The episode before Better Call Saul’s mid-season finale is finally here, and the stakes are higher than ever. There’s nothing scarier than watching an episode of Better Call Saul where relatively nothing bad happens, because it only means the ensuing drama is going to be catastrophic. Tonight’s episode, “Axe & Grind” (directed by Giancarlo Esposito), was a deceptively intense and worrisome instalment of the show, but the calm only means that a storm is coming. So this week’s Better Call Saul Power Rankings take into account that the show has been posing many interesting questions about what makes a person “bad,” and whether that fate is inevitable or something we can avoid.
BCS feels like it’s getting darker with each passing week – a feat that seems impossible – and it doesn’t feel like Howard (Patrick Fabian) is going to escape this season without meeting an awful end. “Axe & Grind” doesn’t tell us much more about the endgame of Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) plan for him, but “D-Day” is coming, and soon we will know what all their energy has been going to. If Howard meets a fate as abrupt and dark as Nacho (Michael Mando), or even Chuck (Michael McKean), will Kim and Jimmy’s relationship survive it? Will Kim be able to move on with her life once the deed is done? These are the questions we’ve been asked to reckon with throughout the entirety of this show and all the way back through Breaking Bad. Walter White knew what he was getting into and did it on his own terms, but will Kim “break bad” in the same way – or will she regret her decisions and want an exit?
Better Call Saul Power Rankings First Place: Lalo Salamanca
As always, Lalo (Tony Dalton) manages to get a lot done in one scene. The majority of BCS‘ sixth season kept the audience curious as to where Lalo actually is; after last week’s reveal that he’s in Germany, he’s been on a rampage. After successfully finding a lead on the men that worked on the super lab, it feels as though Lalo is closer than ever to proving Gus and his team were behind the assassination attempt. Once again, we see Lalo running around Germany single-handedly finding anyone involved, and while this episode’s encounter wasn’t as romantic as the previous week, it was just as effective.
Lalo finds Casper, a man who worked with Werner Ziegler (Rainer Bock) and hopes to question him. This of course goes wrong, because any sane person would be terrified if they saw Lalo show up to “talk” to them in the middle of the woods, and Casper tries to run away (emphasis on “tries”). Lalo takes this week’s first spot for what comes next: an action movie-worthy chase scene where he tracks Casper to an old barn. The titular “axe” comes into play when Casper knocks Lalo to the ground with a single hit. It’s shocking to see Lalo vulnerable at all, mostly because he’s seemingly superhuman, but once again Lalo is simply playing a trick, and with a skillfully hidden razor blade he takes Casper down. We don’t really know yet why he thinks Casper can help, or why he isn’t going back to Albuquerque to track down Gus. However, with a single ominous statement of “You and I are gonna talk,” it seems Lalo knows what he’s doing.
Second Place: Kim Wexler
The cold open of tonight’s episode, where we see a young Kim being roped into a scam with her mom (played masterfully by Beth Hoyt, whose voice is almost identical to Seehorn’s), is one of the sadder and more insightful views into why Kim is how she is. Kim has always been a bit of a mystery, and, to the other Better Call Saul characters, the biggest question is why she’s with a man like Jimmy. The two of them love each other, even if they don’t say it out loud, but there is a sad bit of necessity behind their relationship. Jimmy relies on Kim to make himself better: as we’ve seen in the past, he has the capacity to spiral out of control when he thinks Kim is seeing and judging him like most people do. Her actions in “Axe & Grind” show that she is moving farther and farther away from the version of herself we know; and, in a more literal sense, Kim is actively driving away from whatever future she had planned for herself. Jimmy being so fully invested in their Howard plan isn’t shocking, but Kim’s apparent commitment to the scam is a sign that she isn’t as capable of fleeing the traps of her childhood as she may think.
The cold open shows that Kim wasn’t happy as a child, and her mom most likely often made her participate in cons that she didn’t approve of. As her mom drives them away from the store, there’s a look in her eyes all too similar to the one Kim most likely sees in Jimmy’s eyes. Things were finally going well for Kim, career-wise, with the meeting at the Jackson Mercer Foundation meaning her dreams were on track to coming true. But when Jimmy calls her to tell her something has gone wrong with their plan, Kim whips the car around and ditches the meeting to go help Jimmy. Work has always been what defines Kim, so this decision really does signify a change. D-Day is here and there’s no going back.
Third Place: Jimmy McGill
It’s getting harder and harder to differentiate between Jimmy and Saul. This episode found him almost completely how we saw him in Breaking Bad, cracking jokes, annoying Francesca, and pulling off cons. The only true difference between Jimmy and Saul at this juncture of this show is the fact that Kim is in his life, and she is most likely the last grounding presence. Jimmy’s final step in his plan involves hiring an actor to play the Sandpiper Crossing judge. As he’s doing this, Kim is finding out she has a real shot at helping her career. Once again these two are at a crossroads, and while Kim ends up deciding to stick by his side, Jimmy is nothing but thrilled for her, telling her that of course she should go to the meeting instead of witnessing their plan in action.
However, everything goes awry for him when he sees that the real judge has an arm in a cast, a detail his hired actor is missing. For a scam so heavily detailed and planned, an issue like this at the last minute could be catastrophic. And there was another terrifying sign that things won’t end well for Kim and Jimmy: their passionate kiss after she told him the news of her meeting with Cliff cut directly to Casper chopping a log in half. Kim and Jimmy are a solid team for now, but something is going to get between them. Could it be the vet’s little black book of contacts – the one that contains the card for Best Quality Vacuum, the store that “disappeared” people in Breaking Bad?
Fourth Place: Cliff Main
Cliff has never been a driving force of Better Call Saul, but his presence in Kim and Jimmy’s lives means that he is in the crossfire of everything they get involved with. Poor Cliff thought he was going for a nice lunch with Kim to discuss job opportunities when in reality he was merely a pawn in their scam. Kim ended up being surprised by his generosity and offer, but Cliff doesn’t realize that getting involved with Kim in any capacity is probably a bad thing. He offered to meet with Kim about setting up a new pro bono division, but her dedication to Jimmy leaves him high and dry.
Fifth Place: Mike Ehrmentraut
We didn’t see much of Mike (Jonathan Banks) this episode, but his time was spent well. Most of his and Gus’ time has been spent watching and waiting, while an extreme security detail watches them at all times. Mike is insistent that they have people watching his daughter-in-law and granddaughter Kaylee (Abigail Zoe Lewis), and while there are some doubts from the team, he won’t let it go. They both believe Mike is away on business, and Mike has a rare but sweet moment with them where he watches the stars with Kaylee via telephone. Mike has always said that he’s in this business for his family, and this is proof that he means it.
Fifth Place: Howard Hamlin
It isn’t easy to feel bad for Howard. We’ve spent the last five seasons watching him effectively ruin Jimmy’s life and in the process make Kim’s life harder, and his smarminess and seemingly unearned confidence is not a good combination. Kim and Jimmy have always resented him for his success and the way he has treated Chuck, and they believe that their scam is enacting justice. The sad truth of the matter is that Howard is really not that bad of a guy. He might be a bit of a jerk, and he didn’t handle Chuck’s death well, but I’m not sure he deserves this fate. He was kind to Kim when she wanted to leave HHM, and in the long run, I believe that the way Jimmy treated Howard is worse than anything Howard has actually done to them. But Howard is stuck in his own life, unable to get out in the same way Kim is, and his passiveness is hurting him. His wife, who we see for the first time in this episode, is cold to him, and they obviously are in somewhat of a loveless relationship. Howard is a decent guy, and at the end of the day, Kim and Jimmy’s resentment for anyone who became successful off the backs of other people means they won’t let their hatred for Howard go easily.
Honorable Mention: The film students
It’s always fun to see Jimmy’s go-to camera crew, the Albuquerque film students, and luckily for them they have another job filming his fake judge video. Glad some people on Better Call Saul are employed and happy!