“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.
-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?