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There’s a downside to a show as patient as Better Call Saul. For all the deserved praise it gets for letting its moments breathe, and pacing its stories perfectly for maximum effect, that all takes time. It doesn’t have room to fit every ongoing story into every episode and, unlike a lot of other shows, it doesn’t try. That means we often go a couple weeks without any updates from characters we care about. Normally, that would be fine, but every story on Better Call Saul is really good. I’m dying to know what’s happening between Nacho, Lalo, and Gus after the DEA set up. I imagine things are pretty tense. We didn’t get that this week though, and the episode was still good enough that it didn’t matter.
While we didn’t spend much time with the cartels, we finally got a few nice long scenes with Mike Ehermantraut. He hasn’t gotten to do much this season. We saw him blow up at his granddaughter after she brought up his son, then get drunk and walk around looking for a fight. Last week, that caught up to him as one of the gang members he tried to fight stabbed him in the side. He ended up in a small house in Mexico. This week’s episode picks up right after that moment. The only person he sees is an old woman preparing food for him. She either doesn’t understand or doesn’t respond when he asks why Fring brought him there. He also can’t make any calls home. The phone only makes local calls.
Mike tries to leave by himself, but the doctor catches him at the bus stop. He takes Mike back to the house, re-stitches up his wound and gives him medicine. Other than what he prescribes, no drugs are kept here. The only clue about why this place is set up is on the side of the fountain at its center. “Dedicado a Max,” it reads, which is also the title of this episode. We only ever saw Max way back in Season 4 of Breaking Bad. He was Gus’ partner. Hector Salamanca killed him, forcing Gus to watch, for trying to incorporate their meth into Don Eladio’s cocaine business. As we saw in that show, the act fueled a years-long revenge plot that, at this point in the timeline, is still ongoing. Gus’ current war with Hector stems from Max’s death. But Max’s death didn’t just lead to violence and poisonings. It also led Gus to create an idyllic remote village, untouched by his drug war. The residents of this place don’t even know Gus owns it. To them, he’s just the doctor’s friend.
Initially looking at it with suspicious, we see Mike grow to like the place. He falls into the peaceful rhythm of the place. He starts to help out the old woman who’s been cooking for him. He helps her stop one of the windows from leaking one night, and replaces the wood around it the next day. When he gets a call from Jimmy, he turns down the job. Mostly because there’s no way he can make it back to Albuquerque, but maybe he doesn’t want to. Of course, Gus had him brought here for a reason. To show him the difference between him and the Salamancas. We know enough not to buy this line entirely. Gus is a ruthless killer, and no amount of nice villages will change that. Mike knows it to. He also knows Gus has a point. He can go back to drinking and fighting, and die next time someone stabs him on the street, or he can work for Gus and get money for his family, some semblance of order, and revenge. Gus knows how to press people’s buttons. And what a chilling line to end an episode on.
Mike isn’t the only one who has to decide where he stands in this episode. Kim finds herself teetering between her obligation to Mesa Verde and her scheming with Jimmy. She wants to have it both ways. She wants to be the highly paid counsel for Mesa Verde and also the attorney who stands up for the downtrodden. Until recently she was able to get both by splitting her time between the bank and her pro bono work. Then, the bank asked her to evict an old man from his home. Now, with Jimmy’s help, she’s playing both Mesa Verde from both sides. She pretends to do everything in her power to move the construction of the call center forward while Jimmy does everything he can to hold it back.
The show has a lot of fun as Jimmy comes up with a new, crazier scheme to delay construction each day. From fake fossils to light radiation to the face of Jesus appearing on the side of the home, each con is more outlandish than the last. Kim loves it, too. There have been so many moments this season and last where I swore she was done. That Jimmy had gone too far and we’d reached the breaking point for Jimmy and Kim. But Kim keeps coming back. She loves Jimmy. She loves that he’s willing to get his hands a little dirty to stick it to some rich bastard. She even mocks her boss, Kevin Watchtell while Jimmy impersonates her. They giggle and flirt in a way we haven’t seen since they conned an investment broker out of an expensive bottle of tequila.
That’s why Jimmy’s play on her works so well. Jimmy drags out construction to the point where it’ll be cheaper and faster to build on a different lot, and let Everett Acker keep his home. Even still, Kevin refuses to back down from a fight, no matter how long and how much money it costs him. Jimmy first tells her it’s time to throw in the towel. He mentions another way, but drops it, saying it’s too much. We’ve seen him pull this con before. He knows if he goes through with it himself, Kim will tell him he went too far. So he makes her ask for it. I think she knows she’s being played too. But she’s willing to go along with it because she wants to win so bad.
With Mike indisposed, Jimmy is forced to go with a different private investigator. This is the first inkling that Kim may be in over her head as far as Jimmy’s concerned. He’s used to dealing with all sorts of shady, even dangerous, characters. Kim’s in favor of it in theory, but facing the reality is a different story. The whole scene, she’s nervous, especially when the P.I. reveals he went through Kevin’s house. She’s only a little more OK with it after she learns he did it through lying rather than breaking and entering. The P.I. says he couldn’t find anything, and suggests taking two heavies to kidnap Kevin and drag him out into the desert. Kind of like Jesse and Walt will do to Saul one day. For now, that’s too far for even Jimmy. He shoves the man out the door while Kim looks over the photos he took. She finds something she likes, but we don’t fully see what yet.
Whatever it is, she’s going to have to act fast. Rich Schweikart confronts her at the office the next day. He thinks it’s a little too convenient that after she argued to move the call center, her boyfriend shows up to do exactly that. She makes a public scene in the middle of the office, asking what he’s accusing her of. She’s covering her tracks, but it’s anyone’s guess how much that’ll help her now. Whatever she saw in that painting of the horse, she’s going to have to make use of it quick.
So ends my days of TV writing for Geek. I’m sad I won’t be able to finish out the rest of this season of Better Call Saul with you all, but I’m glad to go out on such a great episode. It forgoes the larger drug war plot and the Breaking Bad setup in favor of two simple, but fascinating stories. As exciting as it can be to see the Breaking Bad pieces fall into place, Better Call Saul is a character study at its best. That’s what this episode was. It put Mike and Kim in unfamiliar situations so we could see how they’d react. Now, they’re in especially precarious predicaments. I may not be here to break next week’s episode down, but I’m not missing it for anything.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on AMC
Previously on Better Call Saul: