I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the latest episode of Better Call Saul.
Of course, like every other episode this season and for most of the show’s run, it was in many ways brilliant and powerful. On the other hand, the narrative whiplash was a bit jarring. I can’t tell if what happened was a rushed leap into the next phase of the story, or if we’re meant to feel this way. I hope we’ll be eased into Jimmy’s final transformation a bit more in the last few episodes of the season, because as it stands, well, I didn’t expect any of this to go down quite like it did.
Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) are dealing with the aftermath of their actions after the shocking death of Howard Hamlin. As much as Jimmy doesn’t want to admit it—and vocally denies it more than once—it was their choices that led to Howard (Patrick Fabian) showing up at their apartment when Lalo (Tony Dalton) also appeared and the tragic, murderous consequences that followed.
Their baffling harassment campaign against Howard—which was designed not to kill him but to destroy his reputation and ruin his life—along with Jimmy’s involvement with the cartels and Kim keeping Lalo’s survival a secret all conspired to create this perfect storm. They didn’t pull the trigger, but they may as well have. When Mike (Jonathan Banks) goes over what they need to do next and tells them that they need to just keep up the lies they started in the first place, you can tell he’s more than a little disgusted by them both.
In any case, they do an okay job that first day. They hold it together. They call the police and tell them he stopped by acting all drugged out. They follow Mike’s instructions perfectly. But when they come home, you can see it: A gulf has opened up between them, a yawning void of silence and sadness and guilt. It’s similar to the way the ground opens up between parents of a lost child, that impossible grief splitting even the most loving couple apart. Similar, but not the same. This is a wedge of shame rather than grief.
Jimmy is hopeful and eager to put the whole thing behind them until he finds out what Kim has done the next day. So wracked with guilt over her actions, she abandons law entirely and resigns from the Bar Association. She can’t even continue trials she’s currently working on. At first, Jimmy is angry, then the pleading starts. He tells her they’ll pack up and leave this tainted apartment and go pull an all-nighter writing letters to the Bar and to her clients. They can pick up the pieces, he thinks, fix the broken things—until he walks into their room and sees that she’s already packed.
It’s over. “We’re bad for each other,” Kim tells Jimmy. Alone they’re each okay, but together they’re poison and they hurt everyone they come into contact with. She’s not wrong. Without Jimmy in her life, Kim never would have dreamed of pulling the Howard con. And if Kim had been honest with Jimmy during that con, he would have insisted they call it all off. Howard would still be alive. His wife—who we’ll talk about in a minute—would not be a widow. Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill would not be downsizing and changing its name. “The end of an era,” as one lawyer puts it. In their bizarre and ill-considered plot for petty revenge, Jimmy and Kim laid waste to far more than they bargained for.
“I love you,” Jimmy pleads. “I love you, too,” she replies. “But so what?” And she leaves. And then we get the time-jump.
We get the time-jump to the exact moment I wrote about previously. To the precise location I said this show needed to take us. I noted in that piece that the Saul of Breaking Bad and the Saul of Better Call Saul remained—even this late in the game—two entirely different characters.
Breaking Bad Saul was slimey, obsessed with money, a dirtbag lawyer with no compassion for the downtrodden and no sense of joy or passion for life.
Better Call Saul Saul, on the other hand, has been—up to this point—a flawed but ultimately likable guy who certainly plays fast and loose with ethical and moral considerations, but who still tries to do the right thing. He cares about people. He feels love and he’s not really in this for the money—he’s in it for the ride.
So here’s where we’re at: After five and a half seasons and two more episodes we have finally jumped from Jimmy to Saul entirely. Up to now, even when Jimmy was becoming Saul he was still—at his core—Jimmy. Kim leaves and a time jump happens and now Jimmy is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Only Saul remains. And Saul has—almost entirely off-screen—grown and twisted into something uglier and greedier.
He’s no longer recognizable as Jimmy McGill. The Saul at the end of Season 6, Episode 9—aptly called “Fun And Games”—is Breaking Bad’s Saul. At the beginning of the episode he was Better Call Saul’s Saul.
This is, in my opinion, too jarring a transformation. I suspect we will see more of it in the remaining episodes. But there are only four remaining, which isn’t many to show us Jimmy’s final fall from grace (or whatever grace-adjacent place Jimmy inhabited). The skill of the writers, directors and producers (not to mention the cast) is such that I have every faith they will make it work, but at the same time I’m a little surprised at how long it’s taken us to get here. It’s like if Breaking Bad only really delved into Walter’s true wickedness in its final four episodes.
Of course, in that show Walter (Bryan Cranston) breaks bad from the very first episode and rides that downward spiral season after season, never flinching too long from a new transgression, motivated always by his perpetually wounded pride. Jimmy’s journey has been more subtle and in many ways more believable because of it, but I can’t help but wonder if the show dragged its feet a little too much, or spent too much time following the exploits of its wider cast. As much as I truly loved Nacho (Michael Mando) and his arc, and Mike’s backstory coming to life, I wonder if Better Call Saul tarried too long on the feud between Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and the Salamanca cartel, or if the long-con on Howard took a bit too long.
As I noted on Twitter, I can’t really fully assess what I think of this episode until next week’s comes out (and maybe not until the show wraps in a few more weeks). That’s the marker of a well-written show in many ways—a show that you can’t ever quite pin down, that’s constantly keeping you on your toes—but it’s also a gamble. It’s possible we get to the end of this without a satisfying conclusion. I don’t think it’s likely, but I’ve been burned before!
Elsewhere, “Fun and Games” spends a lot of time showing Mike and his crew clean up Jimmy and Kim’s apartment. Mike even goes to tell Nacho’s dad that his son is dead, and—out of compassion and almost certainly a sense of shared loss—tells him that Nacho wasn’t like the other gangsters. He was kind and thoughtful and he died quick. Then he says the Salamancas will get “justice” and Nacho’s dad just shakes his head. What Mike calls justice is just revenge. “You gangsters are all alike,” he says disdainfully and walks away. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
Finally, we come to Gus himself who, after a terrifying brush with death, makes his way to a fancy restaurant where a friendly waiter pours him a glass of something expensive and delicious then sits down next to him and starts telling stories. Gus is clearly interested in this man and the feeling seems to be mutual. Something established off-screen prior to this moment.
We know Gus’s sexual history from Breaking Bad so we know he likes men, and there’s clearly a mutual attraction here. Gus even talks about a special bottle he has saved for a special occasion, and you can feel the tension in the air as both men imagine what the special occasion might be. But when the waiter leaves to get a special bottle to show Gus, that brief moment of peace and hope and love is shattered. Gus’s face loses its shine. His eyes go dead, his expression flat and dark.
“Tell David I was called away,” he says to the bartender, dropping a few Benjamins on the bar, straightening his tie. There’s no time for fun and games when you’re a wealthy meth kingpin. No time for love, either. Gus knows perfectly well how that all ends.
Gus also makes his way to Mexico at one point to meet with the head of the Cartel and have a little meeting over the Lalo situation. Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) is convinced that Lalo’s assassination attempt was Fring’s doing and not the Peruvians, but Gus and Mike have covered their tracks. The Twins saw Lalo’s charred body, replete with convincing dental records. Neither talked with Lalo on the phone—only Hector received a call. Bank records were found in Nacho’s apartment indicating cash transfers from Peru, and Nacho himself claimed that he worked for the Peruvian cartel.
Don Eladio (Steven Bauer) dismisses Hector’s claims and laughs at his constant ‘ding ding ding-ing.’ But when he gets up to leave he tells Gustavo, “When I look into your I eyes I see your hate.” He warns him that a little of that goes a long, but he should be careful that it not rule him.
After all, it’s all fun and games until your bitter, handicapped rival teams up with a brilliant chemist and blows your face off.
All told, another terrific episode of Better Call Saul that certainly has me on the edge of my seat to find out just what happens between Kim leaving and where this episode ends up to turn Jimmy into the kind of guy who would buy a massive, lavish, gaudy mansion, hire hookers and turn his well-appointed law office into . . . what it becomes by the time Walter and Jesse (Aaron Paul) walk through its doors. The time-jump was jarring, but so long as we get some fill-in-the-blanks I think it’s going to be okay.
I’m just still a little puzzled on why they decided to leave all of this to the bitter end. Maybe it was to avoid aping Breaking Bad too much. Then again, this was always set up as a similar story. Sure, Jimmy was a crook from episode 1, but he was not the kind of crook Saul is. But that’s not any different than Walter. He may have been a teacher and not a criminal in the beginning, but he was still ruled by his prickly, oversized ego even then. Jimmy was never a man ruled by pride, so his downfall takes a different shape, that’s all.
I do like that Kim just . . . leaves. We’ve all been guessing for so long. Would she go to jail? Would she die? Would she run away and disappear in some new life? No. It turns out she just breaks it off with Jimmy, quits her career, and moves on. She probably needs a lot of therapy. Don’t we all?
What did you think of this episode? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook.