Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Better Call Saul Crushes Us With The Inevitable

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Looking back, Better Call Saul’s entire premise largely exists to lead to one scene from Breaking Bad. In Saul Goodman’s first episode, Walt and Jesse kidnap him in order to threaten Saul into helping a friend/dealer who is facing jail time. Panicked, Saul blames some unknown incident on someone named Ignacio, and assumes his kidnappers were sent by someone named Lalo.

Everything that has happened in Better Call Saul has ultimately had to remember this line and work towards it. Jimmy had to work towards being a cartel lawyer. They needed to introduce Ignacio and Lalo and they each needed to develop some kind of relationship with Saul. Along the way, they have become crucial, incredible parts of the show.

Now we’re in the final season, though, and it is time to say goodbye. We all know it is coming, and yet it still hurts. It hurts so badly.

Nacho's final moments on Better Call Saul

Did I imagine Nacho might die? For sure. It is the unfortunate fate for much of Better Call Saul’s incredible cast, because they simply cannot be around for Breaking Bad. Lalo, Nacho, Chuck, maybe even Kim. Just like we know that characters like Gus and Hector will survive, we know that others will not.

Did I think he would die here, in episode 3? Definitely not. Even when every second that passed was solemnly preparing me for his death.

It is one of the great gifts of this writing team that they always manage to create tension and unpredictability out of the most predictable scenarios. As Mike and Nacho shared wordless nods and hidden plans, I could not help but think they had one last trick up their sleeve. One last surprise to keep Nacho in the picture for even a few more episodes. At least until the second half of the final season, surely?

Better Call Saul once again made me feel like they could somehow surprise me when a surprise just was not possible. And it was absolutely incredible. Somehow they took a scene set up to kill Nacho, had him surrounded by seven or eight characters we know survive the scene, and made me gasp when he pulled the trigger on himself.

It leaves you with that satisfying sorrow that the best stories manage, where there was no other way for the story to go and yet they still made you hope.

“Rock and Hard Place” did a wonderful job balancing hope and tragedy. Nacho’s phone call to his father was a textbook goodbye phone call. He turned himself over to Gus, knowing he would need to die, because it was the best way to protect his father. Again, he had nowhere to run once he was zip-tied in front of the cartel.

And yet Nacho had some cards to play. Could he place the blame for Lalo’s “assassination” on Gus and leave the writers to find a way to make the peace within these remaining episodes? Could he run, or successfully take Bolsa hostage? Did he and Mike have some more elaborate plan unrevealed to the audience? We did not know that Nacho is dead during Breaking Bad. There was just enough hope to crush.

Maybe Nacho could have done any of this. Instead he chose to die to protect his father, as well as end the parade of misery his life had turned into. Before the end, he got to unburden himself in a monologue insulting Gus, taking the blame for Lalo, and revealing his culpability in Hector’s stroke. This was Nacho’s best scene, and right up there with Chuck’s chicanery rant before the New Mexico Bar as one of the best monologues this incredible show has ever managed. He got the last word, and no amount of bullets shot into his lifeless body will ever be enough for the Salamancas to get the revenge they truly want, or give Hector his former, brutal life back.

Now we say goodbye to Ignacio “Nacho” Vargas, played by the incredible Michael Mando. I could never have predicted that this random person Saul Goodman mentioned back in 2009 would ever turn out to be one of the best characters in the entire Breaking Bad universe. In many ways, he felt like a fractured mirror of Jesse Pinkman, with many of the same flaws and good qualities.

Nacho was responsible for many terrible things. He was a drug dealer responsible for too much death and suffering. Despite that, you could always see that…unwillingness about his life. As if he was long ago forced into these circumstances, working as muscle for the Salamancas and hating their guts for it. He worked behind Tuco’s back in season 1 and tried to kill him in season 2. He would have killed Hector in season 3 if not for Gus’s interference. From the beginning, Nacho has wanted an escape from these people.

In between, we saw his relationship with his father, and with Mike, and the bits and pieces of good that his life had not yet stolen away. It was like watching Jesse be a different person with Jane, or Andrea and Brock, knowing he could be better than the evil Walt pressured him into.

There is a reason fans wanted Nacho to survive somehow, and a reason this episode hurts. Unfortunately, Nacho was already too far gone.

Anyone familiar with Breaking Bad remembers how devastatingly compelling that show’s final season is. This will not be the last time Better Call Saul breaks its audience’s hearts, or even the worst of it. Peter Gould and his writing team will be out for our tears. Even knowing how inevitable it is, I expect they will keep catching us off guard and delivering all-time great television.

Images Courtesy of AMC

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