Better Call Saul recap: There are good deaths and there are bad deaths
At first, this episode of Better Call Saul feels like a love letter to the stark beauty of the New Mexico desert. The wide open sky, the quivering grasses, the sun-bleached stone columns standing like pale, indifferent sentries above the spot where a single flower blooms. The camera wanders slowly over dirt and deadwood, scrub grass and scattered rock. It pauses on that desert flower, beautiful and shockingly bright blue against the faded landscape.
For two whole minutes, we linger here. Long enough for the sounds of insects and rattling grass to be joined by a clap of thunder. Long enough for the rain to begin to fall. The camera pulls back: there's something here. Signs of human life, buried by the passage of time, revealed by the falling rain. The dirt washes away, revealing the contours of a small, curved piece of glass.
Two minutes: Long enough for dread to creep over your skin and settle, cold and heavy, in your stomach, as you understand that whatever happens here has already happened — and it's going to break your heart.
But that's for later.
After the credits roll, we pick up where we left off with Nacho (Michael Mando) — just down the road from the motel, where the shot-up truck he used to escape from the Salamanca cousins has finally crapped out. He takes aim down the road like he's preparing for a shootout, but then thinks better of it and runs into an adjacent field, hiding inside an abandoned oil tanker. This seems like a terrible idea (hasn't this man ever heard the expression, "shooting fish in a barrel"?!), but only because I grossly underestimated a) the amount of oil still remaining in an empty tanker, and b) Nacho's willingness to fully submerge himself in it.
The pool of oil is his first stroke of luck. The second is that the house where Nacho goes to hose himself down belongs to a guy who doesn't want to kill him — a friendly, middle-aged auto mechanic who offers him the use of a towel and a telephone. The first call Nacho makes is to his father.
"I just wanted to hear your voice," he says.
Manuel Varga (Juan Carlos Cantu) says they've been through this. He pleads with his son one last time to go to the police.
"What else is there to say?" he says, and indeed, there's nothing. The only thing left to say is goodbye.
Meanwhile, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) are still moving forward with their plan to destroy Howard Hamlin's (Patrick Fabian) reputation, and still fumbling around in the uncomfortable role reversal wherein Kim is bringing all the big energy to the project while Jimmy plays her somewhat more ambivalent sidekick. It's fascinating to watch: Kim moves with the certainty of a woman who has finally found her place in the universe, living in perfect alignment with her own personal sense of justice, so that it hardly matters if her moral compass points a few degrees shy of what most would consider true north. But Jimmy is not one with the universe. He's not even one with himself. Twice in this episode, he's confronted with existential questions about his place in the world, and twice, he flounders. The first time, he's with Huell (Lavell Crawford), having successfully pulled off the prelude to the next step of their plan (which requires copying Howard's car keys in order to steal the Namast3-mobile.)
As Huell takes Jimmy's cash, he asks if he can ask something personal. He's a lawyer, Huell says. He makes good money — legitimate money. And so does Kim.
"Why do all this?" Huell says, gesturing at, well, all this: an illicit meetup in an anonymous parking lot, trading cash for criminal favors from a career pickpocket.
Jimmy makes the obligatory noises about how there's a bigger picture in play, how they'll be making a real difference in people's lives, but even he doesn't sound convinced. And when he gets home, Kim throws another curveball his way: she's heard the (fake) news about Lalo Salamanca's death, and she has a message from Suzanne (Julie Pearl) the DA, who is hoping Jimmy will cooperate with their investigation into the cartel. Suzanne thinks Jimmy didn't know who he was working with, but Kim understands the real issue: that Jimmy doesn't know who he is. When Jimmy says, "Do you think I should do it?", the fact that he's even asking — that he's outsourcing the question to someone else — is as striking as Kim's answer.
"Do you want to be a friend of the cartel," she says, "or do you want to be a rat?"
This is where we leave Jimmy and Kim, until next week. The rest of this episode belongs to Nacho Varga. The man, the myth, the legend.
By now, Nacho has realized that he was never supposed to make it out of Mexico, that Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) was always planning to have him killed. But the fact that he's still alive gives him enough leverage to cut a deal: not for his own safety, but for his father's.
As for Nacho, it's over. And okay, granted, this isn't exactly a surprise, but there's a difference between knowing intellectually that Nacho would almost certainly die at some point and realizing that actually, it's going to happen now. As with Werner Ziegler's final hours back in season 4, the quiet inevitability of the thing is the worst part. Back in the U.S., he sits down to his last meal (a sad-looking piece of chicken in a black plastic takeout container) and asks, "When?"
"Tomorrow," Mike (Jonathan Banks) says.
There are no final words of advice, no big plans for escape. Mike sits with Nacho like a priest keeping company with a condemned man on the eve of his execution, just marinating in the sadness and silence of it, until they're interrupted by Victor with a message from Gus: Nacho looks "too pretty" for their meeting with Bolsa and the Salamancas tomorrow. This is Gus Fring's final insult, and Mike's final act of kindness: He volunteers to be the one to beat Nacho's face to a pulp.
And then we come to the end. We're back in the desert where the episode began, Nacho riding in the back of a van, his face bruised and bloodied. Mike is there too — "for insurance," he says, but we know it's more complicated than that. He couldn't save Nacho from the brutal consequences of the life he'd chosen, anymore than he could save his son from the corrupt cops who killed him; the best he can do is be there, a witness, at the end. As he gets out of the van, he and Nacho exchange a final look.
Then the van rolls on.
"Today you are going to die," Juan Bolsa says, as Nacho is forced to his knees in the dirt. "But there are good deaths and bad deaths."
The thing is, this is true. Even now, there is such a thing as a good death for Nacho. But the one they have planned for him, where he's shot in the back by Gus Fring's henchmen while pretending to run away? That's not nearly good enough. It may be too late for him to survive, but it's not too late for him to die on his own terms — and to leave a mark on his way out. So when they ask him who he was working for, he delivers his scripted lines, and says he'd been on Alvarez's payroll for years, but he doesn't stop there. He says he would've done it for free, that's how much he hates the Salamancas. He says Lalo deserved what they did to him. And then he says, "And you know what else, Hector? I put you in that chair."
There's very little to enjoy in this episode, but oh, man, we can enjoy this: the way Hector's mouth twists with impotent rage, the way Gus can't say a word when Nacho says, "You were dead and buried and I had to watch this asshole bring you back." And we can enjoy these, the last words of Ignacio "Nacho" Varga.
"So when you are sitting in your s---ty nursing home, and you're sucking down on your Jell-o night after night, for the rest of your life, you think of me. You twisted f---."
This is where Nacho was supposed to run. Instead, he breaks the zip tie that binds his wrists, grabs Juan Bolsa's gun, and holds it to Bolsa's head — just long enough to look around and see the fear on everyone's faces, to savor this one, tiny moment of victory. Then he puts the gun to his own temple... and pulls the trigger.
This isn't a happy ending for Nacho, but it's a good one. His ending. His terms. His final resting place, marked by a broken zip tie and a bloodied shard of glass, where desert flowers bloom.
Until next week.
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.
- Better Call Saul star Michael Mando breaks down Nacho's shocking move
- Better Call Saul co-creator breaks down Jimmy and Kim's scheme, Lalo's mission
- Better Call Saul season premiere recap: Welcome to the Cathedral of Justice
- Better Call Saul co-creator warns that 'rug-pulling' season 6 will be 'upsetting'
Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own Vince Gilligan prequel.