REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Plan and Execution”

The following is a recap and review of the seventh 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 seventh episode of the sixth season of Better Call Saul — titled Plan and Execution — Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) and Kim’s (played by Rhea Seehorn) smear campaign against Howard Hamlin (played by Patrick Fabian) plays out for all to see. Also, Lalo Salamanca (played by Tony Dalton) finally returns to Albuquerque. Plan and Execution was written and directed by Thomas Schnauz.

There can be a lot of complicated feelings with Jimmy’s con-jobs. Sometimes his victims really don’t deserve it. That is certainly the case with Howard Hamlin. Sure, he’s too perfect perhaps. Sure, he worked with Chuck. Sure, perhaps he didn’t help Jimmy or Kim enough on their paths to becoming lawyers. But he certainly doesn’t deserve any of what happens to him in this episode. Including the unforgettable tragic ending, in which the two halves of Better Call Saul once again come together to become one.

In the cold open, we see that Lalo has returned to Albuquerque. He’s a man on a mission, but he knows these streets are watched, so he basically only stays in the sewers (only getting out once in a while for transportation, a shower, sleep, or food, I presume.). It’s time to start watching over your shoulder again, New Mexico. The smiling terror is back at it, and he’s keeping an eye on the building that houses the super-laboratory that Gus is trying to keep secret.

“Listen to me, I’m a philosopher.”

Elsewhere, the clock is ticking. Jimmy has to get back his actor and his film crew to reshoot his photograph of a fake meeting between Jimmy and the actor playing the Sandpiper case mediator. To convince them, he uses every trick in the book. Money works and so do catchy one-liners like ‘carpe diem.’ To communicate how much of a rush they are in, the reshoot is mostly shot in this long one-take that is paired with some fun heist-y music. So, they get the photos done in time, and they hand them off to the P.I., who we find out Jimmy works with, and now everything is ready. The crew, Kim, and Jimmy have worked their magic, and now it’s time to see it all unfold.

When the P.I. shows Howard the fake photos, he completely falls for it. So, when Jimmy and Kim listen in, everything goes according to plan. Howard sees the mediator looks exactly like the same man to who Jimmy handed a package in the photos. Howard naturally thinks Jimmy bought the mediator off, and so he flips out during the pivotal Sandpiper case meeting. And here’s the kicker, Jimmy and Kim had placed the caffeine substance on the photos, so now Howard’s pupils are dilated, he’s angry and accusative, and he looks insane. The faked photos have now been switched out. His meltdown will undoubtedly make it so that they will have to complete a settlement quickly, and now Hamlin looks paranoid, incompetent, and, well, like an addict. He’s lost everything. Meanwhile, Kim and Jimmy get off on their success and Howard’s embarrassment.

Down in the sewers, Lalo is planning his next step. He’s making a video with evidence and an explanation of what he has been trying to do. He is determined to get this information back to Don Eladio. Before doing anything, though, he calls his uncle, Don Hector. While calling him, he can tell that someone is listening in on every phone call that goes through. When he indirectly tells Hector his plan, Hector protests in the only way he can. He doesn’t approve. He probably thinks it’s too dangerous. But then, in a moment of reflection, Lalo notices a cockroach in the sewers, and it gives him an idea. If you’ve been following this show closely, then you probably remember that one time Lalo referred to Jimmy as ‘La Cucaracha.’ That’s right, without saying anything, the show told us exactly what was about to happen. Where he would go next.

By talking to Hector on the phone, Lalo has also tipped his hand. Mike and Gus now know that Lalo is back, and that knowledge makes them do something that is really unfortunate for our main characters. Because of potential imminent danger to Gus, Mike pulls his men away from Jimmy and Kim. Lalo can now walk back into their lives without anyone — except us — seeing it coming.

At the apartment, Jimmy and Kim are enjoying their success. They’re watching an old movie. They’re living it up. Then someone knocks on the door. As Jimmy opens the door, Kim notices the candlelight flickering. Howard Hamlin has entered their home. He’s angry. He wants an explanation. He wants to yell at them. He wants to tell them what he thinks of them. He sees right through them, frankly. He spots their insecurities. There is no justification for what they’ve done. They just like it. It is what keeps them together. They get off on it.

“You two are soulless. Jimmy you can’t help yourself. Chuck knew it. You were born that way. But you? One of the smartest and most promising human beings I’ve ever known, and this is the life you choose. […] You’re perfect for each other. You have a piece missing.”

Frankly, while it is harsh, Howard is spot-on. While there are glimmers of hope, too often Jimmy can fall into the trap of becoming the ‘chimp with a machine gun’ that Chuck once referred to him as. But Kim has put herself in this position time and time again, even when met with the life she so desires. Or, at least, desired. Kim doesn’t really know what she wants. She just wants another hit of what excitement keeps her and Jimmy together.

Again, Howard is right. But he’s chosen the wrong time to say it. He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because before you know it, the light flickers again — a genius, spine-chilling decision to focus on this — and in walks Lalo. He is the personification of one half of the show, and Hamlin is the personification of the opposite half. And now they meet. Caught in the eye of the storm, Howard doesn’t know what has hit him until it’s too late. Howard wants to expose the truth and he is in Lalo’s way. And therefore Lalo thinks he should just take out Hamlin. And so he does. One shot to the head and Howard is forever gone. It goes by so fast, is so startling, and so terribly sad that I get chills every time I rewatch the ending of the episode. It is a masterclass in converging storylines.

“Shh… Okay. Let’s talk.”

During the episode, we see every side of Howard Hamlin. Every facet. The fact that he almost always knew someone’s name. The fact that he loved the law and Chuck McGill. The fact that he always showed great care for his clients. And then his baffled, infuriated meltdown both at HHM and in Jimmy and Kim’s apartment. It is a fantastic showcase for Patrick Fabian, one of the exceptional unsung stars of Better Call Saul. His character meets his end here, but he goes out swinging and Fabian delivers his best performance in the series.

Set-up episodes can get a lot of criticism, but when the payoff is as good, thrilling, and tragic as it was in this exceptional episode, then it just goes to show just how much smart set-up can amplify a show’s greatest moments. In the last few episodes, the show wasn’t entirely clear about every step of Jimmy and Kim’s plan, but they gave us enough clues to be entertained and to follow along more or less. Had they been more upfront about the plan, Hamlin’s meltdown wouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Better Call Saul excellently laid the groundwork for the fireworks present in this episode. It is an exceptionally smart show that knows when to hold your hand and when to be more subtle about things.

This episode is right up there with the very best episodes of the entire series. It is yet another masterpiece of an episode. It feels like a real punch to the gut. I’ve often said that watching this show is like watching a car crash in slow-motion because we know what characters aren’t in Breaking Bad, and we pretty much know who comes out alive on the other end of Breaking Bad. It is becoming an incredibly tragic show, and, in a way, this feels like Better Call Saul’s version of Ozymandias — one of the most iconic episodes of Breaking Bad — as they succeed with the scheme only for the aftermath to truly derail our main characters’ lives. It’s a tragedy. It’s a car crash in slow motion. But it’s also a masterpiece, so you can’t look away, and you shouldn’t.

A+

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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