Better Call Saul recap: Into the Hamlinverse
If last week's goodbye to Ignacio Varga left you weeping in the fetal position for hours, Better Call Saul has something soothingly wholesome to cleanse your palate this week: a couple in late middle age, wearing color-coordinated tracksuits, casually riding their bicycles through a clean suburban neighborhood. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, one of the bicycles even has a little ding-a-ling bell on it, and all is right with the world.
Well, almost all. There is the small matter of a new neighbor's ghastly choice of paint color, an eye-searing red that surely violates the by-laws of the homeowner's association. And there's also the team of armed surveillance officers who have taken up residence in the couple's home, the better to monitor the house next door: a ranch with a slightly ostentatious front door framed by a colonnade.
If you recognized that house (confession: I didn't), you might have some idea of who these men are and what they're up to. But we won't be back here until the end of the episode.
Right now, it's time for therapy — and I never thought I'd say this, but geez, poor Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian). For all his crisp suits and fancy furniture and clueless attempts at magnanimity, every glimpse we get of this guy's interior life is like a peek down an empty well with a little stagnant puddle of sad muddy water at the bottom. Here, he tells his therapist that things with his wife aren't "any worse," which seems like something you would only say about a situation that had been very bad for a long time. One recalls that little flash we saw in season 5 of Howard at home, sitting on one of those white Mies van der Rohe loungers, his bare feet propped on the coffee table. At the time it seemed like just another reason to dislike the guy (who owns a $7,000 white leather lounger, let alone four of them?!), but maybe it's more than that: What if the pristine minimalism of Howard's home is just a gloss on an unhappy life?
Anyway, while Howard starts telling his therapist about a recent dream, a surreal scene begins unfolding just outside. There's a man approaching Howard's Jaguar, and right away, there's something weird about him: He has Howard's white-blond hair and deep tan. He's wearing Howard's signature colors. He even has Howard's particular style of locomotion, that slightly jaunty step like he's performing the Broadway-musical version of walking. And then you see his face, and oh my God.
To say that Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) is dressed like Howard does not do it justice. He embodies Howard, he oozes Howard, he is like a demon that swallowed a piece of Howard Hamlin's soul and transformed itself into a Dark Howard who exists for the sole purpose of sowing chaos in this world.
Cut to the eye-catching Jaguar with its unmistakable "NAMAST3" license plate squealing through the center of town, stopping in the middle of the street, and opening its door to release a shrieking, indignant woman in a miniskirt and pink platform heels.
"You owe me!" Wendy howls, as the Jaguar speeds away. (Side note: This is such a great little cameo for Julia Minesci, but also maybe a clue as to how far off we are from the Albuquerque meth epidemic that gives rise to both the plot events of Breaking Bad and Wendy's, uh, dental situation. When she gets into the Jaguar and pauses to contemplate Jimmy's hair, her teeth look pretty normal.)
This all happens in the perfect place to be witnessed by Cliff Main (Ed Begley Jr.), who just happens to be having lunch with Kim (Rhea Seehorn) at an outdoor cafe nearby.
"Was that Howard?!" he asks, and that's the beauty of it. Remember last season, when Kim imagined Howard Hamlin doing "something unforgivable"? Turns out, it's not that hard to make other people imagine that, too, if you play your cards right.
And boy, are Better Call Saul's partners in crime playing their cards right, so right that you have to keep your eye out for the little reminders that this is actually a giant gamble that involves considerable risk. At one point, Jimmy pulls up in front of a mural with a dice motif (side note for Easter egg hunters: the die shows the numbers 2, 8, and 64, which surely means something) — and then later, while celebrating their narrow victory, he crows: "Are we on a roll, or are we on a roll?!"
Funny thing about the phrase, "on a roll": It can indeed refer to rolling dice, to a gambler's lucky streak. But long before that, dating back centuries, it was about physics. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. With enough momentum, it becomes unstoppable — and when you're on a roll, that's what you might be. Not in the sense of a guy at a craps table who just can't lose, but in the sense of something heavy tumbling downhill toward the edge of a cliff.
Kim and Jimmy both have reasons to regret what they've set in motion. For Jimmy, the sheer force of his commitment to his life as Saul Goodman has carried him over a line. Everyone knows now about his involvement with the Salamancas, making him persona non grata at the courthouse, but also very popular with the type of client who needs not just a criminal lawyer, but a criminal lawyer. And if Kim didn't already have some feelings about the part she played in conning Cliff Main after he pledged his support for her defense lawyer project, then she's certainly not thrilled to realize that Jimmy's involvement with the cartel isn't over. After she confronts two men who seem to be following her (side note: is that Anthony Carrigan of Barry riding shotgun?), she gets a visit from Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). Those are his men, he explains, because he's trying to solve a Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) problem.
"Lalo Salamanca is dead," Kim says, but then she sees the expression on Mike's face and realizes the truth: not just that Lalo isn't dead, but that Jimmy has inadvertently ensnared them both in something big, ugly, and dangerous.
This brings us back to the bicycling couple, the nice suburban neighborhood, and the surveillance outfit watching a ranch house that belongs to one Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). This whole operation (including the men watching Kim) is looking for Lalo, and patience is wearing thin. Lalo has been presumed dead for weeks, and while Gus insists (and we know!) that he is, indeed, alive, even Mike has to ask the obvious: "Then where is he?"
It's a good question! We haven't seen Lalo since he went looking for proof that Gus was behind the plot to assassinate him, and we won't see him this episode. But as soon as Mike asks — and in this tightly-woven narrative, it is definitely not an accident — we cut to a familiar location. We've been here before, or will be: years from now, a giant, inflatable Statue of Liberty will be visible on the roof of this place for miles. Years from now, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) will kick his way through the door.
But before any of that happens, Saul Goodman has to move in.
Jimmy shows Kim the office, vacant except for a random toilet sitting in the middle of the floor. It's a hellhole, he says (except he doesn't say "hell"), but he can't keep seeing clients at the nail salon. He needs somewhere to go — just for now, of course. This is totally temporary!
Of course, it won't be temporary at all. We, the audience, have seen Saul Goodman's future, and we know that this strip mall office is the last one he'll ever have. But there's something about the look on Kim's face that suggests she kind of knows it, too, and knows there's nothing to be done. The die is cast, the hand is dealt, and the roll will not slow until this story comes to an end… whatever it may be.
Until next week, folks.
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Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own Vince Gilligan prequel.