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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?