Better Call Saul recap: 'Breathe'
Better Call Saul kicked off its fourth season with a heavy focus on its main man, but this week, we got an episode bracketed with tales from the Albuquerque criminal underworld. For those who wondered how Hector Salamanca would go from stroked-out-and-comatose to using a wheelchair in Breaking Bad, here’s a hint: where Hector ends up is exactly where Gus Fring wants him. As “Breathe” kicks off, the old man lies unresponsive in a dark room while Dr. Barry Goodman conducts a medical exam by flashlight. The verdict: it’s a coma from which Hector is unlikely to recover — and maybe that’s for the best.
“Isn’t this what he deserves?” Goodman asks. But Gus, answering through gritted teeth, makes it clear that this isn’t the ending he had in mind for Don Hector.
“I decide what he deserves,” says Gus. “No one else.”
The implications of that statement will come home to roost soon enough (psst, are you worried about Nacho right now? ‘Cause you should be!). But first, let’s check in on Jimmy McGill, who’s up at the crack of dawn to squeeze his ladyfriend a fresh glass of OJ and then hit the road for some job interviews. Jimmy is in good spirits, solicitous and cheerful — in other words, still not acting at all like a guy whose brother just died. And he’s in peak form: at his first interview, for a sales position at a mom and pop photocopier outfit, he wows the management so thoroughly that they offer him a job on the spot. The only thing left for Jimmy to do? Line it up, and then blow it to pieces.
“Are you out of your mind?” he says, shifting from exuberant to sneering in a split second. “You don’t know me. I just came in off the street! I could be a serial killer! I could be a guy who pees in your coffee pot! I could be both!”
The managers, utterly thrown, stare at Jimmy, who looks disgusted.
“Suckers,” he snaps. “I feel sorry for you.”
Jimmy is on the road all day (presumably doing some version of this set-em-up, knock-em-down routine with more employers along the way), which means that Kim is the one showing up on Jimmy’s behalf to the settling of Chuck’s estate. The only other guest is Rebecca, who witnesses the awkwardness as Howard outlines the insulting terms of Chuck’s will: Jimmy gets five thousand dollars (the amount you leave someone if you want to snub them without having the will contested), anything he wants from Chuck’s house (hard pass), and a handwritten note (contents undisclosed but we’ll wager it’s not a love letter). Kim is firm until Rebecca leaves.
Then, she’s incandescent with rage.
She doesn’t just yell at Howard; she dismantles him, taking him to task for every lousy thing he’s done, from “offering” Jimmy the chance to paw through the burned-out house, to laying the truth about Chuck’s suicide in his lap just to make himself feel better. (Sidenote: Rhea Seehorn is stunning in this scene, highlighting not just the depth of Kim’s loyalty but also her range. It’s like she’s been keeping herself tightly leashed through three whole seasons so that we can be awed by the spectacle of her finally turning it up to eleven.)
Back at the apartment, Kim doesn’t tell Jimmy about Chuck’s letter, and Jimmy doesn’t tell Kim about how he almost became a photocopier salesman, and despite an intimate moment, you can feel the weight of unsaid things starting to press in on them. Later, unable to sleep, Jimmy gets up and begins searching antique sites for information on Hummel figurines — and discovers that the Bavarian boy trinket he saw at the photocopier outfit is worth nearly nine thousand dollars. His next call? Mike, of course. And just like that, a new con is in the works. (Hopefully, Mike can pull this off between visits to Madrigal’s seven remaining facilities, where he will presumably sign seven more birthday cards and go for seven more joyrides on warehouse golf carts.)
Meanwhile, Gus has pulled out all the stops to assert control over Hector Salamanca’s fate, including securing a grant so that a doctor from Johns Hopkins can nurse him back to health. (The episode’s best moment of levity comes when Nacho and Arturo end up gathered in Hector’s hospital room, with the twins forcing Nacho and Arturo to chat to the comatose Hector.) But there’s also still business to attend to — including the small, unfinished matter of how Hector got into his current condition. And when Nacho and Arturo meet with Gus’ people to collect the Salamancas’ take, what seems like a successful shakedown turns deadly as they leave. In the parking lot, two long shadows descend: Gus and Victor, out for blood. Victor throws a plastic bag over Arturo’s head and cinches it with duct tape, while Nacho is forced to his knees.
“I know what you did,” Gus says, as Arturo scrabbles, fighting for air. Nacho stares, horrified, at his colleague. Gus says, “Look at me.”
Arturo’s wild eyes and open, gasping mouth are visible under the plastic. He sees Nacho as Nacho looks at Gus — and it’ll be the last thing he sees. Gus is in control, and he’s furious.
“From now on, you are mine,” Gus tells Nacho. And so, Better Call Saul connects the dots: this is how Nacho comes to be in the private employ of the proprietor of Los Pollos Hermanos. Also: it’s why Arturo never turned up in Breaking Bad. RIP, buddy. You and your peculiar hair will live on in our hearts.
Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own Vince Gilligan prequel.