REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Black and Blue”

The following is a recap and review of the fifth 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 fifth episode of the sixth season of Better Call Saul — titled Black and Blue — Howard Hamlin (played by Patrick Fabian) finds out that Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (played by Rhea Seehorn) are messing with his reputation. Elsewhere, we finally find out what Lalo Salamanca (played by Tony Dalton) is doing. Black and Blue was written by Alison Tatlock and directed by Melissa Bernstein.

A strange cold open kicks off this episode. We see the slow — and quite nice to watch — creation of a Lucite block with a slide rule inside of it. As we see it being made, we hear a beautiful soothing German song. At the end of the sequence, we see an inscription that reads (in German): “With love, your boys.” It isn’t exactly very subtle what’s going on here though. We’re seeing the creation of a gift for Werner Ziegler, the construction worker who Mike had to kill a couple of seasons ago. This was the man who put Gus’s super-laboratory firmly on Lalo’s radar, and, as we find out in this episode, this item is another clue for Lalo in his search for answers and evidence that can reveal what Gus is really doing.

On the other side of the title sequence, we see Kim awake at night. The secret about Lalo being alive is eating her up, and it’s making her very, very frightened. She has to check whether everything is locked, she peeks out through the peephole, and she checks the parking lot from her apartment window. She even puts a chair up against the door handle. She can’t be too safe. And she can’t sleep. The rummaging about wakes up Jimmy, who immediately notices the chair by the door. Jimmy remarks that he too is afraid. When he mentions that he is relieved that Lalo has met his end, Kim doesn’t say anything. This was the moment to spill the beans, Kim. Perhaps because Jimmy being awake makes her more comfortable, or because she wants to put up a front that doesn’t look suspicious, she removes the chair from the door and tries to start her day like she normally would.

Gus is also terribly worried about Lalo’s whereabouts. We see him not able to do work at Los Pollos Hermanos, and we see him look down at the gun he has around his ankle. He isn’t able to think straight. It is maddening to him. Later, we see him walking by himself inside of the still unfinished super-laboratory, where he plants a gun. It’s a strange decision that isn’t explained, but we do see Gus counting the steps from the bottom of the stairs to the planted gun. He’s planning something. For now, let’s call it paranoia, but you don’t just have your character plant a gun unless someone’s going to use it. We’ll see.

Elsewhere, we see how Howard Hamlin is trying to explain why the Sandpiper deal is taking so long. It’s an excellent scene, at the beginning we see how Clifford Main notices Howard’s restless leg, and we understand that he’s clearly reading into that and connecting it to his supposed addiction. Howard is antsy. He wants to say something, and he wants to get out of there. But once he actually gets out there in front of his clients he’s spectacular. He’s great with people, and he’s great with the case. He makes a great argument and he essentially wins them over.

Then, Cliff pulls Howard to the side. In the parking garage, he tells him all about what he has seen. Cliff is tired of seeing Howard suffering from addiction (that he doesn’t have), and he wants to help him. Cliff has experience with addiction from his son’s struggle, and he’s seeing all of the signs in Howard, entirely because of all the work done by Kim and Jimmy. Now, Howard is a smart man, so it doesn’t take a lot of time for him to figure out that this is all part of Jimmy’s scheme, which I don’t think is an explanation that Cliff buys. And Howard knows exactly what to do with this problem. He cancels his entire schedule and hires a private investigator. It’s time to fight back (in more ways than one).

Jimmy’s burgeoning career as Saul Goodman, the lawyer criminals hire, is getting off to a great start. But he needs help managing his new incomplete office, as well as his many clients. So, he contacts Francesca. Now it feels like the Breaking Bad era Saul Goodman is getting close. Jimmy is still a little bit away from being exactly like Saul, but he’s got the secretary, the reputation, and the office. Meanwhile, Kim is meeting with an old colleague from Schweikart and Cokely to gain some Intel on the Sandpiper deal. It’s strange seeing her be praised by her old colleague for being so upstanding and morally good when Kim is only meeting with her to be better prepared for the Howard Hamlin smear campaign.

Howard literally wants to fight Jimmy. Under false pretenses, he arranges a meeting with him at a gym. H. O. Ward, Howard calls himself to get Jimmy to show up. He wants to go a few rounds in the boxing ring, which is basically Howard‘s way of saying that he wants to actually beat up on Jimmy for causing so much pain to him. They are to “punch it out“. For reasons that I can’t quite explain, Jimmy goes along with it. Predictably, he doesn’t fare well.

“You know what’s coming next.”

While the boxing scene is a fun scene to watch, and it is paired with some fun music, I really do think it’s a strange scene. Of course, it serves a purpose narratively and for the characters, but it also feels a little bit like filler content to get to the main point, which is that the private investigator is set to keep an eye on Jimmy. To follow him. Come to think of it, this is incredibly dangerous for Howard. Obviously, he doesn’t know everything that Jimmy has got himself into, but if everyone at the courthouse knows that Jimmy lied about knowing who Jorge de Guzman actually was, then Howard absolutely also knows that Jimmy works with some very shady and dangerous people. Howard absolutely should know that keeping an eye on a cartel lawyer — and following him around — is basically a death wish.

That said, I think it is pretty genius of the writers to have it lead to Kim suggesting that Jimmy should use his bruises for advertisement. To add to that, when Jimmy returns home to Kim, they discuss their findings and what the next step is without actually making it clear what is going to happen. It is a great little teaser for a future episode, but it also fits perfectly with my assessment that this is an episode filled with set-up scenes. Now we just have to wait for the payoff.

So, where is Lalo? Well, we finally find out. Lalo Salamanca has traveled to Germany to find out more about the construction of Gus’s laboratory. He has tracked down Werner Ziegler’s widow, Margarethe, and he has a nice chat with her in a bar. Lalo acts totally debonair in this scene, and it really must be said that this is another excellent Tony Dalton episode. The next morning, Lalo breaks into her home to find clues. Thankfully, he doesn’t hurt Bärchen (the very sweet little dog) or Margarethe (it’s a very suspenseful break-in scene that had me on the edge of my seat), but he does find that sculpture that we saw being made in the cold open. I would presume that he now has to seek out and find Werner’s ‘boys,’ i.e. the men who gifted him with that sculpture.

There are no bad Better Call Saul episodes. This episode has some really interesting and suspenseful scenes. There is a lot of good acting on display, as well as editing and cinematography. But it must be said that this is undeniably a set-up episode. That isn’t at all a bad thing, but it does feel less significant than some of the other episodes this season. This is also because characters do things that aren’t really explained (Gus counting his steps), and I also think the boxing scene, though fun, feels a little bit unnecessary. That said, still a really good episode of television.

B+

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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