“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?
-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?