Oh, Better Call Saul, we’re really in it now. If it ever seemed hard to know when this show would take a shift into the dark and dangerous territory that the final season of Breaking Bad inhabited, ‘Rock and Hard Place’ made it abundantly clear that it’s already there. There is no denying that the show has many loose ends to tie up, and this hour of television makes a pretty strong case for the argument that the writers have a plan—a sad and somewhat hopeless plan, but a plan nonetheless.
This episode marks the end of the line for Better Call Saul’s lovable drug dealer Nacho Varga (Michael Mando), and while his death is not something anyone looked forward to, he went out with a bang, making sure to leave a trail of chaos behind him. This show, at its core, is about Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) transition into Saul Goodman. Still, this episode was nothing if not a meaningful and well-deserved sendoff to Nacho and a partial explanation of how the cartel ended up in the state we find it in at the start of Breaking Bad. Nacho spent the entirety of the show wracked with guilt and stress over his involvement in the cartel, and while his fate was not a happy one, he’s finally free, and at the end of the day, he got the last word.
Back in Albuquerque, things are less violent but equally as bleak. Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) are still deep into their plan to take down Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian). Kim’s descent into darkness is becoming more apparent to the viewers and Jimmy himself, a sad look into what the future holds for them. While Kim is doing what she believes is right, Jimmy sees a new side of her that seems to put some hesitation into his usual showy demeanor. Nacho ended up paying for his mistakes, and it isn’t hard to imagine Kim is headed in that direction as well, even if it takes some more time. Things have changed a lot in the span of one episode, and where the characters stand has changed drastically.
First Place: Jimmy “Saul Goodman” McGill
Jimmy has had a relatively decent time this season, and while we know something will come in and wreck that, he still has won the top spot. Compared to an episode filled with bloodshed and violence, how bad is it really to have the DA be a little suspicious of you? All jokes aside, it does seem a little ridiculous to say that any character on this show is doing “well,” but for the time being, Jimmy is flying high after another successful step towards bringing down Howard. Trouble is brewing, though, as Suzanne, a prosecutor, has discovered the truth about “Jorge de Guzman’ aka Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton), and wants Jimmy to break lawyer-client privilege to take him down. Along with everyone else, she believes Lalo to be dead and thinks now is the time for Jimmy to wrong his rights. This episode also shows a new, more fearful side of Jimmy when it comes to Kim. She is fully committed to scamming Howard, and it’s easy to see that Jimmy is struggling with his own guilt and insecurity surrounding Kim’s moral corruption. At the end of Season 5, Jimmy asks Kim: “Am I bad for you?” If he didn’t know then, he certainly does now.
Second Place: “The Chicken Man,” Gus Fring
Breaking Bad did a pretty good job of making Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) easy to hate, and his eventual demise was a satisfying end to a character that was such a villain. Better Call Saul did a little bit of revisionist history, giving Gus a backstory that allows a smidge of sympathy to make its way through. After this episode though, it’s back to find it very easy to hate him. Gus is primarily responsible for Nacho’s demise, as his own need to clear his name meant that Nacho needed to be out of the picture. When Gus got Nacho to be somewhat of a “double agent,” it was clear that he had no regard for Nacho’s safety, and in the end, Gus got what he wanted at no real cost. Gus wanted Nacho to make it clear he had no involvement in Lalo’s alleged death, and while he got that, it’s unclear what else he wanted out of the meeting. As Gus walks away from the scene, he seems disappointed. This reaction had nothing to do with Nacho, as we know Fring couldn’t care less about him, but what it meant is still a bit of a mystery. Was he hoping Nacho would take out more people? Whatever the answer is, Gus’s evolution- or dissolution, depending on how you view him, will be an interesting thread to unwind.
Third Place: Mike Ehrmentraut
Mike (Mike Ehrmantraut) and Nacho have always had an ambiguously intriguing relationship. Throughout all of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Mike has been a stoic but seemingly compassionate character. He is the person that treated Nacho with the most respect, and his understanding of Nacho’s need to protect his father meant that Nacho could agree to this plan in peace. Past seasons have told us how Mike’s failure to protect his own son will never leave him, and it isn’t hard to see how that has impacted his slight need to protect Nacho or at least show him respect in his final moments later affects his treatment of Jesse. Mike may not be happy with how things ended this episode, but it wasn’t his call, as he said to Nacho.
Fourth Place: Kim Wexler
“Do you want to be a friend of the cartel, or do you want to be a rat?” This question, which Kim poses to Jimmy after explaining how the DA wants him to expose Lalo, is a terrifying display of Kim’s new state of mind. Kim is sliding deeper and deeper into “Saul-like” behavior, and the speed at which this transition is occurring is concerning not only to the viewers but also to Jimmy. An interesting parallel between Kim and Jimmy is occurring. Jimmy claims that Saul is a character; he isn’t Saul. It’s something he can turn on and off when needed. Kim, however, is just herself- she isn’t fighting another voice in her brain. If her moral compass changes direction, she follows with no hesitation. When Kim asks Jimmy if he wants to be a “friend of the cartel” or a “rat,” she isn’t asking. She knows what Saul, the man that took cartel money in the first place, would do, and she agrees.
Fifth Place: Nacho Varga
I’m going to miss seeing Nacho on my screen every week. Michael Mando’s performance is a masterclass, and this week was no different. Nacho has known for a while now that he wouldn’t make it out alive, but all of his fights have been dedicated to making sure nothing happens to his dad. When he realizes that Gus sent him to the motel in Mexico to die, he leaves, only taking a chance to breathe when he calls his dad for one final time. The phone call was excruciating to watch, as Nacho knows his dad just wants him to do the right thing and go to the police, which he obviously can’t do. He says goodbye to his dad, and both he and the viewer know that this is it. Nacho has always been a character that’s easy to love. A compelling story was his reluctance to be a yes man to anyone and his desire to do what he believes is right. He got to go out on his terms, shooting himself in the head after making sure everyone knew that he was responsible for Hector being paralyzed. In a particularly dark episode, it’s nice to know that while Nacho dies unaware of this fact, he was the one that put Hector in the wheelchair, which resulted in both his and Gus’ death.
Sixth Place: Howard Hamlin
Howard didn’t have much to do this episode other than being ripped off once again by Jimmy, Kim, and Huell (it’s always fun to see him), but whatever they are planning is crystalizing with every passing episode. It isn’t hard to imagine that it will be horrible for Howard. In this episode, we see Jimmy hire Huell to steal the keys to Howard’s car, and while we don’t yet know why they want access to Howard’s obnoxiously license-plated car, it probably isn’t anything Howard would be happy with.
Jorge de Guzman Lalo Salamanca
Lalo was suspiciously absent this episode, but he still managed to be the talk of the town. His fake identity may have been exposed, but he still has one advantage going for him, everyone thinks he is dead, including Jimmy and Kim, and she especially seemed to be scared/nervous/upset at the news of his alleged death.