Better Call Saul recap: This is dedicated to the one I love
The last time we saw Mike Ehrmantraut, he was regaining consciousness on a goat farm in Mexico with a scabby stab wound in his guts and no memory of how he got there. Seem familiar? It should! Not because we've all woken up stabbed on a Mexican goat farm (although honestly, who among us has not), but because we've been here before — or rather, we will be, when the Better Call Saul prequel timeline catches up to the well-trod events from Breaking Bad. This is the south-of-the-border compound where Dr. Barry Goodman (no relation to Saul) maintains a medical facility at the pleasure of Gustavo Fring, and where, eventually, Gus will be given emergency treatment after taking bloody vengeance on the cartel bosses who murdered his partner Max Arciniega. You should remember Max, too. Certainly, Gus does. There's a gorgeous, aesthetically incongruous fountain in the compound's village square, sleek and black and fine-edged amid the clay-colored stucco huts and the chickens scratching in the dirt. The water spills from top to bottom before being drawn again to its origin point, and there's an engraved plaque that doubles as an episode title: Dedicado a Max.
This series has always loved to load up a scene with symbolism, and here, it's unmissable. A great deal of history has led us to this place— and from this place, this moment, a series of cascading tragedies will someday flow.
But for now, let's leave Mike in Mexico (hey, he's in good hands!), and return to Albuquerque, where Jimmy is throwing all his energy into keeping Mesa Verde from breaking ground on their call center. It's a day-by-day process: faking a mislabeled address on the construction permit one day, seeding the ground with radioactive dirt the next. Every safety check, every motion, every radio show call-in about a smudge in Mr. Acker's fence that looks like the face of Jesus, means a delay of at least a day; every delay is a financial hit for Mesa Verde. Jimmy is so busy making mischief that he barely has time to field a call from an anxious Howard, who's really, really ready to give him that job at HHM. (Sidenote: I don't know if this job offer, which Jimmy clearly won't take, is going to become significant later on, but the image of Howard Hamlin sitting at home with his feet up next to a Tibetan singing bowl is more than worth whatever it cost to produce that scene. Namaste, everyone.)
Meanwhile, working together to torpedo Mesa Verde is great for Jimmy and Kim's relationship — and for Kim's idea of herself as the kind of person who looks out for the little guy. She's so caught up in the idea of forcing the call center to relocate that it's Jimmy who suggests that it might be time to stop. They gave it their best shot. The only option left would be to go after Kevin Wachtell himself, which Jimmy cautions against: "Gets nasty, gets personal, gets dangerous.”
But nasty, personal, and dangerous is what Kim wants. With Mike still in Mexico ("Are you in a tunnel?" Jimmy asks, confused), the two are forced to hire a new guy, known only to them as Mister X (The Walking Dead's Steven Ogg, showing up here with an absolutely glorious beard.) Mister X arrives to their meeting with some bad news: Kevin is a big, bald boy scout. No skeletons in his closet! Mister X knows, because he looked. In Kevin's closet, I mean. Because he broke into Kevin's house. Because Mister X is, whoops, actually crazy. Kim and Jimmy send him packing, but not before one of the photos he took of Kevin's office makes her grin.
This is the problem: Kim's heart is obviously in this quest to undermine her client, and she's not hiding it well enough. Back at the office, Rich tells her she ought to step back from Mesa Verde — and when she asks why, he makes it clear that he sees the truth. This leads to a public confrontation, as Kim challenges him in front of the entire office, a loss of control she'll surely have to pay for down the line. And will it be worth it? If Kim succeeds in killing the call center, will she be able to live with herself?
This is the question that we're tackling over and over this season, from multiple angles; every character, from Kim to Howard to Mike to Jimmy, is trying to balance his or her karmic scales after doing something that left them unsettled. For some, the mere act of trying may prove to be enough. For others, "enough" is a fantasy.
And then, of course, there's Gus Fring.
Mike has gotten more comfortable during his convalescence, and with comfort comes old patterns. He's a fixer, after all. Not just by trade, but by nature. He's repairing a rotted window sash in his housekeeper's ancient house when he hears a familiar voice outside and finds Gus Fring in the village square. He asks: why? Why is Gus still monitoring him, spiriting him away to Mexico for medical care— and why does Gus anonymously fund this compound? Is the good supposed to make up for the bad?
“Is that supposed to balance the scales?” Mike asks
But Gus is a different kind of man — and unlike virtually everyone else in this story, he's fully at peace with that.
“It makes up for nothing," he says. "I am what I am."
And being what he is, he has a different drive — a different balance that he's seeking, and one he wants Mike by his side for because he thinks it's a concept that Mike understands.
“Understand what?” Mike asks. The response is one word.