Welcome back, folks, to another Better Call Saul recap. This week we’re looking at Episode 5 of the final season, titled “Black and Blue,” and this was another great, tension-filled episode full of terrific performances and plenty of interesting plot elements.
The episode starts off with a montage of an old-fashioned slide rule that is carefully placed in a black box labeled “In Liebe … Deine Jungs,” which, roughly translated, means, “With Love … Your Boys.”
It’s 3:17 a.m. and Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) can’t sleep — I know the feeling. She tosses and turns and decides to get up. After looking out the window, she carefully places a chair in front of the door before sitting down to have a nervous smoke. Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) wakes up, sees the chair, and finally decides to have a chat with the wife.
Jimmy still thinks Lalo Salamanca is dead and says as much, leading to a great moment where Kim outwardly weighs whether or not to tell him the truth — or, at least, what Mike (Jonathan Banks) told her last week. She passes this time — at this point, does it really matter? — gets up and removes the chair from the door, and the pair get on with their day.
Back with the ever paranoid, but overly prepared Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), we see the poor guy attempting to go about his day-to-day activities as usual. The camera follows him about his restaurant so that we sense the paranoia. At one point, he attempts to take an order but gets a funny feeling that’s interrupted when one of the staff drops a tray — teens, amirite?
Gus, seemingly tired of his paranoia, charges out of the restaurant like the Terminator and surveys the parking lot. Like us, he knows something bad is coming, but what?
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We cut to Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) and Cliff (Ed Begley Jr.), who linger on the sidelines while Erin (Jessie Ennis), their loyal assistant, discusses the Sandpiper case with a room full of angry clients. Some are getting restless, which makes sense considering many likely can’t afford to wait too long to get their money if you catch my drift.
Howard rises and, in his words, puts out a major fire, but not before his anxious knee tapping draws Cliff’s attention.
Remember, Cliff thinks Howard might be a drug addict who tosses hookers out of his speeding car in the middle of the day (thanks to Jimmy and Kim). And so anything out of the ordinary — a slight twitch or look — draws even more suspicion. Honestly, this whole situation is quite hilarious, but also extremely depressing. Howard is a good guy. Uptight, maybe. Stiff, perhaps. But he’s still a good guy who just had the unfortunate luck of getting stuck between two warring brothers.
Anyways, following Howard’s dousing of the flames, Cliff pulls him aside and asks him point-blank what the hell is going on. Howard, ever the patient, articulate fellow, tries to understand what he’s being accused of — “I threw a woman out of my car. In the middle of the street. And I — Zip, I just drive right past ya … That’s what you’re saying?”
Cliff isn’t buying Howard’s bullshit, not knowing that it is actually not bullshit. “I just need you to know that I know,” he says sharply. When Howard denies the allegations, Cliff cuts him off. “Yeah, I’m sorry, but that’s the kind of thing my son used to say.” (I don’t recall this backstory, but it’s been a while since I’ve watched the previous seasons.) “Howard, there’s no harm in asking for help.”
Howard tries to put the pieces together, listing the bag of drugs at the country club, the strange meeting with some clients who Cliff can’t name due to confidentiality, and now the car incident that occurred during a meeting with — “Wait, who were you meeting with?” Howard asks.
“Kim Wexler,” Cliff responds.
The look on Howard’s face is heartbreaking. He looks like he just got kicked in the gut by an elephant. The immediate shock is quickly replaced by grunts of anger. “Alright,” he says in a manner that suggests he’s done playing games. “Of course,” he laughs. “I do have a problem Cliff. Just not the problem you think.”
Yikes. This could get really ugly.
At this moment, I suspect something bad is going to happen to Howard. And it’s going to be Jimmy and Kim’s fault. I know this because Cliff is left thinking his buddy has a problem, which will make for a nice alibi should things go south for Jimmy. Will Lalo come after Jimmy and end up killing Howard?
Howard backs his car towards the camera and we get a close-up of his license plate: NAMAST3, or namaste, which is a customary Hindu greeting.
We jump to the shopping center where we see Francesca Liddy (aka Saul’s ornery secretary in Breaking Bad played by Tina Parker) pull up to Jimmy’s new operation. She’s surprised to see clients lining the front and even more surprised to see Jimmy standing inside the empty locale. He spots her, lets her in, and tells the waiting group “9 a.m. sharp” before locking the door.
Surprisingly, they obey.
Jimmy shows Francesca her desk — a fold-out table in the middle of the empty room — and makes his pitch: “What Colonel Sanders is to chicken, Saul Goodman is to the law.”
“Why me,” she asks.
“Because I trust you,” he replies, which isn’t enough. She makes for the exit and he tempts her by promising to double her salary and offering a signing bonus.
“I get a say in the decorating,” she says.
Again, the way this show has seamlessly integrated Breaking Bad characters is legendary.
In her favorite new meeting spot, Kim meets with Viola Goto and I’m instantly reminded how old I am — I remember when Keiko Agena was just a kid on Gilmore Girls! Anyways, Kim apologizes for leaving her in the lurch with Mesa Verde, Kevin, etc. Turns out, Viola is working on Sandpiper.
“Right,” Kim says, “I think I heard that.” Hmm, is this another step in the plan? Kim fishes for the name of the judge presiding over the case. Casimiro, Viola reveals.
Viola then tells Kim how much she respects her decision to leave Schweikart and Cokely to help the little guy.
“Well,” Kim says with a smile, “I’m just getting started.”
Kim still seems a little … more hesitant than usual. She seems a little taken aback when Viola commends her for her nobility. Indeed, that last look right before she sips her drink speaks volumes.
Okay, so, my hunch is that Kim will actually switch gears and try to make last-second amends but then something happens to Howard that keeps both her and Jimmy stuck in the mud. Maybe they need help and in their desperation, they turn to a man they don’t fully understand — Lalo — who just wants to watch the world burn. Had to do that, sorry.
Ok, so Jimmy meets up at some dark locale (never a good sign) to speak with a potential client. A Mr. H.O. Ward. Or, Howard. Jimmy doesn’t seem too shocked by his presence and even pokes fun at his supposedly having “shanked some dude in a rumble near Central Park?” Cute, Howard.
Interestingly, Howard is adorned in a cutoff shirt — is this the first time we’ve seen the character go casual? — and standing in front of a boxing ring. My mind immediately races to Million Dollar Baby and a slow-motion shot of Howard breaking his neck on a stool. Howard says he’s tired and believes he and Jimmy should “punch out” their differences. Maybe that will help amend whatever fractures exist in their relationship. Honestly, this isn’t the worst idea. Jimmy is clearly harboring a lot of anger towards Howard that mostly stems from the hate Jimmy had towards his brother. Again, Howard was just unfortunate enough to stand in the way of the tornado.
The pair eventually hop in the ring. Howard’s right, Jimmy wants this. Bad. The pair fight like a couple of old men. Body blows followed by some hard shots to the head. Finally, Howard lands Jimmy on his back with a swift uppercut to his jaw. (Hence, the name of the episode, “Black and Blue.”)
“You’ve mistaken my kindness for weakness,” Howard says, clearly hurt more than ever by this betrayal.
Howard leaves the gym, hops in a car with a creepy-looking guy, and orders him to follow Jimmy. “I want to know everyone he talks to,” he says, and I’m honestly not sure if this is part of Jimmy and Kim’s plan or a massive hiccup. This seems too simple. Jimmy had a wall decorated in specific details and steps that would be required to pull off this feat. It’s not like him to make a misstep. I imagine he’s going to run to Cliff and pretend Howard beat him up, or something …
Kim & Jimmy
After another set of commercials — stop showing Top Gun: Maverick, please! I’m going to see it! — we cut to Kim smoking on a ledge. She doesn’t seem too surprised to see her spouse appear with bruises. She doesn’t even ask what happened. So, yeah, this is all going according to plan.
Kim reveals the judge she coaxed out of Viola — just another day’s work — and the pair lie down to sleep. Jimmy asks why he let Howard suck him into his game.
“Because you know,” Kim says nonchalantly. “You know what’s coming next.”
We’re back at the bike riding couple’s house after a wicked shot where the camera was seemingly attached to a garage door. I know it’s minor, but I love the creativity. Mike rolls out of the trunk, tired and worn down. This is what Lalo wants — he’s essentially Bane, wearing down his enemies before attacking when they least expect it. All is quiet with the survey team.
Mike moves down the hallway and finds Gus cleaning a bathtub with a toothbrush. He can’t sleep. He’s agitated. The waiting is killing him. It’s interesting to see Gus behave in such a manner when we’re so used to seeing the man in charge. Calm, cool, collected. In point of fact, his ego is ultimately what kills him in Breaking Bad — he underestimates Walt and gets himself blown up. Here, though, the man has yet to reach the apex of his criminality; and is still just a minion clinging to the bottom rung of the ladder.
If memory serves, Walt followed a similar trajectory during his battle with Gus. He remained inside his house, paranoid and afraid … unable to handle the tension. When he finally blasts Gus off his throne, he too swallows a cup full of false immortality, which ultimately leads to his downfall. In a sense, Gus’ rise is ultimately what leads to Walt’s fall. Or, maybe I’m looking into this way too much.
(Also, at some point Gus has to earn Mike’s respect, right? This is the man the old codger referred to as Jesse James. So far, Gus has done nothing to earn Mike’s respect.)
Following the commercial break, we’re back at Gus’ still-in-construction lab.
Mike leaves Gus to his own devices inside the lab. He counts the distance from the walls of the place to a tractor where he stows his ankle gun. Clearly, the action calms his nerves somewhat. After all the waiting, he seems happy to finally have some sort of plan, even if it seems foolhardy at best.
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We happen upon a German couple playing a game just beyond an older woman seated at a bar. And then we hear it, the unmistakable voice of Lalo Salamanca. He flirts with the mysterious woman. Clearly, something is up. “Ben,” as Lalo (Tony Dalton) calls himself, gets her alone at a table and the conversation turns to her husband — a man who died saving his fellow workers from a cave-in.
Ah, now I get it. This is Marguerite, the wife of Werner Ziegler — you remember, that dude who lost his mind building Gus’ lab? The one Mike begrudgingly shot in cold blood after one too many incidents? It’s all coming together. (I also get the mysterious item/gift at the beginning of the episode. Brilliant.)
Marguerite switches topics. “Tell me about New Mexico.” Lalo smiles one of those dangerous smiles. “You would love it.”
We cut to the pair wandering through her neighborhood. She bids him auf wiedersehen, goes inside, and we get a creepy shot of Lalo walking away and vanishing in the street.
The sun rises and Lalo returns, breaks into her home, and searches the place for more information on Werner’s work. His investigation is cut short when Marguerite arrives home. Lalo attaches the silencer to his gun. Then, spots the slide rule seen at the beginning of the episode sitting on a shelf. Marguerite investigates her home — just run lady! — and spots an open window, which she shuts … and, cut to credits.
It’s a truly gripping scene. So many things could have happened, but Better Call Saul isn’t ready to show its hand just yet; and obviously enjoys ratcheting up the tension.
Odds and Ends
- As you can see, I’m all over the place when watching this show. Saul plays me like a fiddle.
- The midseason finale is already next week and things are about to get nuts. What happens to Lalo? Will Kim ultimately regret her choices, or is that just a red herring to distract us from her true self? Sure, she’s scared of Lalo, but otherwise doesn’t seem to get too flustered at her and Jimmy’s criminal activity so long as no one reminds her of the good person she used to be.
- Seeing Gus so uptight was actually quite alarming. It made me uncomfortable as he’s the one man on this series who seemingly doesn’t fold under pressure. When he’s rattled, you know we’re all screwed.
- Howard probably should have stopped and explained everything to Cliff before charging away. His last line, “I’ve got a Jimmy problem,” likely won’t help matters. Of course, Kim and Jimmy’s plan is absurdly accurate right down to knowing exactly how Howard will behave. Sure, the boxing match was probably unexpected, but they figured he would figure out what was going on and knew he would strike in some way, shape, or form.
- Saul Goodman wears bright-colored suits that contrast with Jimmy’s dressed-down simplicity. I wonder if Kim will ditch the flower blouses for something different — the way Walt sported a top hat once he fully transformed.
- Perhaps, defeating Howard is what gives Kim the confidence needed to push forward. She needs to see that crime does indeed pay.
- I’m betting Jimmy could have taken Howard. He’s far too theatrical in the boxing scene and likely took one for the team in order to propel the plan forward. Of course, he gets in a few good jabs but otherwise lets himself get taken out in a dramatic, hands-in-the-air fashion.
- Did the plan require Jimmy to get his butt kicked? I’d like to see the next steps in their plan in the event Howard didn’t fully snap after his meeting with Cliff.
- More than ever, the two storylines of Better Call Saul — Jimmy and Kim & Mike and Gus — feel intertwined more than ever before. At times, the show would leave one and shift to the other, much to my chagrin. It’s interesting how Lalo is the throughline for both plots, as his character presents a problem for both parties.
- I do find it hilarious that Lalo wasn’t even near Gus this whole time. Instead, he was in Germany seeking intel. His appearance in this episode afforded me a sigh of relief. It feels better knowing where he is rather than trying to guess where he will be if that makes any sense.
Overall, another terrific episode, but that’s just par for the course with Better Call Saul. Nothing feels like filler even when it kind of is. By now, Vince Gilligan and his legion of directors know how long to milk a scene or storyline for all it’s worth before delivering the gut-wrenching payoff. I like that they never resort to shocking end-of-episode climaxes, and instead allow Lalo to quietly escape through the window.