A pair of faded high-tops dangle from a power line strung over a lonely highway, bathed in tangerine light. The sun is rising in the desert where New Mexico and Mexico meet — and where a Los Pollos Hermanos truck rumbles past a shot-up octagonal sign that reads ALTO, rather than STOP. The weathered laces of the hanging sneakers give way, as they tumble to the ground. And if you’re thinking that the opening shot of this week’s Better Call Saul feels very, very Breaking Bad, you’re right, and there’s a reason for that.
But first, Mike Ehrmantraut has to take a phone call from destiny.
After tracking his gas cap to a lonely highway outside Albuquerque, Mike finally meets the man whose acquaintanceship will shape the rest of his life: Gus Fring steps out of an SUV, as Mike holds up the note from his windshield that reads, simply, “DON’T.”
“You care to elaborate?” he asks. But Gus has his own questions, namely, why Mike wants Hector Salamanca dead. What ensues is a fascinating non-exchange of information, in which each man deduces the other’s motives without ever admitting his own; the conversation we see is like a PR stunt by Gus and Mike™, while the real Gus and Mike retreated to a hidden dimension and sat down for five minutes of Real Talk.
Says Gus, “I can’t allow you to kill Hector. However, I am not completely unsympathetic to your sense of justice.”
Says Mike, “You want to disrupt his supply line. Hector’s your competition.”
Why, gentlemen, I believe we have an understanding.
Meanwhile, Jimmy sits on the curb outside Chuck’s house and smokes a cigarette, waiting for the police to arrive and arrest him. Chuck hovers nearby, bleating, “This is an opportunity! That’s why I’m doing this, not to punish you, but to show you that you have to make a change before it’s too late!”
Jimmy’s response would be scathing, except that he delivers it with such matter-of-fact sadness.
“Here’s what’s gonna happen,” he says. “One day you’re gonna get sick, again. One of your employees is gonna find you curled up under that space blanket and take you to the hospital, hook you up to those machines that beep and whir and hurt. And this time it’ll be too much, and you will… die there. Alone.” He pauses, looks up, as a cop car pulls into view.
“Here’s my ride.”
While Jimmy is being fingerprinted and dressed in head-to-toe jailhouse orange (and angling for his old frenemy Oakley from the DA’s office to take his case), Kim emerges from a refreshing gym shower to find Ernie waiting for her, again, with bad news, again. She makes it to the courthouse just in time for Jimmy’s initial hearing — the charges include a felony, which is decidedly un-good — but he insists on representing himself. Hours later, back at their shared office, he explains that this is a mess he wants to clean up himself, without letting her be dragged into it. His speech goes on for a solid minute; Kim’s response is one word. “Okay.”
As Francesca prepares to drive Jimmy to retrieve his car from outside Chuck’s house, he assures her, “This isn’t a typical week around here.” (That sound you hear is every Breaking Bad fan in the universe cackling with prescient glee.)
And speaking of Breaking Bad, here’s this week’s Easter egg for the superfans: A door opens, a bell rings, and the camera settles on a wheelchair.
This chair is empty, though; we’re in a Mexican doctor’s office, where Mike is the only white guy waiting to be seen. He needs a package of something “yea big,” something you’d ordinarily measure in grams. And just sit tight, kiddos, because this next bit is a trademark Better Call Saul slow burn. We return to the setting of the first scene: the lonely road, the ALTO sign. But the sign has no bullet holes in it, and the sneakers that were hanging from the power line are being unwrapped, brand new, by Mike himself. The camera lingers on Mike as he tries and fails to sling the shoes over the wire (duly noted: our favorite impervious bad-ass is only human, after all), and it’s clear that this episode’s opening shot takes place far, far in the future — long after Gus Fring has claimed a monopoly on the regional drug-running industry. But what’s with the sneakers?
Approximately three hours later (or maybe it was five minutes, but it felt LONG, okay?), Mike is watching the road, gun in hand. The Salamanca ice cream drug truck arrives, the drivers stop to drop their guns, and Mike fires — not at them, but into the air, and not once, but several times. Assuming the distant gunfire belongs to hunters, Salamanca’s men don’t think twice when another shot rings out; they also don’t notice that the dangling sneakers above their truck have just sprung a leak, depositing a discreet dusting of something powdery all over the rear fender. Is this going to be a problem for them when they reach the U.S. border, with its drug-sniffing K-9 cops?…Why, yes. Yes, it is.
And that’s it for Mike Ehrmantraut, for today; the rest of this episode is all Jimmy, who learns to his dismay that an outside DA will be prosecuting his case since all his former Albuquerque colleagues had to recuse themselves. But after the DA meets with Chuck, something peculiar happens: Jimmy receives an offer of pre-prosecution diversion, which would be a gift under most circumstances. He’ll avoid jail, his record will stay clean, and all he has to do is admit, in writing, to having committed all the offenses he’s charged with… including the felony, which will certainly get him disbarred.
This is Chuck’s endgame; says Jimmy, “I thought he wanted me in jail; he just wants my law license.”
The bad news is, Jimmy can’t fight this alone.
The good news is, he’s not alone. Kim is insistent this time; she’s going to represent him, and together, they’ll fight. He resists; why would she take this risk?
“Let’s just call it the fallacy of sunk costs,” Kim says, taking his hand. And while it’s a sweet gesture — after all, we’re all still rooting for Jimmy in spite of ourselves, and despite knowing what’s coming — it also feels like a turning point. Kim plays it like a joke, but is this it? Is this the moment when she should have gotten out, and didn’t?
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