Thursday, June 20, 2024

Better Call Saul Returns With A Stunning Conclusion

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Better Call Saul is back, baby! After a brief hiatus, the final season has continued with the first episode of its second half, and if this episode was any indication then we are in for a wild ride. They wasted no time jumping back into the fray with forty-minutes of unrelenting tension. If not literally every scene held some threat of mortal violence, then there could not have been more than one or two.

Since the show wasted no time, I suppose I shouldn’t either, right? Let’s talk about this fantastic episode.

I cannot be the only person who wishes this was the mid-season finale of Better Call Saul, right? Everything plot thread left dangling in “Plan and Execution,” and every episode of the final season beforehand, was resolved in “Point and Shoot.” Lalo died. He and Howard are buried beneath Gus’s future super lab. Gus has effectively ended his immediate troubles and stands unopposed to carry out his plans. Saul and Kim will go back to their scheduled lawyering.

It honestly came as something of a surprise. I assumed Lalo had some more complicated plan in place to use Saul and Kim over multiple episodes. If not, I certainly expected him to stick around for a few more episodes. This almost feels like the moment when Gus dies in in Breaking Bad, and you’re left wondering what conflict will fuel season 5.

Where Walt made obvious sense to shift into the antagonistic role for that show, I am not sure what happens from here for Better Call Saul. Saul is not taking over Lalo’s business. There is no looming threat over his head. Gus just eliminated his own looming threat, and we know he goes about his business relatively unseen until Walt enters his life. I figured Lalo had to stick around for a bit, just to fuel the plot.

I trust that Peter Gould and his crew have something special in mind, but I cannot for the life of me assume what it is. Perhaps we are going back to a full slow-burn style of disintegrating character relationships, especially between Saul and Kim.

During the first half of the final season, I questioned if Kim was perhaps using Saul for the eventual Sandpiper payday. Yeah, you can consider that a bad guess and Better Call Saul proved me wrong. Kim Wexler was ready to murder a complete stranger to keep Saul alive. Saul practically begged to die in Kim’s place by convincing Lalo to send her to kill Gus. Whatever else I could say about Kim and Saul’s relationship, it is fiercely real.

This whole incident is going to be a tough stress to overcome, though. Mike’s little teaching moment towards the end of the episode was one final blow in a harsh series of them. Not only did their plot to ruin his reputation end with Howard’s murder, now the made up drug abuse will be used to paint a false picture of Howard’s suicide. Perhaps it was not totally their fault that Howard came to their apartment on this night, but if they make any number of different choices in the days, months, or years leading to said night, Lalo Salamanca is not walking in to shoot him.

I don’t know how Kim and Saul move past this. Maybe self-preservation keeps them afloat for a while longer, but you have to imagine that the guilt will destroy them at some point. It could be their very different reactions to Howard’s death that ends them. We know where Saul goes from here; within a couple years he is helping build Walt’s empire and casually suggesting murder. Kim may go along with this colder, crueler turn, but I think it’s more likely she does not. And even if she does, this will always be a moment that permanently divides them.

Or maybe that is wishful thinking because I do not want Kim to destroy her soul more than she already has, and I know Saul inevitably does.

We’re also now left to say goodbye to Lalo Salamanca. I suppose, in the end, the break in Better Call Saul’s final season may have left us all to theorize well beyond any reasonable plans Lalo might have had. At first glance, his plan seems no more thought out or complex than just storming the laundry. Really, though, it was the simplicity that made his final confrontation with Gus so good. Both men were so in-tune with how the other would react. There was no final scheme where one outsmarted the other. In the end, it came down to who was quicker to shoot the other. Face to face, gun to gun.

I could spend thousands of words saying goodbye to Lalo Salamanca. In a TV universe full of great antagonists, he was arguably second to no one besides Gus himself. That was true to the very end as he manipulated Gus’s soldiers around like he was playing with action figures.

He did finish second to Gus, though, who now has a clear, straight path to becoming the kingpin he is in Breaking Bad. It is so hard to think that after so many have tried and failed to take this man out, it is some mild-mannered nobody chemistry teacher, who at this point is nowhere near the drug-dealing world, who eventually takes him out. This honestly might be Gus’s peak. He has ruined the Salamancas. He will soon have his lab. Albuquerque is his. Mike is his. Everything is clear skies and success.

Of course, this also raises the question of where Gus and Mike go from here to end the season. They exist in a weird place where Better Call Saul has no obvious arc left to finish. Saul has his relationship with Kim and the resolution of the Gene flashforwards. What’s left for Gus and Mike? Their ultimate character resolutions occur in Breaking Bad.

I suppose there could be cleanup with the cartel left to handle. Don Eladio may have questions about what happened to Lalo. Maybe Tuco is released or factors in somehow? Otherwise, the only drama left is if Mike causes trouble somehow because of what happened to Howard. Even that lacks tension since we know Mike is as loyal to Gus as anyone come Breaking Bad time.

Oh well, these are questions to answer in the future. If there is one thing I have complete faith in, it is Better Call Saul’s skill at ending a story. There is always more to tell, always consequences for the actions of these characters. And with only a handful of episodes left, you can bet that the most emotionally harrowing moments are yet to come.

Images Courtesy of AMC

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