Spoiler alert: this recap is for people watching Better Call Saul season six, which airs on Netflix in the UK. Do not read on unless you have watched episodes one to seven.
Lalo in the pit
Howard Hamlin and Lalo Salamanca are two men who have things in common. Both of them are charming, but also manipulative, with a tendency towards condescension. They are both physically imposing and each takes pride in their physical appearance. Furthermore, their corpses are buried next to each other in a pit beneath a commercial laundromat.
We knew that Lalo couldn’t get Gus, however hard he might wish it – or cleverly he might plot. The chicken man is in Breaking Bad, after all. We could be more confident that Lalo himself would end up undone, however, and likely at the hands of Fring. We even knew the probable location and the means of Lalo’s demise. When it happened it still came as a shock though, such was the sense of the unstoppable about the Salamanca man.
We see ample evidence of Lalo’s A-list villainy in this 49-minute episode, written by Gordon Smith – who devised the Lalo character – and directed by el jefe Vince Gilligan. It starts with Lalo sending Kim on a mission to kill Gus – “a house cat with glasses” – while he keeps Jimmy as hostage. Except that’s not really his plan, at all. Lalo doesn’t expect Gus to be killed but for his men to be rattled and to vacate Lavandería Brillante, giving him the chance to break in. The plan works smoothly and – after some well-earned luck sneaking past the cameras – Lalo has the run of the place. He gets the drop on Gus when he arrives on site and takes out all his men – lickety split. From there all that remains is a tour of the excavated super lab, to be captured on camera and sent to Don Eladio.
Of course, that’s when Lalo’s story takes an unfortunate turn. Gus, after being shot in the chest and booted into the dirt, demands a final right of reply. In a moment equivalent to Nacho’s last stand, Gus denounces Don Eladio and the Salamancas with theatrical invective. Eladio is a “pig” and a “pimp” with no honour. “Jackals, that’s all you are,” he says. As for the Salamancas, they are even worse and that is why, yes, Gus did in Hector and then kept him alive – just so he could tell the old man who was responsible for the deaths of his family (something he will actually go on to do). Oration completed, Gus pulls the lights, finds his hidden gun, and shoots Lalo dead.
Number one chicken man
There’s a bit of luck in Gus catching Lalo in the throat, and escaping a final flurry of bullets from his enemy as he does so. But in the end, for all Lalo’s sophistication, Gus proves himself the bigger baddie. As his speech makes clear, Fring thinks strategically, and always has. He knew what Lalo was after, and prepared for that moment. He knew said moment had arrived when he queried Kim via grainy CCTV. He spotted the broken ventilator to realise Lalo was in the building and appealed to his vanity for a chance to distract him with a speech. However smart Lalo was, it wasn’t smart enough. Gus may look like a domestic pet, but he is a big beast.
Shortly after the showdown we see Gus get back to business, directing Lyle on how to run the chicken shop for a few days while having antiseptic applied to a gunshot wound. (Now that’s commitment.) Fring’s passion for his cover business, alongside his personal fastidiousness, are two of the things we all know about him. The Lalo denouement shows there is much we don’t know, too. He kept his thoughts and suspicions about Lalo’s intentions to himself. We do not know why he came to the conclusions he did, but he did not trust anyone, even Mike, to help him. In the end he was right on all points. Mike was fooled by Lalo’s hostage-taking trick, something Gus reminds him of with a snarl.
The couple that abets murder together …
I wasn’t certain Jimmy didn’t hand Kim over to Lalo out of self-preservation. Certainly, I was convinced she thought that’s what he was doing. She was terrified of being made to be the one left holding a gun at Gus’s front door (wrong house btw, but anyway). There’s one look, one look, that seemed to show Jimmy had calculated it would be safer for Kim this way, but that’s all. Perhaps this was revealing of the real nature of the bond they share.
The couple hug closely when reunited, but the chances of them putting this moment behind them seems remote. They brought about a man’s death after all. Soon they will face a grilling by the police. When that happens, they will have to double down on the tawdry allegations they invented about Howard if they are to escape suspicion. Mike will help that process by faking Howard’s death as a suicide and making sure cocaine is found in his car. He wheels the corpse out in Jimmy’s fridge with this parting nod: “You’re getting a new refrigerator. I assume stainless will do.”
After this episode we are no closer to knowing what will happen to Kim, and to Kim and Jimmy. A reunification with Gene is still on the table and perhaps Kim will even bump into Walt and Jesse. Whatever the outcome now though, we can be sure there is no happy ending.
Quite Tarantino-esque this week, with Mike performing his Winston Wolf act in Jimmy’s flat and Gus echoing Dennis Hopper’s racially aggravated diatribe in True Romance (h/t Scott Tobias at Vulture for picking that one up). Was I alone in thinking of Reggie Perrin when the episode began, too?
Loved the colours and the industrial terror soundtrack (not a technical description). Reminded me of Michael Mann. Also loved the switch in POV during the Superlab showdown. When we see Lalo’s side it’s through the handicam, then – as Gus begins to exert control – we switch back to “reality”. Nice.
Superlab facts that sound as if they should be on a James May show but come courtesy of L Salamanca: 10 months of German engineers’ labour; 200lbs of high explosive used; 120,000 cubic meters of rock blown out. And for what?