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 nine.
Until somebody gets hurt
Who in Better Call Saul has fun? Not Charles McGill, Gus Fring or Mike Ehrmentraut, each of them fastidious workaholics. Bill Oakley, Manuel Varga and Tyrus Kitt are the same. Only the debauched – Don Eladio, Nacho Varga – or the naive – Howard Hamlin – partake in pleasure. In this world, that makes them vulnerable.
We get a bit of fun in this week’s episode. It’s called Fun and Games after all. For a start, we see Gus unwind in an upmarket wine bar, a reward for successfully vanquishing Lalo Salamanca (and getting away with it). He knows his wine, does Gus, and he enjoys the company of the sommelier who knows even more. Do the pair themselves share a connection? We’ll never know, because within five minutes of entering the place Gus’s face has turned to stone and he has left again. It may be something occurred to him, perhaps he had left the heating on in the Super Lab. But I imagine more that Gus simply considered this “fun” to be inappropriate, a sign of weakness.
The world of Better Call Saul does not value fun or reward it. So perhaps it’s no surprise to see Kim Wexler spit out the word with disgust as she brings an end to the love affair that has defined her life. She tells Jimmy she must leave him. She cannot cope with the guilt of what she has done, bringing about Howard’s death simply because a scam was too thrilling to give up. She also withheld the knowledge that Lalo Salamanca was alive and could return to hurt them both – just because she knew what Jimmy would do. “You’d run away to make sure I was safe, pull the plug on the scam and then we’d break up,” she says. “I didn’t want that because I was having too much …” and at this point her face curdles, “… fun.”
She leaves the room to pack her things and after a few seconds lingering on the back of Jimmy’s head, wondering what is going on inside of it, the end of the episode takes us to the future, or at least the more recent past. There, beneath his tiger-striped sheets, lies Saul Goodman, in bed with a sex worker. Awakened by MOR rock, Saul bounces up and into his walk-in shower, down his spiral staircase, and into his greco-roman breakfast room where he captures the smell of class action in his nostrils. Say what you like about the tragic end that’s befallen the hero of this drama, but someone is having fun all right!
Wexler through the gift shop
As many fans foresaw, this episode appears to have bid farewell to our 2004 timeline. We are now moving through the years as the show attempts to complete the story of Jimmy/Saul/Gene. We shall soon get our Breaking Bad crossover, therefore, but I do hope we’ll see Kim again too. Her parting from Jimmy was too abrupt, too in the heat of the moment, and for the audience, at least, unsatisfactory. The reasons for her actions, however, made sense.
We’ve all leaned into the “Kim broke bad” theory, perhaps encouraged by that U-turn on the highway at the end of episode six, or the sex during the Sandpiper hearings. But here we see the woman we’ve watched for five seasons. Kim is someone who prides herself on her hard work and consistency, just like many of the other characters. Self-indulgence, largely in loving Jimmy but also in getting that thrill from acting deceptively, has been her undoing. She wants to draw a line under that. She has quit the bar and now she will quit Jimmy too: “Apart, we’re OK, but together we’re poison.”
You do wonder whether the couple could stay together without causing more violence and mayhem, but Kim has decided they could not. After watching her make her decision it seems likely to me that it’s a conclusion she has nearly come to several times in the past – in season four in particular. Back then, it was simply the principle of Jimmy’s divergence from the straight and narrow that made Kim look uneasy. Now, she has seen what happens in practice, and she, at least, has decided that she cannot be responsible for any more.
Last man standing
So much guilt, so much harm. But not everyone has their hands steeped in the blood. Mike, the good guy’s bad guy, spends the opening act cleaning up another tragedy for Gus (without receiving a single word of thanks). Tidying his stuff away afterwards he finds the ID card Nacho’s dad was supposed to receive in the event of his needing to escape the Salamancas. It never got handed over, as events got in the way; not least the death of Nacho.
Mike heads over to Manuel’s workshop where, as ever, Varga senior is hammering away at the sewing machine. Mike summons him outside to break the news about Nacho and while Manuel is shocked, he doesn’t seem surprised. He knew the world his son was in and he knows that Mike is part of it. Mike tries to assure him that the Salamancas will not attack him in future, that justice will be served.
Manuel is not impressed. He sees what most of the characters in this drama choose to ignore, and what Kim came to realise only too late: that one act of violence tends to beget another, that the spiral increases and things only get worse. “What you talk about is not justice,” he says. “What you talk of is revenge. It never ends. You are a gangster just like all the others.”
This remark cuts through to Mike, who is forced to confront the truth. Manuel, meanwhile, walks calmly back to his work. He has lost his son. He may yet be the subject of future reprisals too. But, in one crucial way, he remains unharmed.
There was something very soothing about watching Mike and his goons tidy up the Howard aftermath. Such consideration. Such consistency. Such attention to detail. If the meth game doesn’t work out (and, well, it doesn’t) then there must be some kind of Marie Kondo-style Netflix deal in it for them.
Don’t back down, double down. Perhaps it was a favour to Jimmy, perhaps this was just one final lie, but Kim’s willingness to completely throw Howard’s reputation under the bus by lying to his grieving wife’s face about cocaine was particularly unpleasant.
Another unintended consequence of Kim and Jimmy’s chicanery is the demise of the law firm that brought them together. Attending the memorial for Howard – all photos of a man having fun in the sun – Richard Schweikart tells the couple that HHM is to downsize and ditch its name. The company will now be known as Brookner Partners, perhaps in an attempt to clean up its damaged reputation.