REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Wine and Roses”

The following is a recap and review of the first episode of the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul, available on AMC in the U. S. and on Netflix internationally. Expect story spoilers.

In the season premiere of the sixth season of Better Call Saul — titled Wine and Roses — Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (played by Rhea Seehorn) continue with their plan to embarrass Howard Hamlin (played by Patrick Fabian) and ruin his reputation in an attempt to get an early payday from the Sandpiper case. Meanwhile, Nacho (played by Michael Mando) goes into hiding after the attack on Lalo’s home base in last season’s finale. Wine and Roses was directed by Michael Morris (his fourth episode of the show), and it was written by the series’ co-creator, Peter Gould.

This is it — the final season of Better Call Saul, a show which has been consistently excellent in each and every season. Arguably the greatest prequel series ever made, the show has never disappointed, and now we’re in the last season, which should give us definitive answers about the fates of Kim Wexler, Nacho Varga, Lalo Salamanca (played by Tony Dalton), and Howard Hamlin, none of whom we see in Breaking Bad. We also need to see what the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Jimmy to go full-on Saul is. And full-on Saul is exactly where the season begins.

As this show has been wont to do (often to differentiate between pre- and post-Breaking Bad), the cold open is initially in black and white, but as the scene goes along it transitions back into color with the falling ties. We are still in New Mexico but this isn’t Better Call Saul era, rather it appears to be around the time of the end of Breaking Bad. Saul Goodman, as he is known then, has gone into hiding (soon he’ll be the person we know as ‘Gene’ and start serving at a Cinnabon). In this cold open we get a beautifully shot and absorbing tour of Saul Goodman’s garish mansion as authorities remove his possessions.

It is all very interesting to watch, and I’m sure it’s chock-full of easter eggs (like the Mesa Verde black and white photo), but the thing you have to look for is the bottle stopper that falls to the ground as the items are being loaded onto a truck. This is, of course, the famous Tequila bottle stopper that Kim Wexler, in particular, cherished as a symbol of her and Jimmy’s escapades and schemes. The song that plays over all of this is an instrumental version of “Days of Wine and Roses” — hence the title of the episode. It is a look at all of the items that Jimmy, or Saul, comforted himself with, and a final zoom on the item most symbolic of his and Kim’s relationship. It could be read both as a good and a bad sign for Kim’s survival chances. But for something cherished to, literally, fall by the wayside isn’t very good, though, is it? Do note that Saul had a copy of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine. Perhaps a hint that Saul deep down wishes he could go back and change things. Perhaps he wishes he could go back and leave Albuquerque with Kim? Who knows. We can only guess at this point.

On the other side of the cold open, we find Nacho leaving Lalo‘s home base. He has done the ultimate betrayal by letting in Gus Fring’s hired guns. At the end of the previous season, we saw how they failed. Nacho obviously doesn’t know that here, but we see his frantic and nervous escape. A man with a target on his back, he has to stay away from everyone as he is in enemy territory. He’s hopeful that Mike (played by Jonathan Banks) can get him out, and Nacho is told that Lalo is dead. He isn’t exactly being lied to, as we find out soon, because people just don’t know what really happened, but even if Lalo were dead, Nacho would still be more than a person of interest.

An injured Lalo is then seen walking into a family home and being treated like a friend. They don’t know that he’s had a plan in mind for them for a long time. He has had the bearded Mateo — the man of the house — get identical dental records, and he instructs, in a seemingly nice way, Mateo to shave everything on his face except for a mustache. Lalo needs Mateo to be his decoy. Lalo, who later decides against going back across the border in the most ruthless way imaginable, needs his attackers to think he’s dead, and that is going to cost Mateo his life. It is a cruel act by the smiling Salamanca, but it is another example of how smart he is. One step ahead. However, it must be said that this isn’t entirely made clear by the show. They expect you to keep up, much like on Mike’s very impressive jobs, when we sort of have to figure some of it out on our own. Later, we see the frightening Salamanca cousins find Lalo’s decoy body having been burned beyond recognition. They look visibly upset and angry perhaps suggesting that they don’t know it’s a decoy body. Now the cousins want revenge. The target on Nacho’s back just got a lot bigger.

“Sangre por sangre.”

Gus (played by Giancarlo Esposito) isn’t fooled by the decoy. It doesn’t make any sense that his mercenaries are dead as well. Nervous about Nacho, Mike suggests that he should pick him up quietly, but Gus isn’t quick to answer and that tells Mike everything he needs to know. Nacho very well could end up being sacrificed by Fring to secure his own safety, as he doesn’t want anyone thinking ‘the chicken man’ was behind it all. Via Tyrus, Gus informs Nacho that he must stay and wait at a shady motel which only increases Nacho’s paranoia. But what is he waiting for? He’s hoping for Mike, but Fring’s hesitation when Mike suggested it indicates otherwise.

Meanwhile, Jimmy and Kim are trying to get back to some kind of normalcy. But the signs of their connection with Lalo are everywhere. Jimmy doesn’t have any money in his wallet, so he goes into his cartel money and uses some of it to pay for a cab. Alongside the cartel money, Kim finds Jimmy’s yellow coffee mug which has been shot up. It was once a symbol of Jimmy and Kim’s connection, but now it reminds her — or them — of a moment in their relationship that they would rather forget. As it is seen lying in the trash, it makes me think a lot about the aforementioned bottle stopper, itself a symbol of Kim and Jimmy that may eventually mean something else after so many years in the Breaking Bad timeline.

At the courthouse, Jimmy tries to get back up to speed, and he initially looks ready to go as he defends Jorge De Guzman (Lalo’s cover name) and his suspicious whereabouts. However, he slips up and accidentally refers to him as Lalo, which is noticed. This could come back to haunt Jimmy if he isn’t careful. But, more than anything else, it’s a sign of how Jimmy perhaps isn’t fit to practice law right now, as he still has Lalo on his mind, which is understandable. Kim’s day goes much better. She even calls it the best day of her professional career. When they meet back up, Kim starts to design the appearance and style of this ‘Saul Goodman’ fellow, which is an interesting turn of events since it was presumed that she was what kept him away from Saul. That isn’t the case anymore, as now she is actively pushing him into that character and his schemes. She has a whole plan laid out for how to attack Howard Hamlin’s reputation. She is pushing it. Not Jimmy.

“I want you to know I don’t blame you personally, you were just following orders.”

Their latest plan is to plant what looks like cocaine on Howard’s possessions while he and Clifford Main (played by Ed Begley, Jr.) are golfing, so that his friend and colleague will start to hold doubts over whether or not Howard is using. Jimmy, as Saul Goodman, has asked for a tour of the country club, and it all goes smoothly until Kevin Wachtell (played by Rex Linn) from Mesa Verde sees him. Kevin doesn’t want him there and he says as much to the people at the country club. And that is when Bob Odenkirk delivers a stunning and quite funny performance as Saul. He rants and suggests that he is being kept out because of his Jewish last name. He goes all in and suggests that Kevin, who has to be held back, is being anti-semitic. It’s a classic Saul Goodman con-job and Odenkirk is picture-perfect. Jimmy gets what he wants, which is access to the locker rooms, and his plan mostly works. They successfully plant the white powder, as well as the idea that Howard may be using.

This was a very strong first episode of the final season. It opened with a flash-forward to the Breaking Bad era, which carried some symbolic weight with the focus on the bottle stopper which can easily be compared to the coffee mug that Kim discards. It is true that, in the Nacho-Lalo subplot, most of what happens is merely set-up for future episodes (and that the dental records scene could’ve been made clearer), but I still think those scenes served their purpose. The Jimmy-Kim part of the episode was very strong. It kickstarts the next stage of the Howard Hamlin scorched earth scheme with the planting of the white powder sequence, which featured Bob Odenkirk at his very best. You can’t ask for much more in a season opener.

A-

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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