Friday, April 22, 2022

Better Call Saul, Season 6, Episodes 1 and 2, “Wine and Roses,” “Carrot and Stick”

Midway through “Wine and Roses,” the season six premiere of Better Call Saul, Kim discusses a potential con with Jimmy, telling him, “It has to be paced right. We move too fast they’ll see us coming. And it has to make sense…. There has to be a reason for everything.” This line of dialogue might as well be the Better Call Saul writers making a statement about what this final season of Better Call Saul has to accomplish. It perfectly corresponds with the writers’ need to negotiate viewers’ expectations about its most pressing unresolved questions, including whether or not Kim is a part of Saul’s life during the Breaking Bad years, what finally pushes Jimmy to become the Saul we know from Breaking Bad (or if “Saul Goodman” is merely a persona Jimmy performs for his clients), if/how Nacho and Lalo survive, and what becomes of Jimmy/Saul/Gene in his post-Breaking Bad life. Pacing, as always, is key, and any surprises need to be firmly rooted in the slow progression of changes the characters have undergone as they inch closer to the material we’re already familiar with from Breaking Bad.

The first two episodes (airing back-to-back) waste no time in hinting at answers to some of those lingering questions. The prologue of the first episode, “Wine and Roses,” breaks from previous season premieres by beginning not with a flash forward to Cinnabon Gene, but to the aftermath of Saul’s disappearance at the end of Breaking Bad: workmen empty out Saul’s house, inventorying and confiscating his belongings. The entire scene is a marvelous tease. This is the first glimpse we’ve seen of Saul’s home life from during the Breaking Bad years, and just by looking at the house and its décor, it seems like “Saul Goodman” is more than a mask Jimmy simply slips on whenever he needs to. Saul’s mansion is gaudy and ostentatious, just like Saul himself, full of tiger-skinned blankets, a bed with a mirrored canopy, Doric columns, antiquities, walls plastered with floor-to-ceiling reproductions of renaissance paintings, and gold leaf trim on just about everything from door handles to curtains to toilets. It’s the kind of living space that would be uncomfortable for anyone who didn’t actually enjoy these trappings, and its poor taste seems to confirm that the final season of Better Call Saul will depict the last stages of Jimmy turning into a miserable sleazebag (especially the golden toilet, which has other negative, real-world connotations).

More significantly, the only trace of a woman’s presence in Saul’s mansion is a pink g-string hanging from the bathtub faucet. Not only does this not seem like something Kim would wear, but we also get no hint of her active presence in any of the other spaces of the mansion: Saul’s enormous walk-in closet houses only his (extensive) wardrobe, and his bathroom vanity is piled high with only his prescriptions and toiletries (he even uses the second sink as storage for various soaps). Perhaps this is merely misdirection, and Kim has her own living space elsewhere, but all of this seems to lend credence to the notion that Kim is out of his life by the time Saul meets Walt and Jesse.

Still, vestiges of Jimmy’s life with Kim linger in the margins: a workman carries away the painting that hangs above their couch in their shared 2004 apartment, and next to it are some of the classical Hollywood movie posters that adorn their walls. Likewise, at one point we can spot the Olivia Bitsui photo that clinched the Mesa Verde case in Acker’s favor in "Wexler v. Goodman." Most tellingly, at the very end of this prologue, the camera pushes in on the cap from the expensive bottle of tequila Kim and Jimmy once conned Ken Wins into buying, which falls from a dresser drawer and into a gutter. This bottle cap is an emotionally charged object: it’s the lone keepsake Kim made a point of retrieving from her office when she left Schweikart & Cokely, and it’s become symbolic of the appeal Jimmy holds for Kim. We’ll have to find out how it winds up amongst Saul’s stuff, but seeing it fall into the gutter here seems to be foreshadowing about the future of their relationship.

This prologue is also interesting for what it doesn’t show, namely Gene. By breaking with the pattern of beginning each season with Gene, the series is postponing – possibly to the series finale – answers to questions about Gene’s fate (specifically, how he intends to “fix” the problem of his having been identified by an Omaha cabbie, but more generally, whether he can come to some sort of peace with his life). Withholding the Gene material until later is a smart storytelling choice because it leaves open a number of possible directions for the plot, and even the possibility that some threads won’t resolve until the entire series catches up with Gene.

Finally, the prologue to “Wine and Roses” also suggests the direction of a plot thread initiated in last season’s finale, “Something Unforgiveable,” specifically Kim and Jimmy’s plan to expedite a settlement in the Sandpiper case. This prologue makes it seem like their attempt will be successful, at least monetarily, because while Jimmy’s mansion might be in poor taste, it’s also expensive. This kind of lifestyle doesn’t seem like one that can easily be financed by the petty criminals Saul will come to represent, but the $2 million he stands to gain from the settlement could easily act as seed money for what we see in this prologue (either that, or he paid for it through his future money laundering schemes).

Regardless, both “Wine and Roses” and “Carrot and Stick” imply that there’s still a surprisingly long road to travel before Jimmy turns into the kind of person that would live in the prologue’s mansion. Post-prologue, “Wine and Roses” picks up right where we left off in season five, with Kim feeling totally comfortable ruining Howard to advance her and Jimmy’s prospects, and with Jimmy still perturbed by Kim’s comfort. Indeed, when we rejoin the characters the morning after their final scene from last season, Jimmy seems to have slept very little, while Kim slept comfortably.

Jimmy, of course, is still suffering from lingering PTSD after his multiple near-death experiences involving the cartel (his desert misadventures in “Bagman,” and his subsequent confrontation with Lalo in “Bad Choice Road”), which explains why later that day he needs to brace himself for an encounter with the ADA and detective assigned to Lalo’s murder case. Lalo’s fake identity, “Jorge de Guzman” has begun to fall apart, and Jimmy must deflect the ADA and detective’s questions by playing dumb, which he does until he slips up and refers to “de Guzman” as Lalo. Jimmy quickly covers for the slip, but it’s a telling mistake. At this point, “Saul Goodman” is still just a mask Jimmy dons when needed, rather than who he really is, and his PTSD causes that mask to slip a little.

Subsequent scenes from both this episode and “Carrot and Stick” also reveal not only that the Saul we know from Breaking Bad is still a work in progress, but that, surprisingly, Kim is actually instrumental in helping Jimmy develop the Saul Goodman persona further. When she and Jimmy meet for dinner later, it’s her idea that Saul should have a flashy American-made car and an eye-catching office. She even describes his potential office as a “cathedral of justice,” which is exactly what Jimmy/Saul will make it look like: columns resembling the neoclassical architecture of government buildings, U.S. constitution wallpaper, and of course, an enormous inflatable statue of liberty on the roof, the idea for which Jimmy is clearly inspired by when he sees one outside of the Kettleman’s office in “Carrot and Stick.”

Kim’s eagerness to help Jimmy acquire what will become Saul’s talismans speaks once again to how much she’s changed since the start of last season. In the first episode of season five, “Magic Man,” Jimmy tries to explain to her his decision to practice law under his new name, and she tells him that she “just can’t see it.” In “Wine and Roses” though, not only can she it, she sees it better than he does. Jimmy has been shaken by his near-death experiences, but it seems Kim has been emboldened, so much so that she’s eager to continue to plan with Jimmy for how to ruin Howard in order to push the Sandpiper case to a faster settlement. Once again, Jimmy is initially reluctant, continuing their role reversal from the end of “Something Unforgiveable.” However, there are limits to Jimmy’s reluctance. He’s still Jimmy, after all, so he’s willing to hear her out. It’s here where we’re treated to Kim’s marvelously reflexive line of dialogue about the need for delicacy in their plans.

Of course, the scene ends before Kim reveals what those plans are. Withholding this information is means of preventing viewers from seeing what’s coming, but this is nothing new for Better Call Saul. One of the series’ most frequent narrative tactics is to drive interest by restricting our range of knowledge, which in turn heightens curiosity and creates opportunity for surprises. Here, we learn only that the start of the con involves Cliff Main, Jimmy’s old employer from Davis & Main, but the rest of the episode eventually reveals that phase one of their plan to ruin Howard’s reputation is to convince Cliff that Howard has a cocaine problem.

We next see Jimmy when he visits Cliff and Howard’s country club in order to plant some “cocaine” (really baby powder) in Howard’s locker, banking on it falling out of the locker in front of both Howard and Cliff, and thus sewing the first seeds of doubt about Howard in Cliff's mind. The entire scene is chockablock with Better Call Saul’s usual suspenseful acumen: Jimmy alternately uses bluster, charm, and a splash of improvisation to sneak into the locker room and plant the evidence, and with some quick thinking and a little luck, he pulls it off.

Like all of Jimmy and Kim’s cons, the scene is diverting, and it provides yet another opportunity for the series to display its mastery over clockwork suspense sequences, which are so commonplace (both here and on Breaking Bad) that it’s almost not even worth commenting on, except for three details. First, it’s notable that the con provides Kim with exactly the kind of thrill she wants out of her relationship with Jimmy. She relishes the jolt of suspense she receives from Howard and Cliff unexpectedly returning to the locker room before Jimmy is finished. Second, this con provides Jimmy with a low-stakes opportunity to reclaim his swagger. It’s the first time since before his trip to pick up Lalo’s bail money that Jimmy hasn’t appeared rattled in one way or another. He even improvises past an unexpected roadblock: Kevin from Mesa Verde spots Jimmy and quietly nixes the tour Jimmy requested as an excuse for getting into the locker room (Jimmy hilariously accuses the country club of anti-Semitism, causing a scene by trading on the Jewish roots of his adopted business name).

Finally, it’s also worth noting Jimmy booked the country club tour under the name Saul Goodman rather than Jimmy McGill. It makes sense, considering that Saul is a persona he uses for his professional life, and that con artistry is also one of his professions, but it’s also the first time we’ve seen Jimmy use Saul’s name outside of building his law practice (yes, he used it to sell burner phones in season four, but that was a part of his law practice in the sense that he was establishing a client base). Perhaps Jimmy going by Saul here is one step closer to his using Saul’s name in both his public and private lives.

“Carrot and Stick” finds Kim and Jimmy enacting the next stages of the con, and once again Better Call Saul provides a selective amount of information to generate out interesting in the unfolding action. Here, we learn quickly that Jimmy and Kim’s goal is to use a second source to corroborate Cliff's suspicions of Howard’s cocaine habit, and we even learn that they want to do it by having a fake potential client approach Cliff after having left HHM over suspicion of Howard’s drug use. However, when Kim has an epiphany, the scene ends before we learn what it is.

What’s remarkable about this scene is Kim’s nonchalance: she distractedly eats breakfast as she and Jimmy brainstorm scenarios that would get Cliff to take a meeting with a fake client, but not take the fake client’s case. Once again, it’s a far cry from her blanching at Jimmy’s shenanigans with Mesa Verde and Acker a season ago. Also remarkable is that they’re full partners in their brainstorming, rather than one of them serving as the lead, which has always been the case previously (Jimmy took the lead in many of their earlier cons, but lately, it’s been Kim in charge, as we saw in her defense of Huell in “Coushatta,” and again in planting the fake cocaine in “Wine and Roses”).

It turns out that Kim’s epiphany involves a pair of characters last seen in season one, Betsy and Craig Kettleman. While it’s nice that the series is calling back on its own history in this final season, I was not exactly excited to see the Kettlemans again, considering that I found them to be particularly broad characters the first time around. Little has changed about them in “Carrot and Stick”: Betsy is still a greedy buffoon who thinks she’s smarter than she actually is, while Craig is her inexplicably nice, browbeaten husband. We last left these two when Jimmy forced them into being represented by HHM, which they resisted because it would mean taking a plea deal and jail time for the $2 million Craig embezzled as treasurer of Bernalillo County.

Kim and Jimmy use Betsy’s greed and hatred of Jimmy to manipulate the Kettlemans into cooperating with their con. Jimmy suggests to them that he can help them restore Craig’s good name by claiming that Howard was “impaired” by cocaine while representing them, and pretends to be concerned over their taking his defense strategy to another law firm, which is of course exactly what he wants them to do. Jimmy plays them like a fiddle, vehemently arguing that he should be the one to represent them, even deliberately namedropping Davis & Main as a potential rival just to increase the odds that they shop the case there. It’s exactly what a good con should be: getting your mark to think they’re doing what’s in their best interest, when really, it’s just serving your own ends.

Just as Kim predicted, Cliff declines the Kettlemans’ case when they meet with him, but his doubts about Howard have now been reinforced. In any other situation, Cliff would likely dismiss the Kettlemans as transparently greedy crackpots trying to sully others’ reputations to save their own, if not for his having seen with his own eyes evidence of their accusations about Howard. Indeed, the Kettlemans are so transparent in their greed that Kim and Jimmy have even come up with a plan for when the Kettlemans inevitably attempt to blackmail Jimmy once they figure out that he was really just using them to assassinate Howard’s reputation.

In getting the Kettlemans to back down, Jimmy brandishes the “carrot” and Kim the “stick” of the episode’s title. Jimmy tries to bribe them into staying quiet, but when that fails to work on Betsy (who’d rather hurt Jimmy than take his money), Kim threatens to report them for tax preparer fraud, since their new business involves filing others’ taxes and embezzling money off them in the process. It’s interesting because Kim – the character who has perhaps changed the most over the course of the series – relies on the Kettlemans being incapable of change, and being just as greedy and stupid here as they were back in season one (they've even repeated the same crime that landed Craig in prison in the first place).

Also significant: Jimmy can hardly seem to stomach Kim’s brandishing of the stick, even though she wields it expertly (and mercilessly). Jimmy can’t even look at her as she threatens the Kettlemans; he sags against the wall as she forces them into not only keeping quiet about Howard, but also returning the money they’ve stolen from their clients. Jimmy would have cheered on Kim from the sidelines were she to have demonstrated such remorselessness prior to “Bagman,” but now, he seems to feel bad about putting the Kettlemans through such a stressful situation, and after Kim leaves, he gives them the money he initially offered them, seemingly as a sort of apology.

It’s yet another great scene that shows why Kim is such a great character (her threat to the Kettlemans is very real – she calls the IRS’s Criminal Investigations office, and even knows the people working there), but it’s also interesting because Kim behaves with a degree of smugness that will be routine for Saul on Breaking Bad. However, there’s also an important difference. Kim’s contempt for the Kettlemans seems to stem from their hubris and their lack of perspective, rather than from any Saul-like relish she might feel from having them over a barrel. Betsy whines throughout this scene about her and Craig having “lost everything,” which sets Kim on edge, considering that recently she thought she had lost Jimmy in the desert. Kim tells the Kettlemans they have no idea what it’s like to lose everything, and while she’s right, it’s also easy to anticipate that her true loss is yet to come, especially in the context of the prologue in “Wine and Roses.”

However, it remains to be seen what shape that loss will take. Perhaps it will have something to do with car that follows Jimmy and Kim after they leave the Kettlemans. It’s unclear who this mystery tail is, but perhaps they’ll introduce some complications into Jimmy and Kim’s plans regarding Howard. My suspicion is that it might be someone from the cartel side of the show. Even though the characters we know from the cartel are preoccupied with other business this week, and even though this final season has begun with the cartel and lawyer halves of the show involved in independent plots once again, Better Call Saul reached new creative peaks last season when it finally integrated these two halves, thus it seems inevitable that they’ll combine again somehow as Better Call Saul draws to a close. After all, somehow Jimmy has to discover that Lalo is still alive to explain his terror at the thought of Lalo the one and only time he mentions Lalo on Breaking Bad.

Speaking of the cartel side of the show, Nacho, Lalo, Gus, and Mike find themselves dealing with the fallout over Gus’s assassination attempt on Lalo. Lalo is determined to make it look like the attempt was successful (giving him more freedom to act against Gus, who he intuits was behind the attempt), even going so far as to murder a goat herder and his wife in order to provide a corpse that he can pass off as himself. We already knew Lalo that was the smartest of the Salamancas, and that he was also deadly, but “Wine and Roses” also reveals how calculating and ruthlessness he is. Evidently he had the foresight to prepare a body double should he ever need to fake his own death: he provided this goat herder, Mateo, with some much-needed dental surgery that would make Mateo’s teeth identical to Lalo’s, so that Mateo’s burned corpse could be positively identified as Lalo (it helps that with his beard shaved, Mateo looks like Lalo). This is some Gus-level contingency planning and cold-bloodedness, especially considering that Mateo and his wife seem to revere Lalo.

Their murders are for naught too, as Mateo’s corpse doesn’t work on Gus. Gus is skeptical of the assassins’ success since they were all killed in the attempt, and he even seems reluctant to believe the crime scene photos of Mateo’s unrecognizably burned corpse. However, a meeting with Hector tips Lalo’s hand. In “Wine and Roses,” Lalo calls Hector at the nursing home to reassure him that he is alive, and in “Carrot and Stick,” Gus realizes Lalo must still be alive because Hector is civil to Gus when Gus offers Hector his condolences about Lalo. Gus knows there is no world would Hector be civil to Gus if Lalo were actually dead. There’s some nice symmetry here in that Hector is a weakness for both Lalo and Gus, but for opposite reasons: Lalo because he loves Hector too much to let him think Lalo is dead, and Gus because he hates Hector too much to resist twisting the knife in Hector’s side, and as we know, this is a weakness Walt will later exploit to lure Gus into a deathtrap.

Nacho, for his part, spends both episodes on the run, knowing that both the Salamancas and Gus likely want him dead: the Salamancas because they will soon discover that his body isn’t amongst the deceased at Lalo’s compound, and Gus because Nacho now represents a loose end that could lead the Salamancas back to Gus were they to capture Nacho alive. For the time being, Nacho plays along with the instructions he receives from Gus’s man Tyrus, who helps him escape the immediate danger represented by the Salamancas, in the hopes that Gus might actually make good on his promise to save him, considering that he’s done everything Gus has asked. Nacho winds up in a remote motel and is told to wait there for further instructions (once again, Better Call Saul doesn’t skip any steps in exploring the ramifications of a character’s actions).

However, Nacho stews in this motel room long enough to start to become suspicious of Gus’s plans for him, especially when his motel room comes stocked with a phone, a change of clothes, and an envelope containing money and a gun. These accoutrements are a little too generous – why would Gus put so much effort into protecting him? After all, Gus has been nothing but cruel to Nacho in the past (Gus always chooses the stick over the carrot), so the supplies seem designed to lull Nacho into a false sense of security. Moreover, why not just have someone waiting for him at the motel, if they were already able to stock the room with supplies?

Mike, for his part, urges Gus to save Nacho rather than kill him. After all, Nacho has abided the code of honor that Mike lives by, and as he tells Gus, “Loyalty goes both ways.” Gus once again dismisses Mike’s suggestion, however, and Mike’s advocacy for Nacho only goes so far, thus when Gus decides it’s safer to kill Nacho than to save him, Mike begs off (and, notably, doesn’t pick up his phone later when Nacho calls asking for advice). In Mike’s book, Nacho knows what he signed up for. Live by the code, die by the code

The cartel storyline gets somewhat muddled in “Carrot and Stick,” when Mike, Tyrus, and Victor plant evidence in Nacho’s house: a Peruvian bank account transfer and the phone number of the motel where Nacho is hiding. The goal here seems to be for the Salamancas to break into Nacho’s house and discover the planted evidence, leading them to Nacho, which is more or less what happens, but this plan doesn’t entirely make sense, since doing so will lead the Salamancas back to Gus, which seems like something Gus wants to avoid.

Perhaps Gus assumes that the Salamancas will be satisfied with capturing Nacho, and not believe him when he inevitably tells them that Gus was behind the hit on Lalo (unlikely, considering the bad blood between them). Or, perhaps Gus thinks that even if they do believe Nacho, with Lalo dead the Salamancas aren’t a threat anymore. After all, Gus only learns that Lalo survived after he has Mike and co. plant the evidence of Nacho’s whereabouts.

Either way, unless I’m missing something, this is a sloppy plan – and very out of character for Gus – since letting the Salamancas find Nacho will point back toward Gus, which will create further strife within the cartel, regardless of whether or not Lalo survived the hit. It would have made far more sense for Gus to have someone waiting at the motel for Nacho, and to just kill him and be done with it (which Gus clearly had the ability to orchestrate, since he was able to provide Nacho with a bunch of supplies at the motel). It’s a very confusing piece of plotting.

Really, the entire hit on Lalo doesn’t make a lot of sense for someone as calculating as Gus. Gus had to have known that there would be fallout from attempting to assassinate Lalo so loudly and obviously, regardless of whether or not Lalo survived the hit, so it simply doesn’t make sense for him to leave Nacho’s fate up to the Salamancas. Sure, Gus never intended for Nacho to be at Lalo’s compound when the hit took place, but once Lalo took Nacho with him, it would have made more sense for Gus to just order the assassins to kill Nacho after he let them into the compound, which would ensure that the hit couldn’t be traced back to Gus.

Regardless of whether or not Gus’s plan actually makes sense, it does provide the opportunity for some interesting developments. Nacho realizes he’s being watched in “Carrot and Stick,” but gets the drop on his watcher and discovers what he had already started to assume as he stewed in the motel room: Gus is not to be trusted. He discovers this just in time too, as the Cousins arrive with an entourage intending to capture Nacho. What ensues is a fun little action sequence, complete with Nacho double fisting pistols like a John Woo hero, and some callbacks to the shootout between the Cousins and Hank on Breaking Bad, particularly Nacho almost reversing a hotwired pickup into the Cousins. Thankfully, Nacho escapes, but he remains in peril.

The more interesting ramification of Gus’s seemingly nonsensical plans involves Mike and Gus. Gus is clearly rattled by both Lalo and Nacho escaping the traps he’s laid for them, as evidenced by the increased security detail Mike has deployed around Gus’s chicken farm, and by Gus accidentally breaking a water glass when contemplating his next move. The move he settles on is unsurprising: he orders Mike to round up Nacho’s father, intending once again to threaten him in order to bend Nacho to his will (again Gus chooses the stick). What is surprising, however, is that Mike stands up to Gus.

Mike lives by a code of honor, and as far as he’s concerned, Nacho’s father is an innocent and is thus off-limits. The episode nicely prepared us for Mike’s resistance here in an earlier scene: while planting the evidence that would lead the Salamancas to Nacho, Mike tried to protect Nacho’s father by pocketing the fake Manitoba ID card Nacho had made for his dad. Mike and Gus’s conflict here is yet another indicator they are still figuring out the terms of their relationship, with Gus discovering that Mike will actively resist actions that violate his code.

We also get some clarity about Mike’s relationship to Gus’s other henchmen, Tyrus and Victor, when Tyrus pulls his gun on Mike. Way back in season four of Breaking Bad, Gus killed Victor in front of Mike because Victor had been spotted by civilians at the scene Gale’s murder. It always struck me as odd that Mike would continue to work with Gus, or let this murder go uncommented upon, given Mike’s principles, but here it becomes clear that Tyrus (and by extension, Victor) doesn’t really consider Mike one of them. It’s easy to see this moment as one where Mike draws a clear division between himself and Gus’s other men, thus his willingness to leave Gus to deal with them as he sees fit. In any case, true to character, Mike is unfazed by Tyrus (he would likely use the extra security outside of the room to surprise Tyrus), but before the situation can become fatal, Nacho calls Mike and asks to speak to Gus. It seems like we’re headed toward Gus acquiescing to Mike’s plan to extract Nacho from Mexico, which will inevitably draw him into conflict with Lalo, who is also pursuing Nacho.

In general, this was a strong pair of episodes with which to resume this series after a two year hiatus, and it's incredibly exciting to see how Better Call Saul will thread the needle of connecting everything to Breaking Bad while also satisfying its own plot threads. I'm looking forward to writing about the rest of it.

Other thoughts:

- At this point, tequila bottle cap reminds me a lot of Rosebud in Citizen Kane. In fact, a lot of the prologue of “Wine and Roses” is like the end of Kane, where the camera cranes over all of Kane’s belongings. In Kane, the camera seems to be searching for the meaning of Rosebud, just like how in Better Call Saul, we’re searching Saul’s belongings for hints about what happens between the end of the previous season and the end of Breaking Bad.

- The the prologue Saul’s walk-in closet has a secret compartment housing a security station, complete with bulletproof vests. It seems Saul learned from his desert misadventure.

- Another demonstration of how far Jimmy still has to go before becoming the Saul who will own the mansion in the prologue: his closet in the apartment he shares with Kim is much more modest.

- As if to contrast with the Kim keepsakes sprinkled throughout Saul’s mansion in the prologue, back in the “present,” Kim trashes the bullet-pierced thermos she bought Jimmy to celebrate his reinstatement at the start of season five (which itself is a reprise of another thermos she got him to celebrate his landing the Davis & Main job). Jimmy only salvaged the now-useless thermos because it was a sentimental keepsake, but Kim seems to have no use for sentimentality anymore, which speaks to her change in character. It’s also representative of their trying to move on from their encounter with Lalo, which they think behind him now that they believe Lalo is dead. This belief is disquieting for us, since now they might not have their guard up if/when Lalo returns.

- Early in “Wine and Roses,” we’re treated to a great edit when Jimmy and Kim part ways at the courthouse: Jimmy puts on a happy face and reassures Kim he’s fine, but in the next shot, elevator doors part to reveal Jimmy scowling.

- Even though Kim is eager to chase the thrill of the con, she’s also still possess a heart of gold: she tells Jimmy that her first full day of working on her stack of pending public defender cases was the best day of her professional life, and she means it. Jimmy loves that about her too – he spies her through the restaurant window before meeting her for dinner, sees her counseling one of those hard-luck cases, and a look of pride and love washes over him.

- Howard and Cliff’s discovery of the fake cocaine packet smartly makes use of Howard’s somewhat halting, mannered speaking cadence. Howard is genuinely mystified by where the packet came from, but it reads as him trying to act perplexed, which only serves to reinforce Cliff’s private concern.

- As much as I dislike how broad the Kettlemans are, I laughed when Erin reported that the Kettlemans dismissed her as a “prepubescent intern” when trying to get a meeting with Cliff. Sick burn!

- I also laughed when Craig helps Kim as she’s in the process of threatening them, telling her to dial 9 to get an external phone line.

- Cliff’s dim recollection of the Kettlemans, or “Kettlebells” as he calls them, likely mirrored many viewers’ own recollection, considering we last saw them seven years ago.

- In the prologue to “Wine and Roses,” we see a copy of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine among Saul’s stuff. That same copy of the book is resting on his nightstand near the end of “Carrot and Stick.”

- Lalo uses The Diving Bell and the Butterfly method of communicating with Hector over the phone. Maybe he read the book, since the film won’t come out for another three years.

- Better Call Saul really loves the Cousins. They receive a flashy entrance when they show up at Lalo’s home to investigate the assassination attempt, one that plays up how intimidating they are.

- Mike’s willingness to leave Nacho hanging is disappointing but not surprising. After all, Mike ended up killing Ziegler on Gus’s behalf, and Mike liked Ziegler more than he likes Nacho.

- “Wine and Roses” features a nice transition: once Nacho arrives at motel, the episode cuts to Mike and Kaylee playing with a marble maze construction set. Nacho feels very much like the marble in this maze: Gus is having him run through a predetermined track with only one exit.

- A speculative note: perhaps Lalo will unite the lawyer and attorney sides of the show if he figures out that Jimmy's lie about what happened in the desert is connected to the assassination attempt. If Jimmy had told Lalo the truth, then Lalo would have had more forewarning that Gus was trying to manipulate him, and might have realized that Gus wanted to Kill him. So, in the course of enacting his revenge, Lalo could wind up targeting Jimmy, or Kim.

- The press buildup to the show has revealed that Walt and Jesse will appear this season, which also answers another question this series has raised regarding how it will handle the Breaking Bad years. Evidently, we’re going to get some overlap between the time periods of the two shows. It will be interesting to see the degree to which Walt and Jesse’s appearances will rely on viewers having watched Breaking Bad, and I also wonder about how far we get into this season before even more pieces of Saul Goodman’s life lock into place. Overall, it's exciting news.


  1. Regarding Gus' plan, it's important to note that this isn't the same Gus from Breaking Bad. This one is still years away from the meticulous professional we saw in that show, so it's plausible that his planning would be more sloppy. Then again, it's entirely possible that he hasn't fully shown his hand yet and that the upcoming episodes will clarify his ultimate plan.

    Check out my own review of the premiere:

  2. Yeah, it's possible. There's another possibility too, which I'm writing about in my recap for next week's episode. It still bugs me though!