A far funnier episode than last week’s brush with tragedy, this hour still makes room for showing two men’s dangerous relationships to hubris.
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 6, Episode 4, “Hit and Run.”]
One of the ways that “Better Call Saul” keeps you on your toes is reminding you that there’s always another corner of Albuquerque to discover. It’s not all trips to the courthouse or rendezvous at roadside diners or meetings in law firm boardrooms. So when “Hit and Run” opens with a glimpse at suburbia, as seen through the eyes of a pair of neighborhood folks seemingly more concerned with homeowner’s association to-dos than regional drug trafficking concerns, it’s a reminder that the net can always be cast wider.
Of course, these aren’t exactly ordinary residents counting down the days to the next cul-de-sac bake sale. They’re employees in the ever-widening Gus Fring empire, part of a house-sized security detail with one key directive: keep the Chicken Man alive. It’s the early-2000s American Southwest equivalent of pulling back the curtain on The Wizard. Only, instead of finding out that the only thing behind a giant plume of green smoke is Frank Morgan and a few knobs, this peek into the Fring operation only makes him more threatening. Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Tire (Ray Campbell) are the faces of his inner circle, but it’s illuminating to see how small a tip of the iceberg they are. A pair of newly-married lawyers aren’t just going up against the ghost of a madman. They’re being flanked by a battalion from an entirely different front.
There’s maybe no better example of showing how outmanned Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) is in all of this than going from a cold open of Gus’ personal Blackwater team to the first scene after, with Jimmy doing all his dirty work for himself. In this case, that means literally cosplaying as his intended target. (The extra bronzer and white-collared dress shirt are more convincing than you’d expect!) It also means the first “Better Call Saul” appearance of Wendy (Julia Minesci), who will one day be part of a planned burger-based Jesse Pinkman plot with far more fatal consequences. Here, all she’s being asked to do is be a link in a growing chain of ruses.
“Better Call Saul” can orchestrate a scheme like no other show on TV, as evidenced by each of the Season 6 episodes to date. But what makes this one more than just another efficient way to prove Jimmy and Kim’s (Rhea Seehorn) planning expertise is what it says about the man they’re going after. Patrick Fabian could have tripled down on making Howard Hamlin the stuffed legal suit, an easy mark for people ready to get revenge on him. Yet, in this small glimpse into Hamlin’s therapy appointment, there’s a nagging sense of sadness and loneliness lurking inside him, too. The extra beat when Hamlin gets in his car is a fakeout that maybe he caught on to Jimmy moving his car one spot over. When he does eventually drive away, it’s also a tantalizing bit of space to project some possibilities onto. Is he consulting his PDA to check the time of his next HHM meeting? Is he just checking his teeth? Or is he gathering himself after having to dig beneath his squeaky clean “everything is fine” exterior?
Greg Lewis / AMC / Sony Pictures Television
Whatever the reason, he’s unaware that the soft pressure campaign on Cliff Main (Ed Begley, Jr.) is going about as well as Jimmy and Kim could have planned. With Howard’s car screeching down the street past Cliff and Kim’s outdoor brunch and Wendy being jettisoned from the passenger seat just outside of earshot, the third seed of doubt has now been planted. As has been the case in previous parts of Operation Upbeat Is Bad, there’s as much emphasis on the reactions to each step as the execution itself. Jimmy seeing that his new bulky magic car unlocker works or Kim realizing that they’ve got Cliff fully on the hook? Those are looks of self-satisfaction that border on dangerous self-confidence.
Kim may not have Gus’ surveillance budget, but episode writer Ann Cherkis also shows how Kim is starting to take on his sense of seeing adversaries around every corner. While Jimmy is reveling in his ability to uproot metal parking signs with his bare hands, Kim has internalized the tip she got from Wendy about vice cop squad cars. If their interactions with Lalo did not already emphasize that notion enough, Kim and Jimmy’s actions aren’t happening in a vacuum.
That hits home harder after Kim’s confrontation with a pair of men she’s convinced are keeping tabs on her across the street from where she’s having another meal at the El Camino. This season has been a seesaw of Kim clearing personal various personal hurdles and being brought down to earth by sobering realities. Flip the Kettlemans, then find out the DA is hot on your husband’s tail. Now, after pulling off another piece of a convincing Howard Hamlin frame job, Kim gets an ominous diner counter visit from Mr. Ehrmantraut.
Seehorn, pulling double duty as this episode’s director, plays Kim’s internal calculus unsurprisingly well. Not only does Kim piece together that Mike is the one who rescued Jimmy from the desert and has to process the fact that Lalo is still lurking somewhere on the horizon, you can almost see her start to do the mental math of just how many people are involved in this mess she did not extricate herself from after all. Mike plus the two watchdogs already outmans Jimmy and Kim’s two-person operation. The idea that there are an untold other number of Mike’s Guys tailing her every move is one big pin in the balloon of Jimmy and Kim’s cozy life of tiny rebellions.
Greg Lewis / AMC / Sony Pictures Television
The repercussions are starting to permeate through the Albuquerque judicial system too, as the entire courthouse staff starts to freeze out Jimmy in retaliation for doing business with Lalo. No amount of gift shop trinkets or remembered birthdays or personal touches can erase the sudden toxicity the Saul Goodman name has already attracted more months after its creation. So, in the classic tradition of Jimmy taking a liability and turning it into an asset, he makes the (probably disastrous) decision to embrace being “Salamanca’s guy” and welcome in a massive influx of retainer funds. Here, we see the birth of the Rolodex of Goodman patrons that includes, among others, the infamous Spooge (David Ury). Aside from reviving a whole host of ATM machine-related nightmares, this is another example of “Better Call Saul” using the preexisting “Breaking Bad” roster not just as shoehorned-in nods to fans, but as tangible connective tissue between here and the Ghost of Albuquerque Yet to Come.
Regardless of who ends up on the eventual client list, this explosion in business is Jimmy’s cue to ditch the nail salon as a meeting place. The episode-closing sequence, featuring Jimmy and Kim eyeing a vacant strip mall office spot is a nice flip on the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce braintrust surveying their future digs in the Season 5 finale of “Mad Men.” Though, where that quintet was gazing out over Manhattan and imagining a future of endless possibilities, Jimmy does not realize that he’s looking at what will effectively become a garish mausoleum before too long.
The future home of Saul Goodman’s law offices still pales in comparison to the interconnected Fring compound that this episode uncovers. The pieces are all in play for this overview of Gus’ security apparatus to be an exercise in largess, to have everyone marvel at this elaborate tunnel system of secret passageways and deem it The Coolest Thing Ever. But rather than a Copacabana-style vicarious look at what Gus ‘wealth and position has brought him, Seehorn matches this tour to Gus’ efficiency and exactitude. We’re invited to appreciate the effort, but not to enjoy it any more than Gus does. This is business, after all. (Again, compare this setup to the late-era Saul Goodman opulence on display in that slow-motion sequence that kick-started this season.) Pair that with Gus’ Humperdinckian levels of diligent paranoia and you have a character who has fine-tuned his mythic powers of being the eyes and ears of the city through a combination of instinct and a canny placement of resources.
It’s that same combination that we’re starting to see become a defining part of what Saul Goodman will become. That, in turn, will probably be the final nail in the coffin of Jimmy McGill. The question remains: When that moment comes, who’s going to be the one holding the hammer?
“Better Call Saul” airs Monday nights at 9 pm on AMC and is available on AMC +.