Better Call Saul season premiere recap: Welcome to the Cathedral of Justice
In the Breaking Bad universe of which Better Call Saul is a part, houses have always been important. Walter White's three-bedroom ranch; Jesse Pinkman's beloved Spanish colonial; Mike's modest brick bungalow; the top-floor condo where Jimmy and Kim are eternally competing for sink space. Some of the most revealing moments in Better Call Saul come from a quick glimpse of a character at home: Howard Hamlin, for instance, is not just a man who's rich enough to own a matching quartet of mid-century Mies van der Rohe loungers that cost $7,000 apiece, he's so confident in his cleanliness (physical and otherwise) that he owns them in white leather.
In Breaking Bad, Walt's suburban home — with its modest kitchen, beige carpeting and scattered baby toys — eventually became more like his foil, standing in sharp contrast to the bad man he was becoming. In Better Call Saul, the condo Jimmy shares with Kim has started to feel too small for the three of them: Jimmy, Kim, and Saul Goodman. That might be why Jimmy's success fantasies all seem to revolve around real estate (remember him dragging Kim through that open house early last season? "Look at all this wall space!") This is a world in which, to know who a person is, you have to see where he lives.
Let us consider what it means that until now, in the opening moments of this sixth and final season of Better Call Saul, we have never, ever seen Saul Goodman's house.
At first, as per usual, we begin in black and white. But instead of checking in on Gene Takovic in Omaha, we're inside a walk-in closet in Albuquerque, where a cascade of loudly patterned neckties is falling through the frame. Slowly, the colors begin to fade in: a touch of blue. A flash of pink. Then, the whole garish rainbow. These were the clothes that made the man. Now, they're evidence, catalogued and carried away by a team of government agents.
But as the camera zooms out, it becomes clear: somewhere along the way, Saul Goodman became more than a costume that Jimmy could take on and off. Chez Goodman is a demented palace of nouveau-riche aesthetic extravagance, the polar opposite of the clean, understated elegance of Howard Hamlin's mid-century home. There's a round bed with a mirrored canopy and a faux-tiger fur duvet. There are massive reproductions of baroque fresco paintings on the walls. There is an entire pharmacy's worth of pills (note the giant box of Viagra and another of Minoxidil.) There is a bathroom alcove decked out top to bottom with gold-leaf tile, a toilet (also gold) sitting at its center like a throne.
There are a few stray signs of Jimmy McGill in this space, including a battered (and irony-laden) paperback copy of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. But there's no sign of Kim Wexler at all — and the pink thong that someone lifts gingerly off the bathtub faucet is most definitely not hers. So whatever happened to Kim, it must have happened before her husband ever bought this place.
Except: as Saul Goodman's rococo buffet is loaded into a moving truck, one of the cupboards pops open, and a familiar object rolls out. One small relic of the short and complicated marriage between Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler, a marriage whose ending is this show's most dreadful and inevitable mystery. The cap from the bottle of Zafiro Anejo tumbles off the truck and into the gutter. And there, presumably, it stays.
This concludes our brief visit to a post-Breaking Bad timeline. From here, the main plot of Better Call Saul picks up where it left off: in a hotel room in Albuquerque, as the alarm Kim set in last season's finale starts to trill.
She's been sleeping. Jimmy hasn't.
Back at their apartment, Kim fields a call from a client who needs something nice to wear for his arraignment. Jimmy, rummaging in his closet, offers up one of Saul Goodman's shiny suit jackets, but Kim pronounces it "too nice," so one of Jimmy's more subdued sport coats gets the job instead. She says he'll get it back, but a prediction: he won't. The jacket belongs to Jimmy McGill, a man who is slowly fading out of existence, one discarded piece at a time. When Kim asks about money for a taxi, Jimmy pulls down the duffel bag full of cash from Lalo Salamanca. The bullet-riddled "World's Second Best Lawyer" coffee mug she gave him is still inside. Kim picks it up, examines it… and tosses it in the trash.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, Nacho is in serious trouble. Lalo may be dead (or so he's been told), but he's still in Salamanca territory, and they know he's the one who let the mercenaries into Lalo's compound. Cyrus has arranged an escape, but not for a couple days, which leaves Nacho stuck in a seedy motel with nothing to do but wait and worry. (Side note: Nacho's hideout comes with a change of clothes, but apparently no food? Between this and the ineffectual chaos of the attempted assassination, this entire operation is one big ol' wizz down someone's leg.)
Only Gus Fring seems suspicious that the hit on Lalo might not have gone to plan, while only Mike Ehrmantraut seems to appreciate how much that plan relied on Nacho's ingenuity to ever work in the first place. And Jimmy? He's still so shaken by his encounter with Lalo that he's actually having trouble summoning his Saul Goodman persona — or feigning enthusiasm when Kim brings up their plan to force a settlement on the Sandpiper case by framing Howard Hamlin for misconduct.
"So… we're doing that?" he says.
And oh, how the tables have turned, and ahhh, so much happens in this scene. There's the part where Kim says that Saul Goodman needs a flashy car, "definitely American made" (like, say, a Cadillac with a LWYRUP vanity plate?). There's the way her eyes light up as she talks about their next move vis-a-vis Howard, the same way they do when she talks about getting justice for her pro bono clients. And look, I don't want to read too much into it, but there's also this: the restaurant where this conversation takes place has wrought-iron security gates on the windows, so that while Kim is talking, the light from outside casts an eye-catching pattern of vertical stripes on the wall just behind her. But when the camera moves outside — and more importantly, when Jimmy first arrives at the restaurant and stands looking through the window at Kim — that wrought-iron gate stands between them. Kim Wexler, in this moment, is literally behind bars.
Maybe it doesn't mean anything! Or maybe it's only meant to show us what Jimmy himself is afraid of, not a vision of the future, but his own worst nightmare.
But whatever it is, be it a premonition or a bad omen or just a trick of the light, it's not enough to make him say no — and so the con begins. Cut to: Howard Hamlin's country club. Jimmy might have been reluctant in the planning of this little scheme, but in the execution, he's on fire. When Kevin Wachtell unexpectedly appears and tries to get him thrown out of the club, Jimmy makes a scene and accuses everyone of anti-Semitic bias (the tremor in his voice as he says, "I wouldn't be a member here" is pitch perfect, the diverticulitis reference perhaps a bit much). And when Howard and Cliff Main come back mid-operation, Jimmy makes ingenious use of the locker room setting and a well-placed towel to hide in plain sight. In short, nobody suspects him when something that looks a lot like a baggie full of drugs falls out of Howard's locker.
This is just the first step in what promises to be a long, well-paced plot, so that's it for Albuquerque, for now. And if anything might throw a wrench in this plan, it's Lalo Salamanca, who is a) not dead, and b) mad as hell about the attempt on his life. With a look-alike corpse left behind to fool his family — and let us pause here to appreciate the artistry of the cousins' long, synchronized walk through the compound to discover "Lalo" dead — he's freer than ever to make his way back north, where he plans to take his revenge on Gus Fring. Only a phone call to Hector before he crosses the border gives him pause: he needs proof.
He needs Nacho.
Until next week, folks. And hey, keep the mustache and soul patch. It looks good.
Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own Vince Gilligan prequel.