This Better Call Saul review contains spoilers.
Better Call Saul Season 6 Episodes 1 and 2
Better Call Saul season 6 has finally arrived. The odds of getting here seemed astronomical. First, who would have ever thought that a prequel to one of the most celebrated TV series of the 21st century, centered on a comedic relief supporting character at that, would be as creatively fruitful and so warmly embraced that it would survive six seasons? Then when you factor in pandemic-related delays and a massive health scare for the series lead, Bob Odenkirk, it feels particularly special that we’ve reached this point. At long last, the final batch of episodes is here.
However, forgive us if an air of sadness and dread hovers over this celebratory moment. The end of Better Call Saul means we’ve reached the end of our time with Jimmy McGill, and by extension, Kim Wexler. We know that Jimmy lives on; sadly, we know that his potential for good will be squandered, used for ill, and ultimately sent to a Nebraskan purgatory. Kim’s fate is far more uncertain, and that’s where the dread comes from. In Season 5, Kim felt the lick of the flame courtesy of Lalo Salamanca, and instead of recoiling, she seems intent on standing closer to the fire. It does not bode well, considering the absence of even the slightest reference to her character in Breaking Bad. All good things must end, but must they end in tragedy?
In the first part of our two-hour premiere “Wine and Roses” we’re reminded of how fleeting highs can feel. Taking place in the time immediately following Breaking Bad, but prior to our black and white-colored time with “Gene” in Nebraska, we watch as the wealth and comfort that Saul Goodman’s life of crime has provided is stripped away, one fancy tie at a time. We also witness the token of Jimmy and Kim’s love, of their partnership as “Viktor and Giselle,” the topper of a bottle of Zafiro Añejo Tequila, left behind in the dust. It appears while Jimmy tried to hold onto his memories of the good times, they slipped away from him like everything else.
Before we dive into the rest of the two episodes, I just want to point out the many visually rich reference points spread out over the course of these two installments. From the bottle topper to the bullet pierced coffee mug, the closeup of an ant on a dead man’s hand mirroring the ants on the dropped ice cream cone from early Season 5 episodes, and even a neon sign for “El Camino Dining Room,” these episodes are rife with visual callbacks and Easter eggs worth revisiting. The past and future hover around the proceedings like an unshakable specter.
Anyway, while Jimmy is still trying to process his trauma of getting too close to the cartel, Kim is now fixated on her scheme to bring down Howard Hamlin. It’s fun to see how their positions have shifted, with Jimmy playing the reluctant sidekick to Kim’s hyper-focused schemer. Kim is set on getting the Sandpiper lawsuit from season 1 settled so Jimmy can finally be paid out his fair share. Her plan is to frame Hamlin in some way, and instead of focusing on the coifed image of nepotism himself, who will see them coming, she devises that they work their magic on Clifford Main, Jimmy’s former boss, instead.
At the moment their plan appears to be painting Howard as a cocaine addict in the eyes of Cliff. They first plant some drugs in Howard’s locker at his country club in a way which Cliff will notice (a plan that is almost derailed by a vindictive Kevin Wachtell). They then try to reinforce the idea that Howard is a drug addict by enlisting some old familiar faces, the Kettlemans. Jimmy finds the Kettlemans running a tax scheme on the outskirts of town and entices them into his plot by suggesting that Craig’s conviction for embezzlement could be overturned by proving “ineffective assistance of counsel” on the grounds of Hamlin using cocaine.
Jimmy of course knows that he’s burned his bridge with Betsy Kettleman and subtly plants the idea that she should take the case to Davis and Main. When she does, Cliff seems surprised by the accusation, but ultimately turns them down due to his firm working with HHM on the Sandpiper case. The seed has been planted and watered, but will it sprout? Regardless, it’s a classic mult-layered plan that BCS writing team excels at.
The most revealing aspect of this little operation is that when Betsy Kettleman realizes she’s been duped and used as a pawn, she threatens to reveal Jimmy’s machinations to Howard. However, Kim immediately goes into killer mode, threatening to turn the Kettlemans in for tax fraud. She agrees to forego getting authorities involved but pressures them to end their business anyway. It’s cutthroat in a way that we’ve never seen Jimmy behave. Episode 2 is titled “Carrot and Stick” and Kim certainly gives the Kettlemans the stick. Clearly, Jimmy is already worried about Kim’s behavior, but how long will it take him to speak up? And how can he frame his argument in a way that won’t seem hypocritical?
As good as the Jimmy and Kim material is across these two episodes, the real focus is on the aftermath of the assault on the Salamanca compound that wrapped season 5. Nacho betrayed the Salamancas, working for Fring. Lalo escaped the attempt on his life, but the cartel believes him to be dead after the perfect Lalo con — he paid for a neighbor to get dental work that matched his own, just so he could use said neighbor as a decoy body. Gus is trying to remain undetected throughout it all, while Mike is looking out for Nacho’s best interest, believing that his loyalty should be rewarded. He continually avoids his calls, partially out of guilt. How Gus handles Nacho will ultimately determine whether Mike can trust and continue working for Gus.
Lalo already suspects Gus of the betrayal, but Hector Salamanca wants proof before anything brash is done, and proof means getting Nacho to talk. The Salamancas send the twins to bring Nacho in alive, while Gus orders that Nacho remains in a remote motel in Mexico until further notice. When Nacho notices that Gus has a man watching his movements at the hotel, he gets spooked and tries to flee, but it’s the exact wrong moment as the twins are just arriving to inspect the motel at the same time that Juan Bolsa’s men arrive. Nacho’s last stand is a little pathetic, admittedly, but it does somewhat recall Hank’s encounter with the twins in “One Minute.” The episode almost ends with his fate in the air, until Mike gets a final call.
It’s interesting to watch the cartel, Gus, and the Salamancas circle each other, with no party fulling trusting the other. One of the best scenes in the premiere is a face-to-face meeting between Gus and Hector, where Gus gives his condolences over Lalo and tricks Hector into revealing that his nephew is still alive. Even though Mark Margolis doesn’t ever speak as Hector, he still is able to convey so much with his eyes. It’s a truly masterful performance that I’m happy that we’ve been able to see more of during this series.
While these first two installments don’t offer anything transcendent, they are incredibly sturdy reminders of the kind of thrills that Better Call Saul can offer, from brainy schemes to tense standoffs. We’re so happy to have the series back after so much time away, even if the show’s days are numbered. Next week we’ll hopefully get confirmation on Nacho’s fate and perhaps a reveal about who is following Jimmy and Kim at the end of the episode. Let the speculation begin!