[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Better Call Saul, Season 6, Episode 7, “Plan and Execution.”]
What other show would devote a five-minute sequence to establishing its villain’s shower and nap routine? What other show would make it so captivating? That’s the special magic of Better Call Saul, which delivered a mid-season finale on Monday that redefined the concept of changing the game.
For a good long portion of its runtime, so much of “Plan and Execution” fits with Better Call Saul as we’ve always known it. Central to the episode is the ultimate culmination of Jimmy and Kim’s plan to force a settlement of the Sandpiper lawsuit by ruining Howard Hamlin’s (Patrick Fabian) reputation — a combination of actual justice and petty revenge, motivations which both Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) would probably struggle to articulate.
There have been plenty of clues as to what they were planning over the last six episodes, so while the end result — a drugged Howard losing it during an important mediation hearing and accusing the judge in charge of taking bribes from Jimmy — isn’t a huge surprise, it is deeply satisfying to see it come to fruition.
The sequence has its elements of tension, as the team scrambles to bring together all the necessary elements of the reshoot, but writer/director Thomas Schnauz includes plenty of touches to keep things light and fun. We’re reintroduced to Jimmy’s hired actor Lenny (John Ennis) as he rehearses lines of a Roy Cohn speech from Angels in America while wrangling grocery carts at his day job. The character known only as Make-Up Girl (Hayley Holmes) gets to work while in full hair, makeup, and wardrobe for “a live-action musical tribute to The Dark Crystal.” Dear Irene (Jean Effron), the official Sandpiper plaintiff, offers Clifford Main (Ed Begley Jr.) her secrets to her potato leek soup.
It’s diabolical, but still a satisfying con full of quirks, so engaging that it might be easy to forget that lurking in the shadows is Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton), the planet’s most patient killer, waiting for the right time to strike.
Some series have as many as four or more plot lines running at once, but while no stranger to narrative complexity, Better Call Saul has always had a pretty clean dual focus, witnessed as a split between the characters ostensibly on the “right” side of the law (Kim, Howard, Chuck back in the day) and, well, the other side (Mike, Gus, Nacho, and of course the cartel).
With each season, Jimmy has slipped back and forth between these two sides more and more frequently, though it’s only in Season 6, with him ultimately embracing his new designation as “a friend of the Cartel,” that he’s starting to get genuinely comfortable with the idea of being, in the words of Jesse Pinkman, “a criminal lawyer”.
With that definition comes the official blurring of lines between worlds. We did receive a prelude to this earlier in the season, when Mike stepped out of the shadows to talk to Kim for the very first time; again, two characters who have always belonged to the two different sides of this show. But that was a haunting blip in comparison to the final scene.
Better Call Saul started off as a remarkably bloodless series, in comparison to its television sibling; per the show’s Fandom wiki, there were a total of seven deaths across the first three seasons. Things escalated in Seasons 4 and 5 with more deaths as we got to see more and more of the cartel in action, but those lost all belonged to the criminal element into which Jimmy has only ever dipped his toes — a world that has always felt very separate from Jimmy and Kim’s sphere of courtrooms and low-key cons.
Howard’s death is different. This is a decent, law-abiding man, who never broke bad or even considered the possibility of doing so, gunned down casually as collateral damage, in a war he didn’t even know was happening. Innocents died all the time on Breaking Bad, but that comes part and parcel with the story of a seemingly good man uncovering his darkest self, with no regard for the consequences.
Better Call Saul hasn’t quite yet finished carving the man known as Saul Goodman out of Jimmy McGill’s lingering bits of soul, but this episode certainly sets up the final stage of his decline. When the last scene begins, it’s clear that shit’s about to go down (if only because it starts as a quiet scene towards the end of an episode of Better Call Saul), but it’s an unprecedented level of escalation — first, the arrival of Howard at Kim and Jimmy’s home, so calm it’s scary, and then the arrival of Lalo, his arrival given an almost supernatural feel as a candle flickers in the unseen breeze.
And then, the gunshot, and Lalo’s calm face, ready to talk.
Whatever happens in the remaining six episodes of the season, premiering in July, will have to cope with this massive turning point, because the Better Call Saul mid-season finale was in a way its own sort of series finale — a farewell to the show that began in 2015 and an introduction to the show that came before. The lines are gone, and everyone still alive is now in it deep, maybe too deep to ever break free.
Midway through the episode, before everything goes so horribly wrong for him, Howard teaches us all how to handle a can of soda that’s been dropped or shaken up (the centrifugal force trick works, if you’re wondering — try it at home). There’s something so profound about his calm certainty in that scene with the young assistant, the way he seems so sure that problems have solutions, that mistakes can be corrected, that if you just live your life true and right, everything will be okay.
Before the day is out, he finds out how wrong he is. How wrong any of us are to think that the world is a safe place, that we can control what happens to us when we walk out our front doors. It’s that kind of terror which has always been so fundamental to the impact of these sister shows set in Albuquerque, the reason why they’re the best crime stories ever told on television. Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad have a lot of fundamental differences between them, but on one matter they’re united: They always remember that when a crime occurs, there are victims who suffer.
Better Call Saul returns for its final episodes July 11th on AMC.