chuck and uses it like a bag of tricks in order to be upfront to Cheryl and Cliff of his beef with Howard. This transparency is a stroke of genius since it shows he’s willing to reveal more about his conflict with Howard than he’s willing to hide. Anyone else guilty in this situation wouldn’t give Cheryl and Cliff an inch.

When it’s still not enough to convince Cheryl that this is cut and dry suicide, Kim doubles down on the lie of Howard being a drug addict and takes the rift in Howard and Cheryl’s marriage (made known to her by Howard moments before he’s shot) and uses it as their escape hatch. By using reverse psychology, she inflates Cheryl with the idea that she as a loving wife would have known better than anyone of what was going on, which in turn makes Cheryl doubt what she ever knew about Howard considering how adrift they’ve been. The emotional toll this has on Cheryl as Kim and Jimmy effortlessly swat away any accusation makes them all the more despicable. Together, Kim and Jimmy are a force to be reckoned with, considering they can talk themselves out of murder suspicion at the cost to a grieving wife’s suffering. The writers always find a way to write themselves out of corners in the most compelling and devastating ways.

And it only becomes the catalyst for something more heart-breaking because now that they’re in the clear, Kim gives a kiss to Jimmy in the basement parking garage which feels completely sour. This is followed by the announcement of her retirement as an attorney in the middle of a motion hearing. At this point we can only dread what’s coming next. Since the beginning of Better Call Saul, fans have been begging the question: “When are we going to get Saul Goodman?”. Many even considered this a criticism of the show’s slow burn in general. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould imagined they can get there by the end of the first season, but they realized how ripe Jimmy McGill’s character was for exploration. It would be criminal to gloss over the story potential of Jimmy McGill’s character for the sake of appeasing impatient Breaking Bad fans so they expertly used that impending tragedy and anticipation as the source of tension. The exploration of the ‘how’ proved more fascinating than the destination. Kim’s decision to leave Jimmy is the final nail in his coffin before Saul Goodman (as we knew him from Breaking Bad) can be introduced.

Kim and Jimmy’s relationship has always been paradoxical. Their very first scene of them alone in the series’ pilot features just one brief exchange of dialogue: (“Couldn’t you just…”/”You know I can’t.”). They are both wild, polar opposites but strangely compatible. The closer you put them together, the more prone they were to combusting, and that only added to the show’s intensity the more it progressed. Every time Kim chose to stay with Jimmy after she had every reason not to, we awaited worse circumstances that would cause her absence. Before we knew it, they were more or less on the same page with one another, but it’s at the cost of everyone around them. Howard was right in how soulless she became and her final deception to Cliff and Cheryl proved that. In the end, Kim is the only one who recognized the severity of her actions and is willing to take accountability. She has stronger willpower than Gus or Mike in coming to terms with that. She’s willing to walk away from a fulfilling career and a loving marriage, in the effort to change.

For Jimmy, this was a long time coming, but no less surprising. Throughout the hour, Jimmy was dead-set on accelerating the trauma and grieving process. His child-like turn of phrase “Let the healing begin” feels devoid of spiritual substance like it’s a material item to cross off on a shopping list. For Jimmy, he has already pushed the blame of Howard’s death on the obvious villain, Lalo Salamanca. Jimmy still carries the pain but in an unhealthily internalized manner. For him, this hardship is as easily replaced as the HHM garbage can. Like nothing happened. Kim knows better than to see how this can only fester and grow ugly over time. It’s one thing for Kim to leave Jimmy in the pursuit of the moral high ground, but when explaining why she never told Jimmy of Lalo’s survival, she admits that if the Howard scam was called off, it would lead to a break-up regardless. This means that there was a spark in their relationship that was missing outside the thrills Jimmy had to offer when they broke the law. In many ways, this feeds into Jimmy’s criticisms of Kim back in the rooftop confrontation in season 4’s “Wiedersehen”. Kim was enjoying the fun and games, but without that, Jimmy’s a loser. This may obviously be construed from his point of view and not be the full truth, but Kim acknowledging the likeliness of a break-up in the event her obsessive scam against Howard was called off, does say a lot.

The abrupt transition from Kim zipping the suitcase and ripping the tape off-camera to a sleazy Saul Goodman waking up next to some random prostitute is gut-wrenching. Journey’s “Anyway You Want It” playing from the alarm clock serves as a ‘fuck you’ to the portion of the audience who complained how Jimmy’s transformation wasn’t going fast enough. This is what many viewers always wanted, but are they happy now? Jimmy going full Saul Goodman is the equivalent of Gus cutting any brief moment with himself short. They both choose to bury themselves in their work instead of pursuing their personal issues in healthy ways. Saul spending the Sandpiper money on an extravagant mansion and turning client after client at any cost can be seen as either a coping process after Kim breaking his heart or revenge against her. By having his face plastered over every billboard in town and flooding the airwaves with television and radio ads, he’s showing her who he’s become. He is once again raising one big middle finger to the world as he becomes a monster in his own right. “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall”, first quoted by Chuck in “Chicanery” is used again in this final scene by Jimmy before we get a head-on shot of him sitting in his classic Saul Goodman office. Jimmy, like Mike, may very well be misconstruing the concept of revenge as justice. Something he’s willing to pursue at any cost. Jimmy’s resentment of the upper establishment has grown over the course of the series, but after Kim leaves him, he’s completely unhinged.

Where is Kim at this point? What point in time are we even in? It feels like it’s roughly before the events of Breaking Bad but awfully close. The fact that there’s four episodes left, it’s hard to tell what story we can expect to be told. “Fun and Games” can easily serve as a finale, but there’s still a few questions to consider going forward. Has Kim’s decision to leave proven beneficial for her? She always seemed to have issues of her own when it came to distancing herself from her past. If she’s not with Jimmy or a practicing lawyer, who is she? And finally, is there redemption for Jimmy McGill? Regardless if they ever meet again, can Jimmy turn his life around, post-Breaking Bad? Also how will the flash-forward into the Breaking Bad era serve the Better Call Saul story? We are now in uncharted territory.

Other thoughts:

-At Howard’s workplace memorial, Rich Schweikart mentions to Jimmy and Kim that this is probably the last time we’ll see HHM, as they are downsizing and changing their name. Very foreboding now that we’ve witnessed the flash-forward.  I’m going to miss all these lawyer characters.

-In the scene when Mike is rummaging through his closet crawl space, the same score by Dave Porter is played which was used back in season 2’s “Gloves Off”. The scene it recalls is when Mike’s face is mysteriously pummeled, later revealed to be the work of Tuco Salamanca’s fists. In that episode, Mike did everything he could to avoid killing Tuco in order to complete the job for Nacho. At the time, Mike was doing anything he can to avoid being the person he feared he was. To bring that specific score back after so much destruction that’s occurred since then, especially before Nacho’s father puts him in his place, is quite fitting.

-If you rewatch the very first scene of the series as Gene works in the Cinnabon, listen to the song “Address Unknown” by The Ink Spots. Initially the song served the premise of Saul Goodman being relocated to Omaha, Nebraska with a strange identity. Now it can very much be interpreted as Jimmy missing Kim and hoping to find her again. The song is essentially about the long aftermath of a break-up.

What did everyone else think?

Better Call Saul “Point and Shoot” (S6E08)

“Don’t be fooled. Even a house cat can scratch.”

Imagine a criminal is on the run from the law for his horrible acts and gets restrained by a captor with a close familial bond to him. The criminal means no harm to his captor but because of the dark road he put himself on, an overbearing third party intervenes. This third party does away with the innocent captor and robs the criminal of his riches. It is now up to the criminal to avenge his captor’s death and take back what he considers his by going after this third party. Does this redeem the criminal’s horrible actions or serve as a journey of coming to terms with who he is? That’s a story for another day.

Now imagine a pair of con artists running a scam on an innocent victim, in which they all share a rich history. This pair is in pursuit and has every intention of ruining this innocent victim’s life for financial gain. However, because of the dark road they put themselves on, an overbearing third party intervenes. Another dangerous force. This third party does away with the innocent victim (by murdering him) and then forces the pair of con artists to do his bidding amidst a larger war between high profile criminal players. Surprisingly, the dangerous force third party meets his end quickly when caught up in his own personal battle. The entire messy situation for the measly pair of con artists is sorted out as best it can, although the innocent victim’s life they planned to ruin, is now permanently destroyed. They will never have any desire to avenge the innocent man’s death, because they never cared about him to begin with and even if they wanted to, it only betrays their own cover story which they are doomed to abide to for the rest of their lives. Even if they wanted to sacrifice their freedom to police with the hope to take down the dangerous third party who killed their victim, they can’t, because that dangerous man is also permanently gone.

There’s no revenge fantasy story to play out for Kim and Jimmy. That was never the story. No thrilling closure or catharsis to explore through any plot-driven ambitions. All they have left is themselves and a mess of their own world they made due to their choices. There won’t be a swift, fitting cowboy death for Jimmy where he’ll never get the chance to reflect on those choices. He will live with this for an extensive period until the end of this show’s present timeline, the entirety of Breaking Bad, and beyond. As for Kim, we don’t know what happens to her, but with five episodes left in the series and no imminent physical threat in sight, it’s likely she will also have nothing left but to stew in her own self-reflection of what she’s done. They got their money. They ruined Howard’s life and reputation beyond repair, which is exactly what Howard aimed not to allow happen when everything was said and done. He’s worked through depression, debt, and a failing marriage. This was just another hurdle he could’ve overcome, but like Chuck and Nacho, he joins the ranks of someone who once again, as far as the Better Call Saul universe is concerned, has committed suicide.

Like the floating embers in season 4’s “Smoke”, the thunder rumbling over the desert brush in “Rock and Hard Place” or the waves washing back and forth over the sand in “Point and Shoot’s” cold open, the nature of ruin in Better Call Saul takes its course. Cause and effect eventually leads to deterioration and that course accelerates depending on the continued severity of the cause. We know how Jimmy deals with grief and trauma. He bottles it up with the hope it just goes away. The more he does this, the more detached he becomes from reality and the more he deteriorates into a shell of a man. What can be said about Kim? When Chuck passed and Jimmy read his letter, Kim broke down into tears while Jimmy slurped his cereal. She was able to feel sorrow and empathy for the situation. Kim has been known to be made of “sterner stuff” but what if the initial sabotage of Howard was what she felt was a deserved exception to her ability to feel remorse. She never intended for Howard to be murdered, but her choices lead to that sealed fate. Either Kim’s next course of action is to leave Jimmy as punishment for what she’s done or she will embody Jimmy’s method of just brushing her teeth, going to work, with the hope of one day just forgetting any of this ever happened until she becomes a shell of who she once was, as well.

But think of how many opportunities Kim has had to leave Jimmy. The number of good reasons. If she was willing to literally kill a stranger in the hopes to save Jimmy, how can she combat an undeniable strong sense of love and simply leave over moral reservations? At the same time, how can she forget what happened here when they are tasked to follow the narrative of the lie they concocted against Howard for the rest of their lives? Also while there’s no physical, violent threat to them anymore, they still have to deal with their own world crashing down. Cliff Main will likely be suspicious of Howard’s cocaine-induced “suicide” because while he didn’t choose to back Howard’s allegations against Jimmy, it doesn’t mean he didn’t believe Howard.  Cliff seemed to be at least convinced that Howard’s allegations held water but in that moment he was more concerned about their elder clients so he shrugged it off. Mike is right. Through investigations, there will be questions in regards to Howard’s last known whereabouts being at Jimmy and Kim’s apartment complex. Cliff may feel he owes Howard the benefit of the doubt to clue police in on what Howard told him. Perhaps after Jimmy’s heroic display of self-sacrifice to save her, she would be willing to take the heat for what happened to Howard if it comes to it, especially since she was more motivated by sabotaging Howard than Jimmy ever was.

Overall, her fate may basically come down to a compromise between her love for Jimmy and moral reservations. When she was compelled to drive to Gus’ house with the intent to kill whoever fit his description, a police SUV pulls up alongside her. She rolls down the window and exchanges a tearful glance at them, almost as if testing to see if the universe can make the following decision for her. That never happens and she takes this as an unfortunate excuse to keep going. Kim getting intercepted by Mike while raising the gun, followed by an interrogation as to why she’s there to begin with, and then exchanging phone conversation with Gus, is another example of how integrated the parallel stories have become. It’s a blessing that they were able to see her coming and Mike had insight into who she was, because in any other situation, Gus would have his men extract any information they needed and then do away with her. It helps that Kim pointed to Gustavo’s body double with the belief she was sent to kill him, because it reinforces the truth that she has no idea who any of them are, especially Gus.

In the “Plan and Execution” review, I wondered how it would serve the story best if Gus killed Lalo. For one, it would capitalize on the epic drug lord that Better Call Saul has built him up to be before he heads into Breaking Bad. After all, you don’t end the season 2 finale with a mysterious message of “Don’t” on the hood of Mike’s car while forming the anagram “Fring’s Back” with the first letter of season 2’s episode titles, just for the guy to hunker down safely in his house. It’s this inflated sense of fulfilling a character’s reputation that actually feeds into Gus’ story of making his revenge fantasy against the Salamancas more important to him than the safety of his own men or even himself. Gus needed to be the one who pulled the trigger on Lalo and have his moment of satisfaction because it’s his weakness. Upon hearing that Jimmy talked Lalo out of being the one Lalo sent to assassinate him, Gus realizes something is up and when he gains that intuition, he needs to feel rewarded for it.

There’s also the fact that he had already set the trap with the gun and light switch episodes prior. If he was at all concerned for his men’s safety, he would have informed them on what’s going on. Maybe they can subdue him if they are lucky, but Gus being captured means he can use every beat of it to lead Lalo to his doom for his own personal pleasure. Lalo is quick to improvise the circumstances of the moment, even recording a thorough summary of intel on the construction of the superlab as he leads Gus to his grave, but nonetheless he needs to see the lab. It’s his white whale and Gus knows this. It will probably be argued for years to come whether Gus had Lalo eating out of his hands the whole time. Whether his desire to be the sole person to face off against Lalo was subconsciously fulfilled or not. Perhaps he even wanted to be shot in the vest so Lalo feels he has the upperhand. There’s no arguing that the shootout that ensues in the dark could have been anyone’s win. Gus may have succumbed to his weakness of revenge in this moment very easily but it’s Lalo who just so happens to succumb to his weakness of curiosity and the desire to be revered by Don Eladio. Lalo allowing Gus to confess his hatred towards Don Eladio and the Salamancas, as well as reveal his motives to bury every one of them was necessary for Eladio’s approval in the aftermath of Gus’ death, but it was also the window for Gus to gain equal ground.

While it may have been predictable that the face-off between Gus and Lalo would ultimately take place in the underground lab, it’s the weight of what it means to take place there that’s most important. The writers didn’t try to pretend that the planted gun was a twist. You may have forgotten it was planted there a few episodes back, but the writers treat their audience with intelligence and trust to remember that. Because what else would a planted gun be used for? It’s key to even remind the audience that the gun is there in the actual scene leading to the shootout. Again, the tension is in how Gus leads himself into position, as well as what happens in the dark, but most importantly what it means from a character perspective for him to execute the plan in this risky manner. It’s a triumphant moment but one that speaks to Gus’ weakness. Something that may lead to his undoing in the future.

It’s also important to note that Lalo and Howard being buried together is not only ironic and tragic, but will now cast a shadow over Breaking Bad scenes forever. Or vice versa, Walt and Jesse’s cooking and body disposal will cast a shadow over the idea that they’re buried there. Lalo represents the bad omen of the world they’re participating in and Howard will represent the good people outside the game who get caught up in the exponential repercussions of other people’s bad decisions. Cooking meth over such a burial site will help highlight the reverberations of indifference in wrongdoing that Breaking Bad always aimed to stress over the entire course of its run. Howard Hamlin’s character has helped elevate Breaking Bad’s intentions as a work of art which is the high achievement of a great prequel. Everyone who sneezed at the idea of the superlab’s construction in this show, chalk this up as another great payoff.

One of the fair questions to raise regarding Lalo’s permanent absence is what will Hector Salamanca’s next move be? He was the only one who knew Lalo was alive and as far as he knew, Lalo was gunning for Gus regardless of Don Eladio’s say-so. Is it possible for Hector to pass this information along? Without the twins or anyone to relay Hector’s concern for Lalo’s demise North of the border, what other drama can arise amidst the aftermath? Perhaps Tuco can help when he’s released from jail? Yeah, right. Hector’s inability to get Don Eladio’s ear may speak to what Kim told Lalo about having no people. About not having his house in order. Something Gus would agree on. Gus’ final words to Lalo is that they’re all just pack of jackals. Even if Hector can convince Eladio, would he take Hector seriously? Or would he whore out his own honor under the guise of “keeping his enemy close” for the sake of the money he continues to rake in from Gus?

And what’s left for Mike? He cleaned up Jimmy and Kim’s mess, once again allowing injustices of the world to carry on unnoticed. More dead bodies in his orbit. He shows a sense of sadness and consideration for Howard’s disposal and while he probably has gained further trust in Jimmy and Kim’s ability to swim in his channels, he likely has lost respect for them. Kim blamed Mike for not being there to protect them, but he never gives them an inch as to him being responsible for either Lalo or Howard being in their apartment. She was granted the agency to tell Jimmy about Lalo’s survival and she chose to ignore it for sinister purposes. Also when Jimmy and Kim are being instructed by Mike on how to conduct themselves to the narrative on Howard’s disappearance, it’s Jimmy who’s looking periodically at Kim. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that Jimmy considers Howard’s death Kim’s cross to bear because that’s how he handles his own guilt in the past. He projects the blame onto others. Jimmy is not excused from his contributed bad behavior but he has reason to push the blame on Kim. Is there an argument incoming between the two considering they may each not be willing to take the blame for their actions just yet?

Also Lyle has to open and close Los Pollos Hermanos for the next two complete days. Can the guy get a break?

Final thoughts:

-Gus is a bad man who needs to uphold a victorious reputation to satisfy his revenge, while Howard is a good man whose good reputation will be dragged through the mud from here to eternity to satisfy the freedom of Kim, Jimmy, and every other criminal who became intertwined with them. It’s dark days ahead as we approach the end of Better Call Saul.

-That fuzzy shot of Kim looking into the surveillance camera seemed to convey her limited time left on the show. Her future may be unclear but her time on our television screens is inevitably fading.

What did everyone else think?

Better Call Saul “Plan and Execution” (S6E07)

“Is this how these usually go?” – Irene Landry

When Jimmy and Kim got married at the beginning of last season’s “JMM”, they agreed that whenever they have the urge to hide something from the other, they must recognize the urge and act against it. Everything is shared in full disclosure to ensure their partnership can last. In that same episode, on the very night of their consummation, Jimmy recognized an urge to keep a secret and decided against it. He told Kim that he has taken on a high profile cartel member as a client which will grant enormous financial reward and cement him as a “friend of the cartel”. Kim was weary of this information but more than anything admired his willpower to honor their agreement by telling her. After all, in the line of male anti-heroes in fictional television like Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, or Walter White, it’s impressive for the male lead to break the cycle of lying to their wife even after regaining even ground. Up until now, Jimmy has been good in filling Kim in on what’s going on. He was delayed on disclosing the deadly ambush against him in the desert but he was still suffering from the ramifications of that before the Lalo confrontation in “Bad Choice Road” forced his hand.

Before Lalo showed up the first time, Jimmy assumed he was south of the border and everything was squared away. He didn’t want to worry Kim over his own trauma when he detected no further danger. When the danger presented itself at their doorstep, Kim took charge of a menacing Lalo and got him to walk out of there without a scratch on anyone. It was in that episode where Kim transformed before our eyes from the significant other who Jimmy feels the need to protect, to the person who not only stared down danger to save her husband’s life, but single-handedly prevented an all-out war between Gus and Don Eladio. Kim transcended everyone’s expectations of what she’s capable of and continued to surprise audiences when she toyed with the idea to destroy Howard in the season finale. Ever since her quick, snap-around of firing finger guns, she’s carried the criminal weight of a Tony Soprano or Walter White, and with that, comes the baggage of trying to control everything at all costs in order to meet her fulfilled desire.

In order to ensure her plan to sabotage Howard came to fruition, she manipulated Jimmy to being on board. She could detect his uneasiness to bring Howard down on such a catastrophic level from the beginning. This contributes later to her refusal to let Jimmy know that Lalo is still alive after a botched hit against him. You can argue that she felt reassured when Mike informed her of the extra surveillance all over town in the event Lalo shows up again, giving her reason not to concern Jimmy with this vital information, but she would never be able to know she and Jimmy are ever 100% safe based on the word of a stranger. Back when Lalo was still a known threat to them in the season 5 finale, she had already established her position of not allowing it impede their daily lives. The difference now is that she has made that decision for the both of them in order to ensure Jimmy stay focused on her goals to fulfill the horrible vendetta against Howard. When Jimmy withheld his awful experience in the desert from her, he was suffering from PTSD and had more reason to believe the Lalo conflict was resolved. It wasn’t out of a specifically sinister ulterior motive, but only of a general one to move on and lead happy lives. That’s not to excuse Jimmy’s choices over Kim’s, but it’s important to note who’s leading the show here.

Imagine if Jimmy had known that Lalo survived the attack. As partners, they could have planned a shared narrative in the event that Lalo decides to visit them again. Jimmy could have prepared to act oblivious as to why Lalo would expect he played any part in an assassination attempt. After what they did to Howard all season, they are capable of swaying anyone’s perceptions given the time. Instead, because Lalo’s existence was a complete shock to Jimmy, his fearful body language tells Lalo all he needs to know of his involvement. Lalo may be unpredictably violent, but he likes to be sure (in his mind) that his next course of action is deserved. Jimmy and Kim would still be at a disadvantage in a Lalo encounter like this, but perhaps Lalo would have shown restraint before dragging the truth out them, allowing Howard some wiggle room to avoid taking a bullet. You’ll notice that Lalo doesn’t reveal his gun until Howard picks up on Jimmy and Kim’s fear. Perhaps if they played it cool, Howard would have no reason to suspect something foul afoot and Lalo would not feel the need to extinguish the suspicion from a third party.

Or maybe Howard would not be there at all if Kim had just told Jimmy that Lalo’s alive, leading them to focus on saving their hides rather than ruining Howard. Tragedy is still unpredictable, indifferent, and senseless no matter what precautions are taken. Lalo was the lone survivor in the slaughter of his compound.  He likely may have killed Howard regardless, but Kim and Jimmy’s actions undertaken this season still lend themselves to the horrific, unjustified impact of Howard’s death. They may not have been able to prevent it, but they spiritually contributed to it by greedily cherry-picking their view of a road their choices lead them down. Howard says it best in his final moments. They’re soulless and near sociopathic in the way they justify their actions. They were too blinded by greed and a sick desire to tear an innocent man down to see the dangers of the world they brought upon themselves. We can fully expect Howard’s final words and unfair death to serve as a stunning wake up call. Kim has failed her own marriage agreement with Jimmy and this is the consequence.

We haven’t even seen the full repercussions Lalo will reign over them in this fateful visit, but one way or another, this is the moment the connection between Jimmy and Kim severs. Either that, or they become shells of their former selves as a means to cope and delude themselves. Kim’s character is fascinating and it’s perfectly reasonable to be curious where she ends up. However, we’re long passed the point where we should be worried where she ends up because ultimately she’s gotten to where she is with both eyes open. She’s made her own choices. Terrible choices. The only thing one can hope for after what Howard told them in his final moments is that they come to terms with what they’ve done before reaching the finish line. Whatever they come to terms with by the end of the series will serve as a reflection of who they are.

We know who Chuck is in his final moments. A mentally ill man who harbors both love and resentment. We know who Nacho is. Someone who’s accepts the consequences of his actions but who possesses the strength to endure and the selflessness to save the one he loves. Howard displayed courage by standing up for himself in the end and arguing the point as to why Kim and Jimmy’s motivations against him were wrong.  He painted a fuller picture of himself to show he wasn’t the deserving target they wanted to see in him. Howard may have had his own character flaws to deal with, but from beginning to end, he was a stand-up guy who only aimed to do good in the world and at nobody’s expense. As of right now, the last three people standing in this apartment combined do not match the high standard of character that was Howard Hamlin. It’s a shame because that legacy will now primarily rest from our perspective and not the world of Better Call Saul. He will never have the chance to redeem the humility he suffered on a personal and professional level. Only Kim and Jimmy know the truth.

The intricacy of their plan against Howard across these seven episodes were masterful and paid off as one of the greatest long cons I’ve ever seen executed in film or television. They had every nuanced beat of the scam covered to the point where it’s telling how awful they are to not have nuanced consideration for their victim. Between the two, Jimmy wrestled with guilt the most, but they actively ignored any reservations to ensure their success. As an audience, we know Howard was right about the thrill it gives them because we witness them making love in the background as the Sandpiper case is announced by Cliff to be settled. Without the thrill of destroying someone like Howard or constantly getting back on the wild ‘bad choice road’, what merit is there to Kim and Jimmy’s relationship? Would they be bored of each other if they just ordered Thai food and watched movies for the rest of their days? It seems the relationship only thrives when the black hole they’re destined to fall into gets wider and wider. And for what reward? A cartoonish idea of a mansion with a gold toilet? Either they truly are losing their soul or the absurdity of the mansion is a desperate way to suppress their pain. Or one’s pain.

What is Lalo’s next move here? We know his main goal is to uncover Fring’s superlab and now that he’s batted the beehive to get Mike’s guys to focus on primary targets, he has now gained access to Saul and Kim. I don’t think he’s there’s for interrogation. In his mind, they’re already guilty as sin. Lalo is likely there to exhaust them as resources to get them to do his bidding. If Lalo can’t get into the laundry, perhaps Saul or Kim will be forced to influence a manner in which the superlab can be uncovered. Does Lalo need both of them though? Does it help to hold a gun to one’s head in order to get the other to do what he wants. The last time Lalo and Kim squared off, she told him he needs to get his house in order. He tried to by employing Nacho but it blew up in his face. It cost many lives in his camp. Now at the start of this episode, he’s literally roaming the Albuquerque sewers with a hook in his hand. The only person he can trust is Hector and he’s forced to manipulate him into thinking he’s coming straight for Gus after becoming wise to the retirement home’s phone line being bugged. If anyone is next on Lalo’s chopping block, it’s Kim. He already perceives Saul as a cockroach who will live to the end of days.

When push comes to shove, can Kim prove to overcome once again though? Lalo is just as equally not in Breaking Bad as she is. Also, wouldn’t it be equally as shocking/interesting if Lalo met his end at the hands of the legal community side of the show in the same way Howard met his end from cartel side? What more can the story serve for Gus or Mike to kill Lalo? What if the impending build-up of their defense against Lalo is just a red herring before Jimmy or Kim take care of him themselves? With most of the world believing Lalo is dead, he’s fair game to be done away with in a number of scenarios which won’t result in a war that would tear the fabric of the universe between both shows.

It also will be fascinating to discover what happens next from Mike and Gus’ perspective. Now that Jimmy and Kim are wrangled in this mess, how will Mike react when he learns an innocent was murdered because Lalo played Mike into extracting surveillance on Jimmy’s apartment? And what is his reaction if something happens to Kim who he personally persuaded that everything will be fine. Surely it didn’t mean that she shouldn’t be cautious, but he also nudged her in the direction not to tell Jimmy because she’s “made of sterner stuff” and implied Jimmy not so much. There was an implication that the matter of Lalo would be settled by him or his men. Does Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad fit correctly together in terms of Saul and Mike’s relationship with the context that Kim fell to a grisly demise? Does Mike initially feel he owes Saul to be a hired hand outside his employment of Gus in Breaking Bad due to the circumstances of Kim or Lalo’s absence? Or does that just lend itself to the extension of Howard, a high member of the legal community and innocent man, being senselessly murdered at the doorstep of Mike’s close ally? Does Kim face an ending worse or different than death? What about Ice Station Zebra Associates? With six episodes left, we’re approaching the answer fast and yet the execution of how everything unfolds is still anyone’s guess. A remarkable feat.

Extra thoughts:

-The use of the candle flickering upon Howard and Lalo’s arrival into Kim and Jimmy’s apartment might be one of the finest uses of dramatic artistry I’ve ever seen exercised in a television show. I want to say this is the show’s “Ozymandias”, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. It’s more in between “Crawl Space” and “Ozymandias” which is high praise regardless.

-One of my favorite sources of tension I always looked forward to in Better Call Saul are the character confrontations:

Jimmy and Chuck in “Pimento”

Jimmy and Chuck in “Gloves Off”

Jimmy, Kim, and Chuck in “Nailed”

Howard and Chuck in “Lantern”

Jimmy and Chuck in “Lantern”

Jimmy and Kim in “Wiedersehen”

Kim and Howard in “Breathe”

Jimmy and Kim in “Wexler v. Goodman”

Jimmy and Kim in “Bad Choice Road”

Jimmy, Kim, and Lalo in “Bad Choice Road”

Jimmy, Kim, and Howard in “Plan and Execution”

That’s just to name a handful on the non-drug war side. The show is brimming with scenes where characters square off. With 6 episodes left, just give me one more and I’ll be more than satisfied! Overall, what a spectacular episode. Undeniably one of the show’s best.

What did everyone else think?