Better Call Saul “Black and Blue” (S6E05)

“You’ve mistaken my kindness for weakness” -Howard

The fifth entry into the final season entitled “Black and Blue” is about characters who usually feel in control of their surroundings now struggling with the idea that they aren’t. Better Call Saul is a world brimming with overlapping vantage points. Every character has their advantages and disadvantages over others. Even a character like Gus who monopolizes the game board is vulnerable to a wild card like Lalo who lays low following the havoc raged on his compound. Gus is not used to being in the dark to what comes next and is essentially cornered. As he carries on exposed under the public facade of Los Pollos Hermanos owner, he’s growing rightfully paranoid. He’s obsessive with the placement of every trivial object around him, in a desperate attempt to keep tabs on his world when his back is turned. The gun on his ankle holster might as well be a ball and chain because Gus has built his life on never needing a last resort for when danger arrives unforeseen. 

Then you have Kim, a character who previously shared one common trait with Gus, in that she doesn’t hesitate in using the stick over a carrot to ensure mission complete. After spending an extended amount of time believing she was in the clear from the Lalo problem and feeling confident that her plan to sabotage Howard was going unnoticed, she’s learned her scope of the world is highly limited. Just like in the season 5 finale, she’s right back to peering through her little peephole and studying what little she can see of the apartment complex’s parking lot through the curtains. The chair she wedges against the door is her version of Gus’s gun on his ankle. Unlike Gus with Mike, she has no council with Jimmy or resources of her own to protect her in the event Lalo rears his head. Talking down Lalo wasn’t easy the first time and there’s little to no ammo in repelling him for a second. When she lies awake in bed, her sideways view of the time (3:17 A.M.) reads as LIE. It’s not just keeping the truth that Lalo is alive from Jimmy, while allowing him to go about his day like they’re on easy street, but she’s lying to herself. About the morality of their schemes. About how much control they have. Ultimately, like Gus, she’s hoping for an unpredictable world to lean in her favor.

“I want to live in a world where people can trust each other.” – Howard

Howard, up until now, has been in the dark to all the bad stuff that’s orchestrated against him, but the honest life he leads is a road to clarity. Howard may be the only person on this show who is who he is behind closed doors. Sure, there’s portions of his life that remain mysterious to us like the shaky relationship with a significant other named Cheryl who we’ve never seen, but he carries himself pretty consistently without secret. He’s always selling to people, whether it’s the Sandpiper residents, his therapist, or even Jimmy when he tried to finally hire him at HHM. Maybe that’s who he is. A bonafide salesman. Maybe that’s why he’s good at it because he believes every word he says is in the best interest of others beyond himself.  What’s most fascinating about Howard’s character is how his genuineness coincides with what he projects. Everything he says is true and the values he expresses come straight from the heart. Unless he’s put in a difficult, unwanted position, like being Chuck’s puppet, he’s never lied. He’s an upstanding, uncompromised character who’s naturally good and honest, and yet people like Jimmy and Kim and perhaps Cheryl, can’t get over the fact that he’s always selling. What he sells is good and true, but it’s still selling and that gets under people’s skin.

It reminds me of how Chuck operated under what’s right in order to get his way. Howard operates under the good, the truth, and what’s right for everyone to get their way but because he’s a born salesman, the stigma rubs a character like Jimmy the wrong way. From Jimmy and Kim’s perspective, is Howard actually who he is underneath the kindness or the “white-knighting”? Is what’s right for everyone else, in turn, just benefit him? Are they right that there’s more than meets the eye? Because it wouldn’t be impossible to imagine. We’ve seen some weird behavior in how he treated Kim as an underling, where it felt personal to the point where even Chuck thought Howard needed to lay off. But out of everyone on this show, can’t Howard be prone to his weaker moments? We’re all flawed and in the very least he’s tried to improve through therapy. Perhaps a confrontation between Kim and Howard is what’s most necessary to clear the air, but at this point it feels too little, too late.

Making Howard look bad to get Sandpiper to settle is more than just for the financial reward, but it’s poetic for Kim and Jimmy to reveal an uglier side of Howard to everybody in the process. Like mentioned in earlier reviews, Howard is no dummy. When Cliff confronts him on the odd behavior, Howard puts two and two together pretty quickly that he’s being framed, especially when he learns of Cliff and Kim’s business lunch. By luring Saul to a gym, Howard grants Jimmy a chance to air out any grievance against him in the boxing ring. No seediness, no schemery, but just an honest match in the ring with the proper equipment. Even when confronting Jimmy in the most raw, unfiltered manner, he follows protocol. The pseudonym he uses, Mr. Ward, is as far a persona he can imagine from his own name, because unlike Jimmy/Saul/Gene, it’s not in Howard’s nature to lead a double life. He doesn’t hide in the shadows or plain sight, because he more than likely has nothing to hide.

Jimmy laughs at the notion of boxing, feeding the wishful narrative that Howard’s lost his mind, but the truth is Howard is showing Jimmy that he’s as real and clear-minded as the day is long. Even when Howard faces false defamation, he’s incorruptible to roll around in the mud. Jimmy will later question how he got drawn into Howard’s web but the answer is simple. His beef with Howard has less to do with Howard and more to do with his own insecurities. Howard leading an honest life is threatening to Jimmy and when Howard calls Jimmy out for being a conniving fraud who can’t even own up to himself, Jimmy is compelled to ditch brain for brawn. Jimmy knows he’s in the wrong and better yet, isn’t even comfortably sure why he and Kim are attempting to take Howard down in the way that they are. Unbeknownst to Kim, Jimmy knows Howard sees true to his pain and need for help on a more intimate level. Kim may know of Jimmy’s actions against Howard in the past, but it’s through her own beliefs as to why Howard is a deserving target. Sure, she understands Jimmy’s unconventionally harbored grief regarding Chuck’s death on more than one level, but she’s too wrapped up in defending Jimmy against Howard to see clear of what’s really going on.

The question now is, who got played? Howard deduced that all roads lead back to Jimmy through the contrivance of a second prostitute being used against him. Did Jimmy want to be caught on a subconscious level as a way to make Kim’s goals hit a dead end before anyone gets hurt? Or is allowing Howard to be wise to them part of a larger plan? When Jimmy wonders why he felt compelled to fight Howard, Kim answers, “because you know what comes next.” The boxing match was completely spontaneous on Jimmy’s part, but will having fought Howard in the ring help reinforce the next step to their plan? Kim meets with Viola in order to obtain information about a certain retired Judge, named Rand Casimiro. Does Howard’s suspicions of Jimmy (which were never outright confirmed) part of this next step or is Jimmy and Kim clinging to the opposite of Bill Oakley’s sentiments, being “there’s proving and then there’s knowing”? When Howard meets with a private P.I. who’s hired to keep tabs on Jimmy’s every move, it’s conveyed in a manner which implies Jimmy has no idea he’ll be followed. As far as Jimmy’s concerned, Howard got his jabs in the hope that everything’s settled. Never mind the fact that Howard lets Jimmy know that it’s probably not over.

Kim now has to deal with more than just the problem of Lalo’s survival hanging over them indefinitely. She trusts that Jimmy is on the same page as her, but there’s an obvious disconnect regardless if he subconsciously wants their plan to fail. She’s also now blind to Howard’s P.I. because if spotted, she’ll just chalk the man up as one of Mike’s guys surveilling for Lalo. There’s a false sense of security she’ll be lulled into within actual security she has no choice but to rely on. Whatever happens next, she does not hold the cards she thinks she has. And what about her own moral reservations? Viola pronounces her admiration for Kim, emphasizing how she makes her feel good about the law. What happens if Kim succeeds and realizes too late what she’s done to Howard, or worse, fails to foresee the harsher reverberating consequences? The only thing Kim feels positive about is sparking the idea behind Saul Goodman’s “And that’s why I fight for you, Albuquerque!” slogan.  Something that will come to be in a future she’s absent from. That’s the difference between Howard and Jimmy. Howard sells his character, while Jimmy sells a character. Either way, I suppose selling isn’t so much a stigma when it’s the person you love who’s doing it.

Whereas Kim begins to regain confidence in getting the upperhand over Howard, Gus has an epiphany when suggesting a special food item, spicy curl fries, to a hungry customer. If you recall, the spicy curl fries was part of new product line that was introduced at a meeting with the subsidiaries of Madrigal Electromotive, the German conglomerate. As soon as Gus mentions these fries, the wheels in his head begin to turn. This whole time he’s been at a loss as to why Lalo isn’t reigning hellfire upon him after the botched attempt on his life, but then he remembers Lalo’s first known lead against him, being the construction of the secret lab. Gus knows Lalo was obsessed with the lead engineer Werner Ziegler, who is the key to uncovering Gustavo’s deception against Don Eladio, Juan Bolsa, and the Salamanca family. He also later establishes to Mike that Lalo can’t strike yet, implying exactly what Hector Salamanca advised needs to be obtained before Gus is taken on: Proof. 

Werner may be dead, but any information he can charm out of his innocent wife, Margarethe Ziegler to use as proof against Gus is vital. So vital that Lalo is willing to kill over it. Lalo is also a fascinating character, in that he’s a forthcoming psychopath, but he never seems happy about having to kill people like his body double or Mrs. Ziegler. But he will if he has to. After investing time at the bar to allow a proper invitation into the Ziegler home, he doesn’t force his way in when she respectfully declines he spend the night. He’s patient and gives her the courtesy of infiltrating her home when she leaves for work in order to avoid an unfortunate murder. And even when she comes home unexpectedly to retrieve her forgotten phone, he escapes out the window rather than use his silenced pistol. He only does this when he finds just the thing that will put him on the path moving forward to destroy Gus. Lalo is plain evil with an extraordinary lack of morals, but he’s not without a code. The Salamanca family transcends above all to Lalo, even if innocent people die to ensure that, but if it can be avoided, Lalo will. It’s a tense, upsetting scene nonetheless, seeing as the murder of Margarethe would have been additionally tragic, given the heroic sacrifice Werner took upon himself in the effort to spare her.

Margarethe mentions that Werner’s construction crew never showed up to the funeral which is already validation for Lalo that something’s fishy. She mentions they only sent gifts which is exactly what Lalo stumbles upon inside, being the measuring tool infused in glass that was shown in the episode’s cold open. The inscription reads “In liebe…diene jungs” which translates to “with love…your boys”. Lalo checks the company name on the bottom of the gift, which is shown to be from Voelker’s. It seems the next step for Lalo is to track down this company and get information on who ordered it. If Lalo can get in touch with anyone from Werner’s construction crew, he can likely interrogate information as to what Gus actually hired them for. Gus may know that once Lalo learns the truth, he will need to see the super lab at the laundromat for himself. Curiosity is what has always driven Lalo, but as we’ve seen in the past, it’s exactly what got him trapped when tailing Mike into the parking lot during the season 4 finale, “Winner”. That time, Lalo forced his way out by ramming the civilian car and breaking through the gate. Mike outsmarted him then, so who’s to say Lalo won’t be lead down the ladder of his own tomb where the only escape is a loaded gun? Is Lalo buried within the superlab’s walls by the time Walt and Jesse occupy it?

Leftover thoughts:

-Now that Jimmy has generated enough income as a lawyer again after coming back from the brink of disbarment, Francesca Liddy makes her return as the new office space is underway.  It’s a culture shock for her since the last time she worked with Jimmy. His name has changed, the clientele has become sketchier, Kim is nowhere to be seen, and there’s nothing but as chair, a table, and a toilet in the middle of an empty space. Francesca can see the writing on the wall from a mile away of what this office will become, but money is a leading factor in swaying her hire. At the moment, she can trust that Saul’s success can only lead to a more promising, tasteful future for their current working conditions. After all, the previous office had a touch of class. It’s good to see her negotiating skills are here are strong seeing as she’ll be shaking down Walter White in the future.

-The opening intro’s song is called “In Stiller Nacht” by Pink Martini, & The Von Trapps. It’s a German track about being at peace and one with nature in a time of trouble and sadness. It’s appropriate that such a sensitive, thoughtful gift for Werner is being manufactured to a beautifully edited montage as this plays. It’s a symbol of peace which Lalo will later disturb.

-Last season when Gus was forced to give up his dead drops of cash to the D.E.A. so that Lalo won’t be wise to Nacho’s deception, he was at a loss for control. To compensate, he abused his manager Lyle into scrubbing the deep fryer to an impossible state of spotlessness. Now Gus is the one who scrubs feverishly as Mike finds him on his hands and knees in the bathroom. Gus certainly won’t take advantage of his own body guards the same way he did with Lyle, so it certainly shows how pent up his frustration is.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

Better Call Saul “Hit and Run” (S6E04)

“What kinda asshole moves a cone?” – Faux-Howard.

Ever since Jimmy McGill was a child, he’s been a rule breaker. When he hears the word “no”, he steps up to the challenge, especially when the upper class are dictating terms. Out of all the characters on this show, Jimmy McGill knows the answer to who moves a cone. It’s what makes the scene funny, but it also conveys a dilemma as to why Jimmy can’t relate with such a Jimmy act. Jimmy is no longer Jimmy and for the moment, he’s not even Saul. He’s Howard. It’s a get-up he hasn’t worn since season 1’s fourth episode “Hero” back when he was declaring war on HHM for the suggestion (later apparent to be under Chuck’s instruction) that he not work under the name McGill. In season 1, Jimmy was cloning himself as Howard against Kim’s wishes. “You’re better than this,” she tells him and tries to make him see clear that what he’s doing is personal. His judgement was clouded as he struggled with his identity and how to lead the charge of who he is to get ahead.  He’s come a long way since then but now he’s scamming Howard as his doppelganger because of Kim’s wishes. A defamation that Kim can’t even admit gives her more personal pleasure than the moral and financial rewards they can justify to reap. Jimmy, nor Saul feels comfortable with Howard’s sabotage, which leaves him again at an identity crisis as he walks in shoes he can’t claim as his own.

When Howard shows up for therapy, we peek further into his home life, learning he shares a relationship with a woman named Cheryl, both of whom currently stand on shaky ground. The show is likely beginning to paint the larger picture of Howard’s life before Jimmy and Kim tear it apart. Howard is no dummy. One way or another, Jimmy and Kim’s actions will catch up to them. One transitional shot in Rhea Seehorn’s directorial debut which suggests Howard’s subconscious is screaming at him of the strangeness that’s been occurring, is when Howard begins to tell the therapist of the dream he had. The camera cuts to the back of “Howard’s” head, out-of-focus, as he glides forward to the meditative beat of cymbals. At first, it feels like Better Call Saul is showing us its first dream sequence told by Howard, but unfortunately for him, it’s a peculiar reality. The Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe does not tend to use blatant dream sequences as a storytelling device. We’ve seen drug hallucinations and Walt once envisioned Skyler while Tuco had him locked in the trunk of Jesse’s car, but other than that, both shows use the universe’s concrete reality to convey the character’s headspace. That’s not to say the notion of a dreams or the subconscious is to be dismissed on this show. The in-between, beat by beat subtextual nature is very much always alive.

Howard may not have realized his car was taken, even when Jimmy had to improvise and park in the ‘No Parking’ zone after the Wendy stunt but he’s a man who possesses dreams and is working to make symbolic connections with a professional. He may not be able to make heads of tails of the actual dream he had (which was deliberately told and intercut with Jimmy’s heist), but it’s established here that the real world and the dream world are working in conjunction. It’s no stretch to say that Howard will come to a conclusion, especially after another prostitute was used to paint him in a bad light in front of Cliff Main. Howard has already called Jimmy out for the prostitutes and bowling balls during last season and Jimmy exposed himself as responsible. There’s too many coincidences between the Kettlemans’ allegations of Howard’s drug use and Jimmy being seen by Kevin Wachtell at the country club. One way or another, the fabric of the show’s universe will unveil Jimmy and Kim’s orbit behind these odd events. Howard might not understand what makes Jimmy tick, but he knows Jimmy’s actions is something to be figured out, much like the gate number to an old man’s international flight.

The wicked flee when no man pursueth…” – Jimmy McGill

Sounds like the mantra to an individual who would hit and run after getting into an accident with their car. The next line out of that Bible proverb goes “but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” It may be a different big cat, but the shot of Howard’s hood ornament on his 1998 Jaguar XJ8 appropriately portrays Howard as a man who has unyielding moral footing on the life he leads. He has no question of whether he’s doing the wrong thing and if a problem does arise, he unafraid in trying to solve it for everyone’s sake. Being in therapy to begin with is significant step in the effort to improving one’s world. There’s a reason we don’t get to sit with Howard in therapy and really get a chance to understand what he deals with personally day to day, because Jimmy and Kim’s shenannigans robs that from us. To them, he’s a mark to be trifled with and nothing more, so when Kim starts to feel paranoid over whether she’s being followed, that’s her subconscious revealing she wouldn’t be feeling that if they were truly in the right. Jimmy interestingly revels in the idea that they’re wicked despite his own reservations. It’s meant as a comforting turn of phrase, in that her being followed is all in her head, but still admits guilt to what they’re doing.

Jimmy has been slipping hints to his misbehavior ever since he mistakenly let Lalo’s name be known to the opposing coucil. It’s almost as if a cry for help, possibly from the good man Suzanne Erickson detects may be buried deep underneath Saul’s showiness. Regardless, it seems that the bad choice road he’s been on has solidified itself as the only available avenue ever since allowing the murderous Lalo to walk free. Word is out. While Jimmy was busy playing Howard Hamlin, his Charlie Hustle and Slippin’ Jimmy counterparts have starved to death at the hands of his colleagues. Nobody wants to entertain Jimmy’s colorfulness anymore as he’s been shut out from every recess of the court house, even to the point where Bill Oakley is disgusted. Jimmy has chosen to be a friend of the cartel and the magnitude of that irreparable choice has set in. He demands Bill prove any of his misgivings, but Bill hits back with “There’s proving and then there’s knowing”.  Jimmy’s chances to get back on the good choice road has become that much harder because now he’s going to draw harder criminals to his place of business like ants to ice cream. Fate is a sticky wicket.

Who’s here for Saul Goodman?”

Becoming Saul Goodman has become less a choice as it’s now a way to survive. Jimmy meets with a large crowd of diverse, sketchy clients, including Spooge, at the nail salon who now refer to him as the guy. If Saul is willing to do what he did for Lalo, the trust from every other guilty client is gained. At this point, Ms. Nguyen can no longer let the company Saul keeps impede her place of business. The days of Jimmy McGill and the scrappy upstart of working from the back of a nail salon is over. If Jimmy is to thrive, it’s as Saul who’s pushed to escape one step closer to the seedy law office we’ll come to meet him in Breaking Bad. It may not be ideal real estate, but it’s practical. When you make decisions that limit your future options, practicality is what you settle for. It’s tragic it’s for many clients who will become enabled by their bad behavior and degrade into subhuman lifeforms like Spooge. To go from helping Bill Oakley retrieve his snagged bag of chips from a vending machine to the meth head who will get his head crushed trying to break into an ATM is a telling sign of the reckoning Jimmy will bring upon himself.

While Kim goes about her day, her paranoia of being followed becomes reality as she spots the same suspicious vehicle from the Crossroads Motel parked right outside her business lunch. Instead of fleeing, Kim doubles down on her righteousness like a lioness and marches straight towards the men who are watching her, demanding they reveal themselves. She threatens to call in their license plates due to their silence. Kim has always held her own in the face of confrontation. Whether it’s to defend an innocent client, a guilty client, or calling out people in power like Chuck, Howard, Rich, Kevin, or a dangerous adversary in Lalo, she can handle herself. But what happens when she’s directly placed under the spotlight of being in the clear wrong? If the entire resource of law enforcement were looking to pin her for her crimes, how long can she last before they learn the truth? The heat builds as we near the beginning of the end for her character, but fortunately, she’s only under surveillance in the effort to catch Lalo who turns out to be alive after a hit on his compound. Phew!

Kim and Mike meeting each other for the first time in the series is a gravitational moment. The first time Mike came into a contact with a main character from Jimmy’s world, it was as a repairman for Chuck’s busted door. That would be the first last time Chuck and Mike would cross paths. Kim, as Mike goes on to say, is made of “sterner stuff” than Jimmy, being someone who can hold her own as a non-civilian within the game. Mike is aware of her standoff with Lalo and as Kim is able to demonstrate, she’s quick to pick up on the fact that Lalo lives.  Saul Goodman has undergone a tectonic shift with the company he keeps due to how he’s perceived from his actions. What’s most worrying is Kim is undergoing the same shift, as Mike establishes her as a competent player in a game where a murderous psychopath is on the loose. Chuck’s death had nothing directly to do with Mike fixing his door that day, but indirectly Mike’s choice to help Jimmy get pictures of Chuck’s house contributed in the ball rolling to Chuck’s downfall. How long is it before Kim’s downfall is met the more her world becomes filled with the shady company she keeps?

It’s important to note that the song being played at the El Camino Diner in this moment is Teri and Lester Norton’s 2004 song, “Isle of Misery”. Some of the lyrics include cryptic lines like “I don’t ever see rainbows and the stars don’t ever shine. The moon hides its face from me so no fate is worse than mine”.  So far, the two main characters who never showed up in Breaking Bad have died from suicide. By listening to the lyrics of the song, it feels like Kim’s demise is more along the lines of exile or prison. If the writers are to imagine something worse than death, what is in store for Kim? Is it a choice she makes that puts her there or is it against her will? Is her worst fate something she can’t save herself from? A fate that was never navigated on her own terms?  Perhaps it’s something more complicated as the song also hints towards the idea of unfaithful lovers. But speculation of that direction at this point seems unfathomable…

The more bubbly, hopeful song which kicks off the episode is “The Best Things in Life” by the Dreamliners. It’s played to a friendly couple riding bikes together throughout a residential neighborhood, using hand signals and going about their shared routine. We’re shown street cameras’ perspective of their joyful ride together as if it’s setting the scene for us to be aware of the couple’s outside surroundings. Given that the episode is entitled “Hit and Run”, we’re assuming the worst, waiting for their day to be brought to a screeching halt. But they make it home safely and it’s here we learn that this couple, like Kim and Jimmy, are not the honest, genuine people they would have you perceive them to be. Eerily, it’s them who are working from the inside of the larger plot as they stroll about the kitchen with armed men standing guard like it’s nothing. Who are these people? By the end of the cold open it’s revealed their good neighbor facade is all in favor for Gus’ cover. In the event that Lalo presents himself, Gus has taken every precaution to make sure he can see it coming. “Hit and Run” alludes more to the failed hit on Lalo.

How does Gus’ precautionary measures come to be? After the extensive construction of the superlab in season 4 which is still never fully realized, we can understand the architectural feat it would take for Gus to build a tunnel going from his luxury home to a neighboring house. Obviously the couple who reside in this neighboring house must have known about it from the get-go. Are they hired hands like any of Gus’ other mercenaries? Or are they cut more from the cloth of Gale Boetticher, who have earned Gus’ trust and are being paid handsomely to cooperate? I’d assume it’s the latter where they consented to the tunnel’s construction upon being granted the house in the event it needed to be used. Seeing as the couple don’t seem to drop any facade upon entering the house, they are likely a genuinely real couple. It would explain why they treat Mike’s guys like guests, seeing as they’ve only been employed here for two weeks. I don’t think Gus is happy that he has to use the tunnel to occupy the neighboring house, but again it’s the practical solution he’s been compelled to initiate.

The absurdity of the tunnel is a fair aspect to question. It makes sense that Gus, a man who hides in plain sight, would invest in extreme measures behind closed doors to ensure his safety. After all, he is the kingpin of the Southwest US region. If Lalo can have a secret bathtub escape hatch, surely Gus would be in over his head with adversaries like Don Eladio, Hector Salamanca, Juan Bolsa, or the D.E.A. if he didn’t put his money and power to good use. Sometimes I wonder if we’re being shown too much, but honestly it helps the Gus/Lalo conflict by establishing Gus is not a sitting duck. He’s got measures in place to ensure Lalo can’t just kick his door in. In Breaking Bad, Gus’ security felt more ominous when say, a character like Walt, attempts to knock on his door. In Breaking Bad, we view the attempt on a drug kingpin’s life from the lens of an ordinary Joe Schmo and how any successful or failed outcome is possible, given the execution is done right. Lalo is a different animal in that he has a plethora of resources, influence, and power at his disposal, which would make it necessary to divulge more to the audience into what Lalo can expect when taking Gus on.

In Breaking Bad, Gus became a ghost to Walter when he donned the Heisenberg hat and marched towards Gus’ front door. The neighborhood watch always had the upperhand. In Better Call Saul, Lalo has become the ghost despite the upperhand of Gus’ feelers and hired guards. It’s one thing for Gus to impose his work life on this couple, regardless if they signed up for this since the beginning, but he must also convince everyone it’s all worth it based on his own intuition. For all Gus knows, Lalo is dead and Hector may have chosen to play mind games. Anyone else in the room can argue that, but Gus knows the impulsive Hector can’t help but be himself. Mike is willing to help but how long is Gus willing to exhaust his resources. As an audience, we know Gus is right, but where is Lalo?

When Mike asked this question, the next shot intentionally shows Kim parked in a strange area at night. It’s very similar to us knowing Lalo was going to visit Saul’s apartment upon discovering the upturned Suzuki Esteem riddled with bullet holes in the desert. The next shot in that scenario played like a horror movie as Kim walks across the parking lot with the camera pressing in on her. The anxiety is played up again in this episode when we hear footsteps scraping across the pavement off-screen as Kim sits in the car. Until we can make out the driver’s side window’s reflection showing Jimmy, we feel relief. It’s safe to say the show is hinting towards another Lalo encounter with Jimmy and Kim at some point.

For now, Jimmy just wants Kim’s opinion on the prospect of a new office space. From Kim’s perspective, their little world has been exposed. She thought they were in control, but never considered the scope of the dangerous world they play in and how many eyes can be on them at a given time. Now that Kim knows Lalo is alive, her role as wife continues to subvert the male anti-hero genre as it’s her who’s withholding information from Jimmy for his “own good”. It’s she who decides to carry the burden for both of them as they move forward, trusting that the higher forces at play can resolve Lalo as a threat on their own. Given their marriage agreement to disclose anything they feel compelled not to tell, will she follow that rule? Is this what we can chalk up as ‘unfaithful’ in their unconventional relationship if she makes the decision not to tell him? Can that choice prove devastating for her own future?

Lingering thoughts:

-I’m enjoying how every episode title this season is “Blank and Blank”. It’s reminiscent of how most of season 1’s titles was one was word ending with the letter ‘O’ or season 2’s anagram “Fring’s Back!” with every title’s first letter. Makes you wonder if there’s any secret meaning going on with these.

-I’ve noticed that the more Breaking Bad characters who get a cameo on this show, the less I feel inclined to point them out. At first it was a novelty when we didn’t know how accomplished Better Call Saul would become as a prequel, but now the integration of all these characters in this shared universe makes so much sense, it’s an ode to how the story is the focal point of engagement.

What did everyone else think?

Better Call Saul “Rock and Hard Place” (S6E03)

Ignacio Varga has been ducking and weaving and running from the overbearing blowback of his decisions on Better Call Saul for the better part of its run, having drawn the attention of the illegal drug trade’s most powerful, ruthless players. It’s a dangerous predicament Nacho got himself into a long time ago but one he has moved heaven and earth to escape out from under. On the game’s board, Nacho has proven capable to maneuver (or a lack for better term; survive) between encounters with Tuco, Hector, Gus, Juan, Tyrus, Victor, the Salamanca twins, Lalo, and Don Eladio.  All of whom in one way or another have served as an obstacle. Nacho has run from the consequences of his own choices that lead him here for so long now to the point where his choices were no longer his own. Perhaps there was hope with the original plan to lam it to Canada under a new identity, when the opportunity presented itself. But what’s the point if his father declines to come along?

Anyone in Nacho’s shoes could easily have died a long time ago and while Nacho has made poor decisions to get him where he is, he’s still no chump. He’s smart, cunning and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the bottom line is met, being his father’s protector. If there was ever an epiphany to take place during this episode, it’s when he retreated to the oil tank and submerged himself in oil to hide from the Salamanca twins. The extraordinary lengths he takes to evade capture is impeccable, but at what cost? If Nacho wants, he can play the bottom-dwelling oil monster for the rest of his life, as conveyed brilliantly by the overhead shot of the oil tanker rotating like a clock’s rotating hand through the use of timelapse. He can join the sewer people or become a runaway in the circus. At the end of the day though, who is he truly when there’s no accountability to be taken? The image of him covered completely in black is almost reminiscent of ink penned by the show’s writers. The script of Nacho’s life has been written for so long, but up until now Nacho has refused to follow it and take charge of who he is, leaving him to be a strange, unrecognizable creature.

Even if he’s successful in preserving his own extended time on Earth, there’s never any assurance that his father will be okay if he doesn’t meet the demands of the more powerful players. And even then, he will always have to spend his life looking over his shoulder. The Salamancas will never be satisfied until they torture answers out of him. Gus will never be satisfied with a loose end roaming free. After cleaning himself up and being taken in by the good samaritan (faith in humanity isn’t all lost), he calls his father to hear his voice once more. Michael Mando plays every beat of this moment with such emotional defeat and unreserved fondness for his dad, all the while swimming in self-reflection. Manuel may stand firm on his unfavorable stance for Nacho to go to the police and that there’s no further discussion of what Nacho has to do beyond that, but it all comes from an undeniably loving and caring place. Nacho knows the police won’t solve his problem, but there is advice to be heard in what the police stand for. It’s the notion of owning up to your mistakes in the effort to take control of the problem. Dictating terms with the belly of the beast is Nacho’s best option. He was never a law-abiding citizen, but a criminal who got caught up in the world he’s always known. Pretending otherwise is only another form of running and hiding.

When Nacho calls Mike, he’s no longer in “yes sir, no sir” mode. He rightfully calls Mike out for going along with setting him up for certain death at the motel and demands to speak to Gus. Nacho knows that Gus is compelled to have Nacho killed or else it only leaves Gus prone to exposure after the Lalo hit which Nacho assumes went accordingly. When Nacho calls the situation for what it is and how screwed Gus is if Nacho lives, you can see Gus wants to argue, but can’t find the defense. Nacho’s in control and uses this upperhand as leverage to protect his father with the promise that he’ll make the story go in any direction Gus wants. He also undercuts Gus trying to dictate terms with his father’s survival by using his allied history with Mike as an emotionally unveiled proponent. Mike cares for Nacho and has been an advocate for his father’s survival ever since Nacho revealed that Gus was holding a figurative gun to his father’s head.  When Mike proposes that “anyone who goes after him, we’ll have to come through me”, Nacho trusts his word as his bond.  It’s the only word that matters to him as his trust in Mike is more abundant than his fear from Gus.

There’s is an outpouring sense of peace as Nacho delivers himself to the Chicken Man. When eating his last meal, Mike doesn’t seem to be watching him out of fear he’ll flee, but out of awe, respect, and concern. It upsets Mike when Victor comes marching down the stairs to report that the boss thinks Nacho isn’t bloodied up enough. The mental and physical hoops that Nacho has been through is admirable, so it’s insulting when even after accepting his death and playing the game as promised, he’s still subjected to bullshit. The smirk Victor expresses when Mike tells him he’ll handle Nacho’s bruises is enough to contrast how much less respectable Gus’ company is to a man like Ignacio Varga. Nacho is no stranger to making Gus’ narrative come off as real as possible, so he’s unfazed. When Mike pours two drinks, it’s not just a moment of making it easier for Nacho and treating him like a human being, but Mike is indulging in his own vice when faced with a soul-shattering conflict. He doesn’t clink his glass with Nacho, even when Nacho raises because this is not a celebratory moment. Mike can barely muster up respect for himself in this scenario, let alone match the respect he has for Nacho.

Mike is loyal enough to follow Gus’ orders, but he’s off-balance throughout the hour. When Nacho and Mike wait in the chicken farm break room, he’s staring into space. Not in a stoic, ‘on-call’ manner, but just plain daydreaming. When Gus enters the room, he’s startled by the door opening. Mike is rattled because Nacho, in many ways, is another son to him. Another son with admirable standards who he can’t save and who now sees Mike to be just as much a scumbag (who goes along to get along) as the company Gus keeps, even when Nacho still trusts and respects him back. Gus on the other hand, still feels cold and calculative when wanting to know what Nacho plans are when questioned who’s he’s working for by Juan and the Salamancas. Nacho tells him, as promised, that he’ll pin his actions under the orders ofa  man named Alvarez and a Peru gang, Los Odios. When Gus and Mike exit, Nacho looks into the broken glass to see multiple reflections of himself. There’s many interpretations to be made here, but one might read it as Nacho realizing that the outcome of his promise may stay true, but how he fulfills that promise is completely in his own control. Ignacio is a multi-faceted character who can go out any way he wishes. His last task when looking in that glass is to figure how to do so without compromising his father’s rescue.

When it comes down to the final scene, it’s Nacho who is the star of the show, finally given a platform to use as he sees fit. Everyone in the desert expects Nacho to go out in protest but he takes this opportunity to make everyone else the ones who squirm. When dragging out his false confession as to who ordered the hit on Lalo, periodically looking in Gus’ direction, he’s reveling in Gus’ vulnerability in trusting the word of someone he treated like a dog for the better part of two seasons.  Not to mention, he gets to insult the Chicken Man as nobody more than a mere joke, all while owning his actions against the Salamancas as something he would have done for free outside of Alvarez’s or anyone’s orders. Nacho gets to reveal his true loathing for this family of Salamanca psychopaths with an absolutely menacing speech which makes everyone involved look like fools. The act of causing Hector’s stroke is the act that doomed Nacho to his fate, but he only ever did it to save his father when Hector thought it wise to force Manuel’s upholstery shop as a front and deemed him untrustworthy when Manuel wasn’t having it. Whether Nacho’s decision to swap Hector’s heart meds was the best choice or not, he owns it and rubs Hector’s face in it.

Nacho achieves the best of all worlds. He shakes everyone to their core when he breaks free from his zip-tie using a shard from the very glass Gus broke in the episode prior and gives Juan Bolsa a swift stab to the leg.  The ensuing chaos that is at stake when he holds Juan hostage is just as paramount as when Kim prevented Mike from having to assassinate Lalo on the North side of the border. By finally shooting himself rather than go forth with Mike’s plan of running away, Nacho gives nobody the satisfaction of putting him down, quick or otherwise. He fulfills his promise to Gus and then some, by doubling down on the story with such vitriol while marginalizing Gus in the process. Hector may hate Nacho in this moment, but he likely feels validation that Gus is made to look small, even if he knows the actual truth.

It’s not enough to stop Hector from taking free shots at his dead body, which is something Gus cannot bring himself to bear. In the end, I think he gained Gus’ respect beyond Gus saying so a couple of episodes back for the sake of talking down Mike’s desire to save him. Nacho died saving Gus which probably echoes how Max died with the same intent even if Nacho didn’t do so out of love. If Gus has any intention on selling the story that he was in no way involved with the attempt on Lalo’s life, he would have stuck around to save face, especailly after the physical scare Bolsa just experienced, but he immediately turns his back on all of them. This is a clear indication that Gus has been sideswiped by Nacho’s final actions. Not only does he respect him, but I think he’s now coming around to how short-sighted he was in how he treated him. Instead of instilling fear, he could have groomed Nacho as a trusted ally. In many ways, Nacho’s story is so much more legendary in how he conducted and composed himself than how Gus’ meticulous revenge plot on Hector can ever be. Gus can throw all the money he wants towards a super lab and go head-to-head with his cartel rivals, but it will never be as virtuous, nor as well-played in comparison to the lengths Nacho was subjected to or the odds which were stacked against him. Even Mike is too ashamed to keep his eye on the scope of the sniper rifle after what has happened.

From a conceptual standpoint, I don’t think Nacho was ever meant to escape. If the show is to remain true to its reputation as a bold, dramatic crime thriller, there’s no satisfying ending for a character so in over their head amidst a war between drug lords to the point where they still get to run and hide. If the show wanted, it could have given us shootout after shootout like what unfolded in the previous episode, but we already got our fill of that. We know Nacho is capable to endure, but the point of enduring is what matters most in which there was none. Nacho’s story has always been one of a character with limited to no choice who got to where he is based on who he is and what little choices he had. It was about coming to terms with that. Therefore, this is one of the more rewarding resolutions for Ignacio, proving as a whole to be one of the most deserving character additions across both universes. We’ve already seen the story of a beloved character escape against all odds so we can only be grateful Better Call Saul continues to surprise in the approximate fifteen year run of its universe.

Usually when characters in Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul present a plan and follow through with that plan, it never goes fully according to plan. In “Rock and Hard Place”, the plan is Nacho dies. As longtime viewers of this universe, we await deaths for characters in penultimate episodes or finales. We’re conditioned by the seasonal structure across many of the most renowned dramas, so even the most skeptic viewer of Nacho about to sacrifice himself for the betterment of his father, knows it won’t happen in episode 3. After all, the quiet, understood nod between Mike and Nacho can be easily misconstrued as these characters have something up their sleeve. We’re even flashed the shard of glass in Nacho’s hand before Tyrus restrains him in the van, implying there may be a way he lives we haven’t considered. The way this show sets audiences up and knocks them down in the most unexpected way is impressively slick.

“I think the better word you’re looking for is audacious” – Kim/Jimmy

Whereas Nacho courageously meets the reckoning he brought upon himself, Kim and Jimmy seem to be repeating his mistakes by getting into deeper trouble with both eyes open. The only difference is Nacho made his choices under duress and desperation. They continually justify their plan to sabotage Howard with the sentiment that it will bring happiness to a lot of people and in the end, they’re doing the lord’s work. But couldn’t they leave happiness of others up to the universe and just hustle for money legitimately like they’re fully capable of doing? Nobody gets hurt? I suppose in that case, they wouldn’t have a fun heist to orchestrate with Huell and a key master tasked with replicating Howard’s car keys before the valet realizes they’re missing. This scene, masterfully directed by Gordon Smith as it intercuts between the valet’s descent down the stairs and the key master cutting a new copy, is thrilling to the point where it’s no wonder Jimmy and Kim can’t resist. It’s Huell who doesn’t understand why they do it though. For Huell, this is his trade. It’s who he is, but for Jimmy and Kim, why such duality between legitimate and illegitimate? Why lead a life of complete enigma where moral benefits are leaned on to excuse bad behavior when you can just call it for what it really is?

When Suzanne Erickson takes Kim aside down at the court house and blows Jimmy’s involvement with Lalo Salamanca wide open (most likely derived from Jimmy’s slip-up in the premiere), the moral hypocrisy for both Jimmy and Kim truly presents itself. The way Suzanne correctly retraces Jimmy’s history with the Salamanca associates is a fantastic display of continuity. After all, Suzanne’s season 2 introduction to the show was as Tuco’s prosecutor, in which Jimmy held a meeting with so Mike can take the heat for Tuco’s illegal gun charge. That’s enough for Suzanne to do a little digging and realize Jimmy has also represented Ignacio Varga earlier in the first season. Kim is wise to Suzanne as it sounds clear that she’s building a case against Jimmy. Suzanne counters that with an offer to help Jimmy as she believes his dealings with the Salamancas might not be sinister, but just Jimmy getting in over his head and possibly threatened. She promises Kim that there will be no blowback on Jimmy if he’s to help in the investigation as to why Salamanca’s associates are popping up all over Albuquerque, but Kim takes offense.

Back in season 4, when Suzanne was defending the plain clothes detective who was hit over the head with a bag of sandwiches by Huell, she referred to Jimmy as a scumbag lawyer who peddles drop-phones for criminals. Kim makes a fair point that Suzanne may not have Jimmy’s best interests in mind and that having Jimmy choose to rat out a client, even if deceased, is not a career move he should make. Lalo may be “dead” but fishing to see if Jimmy will take the bait as to how Lalo was so conveniently set free, is seen as a trap to Kim. Suzanne has good arguments though especially when stressing the severity of Lalo’s crime, having murdered a 22 year old kid. How can Kim justify sabotaging Howard because it’s doing the right thing in the end, when she actively turns a blind eye to a young man’s murder? She seems more preoccupied in defending the namesake of Saul than anything else. Can’t Kim just admit that her choices to hurt Howard are more selfishly cruel rather than selflessly noble?

What’s most interesting about Suzanne’s final summation of Jimmy is that despite the bad run-ins she’s had with him in the past, she believes that underneath all his showiness, he’s a lawyer and a human being who knows what’s right. Ever since the beginning of Better Call Saul, characters have called Jimmy out for how they see him and no matter how much he paddled against the current of the man they claim him to be, he becomes that man. Slippin’ Jimmy. The type of lawyer guilty people hire. Morally flexible. A chimp with a machine gun. Fold that all into one and you get Saul Goodman, who has now readily embraced every trait. But as we have seen so far this season, Jimmy is visibly conflicted with taking Howard down in the fashion they are going forward with. Even when he defended Lalo in court, he was completely beside himself. The way Jimmy handles moral conflict is he bottles it up and allows his soul to deteriorate. He doesn’t know any other way, but he certainly feels remorse before he swallows it. What if Suzanne is projecting Jimmy McGill’s redemption? What if there’s hope for Jimmy and she’s actually seeing the good in him and the potential for him to change, even if it takes place late into the Gene years?

Or is Kim the one who’s going to corrupt and snuff out any chance of redemption for Jimmy’s soul? When Jimmy comes home, she reveals the news of Lalo’s death which Jimmy has to pretend is a surprise to him. Kim has met an unusual adversary in Suzanne as for once it’s someone unattached from the McGill brother drama (which Howard falls under) who is actually speaking the truth of Jimmy’s predicament without ego or strong-arming Kim to think a certain way. She simply presents Kim with the facts and what’s right and gives Jimmy the benefit of the doubt on his character. Jimmy and Kim are left to really look at themselves and determine where their values lie. Should Jimmy be a rat on a deceased client or continue to be a friend of the cartel?

Back when Jimmy first disclosed his involvement on a cartel case, it was something Jimmy considered something he didn’t want to tell Kim but chose to anyway based on their marriage agreement. It took some wheels to turn in her head, but Kim begrudgingly accepted this. Then she was frightened for his life when he was about to embark on a trip to the border to retrieve Lalo’s bail money and rightfully so. After her fears of danger were confirmed, you’d think any further association with the cartel would be something to stray from, but perhaps it’s not so much a moral decision as it is a logical one. Who knows who Lalo’s associates are and if word got out that Saul ratted on one of their own, Kim and Jimmy would have to go on in life always looking over their shoulder. Ultimately the choice is up to Jimmy, but how much influence does Kim have on him? Look who they have become. Is it too late? It seems like Jimmy would love to relieve his conscience and bring closure to Fred Whalen’s grieving family, but being a rat? Either way, it’s a rock and a hard place and lets not forget Lalo lives.

Other things to note:

-The cold open is host to the most mysterious style of camerawork ever performed across both shows. If the universe had something to say, how can it tell you? The slow pullbacks, the deliberate stop and start of the camera’s panning as it changes directions is poetic and mesmerizing. The blue flower blooming in the dry desert terrain accompanied by rolling thunder and the pitter patter of rain on the shard of glass… If only we knew what happened here. Now that we do, it’s all the more beautiful. Perhaps there’s hope for all these characters no matter how bad things get. Even in death.