REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Axe and Grind”

The following is a recap and review of the sixth 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 sixth episode of the sixth season of Better Call Saul — titled Axe and Grind — Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (played by Rhea Seehorn) continue with their plan to ruin Howard Hamlin (played by Patrick Fabian) and get an early Sandpiper case payout. Elsewhere, Lalo Salamanca (played by Tony Dalton) tracks down one of Werner Ziegler’s colleagues. Axe and Grind was written by Ariel Levine and directed by Giancarlo Esposito, who made his television directorial debut with this episode.

This episode’s cold open takes place a long time before the Better Call Saul era. We are in Nebraska, and we see Kim, as a young woman, being caught shoplifting. The store owner talks to her mother, who sweet-talks him (or rather the owner is impressed by the stern talking to that Kim’s mother gives her) and gets her daughter out of it without real consequences. Once Kim and her mother return to their family car, the mother reveals that she stole the jewelry that Kim had tried to steal. So, apparently, Kim grew up doing, or seeing the people (that should’ve been her role models) doing, the same kind of morally corrupt schemes that she is now doing with Jimmy.

Perhaps there is comfort for Kim in knowing that this is all she has ever known. In any case, it is really sad to see that there was no one there to teach her the right lessons. Perhaps the lack of consequences back then, makes it easier for Kim to do schemes as an adult. If you’ve never had to deal with the consequences of your actions, then you stop expecting those consequences. Perhaps that upbringing and those experiences help to inform the decision Kim makes at the very end of this episode, which very well could end up being a true point of no return for Kim. A point of no return at the end of this episode that feels like yet another moment in which Kim decides to break bad. But I mustn’t get ahead of myself.

On the other side of the cold open, we see her and Jimmy’s victim, Howard Hamlin. The optimist, the perfectionist, and the perfectly dressed Howard Hamlin tries to reconnect with his wife by preparing her a wonderful cup of latte — complete with latte art — but his wife barely looks at it. It is really tough seeing them communicate, as there isn’t any warmth. It feels more collegial. You really feel for Howard. He really tries. He deserves better than what he’s getting from Kim, Jimmy, and, well, his wife. At the HHM offices, Howard meets with his private investigator who informs him of what Jimmy has been doing. The P.I. makes note of a sizable cash withdrawal. What for? There really isn’t any legitimate reason, which Howard is thrilled about. He caught him red-handed, he thinks.

In the next scene, we see Kim and Jimmy test some drug with Dr. Caldera, the veterinarian with plenty of experience in the criminal underworld. It still isn’t exactly clear what Kim and Jimmy are planning. We’re purposefully kept out of the loop. It certainly sounds like it’s something like an intense caffeine shot or drug. They check Jimmy’s pupils, so this could be a drug intended to make Howard look visibly coked up. Time will tell. Towards the end of the scene, Kim and Jimmy talk about why the vet would want to leave Albuquerque. Kim says that he probably “knows what he wants.” Does Kim know what she really wants? In the next scene, Cliff Main meets up with Kim and makes her a perfect job offer. A dream job. A job that is morally good. It is fantastic news. But it does mean that she, apparently, won’t be there for the big Howard Hamlin scheme ‘D-Day.’

It is about this time that we start to understand what is going on with the whole master plan. Jimmy, along with his classic film student crew, is staging a meeting between Jimmy and an actor meant to look like the Sandpiper case mediator. Photographs are taken of it happening. You would think that means that either Jimmy is working with the P.I. or else he knows about the P.I. and he’s going to use that investigator against Howard by making him think these are the P.I.’s photos. We’ll see.

And now we reach the aforementioned point of no return for Kim. The thing is that while Jimmy goes to buy the tequila — with the bottle stopper that he and Kim loves — he spots the actual Sandpiper case mediator and he’s wearing a sling to support a broken arm. This now means that the photos taken of the actor made to appear like the mediator no longer work because he had two working arms at the shoot. Jimmy has to redo it all right now for their ‘D-Day’ to work, and, the truth is, he needs Kim’s help to get it all done in time. The only problem is that Kim is on her way to interview for the job she has been offered. What to do, what to do? Kim aggressively turns the car around and decides to break bad yet again. After all, there have never been many consequences for Kim, as she might subconsciously feel. And, sure, Kim loves doing all of this with Jimmy.

But there’s just one thing. Why? Why are you doing this Kim? The only reason you’re trying to make Hamlin look bad is to get an early Sandpiper settlement payout so that she and Jimmy can build the life they really want. But isn’t this job interview exactly what she has been chasing all along? She doesn’t have to do the Hamlin scheme anymore. It can just be Jimmy’s thing (even though, frankly, he shouldn’t do it either). But, alas, she decides to go back and help Jimmy. So, again, does Kim really know what she wants?

Of course, we also have a bit more set-up with Lalo. He’s still in Europe, which this time around has this blue tint that almost makes it look like Ozark, and he has tracked down one of Werner Ziegler’s colleagues. It’s time to get answers about the super-laboratory from someone who worked on it. The construction worker quickly knows something is up, so he runs, and he even knocks down Lalo with the dull end of an axe. The construction worker shouldn’t have put down his guards, though, because Lalo then cuts him in the head and snaps his leg with the sharp end of the axe. A really strong sequence that should set up some significant scenes in the next couple of episodes.

All in all, while it is yet another set-up episode, it is a very strong one. It helps us to understand the complexities of Kim Wexler more, it advances the main storylines, and it finally clues us in on some of Jimmy and Kim’s plans.

B+

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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