One of the things I admire most about the Breaking Bad universe is how everything feels so methodically planned. In truth, when the Breaking Bad team sat down for their final season they placed a machine gun in the trunk of Walt’s station wagon. It was a decision that they almost instantly regretted. Why did they do it? They agonised over the decision before reaching the most satisfying and surprising conclusion. Those who have seen that masterful final season will know the role that machine gun played. Its use felt planned from the off as if it was there to tease what was to come. Better Call Saul has taken that idea and turned the volume up. Early on, people said the series was taking too long to get to the point where well-meaning lawyer Jimmy McGill would morph into the ruthless hack Saul Goodman we first met in Breaking Bad’s second season.
In truth, the journey, however sedate, has been every bit as engrossing and unpredictable as Breaking Bad. So much so, with only five episodes left, I’m really starting to worry about what will void the Better Call Saul void in my life.
Now, with BCS feeling even more merged in the Albuquerque we knew in Breaking Bad, a lot of the original players in Better Call Saul have already met surprisingly grisly ends. Nacho met his end at the hands of the Salamanca’s, Howard’s death was collateral damage as he find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when Lalo paid a visit to a terrified Jimmy and Kim. It’s a testament to the team working on Better Call Saul that these deaths hit as hard as they do when the majority of the fanbase is well aware that these characters don’t make it into Breaking Bad. I suppose it was too much to ask for us to learn Nacho had managed to escape the grips of the cartel and was living on an island with his father enjoying the fruits of his labour. No? OK. And as we return from the mid-season break with an episode entitled Point & Shoot, we witness another brutal death of a key player. Right from the start, picking off where we left things, with Howard’s lifeless body laying in Jimmy and Kim’s dimly lit apartment, Point & Shoot is one of the most exhilarating episodes of television this year. It felt on a par with Ozymandias – the brilliantly paced and utterly breathing episode in Breaking Bad’s final season which left me shaking by the end.
It pushed all of the characters to their limits. Saul spent the majority of the episode tied and gagged in his apartment after persuading Lalo that Kim is better suited to turn up to Gus’ compound to kill him. A shaking Kim begs the two men not to make her go but they’re not for turning. When Jimmy first turns to Kim and tells her to go, you wonder if this is ‘Slipping Jimmy’ attempting to save his own skin. Actually, it’s because he doesn’t want to leave his wife in the apartment with Lalo. Jimmy knows they come clean if Kim does end up shooting and killing someone, but he can’t protect her if he leaves the apartment.
For a lot of its run, the show has felt like two shows in one. The one where we follow Jimmy and Kim and one where we follow Mike, the sullen Cartel fixer. This episode felt, possibly for the first time like one show with all the pieces expertly put into place.
At his compound, complete with underground tunnels that lead to his lab, Gus is possibly the most rattled we’ve ever seen him. Surrounded by guards, he’s anticipating Lalo’s arrival. What none of us saw coming was that Lalo would leave Jimmy, gagged and tied to a chair, and make his own way to the compound to kill Gus himself. If Kim manages it before he gets there, that’s fine, but he wants the glory of seeing the lifeblood of ‘The Chicken Man’ drain from his body.
Kim’s journey to shoot Gus is brilliantly directed by Vince Gilligan. When she stops at traffic lights she’s sat opposite a police car. She starts to roll her window down before thinking better of it and driving away when the light turns green. When she arrives, gun in hand, she rings the doorbell. Kim has shown her ability to keep a cool and rational head in the dangerous moments that she and Kimmy have found themselves in. It could be argued it was Kim who pushed down the path that would see them cross paths with the cartel. She wasn’t phased by Lalo on their meeting, but she’s not a killer. Luckily for all concerned, she’s bundled into the house before she can fire any shots. Struggling to speak, she tells Mike that Lalo sent her and that he has Jimmy. Checking Gus is okay, Mike and a few of his men race to Jimmy’s apartment hoping to corner Lalo. When they discover that Lalo has left, they know Gus is in trouble.
I love how smart the show is. It’s constant turning the tables on the audience and its characters. Gus is secured in a place with armed guards, with cameras trained on every area of his vast property and yet, somehow, the guards manning the screens just miss a surprisingly stealthy Lalo making his way onto the grounds.
It would have been easy for Lalo to let Kim do the deed for him. I had halved hoped that Lalo would attempt to shoot Gus and that would mean she’d go into hiding and that would explain her absence from Jimmy’s life when he turns ‘full Saul’ in Breaking Bad. But no, that honour goes to Lalo. He would never give an amateur the job of bringing down the man he despises.
Gus, ever perceptive, feels something isn’t right in the lab. Lalo appears from nowhere, shooting dead his guards before they have time to react. He could have just as easily shot Gus, but he’d prefer to chat to him and record the act for the Salamancas. He does shoot Gus in the stomach as the pair tour the lab, but only because he knows he wears a bullet-proof vest. What he has planned for The Chicken Man will be far worse than a bullet to the brain. The episode leaves you very little time to breathe. It’s utterly hypnotic. The danger between the two men is palpable. You feel Gus is about to die, even though you know he makes it to Breaking Bad. Still, it’s hard to see how a small and unarmed man can compete with Lalo, who keeps his gun trained on his target at all times.
Never quite losing his cool, Gus chooses his moment, cutting the power and reaching for a nearby gun. Desperately firing into the darkness Gus manages to fatally shoot Lalo who we see bleeding to death as Gus stands above him with a smile on his face.
It’s an interesting choice to kill off the true villain of the piece with 5 episodes to go. A big risk. Where’s the jeopardy now if Lalo is dead and he takes their link to the cartel with him? Kim didn’t meet Gus in person but she spoke to him briefly on the phone to inform him that she was supposed to shoot him. Surely she doesn’t get caught up with Mike and Gus? Kim has an impulsive and inquisitive side but she’s smart enough (i pray) not to return to investigate who the man in the glasses is that she went there to hunt down.
Back to Lalo though. Was it right to kill off arguably one of TV’s best baddies with 5 hours of the series still to go? According to Rolling Stone TV Critic, Alan Sepinwall, it all depends on what type of story Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan are wanting to tell with their prequel.
If Saul is primarily a show about filling in historical gaps from Breaking Bad, and/or one that’s most interested in the cartel — or even equally interested in cartel world and lawyer world — then killing Lalo so early seems an odd choice. If, on the other hand, the show is primarily about the emotional journey of its title character — how, at this stage of the story, he gets from the man horrified to see Howard Hamlin’s corpse being loaded into his fridge to the man who blithely suggests that Walt and Jesse just murder Badger — then it makes all the sense in the world. Because as great an addition to the Heisenberg-verse as Lalo turned out to be, he was ultimately a tool for that journey, and not someone who had to be around through the end of it.
We’ve also got to get Gene (the incarnation of Jimmy after he fled Breaking Bad who works at a Cinnabon and is seen in the briefest moments in black and white). This fifth season began with a team clearing out the mansion that Saul lived in before he was forced to flee at the end of Breaking Bad. We also know that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are reprising their roles but at this point, they don’t quite as vital to Saul’s story or the wider story as fans had wanted them to be at the start of the prequel.
I have no idea where we go from here. Jimmy and Kim are both shellshocked by Howard’s death and despite Mike assuring them that they are to behave as if nothing happened, it’s hard to see how they can. Mike has given them a backstory, in case anyone saw Howard’s car parked at the complex, and he’s taken his car and clothes to be discovered at a later date. Wherever we go from here, I’m still terrified for Kim.
Point & Shoot is an example of the perfect episode of television. Full of standout moments that will undoubtedly have their repercussions going forward. Jimmy and Kim were pushed to the brink more than ever before but this wasn’t their story, it was Lalo’s and he went out in spectacular fashion.
Gordon Smith’s script, showed Lalo, Jimmy, Mike and Gus as clever, quick thinking and at some points ruthless. It’s an episode that takes some digesting. It’s also an episode that raises the question again, is Better Call Saul a better show than its predecessor? I don’t feel ready to answer that quite yet. I don’t feel ready for Better Call Saul to end either.
Better Call Saul Continues Mondays on AMC and Tuesdays on Netflix.