Better Call Saul recap: When Lalo talks, you listen
As Better Call Saul takes us into the back six episodes of its final season — and barrels forth on its collision course with the timeline of Breaking Bad — let us linger (not for the first time) on the notion of what remains. When you die (or decamp to Omaha under a new identity, as one does), what will be left of you? A closet full of freshly-pressed suits. A shard of broken glass in the desert dirt. A memorial slide rule suspended in lucite.
And now, this: A shoe, abandoned on the beach, gently rolling around in the surf beneath a golden, hazy California sky. The shoe's partner is further back, sitting in the sand — and further still, parked haphazardly and with one door still hanging open, is Howard Hamlin's (Patrick Fabian) Jaguar. On the dashboard sits his wallet and wedding ring.
Much like the abandoned home of Saul Goodman, with its closet full of flashy suits and solid gold toilet, these things are not just artifacts, but set pieces. The shoes, the car, the ring on the dash: It all tells a story about who Howard Hamlin was, how he lived, and how he died.
But we know, and should not forget, that this story is not true.
Anyway, keep that in the back of your mind as we return to the more pressing issue of Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) standing in Jimmy's (Bob Odenkirk) living room with a gun in his hand. Blood is still flowing from the bullet hole in Howard's head, and Lalo is telling Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) that they have to focus — which they do, but it's worth noting that Jimmy rises to this occasion in a way that Kim does not. The woman who once stood nose-to-nose with Lalo and told him, with steel in her voice, "You need to get your house in order," is gone; in her place is a trembling, hyperventilating creature wearing a baby pink hoodie and no shoes.
Lalo explains what will happen next: Kim will stay with Lalo at the condo. Jimmy will get in Lalo's car, drive to Gus Fring's (Giancarlo Esposito) house, and use the gun in the glovebox to shoot whomever answers the door. He will take a picture of the body, and return home within the hour. It is unsaid but strongly implied that if he fails to do this, Kim will be joining Howard on the floor/in the afterlife.
Look: Obviously, this plan is bonkers. As we know (and Lalo undoubtedly does, too), there's no way Gus Fring would answer his own door to a would-be assassin in the middle of the night. But Jimmy doesn't know this; all he knows is that he wants to get Kim out of the condo. "Send her," he says, and Lalo agrees.
Pro tip, guys: If Lalo Salamanca agrees to a change of plans, then that plan was never really the plan. And indeed, as soon as Kim leaves, Lalo zip-ties Jimmy to a chair, stuffs a gag in his mouth, cranks the volume on the television to drown out his muffled screams, and leaves.
Still, if Kim hadn't been so shaken by watching Howard die in front of her (and so scared that Jimmy was about to meet the same fate), she might have been smart enough to realize that she was just a pawn in Lalo's long game. Her job, her real job, is not to kill Gus Fring. It's to get caught trying, so that Gus realizes — too late — that he's left the laundry and its secret underground meth lab-in-progress undefended. And this is exactly what happens, but not before Kim absolutely lights up Mike Ehrmentraut (Jonathan Banks) for his (admittedly atypical) lapse in vigilance.
"You said you were watching us," she snarls. "Where were you?!"
Mike doesn't answer, perhaps because there's no time for that — but also, perhaps, because the only answer is that Mike screwed up. He underestimated Lalo. And every death tonight, beginning (but by no means ending) with Howard, is a death that might have been avoided.
By the time Mike is removing Jimmy's gag and asking where Lalo went and when, it's too late: Gus has already taken the bait, and taken his security team to the laundry where Lalo kills everyone except Gus. Not that he isn't going to kill Gus, too — he most definitely intends to do this — but first, he needs to finish his demented little documentary film for Don Eladio (Steven Bauer), illustrating the depths of Gus's betrayal. And down into the pit they go… which is right where Gus, who did not underestimate Lalo Salamanca, always knew they'd end up.
And considering the gun that Gus planted at the construction site in a previous episode, and also that only one of these men is still conspicuously alive in the Breaking Bad timeline to come, this scene is so much more tense than it has any right to be. Can Gus really lull Lalo into a false sense of victory with the old "villainous monologue" trick? Is he really going to be able to grab and fire that gun, when it's hidden several yards away? Can Lalo Salamanca, this series' most terrifying monster, really die down here in the dark, a victim as much of his own hubris as of Gus' relentless quest for revenge?!
Yes, yes, and yes: Gus reaches the end of his speech about how much he hates Don Eladio (which had to be cathartic even though he knows Eladio will never see it), kicks the lights out in a shower of sparks, dives for the gun, and fires. And fires. And fires.
When the lights come back on, Lalo is on the ground, choking on his own blood — but laughing, too! Which is weird! Maybe it's disbelief at being bested by the chicken man, or maybe he just loves violence even when he's on the receiving rather than giving end, but either way, he's still chuckling, and choking, when he dies.
And that's the end of Better Call Saul's scariest (and, it must be said, handsomest) antagonist… except that for everyone left behind, his legacy of terror will linger on. Gus didn't quite get away scot free — one of the shots fired during that last showdown caught him in his side meat — but the worst scars left by Lalo are the ones you can't see. The bad memories. The screaming nightmares. The image of Howard Hamlin's body being stuffed into a refrigerator, glimpsed behind Mike as he instructs Jimmy and Kim to act normal for the next few days while he stages Howard's suicide.
"I need to impress upon you — none of this ever happened," Mike says.
"It never happened," Kim echoes back, but her voice is hollow, and I have a feeling that this is the end. Maybe not of the marriage, but certainly of their residence in this condo, where they'll be reminded of Howard's body hitting the floor every time they open the refrigerator. And as for Howard, he'll end up sharing an unmarked grave with his murderer, the two of them buried in the dirt beneath what will eventually be the concrete floor of the laundry meth lab. (Side note: Now that we know what's under Jesse's (Aaron Paul) feet, does this scene hit differently?) There's no funeral, no final goodbyes, and no mourners, save for Mike, who pauses the burial to remove Howard's wallet, his wedding ring, and his shoes. And while Mike says only one word — a cautionary "easy" — as Howard goes in the ground, the look on his face is almost as good as a eulogy.
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Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own prequel.