Rest in Peace, Howard Hamlin. (Lalo Salamanca, Not So Much)
Better Call Saul Final Season Assessment: Point and Shoot
For those of us who were terrified to see how Jimmy and Kim would escape the jackpot situation they were in when Lalo showed up on their doorstep, casually shot the drunk Howard, and then just as calmly said: “Let’s talk” in the midseason finale of Better Call Saul, the last two months have been close to an eternity. Even after all the stress I’ve been going through I still desperately needed to know how things would unfold as the final six episodes of Better Call Saul began. And last Monday proved it was worth the wait.
An understandably terrified Jimmy and Kim had to wait as Lalo calmly told Jimmy what he wanted him to do. He gave directions to him about a house to drive too, told him to walk up to the front door, ring the bell, and just ‘point and shoot’. He was going to just walk in and start killing until Gus Fring was dead. Then he would take a picture of it, and he would come back. If he didn’t get it done in an hour, Kim was dead. Even in the most terrifying situation in his life (to that point) Jimmy managed to use his ability to BS to convince Lalo to let Kim make the drive and do the task. After several seconds of back and forth, Lalo allowed it to happen. I’m still not sure of the reasoning there. Did Jimmy do it simply to save Kim’s life or did he honestly believe he might find a way to talk Lalo out of it? Considering Lalo’s actions it’s pretty clear he merely considered the two of them pawns, and knowing everything we do about him, it’s pretty certain that no matter what happened, he had no intention of letting either of them survive the night. Lalo, as we now know, had bigger fish — or maybe chicken is the better word — to fry.
In a terrifying sustained four minute sequence, we saw Kim drive to Gus Fring’s house. There wasn’t a single word uttered in the interim, and Rhea Seehorn — in case we needed more proof — demonstrated how brilliant an actress she is just by expressing the terror in her face all the way there, especially in a thirty second period where a police car pulled up alongside her and we saw her frantically weighing all the options in her mind. She made it to the house and walked up to the front door, and even though given what we saw in the last five minutes of the mid-season finale, it was inevitable what would happen, it still came as a shock when Kim was grabbed off the stoop.
Mike then managed to calm Kim down before he got her to speak. (Another sign that Jimmy made the right choice in sending her; there’s no way Jimmy could have maintained enough sanity to say what he needed to.) Kim conveyed why she was here — and we finally got to see Mike in action. He moved with efficiency through the underground passage, commanding forces as the ex-cop he was, and ordered Gus not to move. In a fascinating sequence, Gus asked Kim why she had come instead of Jimmy and Kim said her husband had talked Lalo into it. It’s one of the few times in the nearly ten years we’ve known Gus that he looked truly stunned by something. Then again, he may have had an inkling what was coming.
The moment Mike’s forces left, Lalo — who had left Jimmy tied up and had been hiding in the car a block away — ran into the Laundromat. Gus, who clearly knew what was coming and in a rare dropping of security that only the Salamanca’s bring out in him, ordered two of his men to come with him to the Laundromat. And this time, it nearly killed him
Gus knew what Lalo was planning and he picked up on the sign, but Lalo managed to get a drop on the Chicken Man killing his guards and seeing that he had body armor on. It was very clear that he had every intention of killing Gus, but he was still following Hector’s advice and was determined to get the proof. He directed Gus to take him to the hidden tunnel where the Superlab was being built. Gus refused initially — and Lalo shot him in the chest. Only his body armor kept him from meeting his end before Walter White would take him out in the future (and, knowing how Breaking Bad works, in the past).
There are those who think that Lalo, who demonstrated such cleverness throughout the last two seasons, seemed to fall prey to that all-too-common cliché of the talking villain, something that didn’t seem to jive with every brilliant move he’d made to this point. I would only point out that was a mitigated by Gus’ decision to play — for what would be the only time in his entire life — the exact same role when he made his final statement. And to be clear, it was magnificent.
Gus Fring has spent his entire career — both on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul — putting up a façade of restraint. In this scene he managed to give a statement that was as much a stall as well a complete mission statement going forward. He made it very clear that he thought everyone in the cartel, including his boss, had no vision for what they intended to do. And he express in genuine rage his pure and hatred for the Salamanca’s, including his plan to destroy the entire family and save Hector for last — something that we know he would eventually carry out. It was a stall to destroy the lights and get a gun that he had stashed there weeks ago, but it was as pure a moment of honesty we’ll ever see from. Esposito deserves a nomination, if not the Emmy itself for that scene. He managed to kill Lalo, of course, but even at his end Lalo was smiling. Out of admiration for being outplayed? Who knows?
In the aftermath, of course, Mike was furious. (The scene where Gus calls the manager of Pollos Hermanos and tells the manager of ‘a family emergency’, making plans to handle the shop’ all the while being treated by a doctor for the bullet wound he had obtained, is pure Vince Gilligan.) The relationship between Mike and Gus is usually solid, even though it has its ups and down over the years, but this may be the angriest we’ve ever seen Mike be at his boss. “Are you happy with the way things turned out tonight?” he tells him. “Because I’m not.” For Mike to Gus, that’s practically calling him a moron. This demonstrates the clear blind spot Gus has always had towards Hector and fundamentally confirms something many fans of the series have suspected — if Mike had not been recovering from his injuries in ‘Face-Off’, there is no way Gus would have ever been able to walk into Casa Tranquila and meet his maker.
In the final minutes, Mike returned to Jimmy and Kim’s condo. There’s a certain measure of things coming full circle in the scene that followed. When we first met Mike way back at the Season 2 finale of Breaking Bad, Saul had called him in to help clean up the scene of Jesse’s home after Jane’s death, walking through a basically numb Jesse as to what will happen when the police show up. Now we see him removing Howard’s body into a refrigerator box and telling the equally (if not more so) numb Kim and Jimmy about what’s going to happen the next few days. Howard’s car is going to be driven a few hundreds mile away, it will seem like he has committing suicide due to his erratic behavior the last few weeks. (Neither Kim nor Jimmy react when Mike tells them this was their plan all along.) He tells him what the police will do going forward, that Howard’s body will never be found, and that they must act completely normal the next few days. Then he tells them both that they have to clean up and get dressed to go to work as if the horrors of the night before have never happened. Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn have almost no lines of dialogue in this scene, but their work is as great as ever, as they dumbly listen, accept the facts as they have been told — as well as the consequences of their actions — and then quietly and calmly tell Mike what they’ll need to get through the day.
And in the last scene of the episode, we see the final resting places of Howard Hamlin and Lalo Salamanca — just as Lalo said before his death, the place has become a tomb, but he’s going to be buried in it instead of Gus. Mike is calm and quiet through all this. The only emotion he shows during the entire scene is when he thinks two of his associates are being too rough with Howard’s body and he sees ‘Easy’. That, and the moment he spends looking over the bodies before he leaves, is sad in a way so many of the deaths in Breaking Bad have never been.
Howard Hamlin was never a bad guy. He was a man who spent the first half of Better Call Saul under the shadow of Chuck McGill and because he did, Jimmy bore a lifetime of enmity towards him. He spent the next two seasons trying to do the right thing, only to become a pawn in the manipulations of Kim and Jimmy. Now his career and reputation have been destroyed, and he is dead for the simple fact of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And even in death, he will now become a cautionary tale more than anything else. He is a true victim of Saul Goodman’s rise to power. The fact that Saul will be fall in turn makes it all the more tragic.
If there is a flaw in ‘Point and Shoot’ it is mainly in context of Breaking Bad. Given everything we have seen Jimmy go through in the past two seasons in connection with Lalo, it is hard to fathom that he would willingly go anywhere near Mike, Gus or the cartel again, much less really think that just by guiding Walter and Jesse to them in Season 2 that there could be anything like a good result. Some will say that this event may end up drawing Kim and Jimmy closer together, but given what she has witnessed in the last twenty-four hours I think it far more likely that this will be the breaking point between them. I will have to watch the next few episodes to be sure, but I feel safe in predicting that Kim, who was the always the more realistic one in the relationship, will want to get out while there’s still a chance to survive.
This is one of the most superbly acted and directed episodes of 2022 so far, and it shows us that Better Call Saul is working up to one hell of an ending. It shows that Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn earned the Emmy nominations they got this week and demonstrates yet again the folly in the Emmys refusal to acknowledge either Giancarlo Esposito or Jonathan Banks. We know what the end is for everybody else on the series, including for Saul Goodman. But what I care about most is how does it end for Jimmy…and Kim.