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Heading into the season finale, Better Call Saul serves up multiple crises

Mark Margolis as Don Hector Salamanca
Photo: Nicole Wilder (AMC/Sony Pictures)
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One more episode to go in this season, and the pieces are being moved into place for some explosive developments. The creative team isn’t interested in letting us take a breath and wait for the inevitable. Kim actively, and Nacho passively, are coming to their own crisis points where they will have to declare for a certain kind of future. And unlike the cases of Jimmy, Mike, and Gus, we haven’t seen and do not know what that future must be.


Kim first. (Kim always. Kim forever.) She sure executes that con on the planning board of the city of Lubbock with practiced ease and no apparent scruples. The ka-chunk of the approval stamp on each page of the swapped-out plans, right before the credits roll, is the high point of the episode when it comes to sheer delight. This scene is the inverse of the Coushatta caper in one way: What was far too expensive and time-consuming to do by the book (get approval for a more eye-catching design for the Lubbock Mesa Verde branch, along the lines of the one at Tucumcari, like Kevin wanted) can still get done by circumventing those procedures with a little light role-playing. But it’s also Kim applying the exact methodology of Coushatta in another way: If you want something, do the leg work. Take a road trip, go straight to the weak spot, stick your leverage in, and put some weight behind it.

But she isn’t quite willing to see this two-person act as anything more than an expedient for particular situations. “I think we should use our powers for good,” she declares. And what is good? “Like Potter Stewart said, we’ll know it when we see it.” Jimmy indulges her, because he’s about to get his law license back! Just one more hurdle, one more hearing. He’s got his professional face on, he’s charming them with his humility about working at the cell phone store (“You don’t have to sell that many phones to get into the Silver Circle, believe me”), he dazzles them with knowledge about Crawford v. Washington, he moves them with his story of making it past the bar with a correspondence-school law degree.

But then he blows it all when they ask him one last question: Is he influenced by anyone in particular? And until Kim zeroes in on that moment, he can’t even see what they were trying to get him to say: “What does Chuck have to do with this?” That’s how thoroughly he has put his brother out of his conscious mind, even though everything he does still emerges from his bitterness toward Chuck and aims at pissing on Chuck’s grave. The tragedy of James McGill is that he has thoroughly internalized the fatalism he ascribes to others. Because he couldn’t make Chuck see him as anything other than Slippin’ Jimmy, he believes that everyone else ultimately sees him the same way, so why even try to be anything else? Even Kim, who loves him, gets blindsided by the thinness of his self-esteem. “You think I’m some kind of lowlife, some kind of lawyer guilty people hire,” he rages after she pinpoints why his license was withheld. “You look at me and you see Slippin’ Jimmy!” It’s like if Oedipus obsessed over the oracle’s prophecy instead of believing he escaped it, suspecting every day that the courtesy and deference of the people of Thebes was a sham, and that behind closed doors they were all waiting for him to murder Dad and marry Mom so they could congratulate each other for knowing all along.

In Gus’s world, Eduardo (“Call me Lalo”) visits Los Pollos Hermanos to offer a business opportunity: Form an alliance against Don Eladio. The boss is playing the Salamancas and Fring against each other, letting the jealousy and ambition of each keep them in line, but they could frustrate his control and put themselves in a mutually better position by teaming up. It’s a power play on the Salamancas’ part, of course, as we saw when Eduardo visited Hector and gave him his signature bell while reminiscing about a hotel they burned down when its owner crossed them. “I’m satisfied with the current arrangement,” Fring hisses, and it’s as good as a declaration of hostilities for Lalo, who tosses his Los Pollos cup out the window as they peel out of the lot on the way to Gus’s chicken farm/drug transfer point. But Gus has a man on the inside, and next week he’s likely to call on Nacho to undermine Lalo — or worse.


What Gus doesn’t yet know is that Mike’s confidence in Werner was misplaced. Checking on a faulty connection at a demolition, Werner nearly collapses, shaking and hyperventilating out of sight of the team. Later he begs Mike for a chance to fly home to Germany for a few days to be with his wife; it’s the longest they’ve been apart in 26 years of marriage. “Finish the job,” Mike tells him, and then he’ll never have to leave her again. He promises Werner an extra phone call the next day, and gives him a personal pep talk: “Hang in there, my friend.” His German-speaking surveillance guy listens in on the call and doesn’t hear anything more ominous than a new puppy and a trip to Baden-Baden. But when Mike pops back into the trailer during the overnight shift, his vague worries start to solidify: a dead pixel on one camera, a voltage spike that knocked out another for a few seconds. And then a glance outside, to the manhole cover that Tyrus’s truck masked during the demolition, confirms it for him. Werner has bolted. Gus has got a big loose end hanging out there, and it’s Mike’s responsibility.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill
Photo: Nicole Wilder (AMC/Sony Pictures)

We leave Mike and Kim facing situations they didn’t choose, involving people that they did. A man who’s done something rash, dangerous, fracturing a relationship that Mike had counted on; and a man who’s threatening to do something rash, dangerous, because he thinks he’s ruined a relationship that he’d been counting on. If I had to guess, I’d bet on Mike to blame himself for letting a friendship develop, and to bring the hammer down all the harder because of the betrayal. But it sounds like Kim wants to find a way to bring Jimmy back based on his desire to be a lawyer. That’s where they forged their alliance, and without that commonality, their relationship lacks a tether. What kind of lawyer can Jimmy be, and how will that change the kind of lawyer Kim is able to be alongside him?

The answers will be painful. But if the Lubbock lark is any indication, we’re going to have a grand time in between the sobbing.


Stray observations:

  • At the Lubbock city planner’s office, Jimmy plays Phil, a parrothead-tee-wearing ne’er-do-well with a Wrangler, who is helping out with eight-month-old Aiden while “Elizabeth” is hobbled by a trail-running injury. My favorite throw-away moment from their performance is the scolding tone of Shirley, the municipal employee, when Kim totters past them: “Go get the baby, Phil! Help her!”
  • Lalo is quite the foodie, whipping up a plate of shrimp last week and rhapsodizing over Los Pollos chicken this week (“crispy, but not dried out, and the seasoning!”).
  • That look Gus gives Nacho, prompting a weary “what can you do” shrug, suggests that their alliance could be about more than fear and desperation.
  • I love how Jimmy keeps repeating, with complete sincerity and wonder, that the mobile phone business has given him “a new perspective on client relations.” The big question for him as a lawyer has always been where he develops his business. He throws in Kim’s fact that she believes he’s a lawyer for guilty people, but he forgets in the heat of the moment that she’s made herself a lawyer for guilty people too. Not like Jimmy’s underworld crew, maybe, but she knows that people who’ve done something wrong are most in need of a good advocate.
  • It never occurred to me that Jimmy wouldn’t get his license back. I feel better knowing that it never occurred to Kim either. She preps for the big moment by painting “AGAIN” in red nail polish on his “World’s Best Lawyer” tumbler, and wrapping up a monogrammed briefcase.
  • After everything Kai has done wrong — including cheating at volleyball somehow — Werner’s the one who puts the operation in jeopardy. He’s not cut out for such shadowy business.
  • Jimmy really takes it hard that Kim doesn’t want to share an office with him again as Wexler-McGill. When he throws that in her face, bringing her up short and flinching as she realizes how much he’s been stewing over that practical detail, it’s a great portrayal of the kind of person who never lets go of any perceived slight.
  • “Credit where credit is due. University of American Samoa! Go Land Crabs!”

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About the author

Donna Bowman

Donna descends from her ivory tower every year or two to recap any TV show Vince Gilligan decides to set in Albuquerque.