REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Carrot and Stick”

The following is a recap and review of the second 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 second episode of the sixth season of Better Call Saul — titled Carrot and Stick — Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (played by Rhea Seehorn) try to get the Kettlemans involved in the next step of their plan to ruin Howard Hamlin (played by Patrick Fabian). Meanwhile, Nacho (played by Michael Mando) is still hiding and growing increasingly paranoid, while the Salamanca cousins are looking for him. Carrot and Stick was directed by series co-creator Vince Gilligan, and it was written by Thomas Schnauz and Ariel Levine.

“You’re gonna take this, get on a bus, go to your families. Don’t have a family, then you go to a friend. Don’t have friends, then make some. I strongly suggest you do whatever you can to get back on your feet. But do it far away from here. This goes back in my pocket in five seconds. You won’t like what happens next.”

The cold open takes us back to a place that we haven’t been to in quite some time. We’re back at Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Varga’s home, where two women have lived with him and are now living it up by themselves. Mike along with Gus’ goons crash their little vacation. The women immediately panic, but they should think themselves lucky to have Mike there. If he weren’t, they may not have made it out alive. It is a very classic Mike sequence. He gives them a stern pep talk (in a way that only he can) and sends them out the door. The real reason Mike is there is to clean up at Nacho’s home. Nothing can be allowed to lead back to Gus because it’s only a matter of time before the Salamancas or Bolsa’s people show up.

Inside Nacho’s safe, Mike finds a lot of cash, which he is quick to put into a bag. But right below the money, he also finds fake IDs for Nacho and his father. This is, in a way, a smoking gun to Mike. Seeing as our favorite fixer is also a good guy, he takes the fake ID that Nacho had made for his father with him. Mike wants to keep Nacho’s family safe. That is his top priority at this point. Neither Gus nor the Salamancas must find this fake ID, so Mike keeps it for himself. But not everything Mike does is good. They replace the safe and puts back the money and Nacho’s fake ID. In addition, he also plants a document that we find out later details Nacho’s whereabouts. We should’ve known it was something bad as Mike let out a sigh when he planted it. Still, it’s disappointing that Nacho is seemingly being hung out to dry.

Gus already suspected that Lalo was alive. But he couldn’t have known for sure until he visited don Hector. Officially, he and Bolsa visit him to pay their respects, but truly Gus is there to test the waters. To see the look on Hector’s face. His smug expression tells Gus everything he needs to know. Lalo is alive, and the Salamancas know very well that ‘the chicken man’ is somehow involved in the attack.

Nacho’s stay at the shady motel is impeccably shot. You feel the paranoia that Nacho feels, and you’re genuinely scared for him. The use of shadow and darkness in the motel room is particularly excellent (symbolically, it also works very well, as he is also being kept in the dark about what’s happening). In fact, everything involving Nacho in this episode is very cinematic and tense. Nacho eventually tests his surroundings and finds out that someone has been hired by Gus to spy on Nacho, and this person is armed with a gun. Naturally, Nacho has no choice but to quietly knock him out, take his gun, and make an escape. He can’t trust anyone anymore, which becomes very clear when two hit squads — one of them the fearsome Salamanca cousins — show up. After engaging in a thrilling gunfight that Nacho gets out of alive (the cousins even killed one of their own mercenaries because they fired on Nacho — they need him alive), he drives off and hopefully gets away, even though that is very unlikely in enemy territory.

I think you really have to question what Gus Fring’s plan was. In Nacho’s safe, they planted the phone number to the motel he was staying at, but they must’ve known that the Salamancas would want Nacho alive. They must’ve hoped he would die from the gunfight (perhaps that was why they had a spy on Nacho), but that is very risky. It doesn’t seem like a risk that Gus would take. But then again this is pre-Breaking Bad Gus Fring. That’s the only explanation that makes any sense to me.

And perhaps we also see signs of that later in the episode. Because while Mike lists his problems and options, Gus is so concerned that he knocks over a glass that breaks onto the ground. We’ve never seen Gus this nervous before. As expected, he thinks that he can use Nacho’s father to keep Nacho quiet. Here our favorite fixer finally speaks up and says no to Gus. It leads to a stand-off. But it isn’t terribly tense simply because we know all three people in this scene die in Breaking Bad. Still, the scene mostly works because Nacho’s father’s life is on the line. Nacho then calls Mike, but we don’t get to see what happens next.

Meanwhile, Jimmy and Kim are still hard at work figuring out the next phase of their Howard Hamlin-Sandpiper settlement scheme. Their idea is to have a prospective client walk into Clifford Main’s offices and tell a story about how the client opted not to go with HHM because Howard Hamlin looked like he was on drugs. It has to be compelling enough to convince Cliff (played by Ed Begley, Jr.), but it also can’t be so good that Cliff pursues the case the client is suggesting. “We pull Cliff in and then repel him,” Kim instructs Jimmy. You get the idea that Kim is the one who is sharpening Jimmy’s ideas. In the previous episode, she pushed the schemes, and now she’s improving on Jimmy’s ideas. Kim is putting the same amount of thought into this as she normally would only spend on her job.

“Because of you, we lost everything. Our kids are in public school! So why don’t you go crawl back under whatever slime-covered rock you came from and leave us alone.”

Kim sends Jimmy to the Kettlemans, the married couple that you may remember from season one. Back then they referred to Jimmy as a ‘lawyer that guilty people hire’. That was a harsh verdict back then, but, as he has accepted the Saul Goodman persona, it, honestly, fits pretty well. The Kettlemans initially want nothing to do with Jimmy (and, really, they should trust their instincts here), but they eventually take the bait and run with it. They’ll run with the ‘ineffective counsel’ civil suit that Jimmy needs them to shop around. No law firm will take it (including Cliff — due to a conflict of interest) but their act of shopping it around gets the Howard Hamlin rumor out and further shakes Cliff’s trust in Hamlin. The actors playing the Kettlemans are every bit as good as they were in season one, where I likened the characters to both the Flanders and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Jeremy Shames’ Craig Kettleman is so perfectly gullible and non-threatening, and Julie Ann Emery’s Betsy is still a fire-cracker. I loved seeing them again. A happy surprise.

While everything went to plan with the Kettlemans, Kim and Jimmy disagree on how to keep the Kettlemans from saying who made them spread the Hamlin rumor. This disagreement is the explanation for the title of the episode. Jimmy doesn’t want to hurt the Kettlemans, ideally. He would rather end things on good terms and offer them cartel money to keep quiet — the carrot. Whereas Kim thinks a ‘spoonful of sugar’ won’t exactly make the medicine go down quite as easily as Jimmy insists. She thinks fear — the stick — is a much better incentive. And she’s right.

It’s so interesting to see Jimmy and Kim in front of the Kettlemans. Jimmy is doing his classic bit. Little by little he plans to pull off his latest con-job. Kim has no time for that. Her steely gaze and ruthlessness in the face of the Kettlemans, who are guilty of tax preparation fraud, scares Jimmy a little bit. She taunts and tortures the Kettlemans by calling the authorities and offering them up. The Kettlemans agree to keep quiet because of Kim. I think it pains Jimmy to see the Kettlemans like that. Perhaps he is reminded of his own parents. Because in the car, Jimmy says “wolves and sheep,” which is a direct reference to a season one flashback, in which a grifter told a very young Jimmy that there are only two types of people. It looks like Kim isn’t the sheep that he may have expected. She is very much a wolf when she and Jimmy are together. She may have learned a trick or two from seeing Lalo in action. But the Wexler-Goodman wolfpack isn’t as safe as they may believe, since the last shot of the episode reveals that somebody is watching and following them. There are really only a few options: Howard, Mike, Gus, or Lalo.

“You think you’ve lost everything? You have no idea.”

The first two episodes of the final season of Better Call SaulWine and Roses and Carrot and Stick — aired back-to-back, and I think that was a smart choice since the first episode did a lot of set-up with Nacho that mostly pays off in this episode (which includes a great action scene). To add to that, the ending of this episode establishes some risk for Kim and Jimmy, as they are seen being followed. Like the previous episode, this is a very strong hour of television that establishes the overall plot this season and which also pushes the most important stories forward, including the Nacho sub-plot which is definitely intensifying.

A-

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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