When Better Call Saul started, it seemed hard to understand how a series about a funny, smart, down-on-his-luck lawyer would lead to the tragic events of Breaking Bad. How would Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a man with a dwindling career and a strained relationship with his successful older brother, turn into the scam-happy, shady Saul Goodman? And during his transformation into Saul, Jimmy has dragged down everyone around him. The collateral damage that piles up in Jimmy’s ledger is what makes Better Call Saul a heartbreaking and compelling prequel. Kim (Rhea Seehorn), Jimmy’s girlfriend-turned-wife, is the clearest example of a person affected by this gradual destruction. Kim’s corruption is a textbook case of nature versus nurture, and Better Call Saul questions whether this fate was unavoidable for her. Is Kim’s proclivity for scamming genetic or is it the result of being around Jimmy for too long? ‘Plan and Execution,’ Better Call Saul‘s midseason finale, has some ideas about this, as well as some potential answers.
This entire season has been building up to two major reveals: What is Kim and Jimmy’s plan for Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), and where is Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton)? We got answers to both of these question in this episode. In an unfortunate twist of fate for Howard, though, the two supposedly disparate plots ended up being tragically intertwined. Lalo has been in Germany tracking down evidence that Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) was behind the assassination attempt at the end of Season 5, but he’s now back in Albuquerque for revenge. So far, Better Call Saul has kept a healthy distance between its two major storylines, with the cartel drama and Jimmy’s career never quite making contact. All of that changed, however, in the final moments of “Plan & Execution,” with the meeting of the two biggest threats to Jimmy and Kim’s future: Howard and Lalo. This episode left the characters in uncharted territory, and the players that made it out alive are fighting to keep up.
Better Call Saul Power Rankings – First Place: Lalo Salamanca
It’s time that Better Call Saul confronts the cartel side of its narrative arc. For the majority of the current season, Lalo is no more than a shadowy figure; after the midseason finale, he can no longer be ignored. Lalo is back in Albuquerque after finally finding proof that Gus is involved in something nefarious, and knows that the “Super Lab” is located under the laundromat. This episode goes fairly well for him, as he’s reunited with his lawyers and puts together some final pieces of evidence.
“Plan and Execution” also reveals his (insane) nightly routine, which includes showering in a public bathroom, spying from the sewers, and in a strange parallel to Kim, setting alarms for power naps in his car. He’s hiding out in the sewers so he can get a good look at the laundromat, and is vlogging to show Hector what he finds. It’s a funny situation, but also a terrifying reminder that Lalo is not only committed to this take down, but also capable of going into extreme lengths. While calling Hector to share his discoveries, Lalo realizes that Gus has tapped the phones at Casa Tranquila, and decides that it is the time to strike. After feeding fake information to Gus saying he plans on attacking that night, he sees Gus pull his men off all the low threat targets. Back in Season 5, Lalo tells Kim that “her man” reminds him of a cockroach; after seeing one scurry by in the sewers, Lalo remembers who he can trust, and decides to pay his lawyers a visit.
Of course, Lalo is unaware that Jimmy and Kim are busy dealing with Howard. When he first shows up at their apartment, the flame from a candle on their coffee table flickers. This minuscule detail becomes a red herring, since it’s Lalo we expect to appear. As Howard, Kim, and Jimmy talk, the candle flickers again, and a shadowy figure appears behind Howard. But Lalo just wants to talk to his lawyers, something he can’t do with Howard in the room. The whole world (save for a few people) believes he’s dead, and, now that Lalo has revealed himself, that belief will very soon vanish. So Lalo, ever the extremist, shoots Howard in the head. It’s shocking, brutal, and completely unnecessary. Lalo and Howard had never crossed paths before, and when trying to predict how or if Howard would die, almost rarely did the idea of the cartel being involved come up. That final gunshot marked the end of Howard and the point where the two sides of Jimmy’s life converged.
Second Place: Kim Wexler
So much can unravel from the omission of information. When Kim decided to not tell Jimmy that Lalo is alive, she embarked down the same path she once begged Jimmy to avoid. She asked Jimmy to always be honest with her – so why didn’t Kim take her own advice? When Mike (Jonathan Banks) told her that Lalo is alive, Kim asked why he told her and not Jimmy. He replies that she’s “made of sterner stuff,” a sentiment Kim seems to believe; after all, she was the one who faced off with Lalo when he threatened them in their home. But Kim is still plagued with fear, as we’ve seen from this season’s previous episodes.
This week, however, Kim is so caught up in her Howard scam that Lalo is not at the forefront of her worries, which made it the perfect time for him to strike (even if Lalo doesn’t know it). Kim has been riding the high of her success with Jimmy without any concern for the potential consequences. This careless, immoral side of her is new and powerful – especially when we see her and Jimmy make out to the sound of the catastrophic Sandpiper meeting. Even though Kim’s commitment to the scam is important to her development and to how ‘Plan & Execution’ ultimately ended, the most consequential thing to happen is Howard’s death. We see her immediate reaction to his demise, and it isn’t shocking. The real mystery is how this will play out during the rest of the season (and it’s not looking good).
The reason why Kim Wexler is absent in Breaking Bad‘s timeline is becoming clearer. She’s living and walking proof that her efforts to become good are fruitless. We have learned nothing about what will happen to her, but we do have a tragic understanding why someone like Kim would spiral out into darkness. Until the final moments of this episode, it’s easy for Kim to pretend that this was all a fun and silly game she’s playing with her husband to get revenge on their old boss. It isn’t until Howard’s dead body is literally on the ground in front of her that the gruesome truth sets in. Kim didn’t shoot Howard, but she is to blame for him getting in front of Lalo in the first place. It all goes back to her lie to Jimmy. Maybe if she had told Jimmy that Lalo is still alive, they wouldn’t have gone home that night, in which case it would have been impossible for Howard to go to their apartment – and he might still be alive.
Third Place: Jimmy McGill
Jimmy McGill is good at many things, but nothing compares to his ability to pretend that his actions cause no harm. Jimmy is a masterful lawyer, a loving and devoted husband (for now), and a smart conman. All of these things make him him, and these are all traits that Jimmy accepts and uses. His major flaw, however, is his lack of accountability. Part of this is necessary for his protection both physically and emotionally, but beyond that even Jimmy doesn’t know why he is this way. And for a long time, Jimmy’s tactics for avoiding the consequences of his actions were simply part of his charm. His scams were low-risk and high reward, meaning their collateral damage was almost non-existent.
But as Better Call Saul goes on, Jimmy’s cons become more dangerous. This season’s big scam, the Howard Smear Campaign, was fun, at first. Jimmy got to pull some silly pranks with his wife, and the only risk was that they would get caught and be reprimanded. Neither of them thought sincerely that they might bring about Howard’s death – Jimmy and Kim have never paid much regard to others. For the most part, they believe that their scam is the right thing to do, and that Howard deserves it. And in Jimmy’s defense, he doesn’t know Lalo is alive. As far as he’s concerned, Lalo’s reappearance is a shock to both him and Kim.
While Howard’s final fate was out of Jimmy’s control, it isn’t that hard to see the comparisons between what Jimmy did to Chuck (Michael McKean) and what he did to Howard and feel that, once again, Jimmy didn’t consider the consequences. He made Howard and Chuck feel and appear crazy, and both men spent their final moments arguing that they aren’t. They both lost their lives at their lowest points because of Jimmy.
Fourth Place: Howard Hamlin, Rest in Peace
Howard’s death isn’t all that shocking. Kim and Jimmy have only ever blamed others for their own actions, and it’s not surprising that the harrowing consequence of their deflection was a bloody reckoning in the form of Howard’s dead body. To make matters worse, this season has made Howard a somewhat more sympathetic character by depicting his attempts at helping the Sandpiper residents, his crumbling marriage, and the harassment he suffers from Kim and Jimmy. Up through Better Call Saul Season 5, Howard has been framed as some sort of mega-villain, despicable, selfish, and making money off the backs of others.
But Howard has also only been seen through Kim and Jimmy’s eyes. In Season 6, for the first time, Better Call Saul gave Howard his own time. For once, we get to see him without the harsh perspective of our protagonists, and it’s a mostly sad and average life – far from the rich and cruel man that Kim and Jimmy imagine he is. When Howard arrives at Kim and Jimmy’s to face his tormentors, he’s full of rage, but he’s insistent that no matter how much Kim and Jimmy throw at him, he will get back up and move on.
Howard truly believes this. But we know that no one in the show’s universe gets out that easy. ‘Pain and Execution’ is filled to the brim with mentions of Chuck and the parallels between him and Howard. Chuck was a tragic figure, and his death was the tipping point for Howard, Jimmy, and Kim’s relationship. And Better Call Saul skillfully employs shocking moments, but it never tries to subvert our expectations. So, no, Howard’s death is not that surprising. Chuck died after he was made to look crazy by Jimmy, and Howard met the same fate. Howard may not have chosen to sacrifice his life, but his demise means that Kim and Jimmy will spend the rest of their time reckoning with the aftermath of their horrendous refusal to just let him live.