Better Call Saul recap: Men going their own way
There's a recurring motif in this episode, three separate and very beautiful shots of men standing alone in dark places. In the first one, Mike Ehrmentraut (Jonathan Banks) stands beside a desert bonfire, a funeral pyre where the bloodstained truth about Howard Hamlin's (Patrick Fabian) death is being slowly burned away. In the second, Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) looms against the night sky above Don Eladio's (Steven Bauer) in-ground pool, a harbinger of the day when he'll stand on this spot as Eladio's corpse floats facedown below him. And then finally, there's Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk): After Howard's memorial service, Kim (Rhea Seehorn) kisses him goodbye and drives away, leaving him alone in the parking garage where they used to share cigarettes.
In the first two shots, the men are illuminated against the darkness — Mike by the blazing fire, Gus by the glow of the pool. But Jimmy stands outside the circle of light cast by the cold fluorescents of the parking garage, and so we cannot see his face. He is just a shadow, a silhouette. He could be anyone, or no one at all.
Mike's bonfire in the desert is the culmination of a long day spent erasing all evidence of Howard's death from Jimmy's condo. While Kim and Jimmy each go about their version of a normal day (Kim wins a tearful victory for her client at court, while Jimmy fits his with the perfect neck brace to sell a personal-injury suit), Mike and his team clean the rug, patch the drywall, install the new fridge, and leave no trace. By the time Kim and Jimmy get home, it's like it never happened, and Jimmy tries to smooth it over with the same speech Mike once gave him — the one about waking up, brushing your teeth, and realizing that you haven't thought about it. Realizing you can forget. But when Mike said this, it was to someone who desperately wanted to hear it.
Kim, lying on her side with her back to her husband, doesn't even look at him.
And yet, life goes on, for everyone. Gus has one last hurdle to clear, a meeting at Don Eladio's compound where Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) publicly (and, it must be said, accurately) accuses him of conspiring against the cartel. But he's covered his tracks so well, and Lalo (Tony Dalton) did such an impeccable job of faking his own death, that Eladio dismisses the whole thing with a shrug. It really is as Gus said in that final showdown with Lalo: Eladio is an impulsive idiot, unable to even conceive of the long game, let alone notice the one playing out under his nose. He's no match for Gus, who is driven and meticulous and terrifyingly patient, whose entire life is organized around the single purpose of revenge. There's one fleeting moment in this episode, as he laughs over a glass of wine with the maitre d' at his favorite bar, where we see the man Gus Fring could have been, if he'd only let himself — but he won't. He recoils from the sensation of happiness, from the possibility of human connection. These things are distractions.
Mike, meanwhile, has unfinished business: not something he wants to do, but something that must be done. It's not hard to understand why he would feel compelled to visit Manuel Varga (Juan Carlos Cantu) — when he says that Nacho was a good man whose worst mistake was falling in with bad people, he could just as easily be talking about his own son — but despite the affinity Mike feels for Manuel, they are not the same. Their brief, difficult conversation takes place with a chain-link fence between them, a physical barrier to match the invisible one that leaves each man alone with his own grief, his own regrets. Mike tries to comfort Manuel by telling him that justice will be done. Manuel scoffs: He's not talking about justice, but revenge. He calls Mike a gangster. "You're all the same," he says, and turns away.
Again, a theme emerges. Do you see it? Men going their own way. Men walking away from carnage, tragedy, trauma. Men left alone to live with themselves, for better or for worse.
Jimmy, of course, is not alone. He has Kim, and she's right beside him at the memorial service, where Howard Hamlin's beaming face is plastered everywhere, inescapable. (Side note: If you're looking for a moment of levity in this very tense, sad scene, just imagine Patrick Fabian doing the scuba photo shoot that resulted in these pictures.) Rich Schweikart (Dennis Boutsikaris) tells Jimmy that HHM will be closing up shop and changing its name, and then calls him "Saul" when they say goodbye; you can see why, in the Breaking Bad timeline, Jimmy's former identity and family name have been all but forgotten. And there's one terrible moment with Howard's widow, who knows that her husband wasn't an addict and that Jimmy was up to something in the weeks before his death — but Kim steps in with a bold, expert lie about having once seen Howard snorting cocaine in his office, and that's that.
This is when Kim kisses Jimmy goodbye. She drives away, and then he's alone.
In my notes from this episode, I marked this moment with a hastily-typed observation — this feels not good — which is technically correct while also being the understatement of the year. In the very next scene, Kim is back in court with a client, visibly nervous. There's a problem: She's filed a last-minute motion to excuse herself from the case. The judge asks why, and at first she stonewalls, but finally she says it.
"Because I'm no longer an attorney."
Cut to Jimmy coming back to the condo, busting through the door: "You did what?" he shrieks. "Why, whyyyyyy?!" But the freakout only lasts a moment before he goes into full damage control mode. He's making a plan. They'll get a new place. She'll tell the bar she made a mistake — they'll go to a hotel, she'll write letters, or no, wait, he'll write them for her — and what's done will swiftly be undone. He just needs to grab a few things, then they'll go… and that's when he opens the door of the bedroom.
Kim's side of the closet is empty. Her belongings are half packed into boxes and suitcases, the rest still strewn across the bed. And the mystery that's been hanging over this series for years, the one about why there's no trace of Kim Wexler in the world of Breaking Bad, the one whose resolution we've been dreading because whatever it was, it was going to break our hearts, is finally over.
Kim's last words to Jimmy aren't just a breakup speech. They're a magnum opus. He begs her to stay, and says he loves her.
"I love you too," she says, and then her voice breaks. "But so what?!"
So what, indeed. Kim finally understands: The fact that she loves Jimmy and that he makes her happy is irrelevant. If anything, it's all the more a sign that they shouldn't be together, because when Kim is happy other people end up getting hurt. She tells Jimmy that she knew Lalo was alive, and she kept this from him — not because she wanted to protect him, but because she knew he would want to protect her, and that this would mean pulling the plug on the Howard scam. She could have made different choices, and she didn't. Why? The disgust in her voice is so thick she's practically choking on it: "Because I was having too much fun."
And whatever else happens between Kim and Jimmy — more tears, more arguing, the ugly and inevitable divorce — this is how it ends. The next scene takes place at some indeterminate future point, but Kim isn't in it and neither is Jimmy, really. The man waking up next to a hooker, combing his hair just so over an advancing bald spot, yammering away on his Bluetooth earpiece like some new breed of shark that will die if it ever stops speaking: That's Saul Goodman.
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Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own prequel.