Maybe it’s low-hanging fruit to pick out a single quote from the middle of a TV episode and ascribe some greater meaning to it in the grand cosmic plan of the entire show. But goodness, the “I didn’t solve anything.”/“You ended it. That’s what we needed.” exchange outside the property line on a plot in Tucumcari sure seems like the clearest expression of the tug-of-war at the heart of Season 5 of “Better Call Saul.”
After the season’s third installment, on the strength of finally being able to capitalize on its characters in their ideal environments, the show is starting to pull itself back to its sweet spot. With Nacho and Jimmy linked in their corner of the Salamanca/Fring turf war, Kim struggling with her competing lawyerly obligations, and Gus staring ominously at power plants — not to mention Mike snapping the arms of pissant would-be thieves — a couple hours’ worth of contortion has resulted in a sense of ideal “Better Call Saul” equilibrium. (For now.)
Part of that formula in “The Guy for This” means the reintroduction of some old friends. (In “Better Call Saul,” there’s a proportional relationship between the length of time the show delays revealing someone’s face and the likelihood that they’re a “Breaking Bad” alum, too.) Whether or not Hank Schrader and Steve Gomez make a return trip this season, it’s both a bold move and entirely within the logical progression of these characters to bring them in to essentially be the useful DEA dupes in the Krazy-8 drop zone case. It makes for a more interesting bookend to the way they both meet their untimely (and in their own ways heroic) sendoffs at the close of “Breaking Bad.”
“The Guy for This” also continues the upward trend of Nacho being one of the show’s essential cores. The apartment meeting with his father is yet another example of him being slowly stripped away from anything tethering him to his own life. Effectively controlled by two different ruthlessly homicidal bosses, Nacho now seeing the disapproval of his father up close (a father he fought to save in last week’s episode) is probably going to send him careening even faster into his last stand.
“Better Call Saul”
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
That exchange at Chez Nacho (complete with a giant Lichtenstein knockoff covering his impossibly high living room wall) is an interesting reflection of the Mike/Kaylee mini-explosion last week. Where that felt forced and direct, the end of this father/son meeting was delivered with a more graceful touch, hinting at plenty of their shared experience without articulating it so plainly. It’s a nice little encapsulation of the disconnect between what his dad might have wanted for him, which has the potential to be as devastating for Nacho as the threat of losing him was.
At its most basic roots, “Breaking Bad” was about the finding the snapping point of a father in peril. For everything that came in its wake, Walter White was trying to secure the financial future of his children. “Better Call Saul” has certainly maintained its predecessor’s dependence on fraught family dynamics, but Nacho and his father represent one of the rare explicitly parental sequences. Spiritual father figures abound, but to see two characters engage with the irreversible shift in responsibilities, fortunes, and priorities added another layer of understanding to a show that has plenty to spare.
“The Guy for This” also provides what felt missing from the season’s opening two chapters: a sense of Kim on her own. With Jimmy’s progression down the Saul road driving a further wedge between the pair’s respective legal careers, Kim’s Tucumcari excursion offered a chance to see the other ever-present turmoil in her life. Juggling her pro bono work and her obligations to Mesa Verde has been a simmering problem, and being whisked away from a day’s worth of courthouse hearings represents the latest in an ongoing series of fractures.
Much like Hank and Steve’s return, “Better Call Saul” manages to use that false promise of expectations to its advantage in that last meeting at the house of Mr. Acker. Returning to the property, to not only smooth things over but offer an “everybody wins” path, everything is set up to give Kim a much-needed win. She’s trying to counteract Paige’s argument that endings and solutions are mutually exclusive. Yet, in another devastatingly concise summary of a particular “Better Call Saul” worldview, the lone Tucumcari holdout rejects Kim’s help with the line, “You’ll say anything to get what you want, wontcha?”
“Better Call Saul”
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
That “say anything” maxim certainly also applies to the man who gives the show its title. In Jimmy’s case, his impetus for talking is less “trying to find a humane way to financially compensate someone for being on the wrong side of a fiendishly worded, decades-old contract” and more “avoiding being murdered in a garage.” Not only is Jimmy spared by Lalo Salamanca, the success of the Krazy-8 plan he set into motion has assured that Saul is going to stay on the family payroll.
Maybe the ice cream metaphor is a bit too tidy. Aside from the chance for a stealth “Microcosmos” sequel, though, Jimmy pondering the fate of his impulsive dessert gives a chance for the weight of his new assignment to fully sink in. If “Better Call Saul” established Jimmy’s capacity for combining a swindler’s instinct with a dreamer’s optimism, this is the beginning of his naiveté’s death rattle. It’s hard to imagine Jimmy believing that the net of the Saul Goodman bulk client approach wouldn’t at least snag something bigger than a trout. Knowing that he’ll eventually wrangle that 150-pound tuna that is the Salamancas, these next few weeks should be fascinating to watch him learn how.
No discussion of this episode would be complete without an appreciation of that stellar closing sequence. From the cigarette to the dangled beer bottle to the six-pack discus-toss to the quick balcony exit, that’s “Better Call Saul” at its absolute purest. It lays the groundwork for the audience to understand the context for a moment that can finesse its emotional impact and earn its sparseness. Chucking those beer bottles to the ground below isn’t so much a point of no return as two people realizing that they probably already passed one and didn’t realize it at the time. Either way, it’s always exciting to see an episode that earns a capper like that.
“Better Call Saul” airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.
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