Better Call Saul Reviews: “Nippy” (season 6, episode 10)

I got a chance last week to allude to my love of format breakers, and I had no idea that one was coming up next. “Nippy” is something I’ve been wondering about since season one: a full Gene episode. I don’t know if that’s anything that I had actively wished for, but the chance that we would get one, at some point, was always in the back of my mind. One obvious possibility was that it would serve as the final episode. I’m glad that that’s no longer quite as likely, but it’s near the very end, which is probably where it belongs.

More so than most Better Call Saul episodes, discussing what happens would just feel like a summary, and I’m not keen on writing that, so this will probably be a pretty short review. I’m not entirely enamored of “Nippy,” but it certainly wasn’t bad. I think that it was about as good as a Gene episode could have been.

I did enjoy a good few things about it. The idea that Gene wouldn’t actually be able to leave his life as Saul behind is a good one. We’ve gotten only the barest glimpses of that in the previous flash forwards, where it could have been easily enough interpreted as wistfulness, as longing, as sadness, as whatever other emotional punishment we’d care to assign. Here, though, we see that he slips quickly and easily right back into his old habits. The correct emotion is “desire.”

The cab driver forced his hand, but only in the sense that the cab driver represented a threat. It’s a threat that Gene could have dealt with in many ways — he in fact almost dealt with it by getting a new identity again — but he chose to deal with it this way. When faced with the necessity of finding a path through, he chooses the path that fits him best: that of the scheming criminal.

He takes the cab driver under his wing, briefly, to give him just a taste of criminal life in exchange for the name “Saul Goodman” never being mentioned again. All of that was good, and I loved watching Gene “come alive” more and more as the episode progressed, as though the man’s blood is finally pumping again after however many years of stagnation in Omaha. Gene admiring a garish shirt-and-tie combo at the end leaves the possibility open that he will revert more substantially to his old ways, but I don’t think that we’re meant to conclude that he will. He can, as he’s proven, and he might, but it’s the possibility that will always hang over him, leaving him with yet another dilemma and, possibly, another regret to process when he goes to sleep at night, alone, in a home that his landlord would have to spend a whole three hours cleaning out if he didn’t wake up.

That confession to the security guard was intended to stall for time, but the accidental honesty in there was fucking brutal. I enjoyed that. I also enjoyed that Gene’s scheme — in terms of his own role — came down entirely to the fact that he’s a personable guy. He always has been. He’s likeable. He’s charming. He’s funny. He’s easy to get along with. And he used that both to get the cab driver off of his back and pull off a heist. It was a natural way for him to slip right back into being Jimmy.

Also, in perhaps my favorite moment in the episode, Gene shares a tactical half-truth: He tells his apprentice about Walter White walking into his office with trouble paying his mortgage and, a year later, swimming in cash. He certainly left out the most important parts of that story, didn’t he? Not least the ending…which is also what got Gene stranded here in the first place. It’s not something that he forgot; it’s something that he withheld. He knows that these stories end in disaster. We know that these stories end in disaster. This entire season has been reassuring us that these stories end in disaster.

All of that was good, and I admire the show’s guts to jump forward in time yet again…though, here, it’s almost certainly a one-off experiment. Zipping from Jimmy to Saul in the previous episode and then leaping straight into Gene for this episode was pretty daring.

Did it work?

I don’t know. Largely, perhaps, and I admire what the episode tried to do. I admire most of what it actually did. But for all of my complaints about Better Call Saul always feeling fractured with its multiple protagonists doing unrelated things, the unbroken stretch of Gene had me longing a bit for the days of a cut to Mike, or Gus, or Eduardo, or whoever else. “Nippy” feels bogged down at times simply because it has nowhere else to go; it can only move ahead, and it only moves slowly.

All of that was clearly intentional. (And, for obvious reasons, we can’t cut to other characters, especially the ones I just listed.) It’s just that I felt the length of this one much more than I usually do.

I imagine that it will be a bit better on a rewatch, when we know what surprises the final three episodes hold and this can serve as a quiet break before whatever chaos is looming. Now, it leaves us asking when they’re going to get to the fireworks factory for another week.

That’s okay. That’s fine. And I enjoyed the intermission.

I just look forward to getting back to the show, and seeing the rest of it through. I am glad that Nippy was okay, though.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Fun and Games” (season 6, episode 9)

This episode went from giving me almost nothing to talk about to giving me something very, very specific to talk about. To be clear, though, “nothing to talk about” reflects more on me than it does on “Fun and Games.” It was a good episode. It was a bit of a comedown after the chaos of “Point and Shoot,” but that’s a feature and not a bug.

“Fun and Games” explores the fallout from our most recent pair of deaths. Howard’s death resonates on the side of the law, and Eduardo’s death resonates on the side of the outlaws. Saul and Kim more than occupy the point of intersection, they are the point of intersection. They constitute not just the how but the why of that overlap. This is something that Kim comes very close to outright saying toward this episode’s end, as she finally processes just how culpable she is for what happened.

But I don’t want to jump ahead. The bulk of the episode centers around how Gus and the Salamancas move forward after Eduardo’s death, and how Saul, Kim, and a few other characters move forward after Howard’s death. Mike, the big softie, is navigating fallout, too, but he’s doing it with Nacho’s death, long after just about everyone else has forgotten about the guy.

Nacho is buried somewhere, and the moment that final shovelful of dirt covered him, he was gone. He was gone for everybody except Mike, who can’t help but try to offer the kid’s father a little bit of closure. It was a nice scene with some very good acting, and it went as well as it could possibly have gone, which is to say that, of course, it didn’t go well at all.

The standout scene in that stretch of the episode was Gus taking just a small step toward finding romance, or at least exploring something like it. He tries. He flirts. He’s not ready. He can’t let go of Max, especially with such a recent reminder of what Don Eladio did to him. I enjoyed that a lot.

The Don Eladio scene also did a great job, I think, of showing off a largely untapped strength of Better Call Saul. The show obviously outlines what happened before Breaking Bad began. We know that. That’s its whole purpose. It can also, however, make the material that we’ve already seen in Breaking Bad feel far more impactful.

In this case, I remember the episode “Salud,” in which Gus got his revenge on Don Eladio. It was an episode-length diversion that…didn’t entirely work, in my opinion. We got to see a bit more of Gus, but since we saw so little of his interactions with Don Eladio before the final confrontation, it felt like dipping into another show entirely. Breaking Bad provided a clear enough reason for Gus to want to kill the guy — this is TV, so “revenge” is sufficient — but Better Call Saul has helped to flesh this out much better, and it’s done so a few times.

Here, we see how haunted Gus still is, and we see how the experience holds him back from living a normal life. Well, a normal life for someone who already leads a double life. You get the idea. The point is that he’s scared and he’s carrying around a lot of pain. Thanks to the confrontation with Eduardo last week, that pain is physical as well. Better Call Saul makes that confrontation with Don Eladio, and Gus’ triumph over him, feel more important. It helps Breaking Bad (in that very, very specific instance) to feel like a sequel, rather than leaving Better Call Saul to feel only like a prequel.

Elsewhere, Saul and Kim go about their day, and eventually check in on Howard’s memorial service, which is also a memorial service for the moribund HHM. Kim gaslights Howard’s widow about his drug addiction, which is fucking devastating, and understandably, finally, recognizes that she hates what she’s become. She resigns as a lawyer. She leaves Jimmy.

So ends a perfectly good episode, except that it does not end there. We get precisely what I’ve been dreading since Better Call Saul started: the time jump.

I’ve alluded to my fear of this a few times, and it’s all due to the fact that Breaking Bad, for its final two episodes, leapt forward in time in a way that never felt graceful and, frankly, never felt earned. The fact that it didn’t also feel like the show had derailed itself says more about the goodwill it had built up in the previous seasons than it did about the validity of the decision to rocket forward in time at the end.

On the one hand, I get it. The show is ending, and you want it to end in one very particular place. You don’t have enough episodes left to get to that place, so you just skip the boring stuff.

But Breaking Bad benefited hugely from “the boring stuff.” It was never a show about what happens next; it was a show about how consequences continued to build. It was about what already happened, more than anything. Walt’s problem was never around the next corner; it was racing up from behind. The show jumped forward to get to “what happens next,” but that was never the interesting part of Breaking Bad, and that wasn’t how the show told its stories. I love it when shows break formats, but breaking them at the very end doesn’t feel like a room full of writers flexing their creativity; it feels like a room full of writers who painted themselves into a corner and now have to jump to get out.

My fear was that Better Call Saul, a show that similarly benefits from “the boring stuff” and is similarly a show about consequences — which this episode makes clear in spades — would similarly run low on episodes and have to jump to get out. It was even more likely here, as the show had to get to a recognizable place. Breaking Bad could have ended anywhere it liked, which is why it’s so disappointing that it chose someplace that it couldn’t reach through natural storytelling. Better Call Saul has less flexibility, since it’s a prequel.

And we got our time jump. Kim leaves. That’s it. Whatever was left of Jimmy — we saw flashes of him still in there last week — is gone. It’s Saul Goodman now. All of the pieces are in place. Barring a single flash forward to the Breaking Bad timeline in a previous episode, this is the first time that we’ve seen the character “complete” in this show, fully realized, untempered by humanity. He’s not a monster, to be clear; he’s just fucking scum.

I don’t hate it. Maybe I should, but I don’t.

Breaking Bad‘s jump forward felt arbitrary. Something had to happen, so we’ll ship Walt away, skip over nearly everything that happens after he leaves, and then pick back up when he returns to town. They set up a new life for him just to completely ignore that life because it wasn’t important or interesting. It’s difficult, therefore, to argue that this was the right narrative decision.

With Better Call Saul, though, it feels like it has narrative purpose, and it characterizes Saul.

Kim felt guilty for getting Howard killed in that apartment, and then she killed Jimmy. Saul was all that remained after she moved out. Jimmy’s transformation into Saul was explained in a few ways over time, ranging from opportunity to theatricality. What finalizes it, though, is a kind of suicide.

Jimmy has nothing left. Jimmy has no reason to be around anymore. He allows himself to become Saul, because what’s left for Jimmy? What’s left of Jimmy? Everybody he’s ever been close to is gone. The one person who made him happy has left. His life is empty. And so he puts an end to that life, permanently. He’s Saul Goodman now. Why the fuck not?

The time jump here didn’t feel graceless. It felt like fucking trauma. We didn’t skip Saul’s new life because it wasn’t interesting; we just skipped the transition, as though Saul couldn’t bear to look at it himself. He did some terrible things then. He must have. He did whatever he had to do in order to cope. He did things he’d regret, if he still had a conscience. He pushed himself further and further away from the pain because he couldn’t bear to think about it, to dwell on it, to replay in his mind over and over again all of the things that he could have and should have done differently.

He can’t remake his decisions. Maybe the healthier thing to do is just to keep moving, as fast as you can, and find something else.

It’s also very much worth noting that the time jump leaves Better Call Saul with four episodes rather than two. Not a huge difference, I suppose, but it feels more deliberate. It’s not a last-resort way of getting the characters where they need to be, because we’re still left with a little bit of breathing room.

Jimmy McGill bled all over the floor the night Kim left. He thought about who he was and he hated everything about himself. Kim did the same thing, only she did it earlier the same day. She took, we assume, a slightly more constructive way out.

Jimmy let go. He let Saul take over. Again, why not? What was even worth fighting for anymore? At some point it gets hard to hold on, especially when you realize that you aren’t holding on to anything.

So you let go. You fall. You let it end.

That was the time jump. Not narrative necessity. Instead the firm, clear, definitive break between one character lying down and the other getting up.

I had hoped to avoid a time jump. In my defense, I had no reason to expect a time jump this good, this right, or this important.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Point and Shoot” (season 6, episode 8)

Around the time we first met Eduardo, I mentioned that this show and Breaking Bad had portrayed the drug trade — this specific iteration of the drug trade, at least — as a sort of graceful dance. Deadly, yes. Horrific, yes. Massively awful for all involved, yes…but everybody had a role. Everybody understood what was expected of them and when. Nobody deviated because, as in a dance, deviation would lead to confusion. All of the participants relied on the others to follow the choreography. Everybody had a role, and part of the danger in deviation was that everything would crash down, for everybody. Deviations occurred, but they would never be the rule and would always be at the deviant’s own peril. It was in all of the dancers’ best interests to keep dancing.

Eduardo showed up on Better Call Saul and immediately started treating it instead like a bar fight. Everybody makes their own rules. Throw a punch whenever you want. Smash a chair over this bystander. Burn down the place, if you like. Eduardo was a poor dancer, but he was a great bar fighter. He could never have survived if everybody kept dancing, so he flourished by starting a brawl instead. He changed the rules. At least, he tried to.

This episode illustrates the difference. Saul Goodman, criminal lawyer, is not a good guy. He is on the side of evil, at least in terms of having a role to play that facilitates the continuation of evil. And so bad people in the drug trade come to him. He has a specific role to play, however; he’s not an all-purpose evil dispenser. There’s the choreography again.

You can speak to Saul Goodman in order to get your nefarious colleague out of jail. You can speak to him to get your money laundered. You can have him distract the police at a crucial moment. As an evildoer, you can do all kinds of things with Saul Goodman, but they are a specific subset of things that play to his skills and to his role in the dance.

You can’t — and I must be very clear about this — drive to his house and tell his wife to go murder your enemies.

At the end of the previous episode, I think I forgot that Eduardo is a bar fighter. For whatever reason, on whatever level, I still had the show’s choreography in mind. I expected Eduardo to draft Saul back into Saul-like dealings, into shifty background business, into introducing him to somebody who could more actively get his hands bloodied.

I was dead wrong. Eduardo wanted an assassin. …sort of.

That part is a bit hazy to me, and I think that it’s hazy in the correct way. Clearly, Eduardo at least suspected that Gus would meet him at the superlab. Almost as clearly, I think that that was the outcome he was hoping for. But something about the specificity of his demand to Kim — in particular, the insistence that she take a photo of the corpse — makes me think that Eduardo was hedging his bet.

In his mind, it was very, very likely that Kim would kill Gus’ body double, or somebody else. It was very, very likely that he himself would have to deal with Gus and would get a guided tour of the superlab. Even so, it was possible that the stars would align in such a way that Kim would have been the one to kill Gus. Had that happened, Eduardo would still want his trophy. (It’s worth noting, of course, that he’s is sending Kim away to commit murder, even if he were certain that Gus wouldn’t be the one who took the bullet.)

I had two predictions before “Point and Shoot” started. One was that the entire episode (or some overwhelming majority of it) would revolve around the disposal of Howard’s body. I was wrong.

My other prediction, though, was that this second half of the season would go one of two ways with Eduardo: Either it would kill him off immediately, or it would end with him still being alive, possibly with a return (or the threat of a return) in whatever flash-forward Gene sequences we get. I can maybe claim some partial credit there, but what I was actually getting at was that Eduardo couldn’t have a traditional villain’s death. We couldn’t get a back stretch of episodes in which he ran around making things more difficult for everybody else, leading to some sort of climactic confrontation. That wouldn’t have fit the character. Eduardo is not a man of structure and his character doesn’t allow for pistols at dawn. Eduardo is a force of chaos, and he’d have to depart the show in a structurally chaotic way.

He did, and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the way in which he got everybody scrambling, just to manage him, popping up over here and then over there, like the Cheshire Cat. You can’t know where he is; you can only know where he just was.

Well, I guess now we know where he is, but you get the picture.

“Point and Shoot” was great. It’s hard to say that it was a good “conclusion” to the previous episode, because this show doesn’t really allow for conclusions. Saul and Kim will still be dealing with the fallout next week. In other ways, Gus and Mike will as well. It’s certainly possible that Better Call Saul, after a very strong start to the season, will ultimately fall on its face. I don’t think that that’s likely but, at the same time, all I can really say is that they’ve managed to keep the ball in the air.

One thing I will add is that, when Eduardo died, my mind tricked me. I remembered Nacho’s death a few episodes ago, Howard’s death in the previous episode, Werner’s death before that, and Chuck’s death long ago. With Eduardo’s death, I thought, “Now we’re just left with the Breaking Bad characters.”

I realized my mistake a few minutes later, but I don’t think that I forgot Kim. I think, instead, that I’ve accepted Kim as being more than a “new character” created for this show. She’d been, at some point, for me, mentally promoted to the same status that Saul, Mike, and Gus share. The status of being bigger than “Better Call Saul characters.”

She was created for this show, without question. She is filling a very important, specific, and formative role in the creation of Saul Goodman. So are many of these characters, however. Kim, though, feels different. More important. More significant. I don’t know how well I can articulate my feelings here, but I can at least say that she feels larger than she really is. I feel as though I’ve known her longer than this show has been around, and that’s impressive work on its part. It will be interesting, and probably devastating, to see what happens to her.

I’ll need more time to digest this one, I think, and I may circle back around to it in later reviews. For now, though, I will say that my favorite moment was Saul pleading with Eduardo to let Kim commit the murder instead of him. He was flailing, of course. He didn’t have time to think anything through. He was “scheming,” but only in the most desperate sense of that word. He was so fucking scared of Eduardo in that moment, that he couldn’t leave Kim alone with him. It would have been better for Kim to become a murderer than for her to be stuck in a condo with that man.

That was fucking terrifying.

Part of me wonders if that were also…well…Jimmy. It wasn’t just Saul volunteering to be in one position while Kim took another; it was Jimmy sacrificing himself. I wonder if, on some level, Jimmy hoped she would just leave. Go to the cops, go to another city, go anywhere but fucking here. She wouldn’t commit the murder, she wouldn’t return, and Eduardo would kill Jimmy as a result, but at least Kim would be safe somewhere far away.

I don’t think that that’s what Jimmy wanted, but I do think that he would have seen that as a better outcome than most others.

I don’t know. Maybe it depends on how much of Jimmy actually still remains.

Saul would weasel out of something like this to save his own skin. Jimmy might do it to save somebody else’s.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Plan and Execution” (season 6, episode 7)

Howard did everything right. That, I think, is worth keeping in mind.

Whatever else the man might have struggled with, whatever his personal flaws as a human being, whatever his worries and suspicions, he did everything right. He let things slide when he thought Jimmy was just working through grief. He gave Jimmy his way many times over. He extended olive branches. When he understood that he was being targeted in a more serious way, he stooped down to Jimmy’s level, hoping to resolve things physically while still treating him fairly. He hired a private eye to make sure he knew what was coming. And when everything fell down around him, he still drove to his tormentor’s house with a bottle of wine just to ask one question: Why?

Howard was there to start a fight, sure, but not a brawl. Howard just wanted to know. To understand. He wasn’t worried about what would happen next. He’d land on his feet. (He was certain of that.) But he wanted to know why. He’d done his best many times over to resolve this situation, and he’d failed each time, so now he wanted to get to the root of it. He’d been addressing symptoms all along; he wanted, at last, to diagnose the actual sickness.

He didn’t even hold Jimmy — or much more clearly now Saul — responsible; this is just who Chuck’s brother is. Chuck had warned him many, many times about this. None of this is a surprise. All of this was predictable. Howard just wanted to know why.

Why was he the target? And why to this extent? Because Howard had been a dick at times? Because Howard was fun to mess with? Because Howard wouldn’t fight back in any way that might actually hurt anyone? Just…why?

It’s Kim who disappoints Howard far more. And, again, Howard’s right. Kim is smart. Kim has potential. Kim could do anything…so why is she doing this?

Howard did everything right, aside from assuming that he was still dealing with two human beings.

In conversation with a friend, I discussed rewatching this show eventually with a focus on Kim. For most of Better Call Saul, I saw Kim as a stabilizing influence on Jimmy. I saw her as one of the few truly good people in his life. I saw her as being representative of what he could have if he kept himself morally straight and put his talents to productive use, as he often did early in this show.

The fact, of course, was that by the time of Breaking Bad he was no longer this promising young man; he was a full-time piece of shit. Therefore, the easy reading — the trap I fell into as a viewer — was that the birth of Saul was a result of losing Kim, of losing that stabilizing influence, of losing that promise that he could have something better. With Kim gone, and with those things gone, of course he let himself turn into an awful man.

What else was left? Why stop fighting his worst impulses? With Kim gone, he’d let gravity take him, and that would be that.

Easy reading.

The wrong reading, but an easy one.

Now, I’d be interested in rewatching the show knowing that Jimmy doesn’t surrender to gravity and become Saul; Kim pulls him in that direction.

We saw a bit of that last season, and we’re seeing a lot of that this season. I’d be willing to bet that it was seeded much earlier, but I overlooked it. I overlooked it probably for the same reasons Jimmy — and Howard and Chuck and Cliff and others — overlooked it: We like Kim. Kim is smart. Kim is professional. Kim sure is pretty. Kim is an absolute mountain of positive character traits…she just happens to be a fucking appalling human being at the center. Saul, by contrast, was a mountain of negative character traits, and we spent a large part of this show learning that there’s a decent human being at his center. By the time of Breaking Bad that may no longer matter, but watching that decent human being get buried is the most engrossing thing about Better Call Saul…especially now when we realize just how much of the shoveling Kim has been doing.

In “Carrot and Stick,” during Saul’s attempt to convince the Kettlemans that Howard is a drug addict, Betsy Kettleman quickly concludes that he must mean “that awful woman with the ponytail.” It’s a great line. It’s funny. Saul immediately corrects her. But that moment stuck with me. As an outsider, without the time to become enamored with Kim, with Kim’s intelligence, with Kim’s professionalism, with anything else that has made us all fall for Kim, Betsy Kettleman saw her clearly and honestly. Saul tells her she’s wrong — of course he does, and he even believes it — but she’s more correct than anybody else has been. She got a bad feeling about Kim. She’s remembered it all this time. Something about Kim just didn’t feel…right.

She didn’t give Kim the chance to change her mind. As such, she’s got the best possible view of who Kim actually is.

None of this is meant to exonerate Saul, or even Jimmy. We are all culpable for our own actions. But Kim is the explanation for why a man who still has a sense of morality keeps choosing to do the wrong thing. It’s not solely for love of money or other rewards. It’s not solely because the guy loves theatrics. It’s not even because that’s who he’s destined to be. It’s because he has exactly one person in his life who he cares about, and that person keeps tugging him in the wrong direction. That’s who Kim is. Kim is gravity.

And so Howard is gone. Saul’s decisions have resulted in the deaths of an H and an M in HHM. Rather than pull himself up higher, he’s pulled others down. The law firm that gave him his start — albeit a very humble one — is now the irreversible victim of his antics. He’s devoured and then shat out the hand that fed him.

I worried at the start of this season that Better Call Saul had too many pieces on the board, and while it wasn’t impossible for the show to bring all of them together for a satisfying conclusion, I did wonder how likely that would be. “Rock and Hard Place” and now “Plan and Execution” have proven that the show knew full well how difficult it would be to bring all plot threads together and resolve things in a way that felt natural. It’s chosen to go another route. It’s chosen to remove pieces from play in ways that were right, well before the climax.

Sure, both Nacho and Howard feel, in the moment, like abrupt removals, but I think it would be difficult to argue that they also didn’t feel right. The particular circumstances of Nacho’s death were due entirely to the choices he himself had made. He dug his own grave, basically, and eventually the only decision he had left to make was how, exactly, to climb down into it.

Howard’s death is just as right, but from another angle. His decisions did not damn him; Saul and Kim made the decisions that damned him. In most cases, they knew what they were doing. In other cases, they didn’t, but they knew exactly the kinds of dangerous people with whom they were aligning themselves. They knew that somebody would eventually get hurt. On some level, they knew that even the people they cared about were in danger. It would just be a matter of time before one set of their associates crossed over with the other. It’s only natural. It’s inevitable. In “Plan and Execution,” it happened. They set out to ruin Howard’s life in one respect, and then ruined it in another.

It was Saul’s choice to let Eduardo go free. It was Kim’s choice to remain a friend to the cartel rather than explain what happened. These two adults who knew better decided to play with fire. The resulting blaze took an innocent man. Like the best aspects of Breaking Bad, we can trace the chaos, step by step, all the way back through the decisions we’ve been watching our characters make from the start. Better Call Saul didn’t cheat. It didn’t thrust us into a disorienting scene for the sake of shock. It walked us through this journey, choice after choice after choice after choice, and then the door opened and we saw who had come to visit.

There are a few things that I really enjoyed about “Plan and Execution,” beyond the quality of its narrative. I liked how elegantly we learned how Howard and Saul were both working with the same private investigator. We learned exactly the way Howard learned; he reflected on what mistake he could have made to get to that point. That’s it. We never needed to see that phone conversation in a previous episode, because it wasn’t significant to Howard at the time anyway. We just need to hear about it now, as he realizes that it was significant, whether or not he knew it.

And I liked the fact that we essentially sidelined Saul and Kim in favor of just watching the mediation unfold. They called in to the meeting, we’d cut back to them now and then, but, ultimately, the show didn’t contrive a situation in which they were present or involved, keeping the plates spinning. The pair did a good enough job planning everything that Better Call Saul was able to just let the execution play out, minute by minute, without them in the room. I enjoyed that a lot.

“Plan and Execution” could have had Saul and Kim running around madly, scrambling to keep things on track, like we saw at the start of this episode when they needed to reshoot some photographs. The episode could have had more things go wrong that required quick thinking and fast action. Technically, that would have been more exciting. That also would have been more artificial. Simply watching the events play out was, in my opinion, far more engaging.

I do wonder if Eduardo’s reappearance — just then, just there, in just those circumstances — wouldn’t have hit harder and better if we hadn’t already followed the guy overseas and then into the sewers. I’m not convinced that losing Tony Dalton completely between the first and final episode of this half-season would have been the right impulse, but I do at least wonder. Granted, we had to set up whatever he’s going to do next with Gus and the superlab, but without knowing where that goes — or how much information we need in advance — I’m at least curious. That second flicker of the candle as the door opens one more time could potentially have been even more chilling, especially if we’d had enough time to forget that Eduardo were an active threat.

That’s just theoretical nitpicking, however. And I’m not even dissatisfied with how things turned out here, at all. “Axe and Grind” was the setup to a punchline, and “Plan and Execution” was about as strong a punchline as anyone could have asked for. It’s a reminder, and an important one, of the serious damage that Saul Goodman does to those around him. When people deal with Jimmy, they get hurt. When people deal with Saul, they get killed.

We’ve got just half a season to go, and we’re getting much closer to being left with only the characters who make it to Breaking Bad. Of the few questions remaining, not all of them will even need to be resolved. Kim will and Eduardo will. Otherwise, though? We don’t necessarily need to learn what happens to Cliff, or to Saul’s production crew, which is a polite way of saying “they might all survive.”

Better Call Saul has already significantly narrowed its focus for its final stretch of episodes. That’s exciting and worrying. Until recently, it was pretty easy to conclude that the stakes in this show were lower than they were in Breaking Bad, with people’s spirits on the line rather than their lives. After all, this very episode was the terminal point for Saul and Kim’s plan, which essentially boiled down to making Howard look like an idiot and dilating his eyes. Harmless stuff, relatively speaking, and everybody knew the guy would land on his feet.

Instead, we see him land on his face.

But, hey, maybe the stakes are lower, technically. Even so, they feel sky high, and that’s a perfect and impressive way to end this half of the season.

Now we all get to twiddle our thumbs for a month and a half, as the characters figure out what to do with that body and decide what they will let happen next.

Thanks for joining me. Hopefully I’ll see you then.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Axe and Grind” (season 6, episode 6)

“Axe and Grind” — which definitely is not stretching the title gimmick of this batch of episodes no why would you even ask that question — is less of a standalone story than it is the first half of a two-part mid-season finale. That’s okay; that’s not a failing. The breaking point at the end of this episode isn’t the night before the big day; it’s partway into the big day, just as Saul and Kim’s plan shows the first sign of unraveling. We’re brought just far enough around the bend that we can understand that the “unfinished story” aspect of the episode is deliberate. All of that is fine. In fact, I liked a lot about “Axe and Grind.” However, it’s extremely difficult to appraise on its own merits.

Eventually we will all have our Blu-rays or streaming options and we’ll barrel right into “Plan and Execution” after the credits roll here. “Axe and Grind” will only really feel unfinished once, and that’s right now. Such is the nature of serialized television. I can live with that, but damned if I don’t struggle to review it.

Essentially, reviewing “Axe and Grind” is like evaluating the setup to a joke without yet knowing the punchline. There’s room to criticize, certainly, but how much value would there be in doing so? I think that’s why most “reviews” of shows like this — my own included, without question — end up devolving into guesswork about what comes next, or reflections on things we’ve seen weeks ago that we’ve finally had time to digest. Can one review a single chapter in a book? You bet. Will that review feel limited and incomplete? Almost always.

So, what can we do? Poke around the margins, find some stuff we like, find some stuff that confuses us, point it all out, and wait for a week, I suppose. That’s not the fault of “Axe and Grind.” Instead, it’s just what we end up being left with as we wait for the joke to land.

Fortunately, the setup seems quite good. This entire season has been great about keeping Saul and Kim’s plan a secret from the viewer. We’ve seen their little sticky-note schedule, but like the vet this week, they’re smart enough not to record their crimes in plain English. We get symbols and metaphors, which helps us to understand how meticulously these two have planned everything without the show having to tip its hand in advance.

What’s more, the secrecy is clearly deliberate. Better Call Saul is stringing us along, and I mean that in a positive way. We never know quite what these two are planning until we see it happen, and even then we’ve only gotten one small glimpse of the larger scheme. Even now, as that scheme comes to a head at the Sandpiper mediation, as Saul flails because he hired a double for someone he didn’t realize had broken his arm, as Kim swings her car around on the highway to rescue the scheme at the expense of a massive career opportunity, we don’t exactly know what they’ve been building toward.

Again, I could guess. Honestly, I’d rather not. I’d like to let the comedian finish telling the joke.

There are still things we can praise about the episode, though. Specifically, the character work, right down to the actor who played young Kim (who we also saw last season in “Wexler v. Goodman”). She and her mother are both perfect, and I can’t even quite explain it. The first we see of young Kim in this episode is just her foot tapping, and I couldn’t even tell you if we’ve seen present-day Kim tapping her foot like that, but just seeing that sneaker tapping in that rhythm was enough for me to understand immediately that this was Kim.

Both she and her mother nail Rhea Seehorn’s…cadence? I do mean cadence, but I don’t think I just mean that. Kim has a very specific way of speaking. She doesn’t just talk; she clips her words. She measures her pauses. She speaks quickly, but not too quickly, then comes to a full stop before starting at full pace again. There’s some degree of posturing behind everything she says. She’s practiced…like a scam artist. Everything she says feels rehearsed or at least refined, even when it can’t have been. It’s difficult to explain, but not difficult to pick up on. Rhea Seehorn knows precisely who the character is, which, yes, is impressive. For her younger stand-in and her mother, it’s even more impressive. They get something that it isn’t even easy to articulate, and watching it is a delight.

The scene with the vet was great as well. I actually did wonder recently if he would appear again. Not because he’s a favorite character or anything — I like him well enough — but because I wondered where he would have gone before Breaking Bad. It was a question that didn’t need answering, but I wondered about it and, sure enough, we got our answer. The guy is corrupt, yes, absolutely, but he does love his job, and he’s going to leave and get back to what he loves in a new place as a new man, leaving his little black book in the grubby hands of Saul Goodman. Hey, look, another question that didn’t need answering, but which is answered simply and elegantly. It was a good scene.

Also, maybe this was a question that did need to be addressed in some capacity, but I fucking loved seeing Francesca get worn down so quickly by working with Saul Goodman as opposed to Jimmy McGill. It’s a very early sign of how toxic his new persona is, as she’s forced to watch clients stub their cigarettes out on her furniture, relieve themselves in her water features, and even participate in Saul’s dirty dealings, her objections going unheard. Her transformation is played for comedy — rightly so, I think — but my lord did I enjoy it.

It doesn’t stop there. Howard and his wife are on profoundly rocky ground — we got just a hint of this in “Hit and Run” — and those two actors played it almost depressingly well. I could open up here. I will choose not to do that. Suffice it to say, I can’t have been the only one who recognized some real truth in the precise nature of their distance.

Cliff tells Kim that the Jackson-Mercer Foundation is looking to expand, and may be able to make great use of her talents as an advocate for the underrepresented and overprosecuted, giving us what (as of this episode’s conclusion) might have been our final glimpse of a happy ending to Kim’s journey. Even as she plays the old man, he is willing to vouch for her in what could be a life-changing step in her career. It’s one she’d enjoy, it’s one that would help a lot of people, and it’s one that she doesn’t end up pursuing. That’s the real axe in the gut.

And Mike has an astronomy night with his granddaughter, from across the street but a million miles away, in what was probably the sweetest and saddest scene this show has had all season. It was great. It beats Gus cleaning between the shower tiles with a toothbrush, but I guess that doesn’t say much.

Honestly, I think my least favorite part of the entire episode was the Eduardo bit, which is surprising to me because Tony Dalton is such a consistent highlight. Even so, it wasn’t bad…it just felt a bit too much like I could see the wheels turning.

Season five ended with Eduardo surviving an attempt on his life and plowing ahead toward revenge. My guess is that the writing staff then sat down to work on season six and realized that…well…he can’t get that revenge just yet, because there’s still a whole season left. Eduardo’s Excellent Adventure in Germany — especially since it comes after a long stretch of episodes in which he doesn’t appear at all — seems like it’s necessary only to kill time. He can’t confront Gus or Mike or whomever else, because we’re too far from the climax. But he needs to do something, so we’ll ship him overseas to bother some people we’ve never met before.

It’s okay, to be clear. His scenes with Werner’s widow last week were great. His brutality this week — after feigning helplessness — was pretty good, too. It’s not bad television, but it’s inelegant television. Maybe I’ll change my mind after whatever happens next. For now, though, it seems like Eduardo is going through a lot of narrative trouble to justify walking up to Gus and beating the shit out of him. We’ll see.

Overall, “Axe and Grind” was good, but it was still just an hour of getting all the pieces into the necessary places so that the mid-season finale will be able to do everything it needs to do.

That doesn’t make this episode disappointing and it far from makes it a failure. It just makes everything a little tougher to judge for another week.

So let’s regroup then and see which pieces are still on the board.