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?