Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Better Call Saul Season Six, Episode Eight, “Point and Shoot”

“Point and Shoot” kicks off the final stretch of Better Call Saul by continuing the momentum of “Plan and Execution,” picking up (almost) right where we left off before the hiatus. It resolves the major outstanding cartel plot, and leaves some strong indications – as well as a few questions – about the remainder of the series. In theory, it could be difficult to make “Point and Shoot” into a compelling episode of television, since it’s mainly focused on resolving the conflict between Gus and Lalo, and thanks to the show’s prequel status, most viewers can easily guess at the general outcome of their feud, if not the specific details leading up to it. So, how does “Point and Shoot” still manage to be so (mostly) riveting? The answers have to do with some of Better Call Saul’s regular storytelling techniques and narrative conceits.

For one, “Point and Shoot” still arouses curiosity by withholding information at various points, although there’s much less of this tactic here than in a lot of previous episodes this season, since both this episode and the one before it are more invested in answering questions than in raising them. For instance, after the prologue (which itself answers questions about how Jimmy and Kim avoid being implicated in Howard’s murder by revealing that his death has been made to look like a suicide), we resume the scene that concluded “Plan and Execution,” with Lalo sitting Jimmy and Kim down and telling them what he wants them to do for him. In short, he tells Jimmy to go to Gus’s house, kill him, take a photo, and then return to show the photo to Lalo, who will be waiting with Kim as a hostage. 

Of course, Lalo knows Jimmy wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near Gus given Gus’s heightened security, thus it’s clear almost immediately that some information about Lalo’s plan is being withheld from us, so we become curious about what his true intentions are, especially given that Lalo embellishes his instructions with such specific and elaborate detail: swapping his and Jimmy’s cars, providing a hand-drawn(!) map to Gus’s house, giving Jimmy a tight deadline, and so on. Surely some aspect of these instructions will become significant. 

As it turns out, the only significant part of Lalo’s instructions is the amount of time it would take for Jimmy to follow them, since Lalo’s true target is the Laundromat. He needs to draw guards away from it to buy himself time to sneak in and discover more evidence of the super lab. Sending Jimmy on a fool’s errand to Gus’s house will buy him that time. Lalo embellishes his instructions with such detail in order to sell the plan to Jimmy and Kim. Yes, he also threatens to hold Kim hostage, which is reason enough for Jimmy to follow his instructions, but by providing them with even the smallest details (like suggestions about where to park outside of Gus’s house), he’s also trying to convince them that they will actually be able to carry it out, and discouraging them from having second thoughts. Moreover, this is just the kind of guy Lalo is – he relishes in manipulating others and enjoys minutiae, which we’ve seen repeatedly during his run on the show. Here, he's just having fun making Jimmy and Kim squirm via his nonchalance. It’s one of the reasons he’s such a compelling character, and given that this is his last episode, it’s fun to just luxuriate a little more in his unique brand of psychopathy.  

Of course, Lalo doesn’t end up sending Jimmy on this fool’s errand, because Jimmy is able to convince him to send Kim instead, which is an important detail not just for this episode, but for the evolution Jimmy has undergone these past two seasons. Jimmy is trying to protect Kim from becoming Lalo’s hostage/victim, and in doing so, he demonstrates the kind of quick thinking and resolve that we haven’t seen from him in a long time. Jimmy has faced situations like this before, particularly in his desert misadventure back in “Bagman,” and while he’s just as terrified now as he was then, now he’s better able to put his persuasive skills to use and massage the situation to avoid the outcome he most dreads. 

His ability to persuade Lalo here is a significant development because it’s the kind of experience that lends itself to Saul’s blasé attitude on Breaking Bad, both in his legal and criminal exploits. It's little wonder he’s rarely intimidated by Walt or Hank, for instance, given that they are much less terrifying than Lalo. Indeed, when Walt and Jesse drag Saul out to the desert to threaten him in Saul’s first appearance in Breaking Bad, Saul quickly pivots from being afraid for his life to throwing around his legal expertise and questioning Walt and Jesse’s motivations. His ability to quickly recover his composure – and to forgive and forget – is the mark of someone who has learned how to behave in this kind of situation, and lo and behold, “Point and Shoot” provides Jimmy with precisely the kind of experience that would make Saul such a cool customer when under that sort of pressure. In short, this illuminates another step on the path from Jimmy to Saul.

Kim, by contrast, is a quivering mess, terrified both for her life and for Jimmy’s, especially when she realizes that Jimmy intends for them to switch roles (Rhea Seehorn is fantastic, as always, especially here, since we’ve never seen Kim this shaken). Really, this entire scene is something of a role reversal for Jimmy and Kim. Previously, it has been Kim who has come to Jimmy’s rhetorical rescue, like in their previous confrontation with Lalo in “Bad Choice Road,” or in her defending Jimmy against Chuck in season two’s “Nailed.” Here, though, Jimmy is trying to protect Kim, much to her dismay, which amusingly turns the scene into a funhouse mirror version of a courtroom scene, each of them arguing for why the other should be the one to go to Gus’s house, with Lalo acting as judge (it’s even framed that way at various points, with Lalo in the background flanked by Jimmy and Kim in the foreground). 

Lalo agrees to let Kim go in Jimmy’s stead, since it doesn’t really matter to him which of them he uses as a feint to distract Gus’s security team. However, this choice will end up having significant consequences, since it will lead Gus to suspect that Lalo’s target is really the super lab. Upon Kim’s arrival at Gus’s house, Mike immediately stops her from carrying out Lalo’s plan and gets her to explain what’s happened. After Mike leaps into action to try to catch Lalo, Gus, suspecting something strange is afoot, has Victor put Kim on the phone to ask why Lalo sent her (thus gratifying my previous speculation that Kim might “meet” Gus – this counts!). When Kim tells Gus that Jimmy convinced Lalo to send her rather than Jimmy, Gus immediately realizes that Lalo didn’t care who he sent because this assassination attempt was just a distraction, and that his real target must be the super lab. Thus Gus heads there himself with the remaining security detail. Had Lalo just sent Jimmy, it’s unclear if Gus would have made the same realization.

Thus “Point and Shoot” has arranged for the inevitable final confrontation between Lalo and Gus. Gus arrives at the Laundromat and discovers telltale signs of Lalo’s entry, but before he can react, Lalo surprises him and kills Gus’s five-man security detail, all of whom seem to just stand around waiting for Lalo to shoot them. This moment is easily the sloppiest part of the episode, a contrivance meant to get Lalo and Gus alone together. Apparently Mike’s security detail is only as good as the plot needs it to be, and in this moment, it needs to be pretty incompetent. 

Regardless, the result is that Lalo has Gus over a barrel, forcing Gus to give Lalo a tour of the super lab, and allowing Lalo to add to the video he intends to send to Don Eladio as proof of Gus’s betrayal. Before killing Gus, however, Lalo gives him the opportunity to tell off Don Eladio and the Salamancas, which in turn allows Gus to set into motion the backup plan we saw him create in “Black and Blue.” As Gus begins spitting vitriol at Lalo and Don Eladio, he starts to pace back and forth, and he concludes his tirade by disabling the lights with his foot and then making a mad dash to the gun he planted on the backhoe. In the ensuing pitch-black gunfight, he manages to fatally shoot Lalo. 

While this confrontation is well-executed, particularly the gunfight and the shots taken from the perspective of Lalo’s video camera, it’s also perhaps the weakest part of the episode, and only a part of this weakness stems from its outcome being a foregone conclusion. The more significant problem here – a problem that has plagued a lot of Gus’s material on Better Call Saul – is that the scene doesn’t really tell us anything new about either character. Sure, this is probably the most compromised position in which we’ve seen Gus since Breaking Bad’s “Hermanos,” (where a flashback revealed the origin of Gus’s feud with the cartel), and in theory it’s moderately interesting for Gus to be rattled by Lalo (indeed, he ends up doing exactly what Lalo instructed Jimmy to do, which is to shoot his gun until it clicks). However, nothing about his tirade or his ability to gun down Lalo is terribly revelatory. 

We’ve seen Gus get his hands dirty before on Breaking Bad, both in killing Victor back in “Box Cutter” and in poisoning Don Eladio in “Salud,” and nothing Gus says in his speech reveals any new truths about his character or his motivation. Better Call Saul long ago seemed to reach the limit of plumbing the depths of Gus’s personality, and this speech simply reconfirms yet again that there’s nothing beneath his stoicism other than unwavering hatred. Sure, this is a speech he never had a chance to give when he murders Eladio and the rest of the cartel bigwigs, but we know enough about him - and Giancarlo Esposito's performance is so outstanding - that these feelings aren't something that really need to be verbalized (at least for viewers - it's likely more cathartic for Gus himself). Nevertheless, I can’t be too harsh on Better Call Saul here. After all, the show is somewhat hamstrung by its prequel status, and it’s still a well-shot action sequence, even if its conclusion is foregone.

UPDATE: Gordon Smith, who wrote "Point and Shoot" gives some interesting insights about Gus's speech in an interview about this episode with Alan Sepinwall. Smith says that Gus's speech was partly inspired by Nacho's speech in "Rock and Hard Place." Gus saw that the Salamancas wanted to hear how much Nacho hated them, because it helped make their triumph over him even sweeter, so Gus uses that to his advantage, mimicking Nacho and giving himself the opportunity to get to his hidden weapon. I like this interpretation, since it gives Gus's speech more tactical nuance, and enriches Gus's reaction to Nacho's death. Gus wasn't just surprised by Nacho's improvisation, he was also taking notes.  

Nevertheless, RIP Lalo. You were one of the most charismatic villains not only in the Heisenberg-verse, but in contemporary television more generally. Lalo had a good run, especially considering that the genesis of his existence is a tossed-off line from Breaking Bad. Given Better Call Saul’s failure to develop Gus much beyond what we already knew of him from Breaking Bad, I might even go so far as to say that I ultimately preferred Lalo to Gus, at least in terms of the roles they played on Better Call Saul. Gus might be more calculating and severe, but Lalo possessed charisma and unpredictability. Unlike Gus, there was more to Lalo than seething hatred – indeed, he even dies laughing, choking on his own blood, as if he’s amused by Gus having outplayed him.

“Point and Shoot” doesn’t end with Lalo’s death, however – there are other matters to attend to, which speaks to yet another reason for why the episode remains compelling despite it centering on Gus removing Lalo from the chessboard. Always of interest, of course, is Better Call Saul’s focus on processes, particularly showing how characters figure their way out of jams and solve problems. Thus it’s interesting to see how Mike arranges to take care of Howard’s corpse (carry the body out of the apartment in a refrigerator, replacing the corpse-filled one with a new one to deflect suspicion), and how he coaches Jimmy and Kim in how to handle Howard's disappearance (continue the lie about Howard that they’ve already begun with their con). Mike acting as Gus’s fixer here is nice piece of plotting, since it so strongly accords with what happens later on Breaking Bad. When Jane overdoses in season two, Walt calls Saul for help, and Saul turns to Mike, which Saul knows to do precisely because of what transpires in “Point and Shoot,” where Mike expertly cleans up the problems created by Howard’s murder. 

More significant than the smoothness of Mike’s contingency plan for Jimmy and Kim, however, is how Kim will react to all of these traumatic experiences. The point is emphasized through Jimmy’s repeated glances at Kim throughout the scene where Mike coaches them through what the next few days will entail. Jimmy is unsure of how Kim will respond to this ordeal, both in terms of how she’ll handle the trauma, and in terms of how she’ll react to the guilt of their complicity.

Previously, Kim could always rationalize that conning Howard was for the greater good, at least superficially, even if both of them knew better. Covering up his murder, however – and thinking they were being coerced by Lalo into committing another murder – is something else entirely. Moreover, while Kim might have pushed for the con, it was Jimmy’s willingness to get involved with the cartels (over Kim’s objections) that have led them to be involved in this latest mess. Likewise, Kim has never felt like her life was in danger as acutely as she did the previous night. Kim, who is usually so collected and clear-sighted, was totally unprepared for what Lalo just put her through. 

In the moment, Kim seems to accept the situation with grim stoicism, repeating back to Mike his Don Draper method of dealing with the past: “None of this ever happened.” Can Kim really let it go, however? It seems clear that Jimmy can, both based on his demeanor in the moment and in the aftermath the next day, where he seems more concerned for Kim’s welfare than his own state of mind. He’s been through this before, after all, but Kim has not.

Time for some speculation. We have five episodes left to go, and with Lalo and Gus’s cartel feud resolved, there are only a handful of lingering plot threads that remain going concerns. These include: what will become of Cinnabon Gene, what will happen between Jimmy and Kim such that Kim does not appear to be a part of Saul’s life on Breaking Bad, and Jimmy’s traversal of whatever steps remain on the path toward his becoming the full-throated version of Saul Goodman that we meet on Breaking Bad (if, indeed, Saul Goodman doesn’t prove to be a persona that Jimmy wears when he needs to – that hypothesis is still in play as well). Notably, none of these outstanding threads involve Gus and the cartel, and yet I highly doubt Better Call Saul is just going to drop the cartel half of the show. Moreover, these outstanding plot threads simply don’t seem like they would be enough plot to fill up five entire episodes, at least not without further cartel entanglements, or without spending significant time during the Breaking Bad years or an entire episode with Cinnabon Gene (Walt and Jesse have yet to make the appearance we know is coming).

Thus one hypothesis – one that continues to interweave the cartel and legal worlds – is that Kim’s way of coping with the past two episodes’ trauma might be to pursue the information she learned about Gus in “Point and Shoot.” She knows where he lives, what he looks like (more or less), and has even spoken with him. It wouldn’t take much digging for her to discover Gus’s identity. Perhaps her way of coping with being so helpless in “Point and Shoot” will be to gain some modicum of control over her situation by finding out as much as she can about this mysterious man who is so closely connected to the trauma she’s endured. 

Such an investigation would of course make Gus consider her a security risk. In fact, Kim is already a security risk for Gus, even without her pursuing him. Another possibility, then, is that Kim will become imperiled for knowing too much about Gus, regardless of whatever actions she takes. Perhaps the remaining episodes will involve yet another game of cat and mouse, this time between Gus, Kim, Mike, and Jimmy. Perhaps Gus will want to kill Kim, but Mike will push back against it. Or perhaps Kim might go into hiding and establish a new identity, courtesy of everyone’s favorite vacuum cleaner specialist, Ed the Disappearer. I suspect things will prove more complicated than this, at the very least because Gus’s death in season four of Breaking Bad would have cleared the way for Kim to return to Jimmy in season five, were she merely hiding from Gus. Moreover, were Gus to be the cause of something happening to Kim, I can’t envision Jimmy being able to let it go, or his continuing to work with Mike.

In any case, Kim's experiences in "Point and Shoot" could be a tipping point for whatever leads her to be absent (seemingly) during the Breaking Bad years. The preview for next week’s episode seems relevant here. Just like last week’s preview, it consists of one black and white image, this time of Saul’s Breaking Bad-era office, with Jimmy’s voiceover accompanying it. He seems to be speaking to Kim, telling her about how they will cope with what happened in “Point and Shoot,” stating, “One day we’ll wake up and brush our teeth and go to work, and at some point we’ll suddenly realize we haven’t thought about it at all.” If this line is indeed included in next week’s episode (the previous episode's preview line about "a happy ending" was absent from “Point and Shoot”), then it seems like it could be Jimmy’s attempt to pass along the wisdom Mike gave to Jimmy in “Bad Choice Road” about how long it takes to get over PTSD. Jimmy essentially condenses what Mike told him back then, presumably in an effort to comfort Kim. Of course, the last time Jimmy tried to parrot something Mike said, it went pretty poorly - in that same episode, he questioned her decision to leave Schweikart & Cokely, and tried to regurgitate to Kim the part of Mike's speech about choices and roads, but he fumbled the analogy, and she (rightly) lost her temper with him for not supporting her career choices the way she has supported his. One can only hope that this new attempt to adopt Mike's ethos goes more smoothly. 

Regardless, with only five episodes left, I continue to remain impressed with how open-ended the series continues to be. The end is nigh, yet Better Call Saul continues to thoroughly obfuscate the shape of the remaining plot, despite (or perhaps because of) the foreknowledge we possess regarding the events of Breaking Bad. I eagerly anticipate what next week has in store!

Other thoughts:

- “Point and Shoot” is another clever episode title, possessing multiple meanings. Of course, it refers to the gun battle between Lalo and Gus, but also to Lalo’s instructions to Kim about photographing Gus’s corpse, as well as Lalo’s description of what he wants Jimmy to do for him: “You point and shoot, and you keep pulling that trigger until it’s empty.”

- Lalo’s bizarro courtroom is probably the only legal or legal-adjacent scenario in which I would buy Jimmy winning an argument against Kim. Jimmy would need to be on familiar turf and Kim would need to be emotionally compromised.

- Given how Lalo ended up incorporating Jimmy and Kim into his plans for Gus, it appears that my speculation about the timing of Lalo’s entrance into Jimmy and Kim’s apartment in “Plan and Execution” was wrong. He wasn’t waiting for Howard to leave and only decided to intervene when Howard threatened their careers; he just happened to arrive at that exact moment. Rather than Lalo being calculating, instead, the timing of his arrival becomes somewhat hubristic or even moralistic commentary on Howard. Howard’s fate is sealed the moment he dares threaten our heroes. How dare he disrupt the writers’ plans for a more satisfying series conclusion!

- A little extra comeuppance for Jimmy: After Kim leaves the apartment, Lalo ties up Jimmy to prevent him from going after Kim, and when Jimmy’s chair falls over in his attempt to free himself, he’s stuck facing Howard’s dead body. 

- Lalo turns up the volume on the television to drown out Jimmy’s yelling, and when the scene from Born Yesterday resumes, it provides more implicit commentary on the action, with characters berating one another about their intelligence, as if to tell Jimmy that this is what comes from thinking yourself smarter than the cartel.

- More Lalo comedy: he is visibly disappointed with Jimmy’s choice of rental car.

- There’s a nice stylistic moment during Kim’s ride to Gus’s. A police car pulls up beside her at a stoplight, and she rolls down the window as if to talk to them, but lets them drive off without saying anything. Kim’s face is out of focus in the foreground for most of this, until the very end, when the shot rack focuses to her face in the foreground and we can see how fraught she is. 

- Another great Rhea Seehorn moment: Kim’s pivot from fear to righteous fury in dressing down Mike for failing to protect her and Jimmy.

- I love that even though Lalo doesn’t really care who he sends to Gus’s house, he still makes Jimmy argue his point and seems to weigh the merits of Jimmy’s argument. Lalo’s impish nature shines through here. He makes Jimmy earn whatever satisfaction Lalo might give him. 

- Victor only survives the events of the episode because he’s busy keeping an eye on Kim while Gus takes other men with him to the lab. 

- Why does Lalo leave Jimmy alive when he leaves the apartment? Perhaps because it doesn’t matter – once Mike finds Jimmy, Lalo will still only have a small amount of time to find the super lab regardless of whether or not Jimmy is alive or dead. Moreover, Jimmy could potentially provide addition proof for Don Eladio that Gus was the one who tried to have Lalo killed, should Lalo need to coerce Jimmy into telling him the full truth about what transpired in the desert. 

- Lyle, Gus’s Pollos assistant manager, loves his job so much that he arrives at work (pre-dawn!) singing a Pollos jingle to himself. What a dork. I love it. 

- As much as I feel the writers have underwritten Gus over the length of Better Call Saul, at least they’ve given him yet one more opportunity to demonstrate steely fortitude, this time in calling Lyle to give him an excuse for his absence from work while simultaneously being treated for two bullet wounds.

- Man, I love Mike. He has such a distinctive character voice, as demonstrated here by his telling Kim and Jimmy that they need to put on good performance by saying that they’ll have to be Meryl Streep and Lawrence Olivier, and that at the end of the day it’ll all be over. “Today’s just another day that ends in wine.” 

- Whatever happens between Jimmy and Kim, one thing I think we can rule out is their being driven apart by their differing reactions to their experiences in “Point and Shoot.” Sure, such a trauma could drive apart two people, but doing so wouldn’t make for a particularly satisfying narrative not only because it would be anti-climatic, but also because we’ve already seen a variation on this plot idea back in season four, when Jimmy and Kim started drifting apart before the Huell con drew them back together. 

- Near the end of the episode, Mike more or less tells Jimmy and Kim that Lalo is dead, albeit not in those exact words, yet on Breaking Bad Saul still suspects that Walt and Jesse have been sent by Lalo to kill him. I suppose this makes sense, since any assurances Mike can give Jimmy about Lalo’s status are now pretty much worthless, given how badly Lalo's return spooked Jimmy. He’s seemingly risen from the dead once, why wouldn’t he be able to do so again?

- “Point and Shoot” concludes with Lalo and Howard being buried together beneath the super lab, presumably never to be found. In season five of Breaking Bad, Hank finds the charred remains of the men Walt killed in the burned out wreckage of the super lab, but not any bodies buried beneath it. The sight of them being buried together is ironic in Lalo’s case, and sad in Howard’s. Lalo intended to turn the super lab into Gus’s grave, but it ends up becoming Lalo’s instead. Howard, on the other hand, deserved better, and the music accords with this sentiment as a mournful cello accompanies Mike’s removal of the items that he’ll use to sell Howard’s supposed suicide. There’s a knowing air about Mike as he gazes sorrowfully at Lalo and Howard’s grave – perhaps he envisions his own grave, likely to be an unmarked one much like this grave, given the bad choice road he’s headed down. In the past I’ve wondered about how Better Call Saul will leave things with Mike and Gus, given that their fates are determined on Breaking Bad, but something like the ending to this episode could be a satisfying conclusion to their stories on Better Call Saul, where they reflect with some sort of an impending knowingness on the sad path their lives have taken.


  1. In my review of the episode (This Stressful Thing We Call Life: Better Call Saul: "Point and Shoot"), I commented on the unusual structuring of this final season. The first three episodes felt like a conclusion to Season 5 in wrapping up Nacho’s story, and the fourth episode felt like the true beginning of the season. Given the resolution of the cartel plot in this episode, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show ends up utilizing a time skip similar to Season 4 and jumping to the Breaking Bad timeline in a couple of episodes.

    As for the resolution to Kim’s storyline, I believe that Cliff Main will do some investigating and find out about Jimmy and Kim’s role in Howard’s death (not the Lalo bit, but that they had a hand in his “suicide”). I can easily seem Kim going to jail or getting disbarred, which would be a much more fitting punishment than if she were to die at Gus’s hands or go into hiding.

    Overall, this was a strong episode, even if some of the tension was undercut by our knowledge of Breaking Bad. The final five episodes can go anywhere at this point.

    PS: Have you ever listened to the Better Call Saul Insider Podcast? It’s very informative about how each episode of the show gets made and wildly entertaining.

  2. Yes, another ellipsis is certainly in the making. I'm getting to this after the next episode has already aired, and the tags on Saul's license plate puts the Saul portion of "Fun and Games" in 2005, and he doesn't meet Walt until 2008, so there's a lot of ground to cover still. Plus, we'll likely skip forward again to address Cinnabon Gene. Haven't listened to the podcast, but I'll check it out!