Better Call Saul’s Plan and Execution is an tense and moving watch.

by | May 24, 2022 | All, Reviews

If you’ve seen the mid-season finale of Better Call Saul then you’re probably still sat aghast. I spent its closing moments with my hand clasped over my mouth as if I’d just witnessed something horrific. Thinking about it now, with a few days to let the episode sink in, I had witnessed something horrific.

I’ll admit there have been times that I’ve struggled with this first part of the final season. As a show, Better Call Saul has always revelled in taking its time to get to a certain point. It’s a show where we the audience are often kept at arm’s length while the main characters put their plans into action.

Vince Gilligan has often said of Breaking Bad that he wanted to take Walter White from Mr Chips to Scarface. It was an exhilarating journey from start to finish as this ordinary chemistry teacher slowly morphed into one of the most dangerous men on screen. We saw every bit of his transition.  I’ve done three subsequent rewatches of the show and actually, you can see shades of the man Walt was to become from the very start. His cancer diagnosis almost gives him an excuse to become the man he wishes to be.  Walt is different to Jimmy. Even in his darkest moments, Walt tells himself he’s still committing crimes under the guise of providing for his family. Jimmy has his hand forced into the underworld when he’s ostracized by the law firm that carries his late bother’s name.

The first part of this final season (the season will resume on Netflix in July) has focused on Jimmy and wife Kim’s attempts at bringing down Howard Hamlin (partner in law firm HHM) once and for all.

Early in “Plan and Execution,” a young HHM associate named Cary is so startled to find Howard Hamlin in the conference room well ahead of the planned mediation with the Sandpiper defence team that he spills a tray of drinks. It’s then we get a mention of Chuck (Jimmy’s brother who has loomed across every episode since his demise in the superb third season). Howard tells Cary, who is unaware of Chuck being the M in HHM,  that Chuck thought he could control everything until he couldn’t, and then kept trying even after that until his brother ruthlessly showed him otherwise.

It’s an episode that feels tense from the off. It puts the audience in the shoes of that nervous new employee who panics at just the sight of Howard. Director Thomas Schnauz (who directed a lot of the best episodes of Breaking Bad) expertly builds tension, lingering on Howard’s face as his pupils begin to dilate or the panic between Kim and Jimmy as they rush to finish their plot to make those around Howard think he had lost his mind. The pair had already planted the seed that Howard had used a prostitute, planted drugs at his golf club and convinced him to hire a PI to follow Jimmy around, who it was revealed in this episode was actually working with Jimmy and Kim to bring Howard down.

It’s an episode that toys with the audience as often as its toys with its characters. Lalo spends the majority of the episode scoping out Gus’s laundry. There’s a sense throughout that Gus and his empire might is going to come under a severe attack. Even Gus, who spends the episode donating gifts to charity, shows a rare moment of vulnerability when Mike informs him Lalo is back and seeking revenge.

This is, as we’ll discover those horrific closing moments, yet another trick that writers Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and Thomas Schnauz are playing on us.

Back at the crucial Sandpiper hearing, we finally realise what Jimmy and Kim have been working on. All these weeks of filming sketches, filming Jimmy sitting on a bench receiving a brown envelope have led to this moment. Before the meeting, Howard’s PI (who is working for Jimmy remember) shows Howard a photo of Jimmy receiving an envelope from a moustached man with a broken arm. Howard is none the wiser as to the importance of this until the Judge in the Sandpiper case arrives in the meeting room. A grey-haired, moustached man with a broken arm. As he’s the only one to have seen the photos of Jimmy exchanging the envelope with the man his actions, questioning the man’s whereabouts that day and threatening to throw him out sound like wild accusations to everyone else in the room. This is only confirmed when an assistant retrieves the photos from his desk. These show Jimmy exchanging the same envelope with a man who looks completely different. It’s a clever bait and switch that further confuses everyone in the room as Howard realises what Jimmy has been up to.

Better Call Saul is a show that has always delighted in keeping one step ahead of its characters and its audience that sequence perfectly illustrates how it achieves this, whilst also making Jimmy and Kim clever enough to anticipate Howard’s every move. It’s also a clever callback to the first season. It was Jimmy who fought for the rights of the Sandpiper nursing home. It was nice too to see Irene, Jimmy’s first Sandpiper client make a reappearance.  But by the end, it’s hard not to worry about Jimmy and Kim’s souls. They’ve been devoting so much time to bringing Howard down that they’ve almost entirely lost their moral compass. Throughout this batch of episodes, it’s actually been Kim who has been pushing Jimmy closer to the dark side. “Would you rather be a friend or an enemy to the cartel?” She asks him in one important episode. When She has the chance to get her defence practice up and running in, she bails deciding instead to put her full focus on their plan.

Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca – Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 7 – Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

A lot of the worst deaths in Breaking Bad were those that occurred when a character found themselves unwittingly caught up in a world they didn’t understand. That is true of Howard who goes to Jimmy and Kim’s place to confront them. As ever, the pair are expecting his arrival and play it cool. There are a few moments when Howard berates them and refers to them as ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ when you can see Kim is on the verge of breaking her cool exterior and wishing to take credit for their elaborate ploy but all that melts into insignificance when the door opens and Lalo approaches the trio with a gun.

By the time he arrives in the apartment, a gust of wind ominously rattles a candle each time there is movement in the place. It’s one of only a handful of moments across the series where Jimmy and Kim are the terrified ones. A belligerent Howard, still desperate to have the couple confess to setting him up has no way of knowing the danger he is in. He ignores Kim’s pleas for him to leave and, in a moment I am still reeling from, Lalo shoots Howard dead.

It’s possibly the darkest the show has been to this point. Nacho’s death was brutal but both the character and the audience knew it was coming. Nacho got to go out on his own terms. Even though we knew the danger Howard was in, his death is so much more shocking. Even though I couldn’t see a way for him to escape, the speed of his death left me stunned.

Lalo may have pulled the trigger, but Jimmy and Kim set the wheels in motion long before the bloodthirsty Salamanca arrived. Throughout the entire run of the series, I have worried about the fate of Kim Wexler. This was even before she was drawn to the darkness. Now, she is in an incredibly difficult position. Like Walter White and Jesse Pinkman before her, all the danger and the collateral damage she finds herself a part of she has brought on herself. She has Howard’s blood on her hands. Howard wouldn’t have come to any harm at all if she’d carried on her journey to Santa Fe and set up, what was likely to be a very successful defence firm. Instead, she let her bitter side take over.

Even before Lalo turns up the scene between Howard, Kim and Jimmy is laced with tension. Howard’s home truths cut to the quick. He’s right when he says there is no justification for what they did to him. Especially when you consider that their primary goal was not the money, but the high of pulling it off. Jimmy and Kim did get tremendous pleasure from listening quietly to the mediation, even having sex whilst Howard had his breakdown. The pair had planned for every eventuality, but Lalo’s arrival completely threw them.

Where can we go from here? Can Kim recover from the horror of seeing Howard shot dead? Surely, her calm and collected demeanour can’t survive this? In all the press the cast and creatives did prior to the series returning they teased that the worlds of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul would collide like never before. We have been promised the returns of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman before the show takes its final bow. Though aspects of the pacing have frustrated me, the show is still consistently the best drama on television and the most exquisite character study since Breaking Bad.

Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn and Patrick Fabian are at their very best here. It’s a stunning hour of television that I’ll be thinking about constantly while I wait patiently for the show to return for its final bow. I’m not ready to say goodbye to the visceral world of Better Call Saul. I’m not even slightly prepared. With Nacho and Howard gone, only Kim and Lalo remain as the only characters here not to turn up in Breaking Bad.  I don’t know what that means for them going forward but if Plan and Execution is anything to go by, the road to the end is going to be extremely uncomfortable.

Better Call Saul returns on Tuesday 12th July on Netflix.

 

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

24/05/2022

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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