Better Call Saul recap: Hank is dead, long live Hank
Hank Schrader is alive in the past (and in our hearts) as a new client tests Saul's wheeling and dealing abilities.
Last week’s episode of Better Call Saul ended with a miniature tragedy when Jimmy McGill, trying to enjoy a well-deserved break amid a grueling day of Saul-Goodman-ing, was forced to drop everything (including a barely-eaten ice cream cone) and attend to business for his pushy, criminal clientele. But as we learn right away in this week’s episode, one man’s tragedy is another man’s treasure! Especially if the other man isn’t a man at all, but an enterprising ant who just found the motherlode of sugary goodness slowly melting on an Albuquerque sidewalk.
We start with just one ant, who boldly ascends to the peak of the upside-down ice cream cone in National Geographic-style extreme closeup while a haunting alpine melody begins to play. Then, the soundtrack’s lone yodeler is joined by friends… and so is the ant. One ant becomes dozens, the dozens become hundreds, then thousands; it’s a feeding frenzy, the ants crawling all over each other’s exoskeletal bodies, eating, screaming (sidenote, do ants really scream while they eat? Do they scream ever?). Shot up close like a nature documentary, the whole thing is fascinating — but then the camera zooms out, and fascination becomes revulsion. The sidewalk is writhing.
Meanwhile, while the ants are creating their own miniature homage to Hereditary, Jimmy is literally trapped in the backseat of Nacho’s car, which is full of shiny things — including but not limited to the driver’s teeth and a very chrome-plated pistol. A short drive later, he’s meeting Lalo Salamanca for the first time, and finding out to his relief that he’s being hired, not murdered.
“For a minute there I thought I was going to be swallowing condoms filled with heroin,” Jimmy jokes. The gang wants him to deliver a message to Krazy 8 in lockup, and you can truly understand in this moment how the Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad wasn’t an intentional choice by Jimmy so much as something that just kind of happened to him, the sort of person a man becomes when he’s always been his own worst enemy. When Jimmy tells Lalo that his rates have gone up, it feels as much like a ploy to get out of the job as a play for a big payday. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. But after he stumbles his way to a quote for a day’s work— “Seven… thousand… eight, nine, hundred… 25?” — Lalo hands him $8,000 then and there. And what’s he gonna do? Throw it on the ground?
While Jimmy gets back in bed with the meth lords, Mike Ehrmantraut is having his own hard time. In the last episode, he was snapping at his granddaughter; now, he’s drinking heavily and without pleasure, like obliterating himself is just a job to be done. As he downs another whiskey, he fixates on a postcard behind the bar, a picture of the Sydney Opera House — the feat of impossible engineering that Werner Ziegler once told Mike his father worked on. He wants the barman to take it down, asking, then demanding, and then crumbling: “Please,” he says.
It’s not hard to put two and two together: Ziegler took the job that cost him his life because he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Mike’s son did the same. But Mike can’t drink the pain away; as always, the only thing that makes him feel better is to hurt someone who deserves it. Later that night, he walks home through the kind of neighborhood most of us would take an Uber to avoid; you get the sense that he’s chosen this route because he’s hoping someone will try to tangle with him, and indeed, someone does. A gang of men approach Mike. One demands his money. He lands exactly one punch before Mike casually takes him down and dislocates his arm, and even then, I think it’s only because Mike intentionally didn’t duck.
And speaking of being tormented by the past: this episode does, indeed, include the much-hyped and glorious return of Hank Schrader to the Breaking Bad universe. Even before he says a word or shows his face, you’d know that belly anywhere.
Hank and Steve are on-site to meet with Krazy 8, who tells the skeptical agents that he has information about the location of dead drops where drug money can be found. But before he can say anything, his attorney barrels into the room — and this scene, it turns out, is where Hank Schrader and Saul Goodman first met! (Like Titanic! But better!)
“S’all good, man!” Hank cackles. “Really? That’s your name?”
Thanks to the efforts of his attorney (and the information about the dead drops, which has clearly been fed to him by Lalo via Jimmy), Krazy 8 strikes a deal with the DEA. Jimmy delivers the news to Lalo, but unhappily: he knows his client is being used, and he knows he is, too. As Nacho drops him off at the courthouse, he discovers the remains of his ice cream cone: decimated, still swarming with ants, and quite the visual metaphor for a promising day gone very wrong.
Which, by the way, is exactly the kind of day Kim has had. At the start of the episode, we saw her celebrating a minor victory: her next workday will be devoted entirely to pro bono clients, with no obligations to her soul-killing corporate gig. But she’s barely arrived in court when she’s interrupted with urgent Mesa Verde business, and her boss insists it can’t wait. The contrast couldn’t be starker: instead of spending her day as a white knight for the underprivileged, she has to play the villainous corporate enforcer. An old man named Acker has refused to leave his house after Mesa Verde took possession of it (one of those land-lease things that’s technically legal but incredibly cruel), and while Kim begins by trying to make a deal, she ends up shouting at him: the law is what it is, all his neighbors complied, and why should he get to make up his own rules?
“Put on your big boy pants, and deal with it,” she snaps.
But she doesn’t feel good about it. So, several hours later, she returns to Acker’s house — this time with some real estate listings. She knows what’s happening to him is terrible, she says. She wants to help. She tells him about how her own mother, who never owned anything, used to shake her awake and make her run outside barefoot, in the middle of the night, in the dead of winter, so that they could skip out on the rent. She says she understands: if she’d had a home like he does, she’d never want to leave.
The old man stares at her.
“You’ll say anything to get what you want, won’t you,” he says, and shuts the door in her face.
Ouch, but he’s not wrong. This is what Jimmy and Kim have in common, after all — and it’s not even, arguably, a bad thing. That ruthlessness has been vital to both their success; sometimes it’s been the only thing that saved them.
He’s waiting for her on their balcony when she gets back, a flip of the previous scene where they shared a sixpack and talked about their respective days. But this time, instead of drinking her beer, Kim pitches it into the parking lot. Smash! She grabs another, throws that one. Crash! Jimmy throws one, too. And as lights start to come on in the apartment complex across the street, the duo giggle and run back inside — still in it together, at least for now. Because after a long, difficult day of morally-compromising work, it’s awfully nice to come home to someone who loves you just as you are.
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