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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Stuart Jeffries

Better Call Saul season six, part two review – the camerawork is as intricate as a Vermeer painting

Better Call Saul: Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring and Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca.
Better Call Saul: Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring and Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca. Photograph: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“How does a chichifo like you land a girl like that, huh? asks the diabolical drug thug Lalo Salamanca, smiling oleaginously below his unspeakable moustache. Kim has just driven off from her and Saul’s condo, gun and camera in the glove compartment, on a mission they don’t prepare you for in law school. She will whack upstart drug baron Gustavo Fring and return with a photograph of his corpse – else Lalo will terminate her husband, who he’s holding hostage.

Or maybe she will just speed off into the desert, like Jesse Pinkman at the end of Breaking Bad, leaving Saul to eat Lalo’s bullets. Either way, Kim has an hour. The clock is ticking.

Lalo asks a great question, the homophobic slur notwithstanding (chichifo is Mexican slang for a gay male hustler), that goes to the heart of Better Call Saul’s drama. How does a schlemiel snag a standup babe? Why do people make such apparently disastrous life choices? And why would anybody have a vanity plate on their Jag reading Namast3 if they didn’t wish to be thought quite the tool?

How come, in general, so many heterosexual men are punching above their weight with women who are sartorially, aesthetically and, most of all, morally much, much better than them? How come, in particular, lawyer Kim Wexler, her superb curly pony tail symbolising her integrity and efficiency, has fallen for a disgraced legal scammer who rebranded himself Saul Goodman and whose floppy fringe gives me the creeps?

In earlier episodes there was some backstory about Kim’s light-fingered mum – and that may have contributed to her attraction to Saul, the man who gives her the thrill of breaking the law she’s professionally bound to uphold. Most recently she has taken perverse pleasure in joining Saul to destroy Howard – a mission to do with Saul’s ambition not just to ruin his legal nemesis but to, superficially, become him, right down to copying those horrid shirt collars and fancy-schmancy tie pins.

And, there’s another reason for Kim standing by her man. Saul, counterintuitively, is a good man. At least to Kim. Her love for him makes Saul a better man, right down to the possibility he is sacrificing his life for her freedom in choosing to remain Lalo’s captive.

The episode is called Point and Shoot. What you do with a gun as much as with a camera seems so very simple – but only if you’re not paying attention. “You point and shoot and you keep on shooting until it’s empty,” says Lalo, explaining to Kim and Saul how to kill Gus. But to kill thus requires Kim to have not just a steady hand but become a completely different person.

Similarly, what looks simple in terms of camerawork in Better Call Saul is beguilingly complicated. There are lots of flourishes in this episode that testify to this – such as the moment when Lalo swings a chair under a cuffed Saul to sit him down and the camera swings in sync. The opening shot pans across a beach to the sea where a formal shoe bobs, meaning we realise not only that it belongs to dead dandy lawyer Howard Hamlin – casually slaughtered by Lalo in the previous episode – but that it has been placed there to make the cops think he killed himself. Towards the end, there is a particularly virtuoso camera sequence involving a deep-focus shot through room after room seen from Saul’s perspective, which makes the space open up like the doors of Bluebeard’s castle, or a 17th-century Dutch painting of a domestic interior, with the ingenious twist that the shot is then reversed so you get the henchman’s view of Saul.

This Vince Gilligan-directed episode loves such symmetries and reversals, most tellingly one involving guns. Lalo tells Saul and Kim to keep pulling the trigger on Gus until there is nothing left to shoot. Near the episode’s showdown between Gus and Lalo, this instruction gets ironically reversed: Gus keeps pulling the trigger on his nemesis long after he has fired his last shot.

But it’s not the gun, rather the camera that gets the best shot and the last word. Under the laundry in the desert is a big hole that Gustavo’s German engineers spent months excavating to create, possibly, the world’s biggest meth lab. And, now, under that, Mike has directed Gus’s henchmen to dig another hole. In it are placed two corpses. The camera lingers on them: as if this were the most cursed of forced marriages, this mismatched couple will lie together for all eternity.

As Tyrus fills in the grave with the backhoe, we realise something more. These two corpses, like human sacrifices to the God of Illicit Pharmaceuticals, are destined to become part of the foundations of the lab where, in Breaking Bad, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman will make industrial quantities of high-grade crystal meth.

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