The conditions for Jimmy holding on to a credible elder-law practice, let alone staying out of jail, hinge on the tiny detail that he “must associate with law-abiding citizens.” This portion of his PPD hearing comes shortly after concluding business with Mike — who’d just cased Chuck’s place posing as a Martin’s Handyman worker — at Mr. Ehrmentraut’s favorite diner along Route 66, or so he thought. Just like Mike assumed he and Gus were square after sabotaging Hector’s delivery line.
Mike went so far as to toss Gus’s payout of $20,000 in a brown-paper sack back into Victor’s Escalade, much to Victor’s bewilderment. But while Mike claims to have Hector out of his head, his newest admirer in the cartel has burrowed deep inside it. He and Mr. Fring’s (as Lyle and the Los Pollos Hermanos crew might call him) relationship has only struck its keynote, ergo Jimmy and Mike are anything but through. Chuck might have conspired to get his brother on the doorstep of disbarment, but Jimmy’s own slippery sideline moves will seal his disrepute.
The opening titles of “Sabrosito,” which flash on Saul Goodman’s signature drawer of second-hand phones and his heinous Cookie Monster–blue carpet, inch us closer to that crucial juncture, even as the episodic action stays apace. (This last part is apparently to many viewers’ chagrin, though Better Call Saul has luxuriated in scene-to-scene depth more than lingered.) But by the time Jimmy drools over Mike’s disposable-cam shots of Chuck’s busted door — images that will come into play when Jimmy and Kim try to block the submission of Chuck’s cassette tape into evidence — deadpanning that his accomplice is the “Ansel Adams of covert photography,” it feels as if Saul’s already manifest and only Jimmy doesn’t know it.
For a prequel series whose parent drama was all about alchemy and chance, it makes sense that this tipping-point of a season has been careful to illustrate how a web of circumstance and measured choice sowed fertile ground for Walter White’s saga. Better Call Saul derives and delivers unique pleasure from filling in all that background without belying Breaking Bad’s patient precedent. In juicier reveals, like that terrific flashback to Don Eladio rubbing upstart Gus’s mere tidiness in Hector’s face, the show affects its own artful fantasy fiction. Even suspending disbelief that the clearly aged Steven Bauer could pass as a younger version of his cartel king is a kind of conceptual wink.
The gang is mostly back together (or were in their middle age as coke pushers here, far more penetrable by the time of Breaking Bad, its own pre-Saul flashbacks to Mexico notwithstanding), though there’s a rift between Hector and Juan Bolsa we’d never really gotten to witness. Hector and his driver Ximenez are eager to dump a leather bag of rolled-up bills onto Don Eladio’s patio table, buoyed by the news that they’ve opened an ice-cream business and laundering front in Albuquerque dubbed The Winking Greek, as an apparent homage to him. Hector offers him a souvenir bobblehead and some insincere cheer, and awaits his hosannas. But Gus, who couldn’t even bother to appear in person, upstages his elder nemesis, even down to the crisp Los Pollos Hermanos tee that suits Eladio’s not-at-all-gordo physique like fitted linen.
Hector’s grudge, itself born of self-inflicted animus with Gus (seems to be a pattern among these men), boils over when The Winking Greek gets raided. He takes the drastic and, as Gus had hoped, reckless step of breaking the drug game’s fourth wall and entering his adversary’s legitimate business in broad daylight, Nacho and crew in tow. When Gus gets wind from his dutiful assistant manager, the aforementioned (and adorable) Lyle, of what’s taking place, he scurries back from a goodwill visit to the Albuquerque Fire Department and confronts Hector, who’s gotten cozy with a stogie behind Gus’s desk. “From now on, you are my mule,” he rasps. “You move my product north.” Gus’s eyes betray repulsion but little fear when Hector disrespectfully scrapes gum off the sole of his snakeskin shoe, letting it flake atop Gus’s paperwork like stubborn dandruff. Hector exits, Nacho shoots Gus a knowing glance (as in, “I know my boss is losing it”), and Gus slowly turns that frown upside down, sinking a two-pointer with some customer scraps for emphasis.
Kim, à la Gus, waits for just the right moment after their PPD hearing to let down her guard and grin a winner’s grin. She knows there’s another copy of the tape, the original as it happens, meaning Chuck and Howard are falling right into her and Jimmy’s trap. Everything Kim’s worked so hard for — the namesake practice, the high-profile clients, the fancy gym membership, and the legitimacy it all represents — is at stake, but she’d never feel secure in it if there weren’t some way to confirm that, up to this point, she’s made the most ethical possible choices.
That kind of compass may be why there isn’t room for Kim in the post-Jimmy Better Call Saul–Breaking Bad pantheon. No one in the franchise’s future orbit gets to have it all. Stacey has a nice house for her and Kaylee, but at a cost they can’t imagine, culminating in Mike’s death. We can project Gus as something of an antihero through his takedown of Hector and Don Eladio, but the narcotics trade’s most careful criminal still doesn’t see the end coming. And Jimmy’s pretty sure he’s one of the good guys, but his life as Gene isn’t exactly looking up. For those fearful of Kim’s fate, take this as hopeful foreshadowing that she acts alone in starting fresh before it’s too late. If only she could have taken Francesca with her.
• Three cheers for writer Jonathan Glatzer! Best script of the season.
• What, Mike wasn’t worthy of tidier cash packaging?
• Six cheers for Harrison Thomas, a.k.a. Lyle, who veered far afield from his mischievous role as Jason Hood in Banshee.
• Vehicles can’t exceed 14 feet, eight inches in height to pass through Mike’s toll. Good to know.
• Gus delivers some solid, downright Trumpian speechifying to his employees. Hard for any show airing right now to resist.
• “Remorse pass” might have summed up Brett Favre’s career.
• Nice tender moment from Mike. We all just want to “fix something for once.”
• $2.98 for a cassette tape? HHM really does spare no expense.