Better Call Saul midseason finale recap: Mediation, missing pieces, and monsters at the door
Folklore is full of monsters. The one who hides under the bed, the one who lives in the woods, the one who appears behind you in the mirror after you say his name three times aloud. Monsters with sharp teeth, or slimy tentacles, or no face at all. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the scariest ones have one thing in common.
Remember this as our Better Call Saul midseason finale kicks off, as a manhole cover on a darkened street slides aside and Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) emerges. He trades rubber boots for flip flops, then goes to a truck stop where he grabs a shower, a meal, a nap. A breath of fresh air before he goes back underground. We follow him into the dark, through the sewers, back to the place where he's been hiding — a place where a sewer drain opens onto the street, offering a view of the industrial laundry that hides Gus Fring's (Giancarlo Esposito) future meth lab. Here, Lalo sits. And watches. And waits.
Meanwhile, D-Day remains underway, as Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) fetches Lenny (John Ennis) mid-monologue from his job corralling carts in the grocery parking lot and hastily reassembles his camera crew. On the docket: a last-minute reshoot of the microdrama known as "Casamiro takes a bribe," this time with appropriate medical accessories. The gang's all here, including Kim (Rhea Seehorn), who of course has unique expertise as a stylist of broken arms — but what she's really doing here, in this moment, is making a choice. Here we should note the last bit of Lenny's monologue, the one he was practicing in that parking lot when Jimmy showed up. It's from Angels in America, and it goes like this:
Don't be afraid; people are so afraid; don't be afraid to live in the raw wind, naked, alone… Learn at least this: What you are capable of. Let nothing stand in your way.
This is Kim, being unafraid. This is Kim, learning what she's capable of.
"This is where I need to be," she says.
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television Rhea Seehorn on 'Better Call Saul'
By now, we've got the shape of a very complicated con in the offing: the staged photos with a Casamiro look-alike accepting an envelope full of cash, the mysterious pupil-dilating substance they tested on Jimmy last week, the season-long plot to make Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) look like a deranged cocaine addict, the impending mediation of the Sandpiper case. The final piece, and it's a delightful surprise, comes when Jimmy sprints with the freshly printed photos to a pre-arranged meeting place and hands them off — to Howard's own private investigator.
And from there, it all goes off without a hitch. With just minutes before the mediation meeting, the P.I. hands the photos to Howard. Within moments of touching the photos, Howard starts to sweat and tug at his tie. And when Casamiro enters the room, Howard stares, and glares, and finally interrupts, wild-eyed and outraged at the dastardly conspiracy he's certain he's just uncovered: "Our mediator here keeps using the word compromise, when he, in fact, is compromised!"
It's a testament to the brilliance of Better Call Saul that this whole scene, as tense and terrible as it is, nevertheless feels like justice being served. For one thing, Howard is seen being a little less than scrupulous prior to the meeting, snubbing an earnest intern and forcing his elderly client into a wheelchair that she doesn't need. For another, the gag in which the compromising photos of "Casamiro" are switched out for pictures of Jimmy handing a frisbee to his goofy cameraman is mean, yes, but also genuinely funny (it's the fake mustache that puts it over the top). And even if Howard takes a brief reputational hit for his outburst, there's also the well-being of the elderly Sandpiper clients to think about! Isn't one lawyer's eminently survivable humiliation worth it to get these nice old people the money they deserve while they're still alive to enjoy it?
For us, the audience, the answer is yes — or at least, close enough to make you feel mostly okay about what just happened. But as Cliff (Ed Begley Jr.) returns to the mediation room to announce a settlement has been reached, we see that Jimmy and Kim are no longer listening. They're in the background, in flagrante, almost like the outcome of the case never mattered at all.
Is this a happily-ever-after for our partners in crime? It sure seems like it, as we cut to Jimmy and Kim sitting contentedly on the couch, drinking wine, and watching Born Yesterday. It's an interesting choice of film, a story about a naive, uncultured woman who makes bad choices because she doesn't know better — until education and experience teach her that attaching yourself to the wrong man can be dangerous. (Also interesting: the pink hoodie that Kim is wearing in this scene, which makes her look not just un-lawyer-like but very, very young.)
When the knock on the door comes, they both sigh.
"We should probably get this over with," Kim says.
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman on 'Better Call Saul'
It's clear that Jimmy and Kim have been expecting this, and yet, they were not expecting this: Howard Hamlin comes in, not swinging, but spitting truth. How do they justify this? Why do this, he asks, and then answers his own question: because they enjoy it. Of course, Jimmy can't help it. It's just how he is. But Kim?
"One of the smartest and most promising human beings I've ever known, and this is the life you choose," he sneers, as things really start to get ugly. He tells Kim she has a piece missing. He says they're like Leopold and Loeb (side note: between this and his propensity for quoting Al Capone, Howard's knowledge of Prohibition-era Chicago crime trivia is truly unparalleled.) And he says he's going to dedicate his life to making sure everyone knows the truth about them because you can't hide who you are forever.
It's true, you can't. But there's one thing that Howard hasn't accounted for — that there are monsters in this world far more soulless than Jimmy McGill.
The candle on the table flickers as the door opens. Kim and Jimmy recoil in fear as Howard's expression turns confused. Standing behind him, grinning, is Lalo Salamanca.
Here, you have to hand it to Kim: She may have a piece missing, but she tries to do what's right. She tells Howard to leave. She tells him twice, her voice shakier each time. But Howard is either too drunk or just too confident in the general benevolence of the universe to sense the danger standing next to him, not until it's too late. His mouth drops open as Lalo pulls out a gun and begins screwing on a silencer.
"I think I'm in the middle of something," Howard says, looking at Kim. "There's really no need—"
He's still looking at her, about to finish his sentence, when Lalo shoots him in the head.
Howard Hamlin is dead before his body hits the floor. Jimmy and Kim scream, but only for a moment. There is, after all, still a psychopath in the room, and he's holding a gun, and he's asking them to quiet down. When they do, Lalo grins.
"Okay," he says. "Let's talk!"
And until July, this is where we leave our hero: with an arm around his wife, a body on his floor, and a monster in his living room.
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