Better Call Saul: “Coushatta” (S4E8)

Last week I wrote about that familiar Jimmy No™ feeling, but this week’s “Coushatta” (written by Gordon Smith and directed by Jim McKay) flipped the script on me. For me, this was initially a Kim No™ episode, but by the end it forced me to look deeper at the character of Kim Wexler. In trying to get to the bottom of what I saw this week, something surprising happened. I switched teams from Kim No™ to Kim Yes™ and rediscovered a long lost hope of mine: Kim Wexler breaking bad. Is there a world where Kim Wexler accepts Saul Goodman, Esq. and stays in his life during the Breaking Bad timeline? Could Kim actually be Saul’s as-yet-elusive second wife? Until “Coushatta,” I thought these things could live only in fan fiction, but now I’m not so sure.

All week I’ve been trying to figure out what Kim’s plan for Huell’s case could possibly be, with only a cart full of pens to go on. I decided that it must have something to do with rehabilitating Huell’s image—and on that front I was correct—but I couldn’t figure out the details of the plan. I assumed that, whatever it was, it would be above board, but on that front I was completely wrong.

“Coushatta” opens with Kim dropping Jimmy off at the bus station. Things are still frosty between them and even though she’s helping him, she seems to be doing so grudgingly. Jimmy is truly appreciative of her help and assures her he doesn’t take it (or her) for granted, but it’s not enough to make her feel better about being actively involved in more of Jimmy’s nonsense.

Jimmy hits the road and, in a montage set to the Les McCann jazz tune “Burnin’ Coal,” we see him using the many different pens and stationery Kim purchased (including a large stack of Louisiana postcards) to write a bunch of letters and cards. By the end, he starts paying other people on the bus to write some of them for him. After a long journey, Jimmy ends up in at the post office in the rural town of Coushatta, Louisiana. It’s not a stretch to think that, his last name being Babineaux, Huell would hail from the state of Louisiana, so I assumed this was his hometown. At this point, it’s unclear what any of these letters actually say but the basic premise of Kim’s plan starts to take form: fake letters, purportedly from many different people, writing in support of Huell.

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We last saw Nacho in “Talk” (S4E4) at his father’s house, still recovering from his gunshot wound. Months have passed since then and in “Coushatta” we find him fully recovered and in charge of the Salamanca operation, with Domingo (“Krazy-8”) Molina as his number two. Domingo has moved up from street-level dealer and now he’s in charge of the count, as Nacho once was. Nacho has taken on the role of overseer, which was once Tuco’s, and then Hector’s, job. He watches silently from behind as Domingo deals with a guy who has come up short for the week. To add insult to injury, this dealer has shown up at the meeting all kinds of blinged out, and expensive accessories are probably not the way to go when you’re showing up at a drug meet without the full amount you owe. Domingo lets him off with a warning but Nacho knows his role as enforcer requires him to put a little muscle behind the words. He doesn’t give him a full-on beat down but he does rip one of his flashy earrings out, which gets the point across more effectively. Nacho also makes it clear that it is Domingo who should be the one doling out the punishments and getting his dealers in line.

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We see Nacho at home and he’s living the good life: sports car, big beautiful house, leather couches, and art on the walls. He’s also got two live-in lady friends whose drug habit he’s supporting in exchange for I don’t even want to know what. I find it interesting that one of the women asks him if he’s going to smoke with them. We’ve never seen Nacho using and we know that he had a major problem with Tuco’s drug use, so if he is (at least occasionally) smoking meth with these women, it tells us that even living in the lap of luxury, he’s still in a bad place mentally. And it’s understandable if he is; he’s under Gus’s thumb, and even though he’s clearly been paid handsomely for it and been given an out for himself and his father—in the form of fake Canadian IDs—he’s still got to be living in fear, waiting for the other shoe to drop. In his line of work, there are no assurances of safety and security, and he knows this better than most.

Mike is also struggling to maintain safety and security, although his concern is not for himself but for Gus’s super lab operation. Despite Mike’s attempts to make their warehouse a home, the German workers have been climbing the walls and Mike has allowed them a night out: a private party at a strip club. Seeing Mike in a strip club, with that classic Mike Ehrmantraut silent exasperation, will never not be funny to me. The guys are having a blast, but Mike notices that this is very much not Werner’s scene. He looks as miserable as Mike is so Mike leaves his muscle to watch the guys and goes to a regular bar with Werner.

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Even though Werner is in charge of the guys, he too has had to live in the same bubble. Over beers at Mike’s bar of choice, Werner expresses how much he misses his wife and that this is the longest he’s ever been away from her. Even with Mike’s companionship, it’s clear that Werner is just as lonely as his workers are. He misses home and indulges in a few too many beers during his night out. Werner has always been a nice and friendly guy, and he and Mike have even struck up something of a friendship, but with a few drinks in him Werner starts to get a bit too friendly and chatty with the bar’s other patrons. Unlike the strip club, the bar is not a (relatively) secure area, and Mike grows concerned as Werner starts to chat people up and buy them drinks.

Mike knows that secrecy and discretion are crucial to this operation and Werner is not exactly flying under the radar. It doesn’t take Mike long to realize that this little excursion was a mistake. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Kai gets out of hand and kicked out of the strip club. Mike is able to pay off the bouncers and the stripper Kai got aggressive with, so that problem is solved, but Werner actually poses the bigger threat. He got into a pretty detailed conversation about engineering—sketches included—and while he swears he didn’t tell his new bar buddies any specifics, he certainly made an impression on them (and told them his name). The next morning, Mike makes it clear to Werner that this kind of thing cannot happen again—that it’s incredibly dangerous for him to expose himself and the operation the way he did—but he gives him a pass on it. This may prove to be one of Mike’s disastrous half-measures but I hope not, for Werner’s sake.

Kim is at home, hard at work on Huell’s case and blocking out the world around her (including Jimmy) with her headphones. He interrupts her to let her know he’s on his way to the nail salon to “set up” (presumably for the next phase of the plan). She’s focused on her work but she also doesn’t seem to want to deal with Jimmy. She declines his offer to bring her some dinner and goes back to her work. Kim can usually spare a smile or a kiss goodbye for Jimmy, even when she’s irritated with him, but there’s none of that here. Even though they are working together on this thing, they seem miles apart.

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At the nail salon, Jimmy runs into Mrs. Nguyen who is uncharacteristically sympathetic. She gives him a stiff drink and tells him that he needs to take his “wife” out to a nice dinner and apologize for whatever it is he’s done, but Jimmy believes that they are way past that. Mrs. Nguyen leaves him the bottle and Jimmy continues with the “set up,” which includes a large number of labeled phones.

The next step of the plan on Kim’s side of things is to use some “shock and awe” intimidation tactics on ADA Suzanne Ericsen. She brings three S&C associates with her to her meeting with Ericsen and, when Ericsen refuses Kim’s proposal of a misdemeanor charge and no jail time, the S&C team presents Ericsen with several requests meant to increase the paperwork and effort on her side of things—including opening up the arresting officer’s personnel file and involving the ACLU in a potential civil litigation. I don’t think Kim believes that any of this will actually work on Ericsen, who seems pretty dug in, but she wants to show her new adversary that she has the resources to make things difficult. Kim has not forgotten the way that Ericsen basically laughed her out of the room last time (and insulted Jimmy on top of it). At this point, the whole thing seems personal. Kim wants to win and, more than that, she wants Ericsen to lose. This was the point where I started to realize that Kim was doing this for herself, not just to help Jimmy out of his latest jam.

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The end game of Jimmy’s letter writing campaign becomes clear when Judge Munsinger calls Kim and Ericsen into his office, which is filled with post office boxes full of letters calling for mercy for Huell Babineaux, Coushatta’s hometown hero. When the judge questions Kim, she denies involvement but lets him and Ericsen know that the people of Coushatta, Louisiana intend to send a contingent of citizens to Albuquerque for Huell’s trial. Judge Munsinger is livid and doesn’t believe that the case warrants this kind of attention so he suggests Kim and Ericsen work out a deal before things get even more out of hand.

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This sends Ericsen into a frenzied search for information on the Babineaux situation. She tasks her entire staff with looking into it and starts making calls to the phone numbers included in some of the letters, which brings us to one of the best Bob Odenkirk scenes in the history of Better Call Saul. As a huge fan of Mr. Show with Bob and David, I always love it when Odenkirk gets a chance to do an over-the-top voice on BCS, such as the instant classic Tony the Toilet Buddy. Here, he plays the role of Louisiana pastor Blaise Hansford, which instantly reminded me of his iconic Mr. Show character, Senator Tankerbell (and if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch THIS CLIP). The three UNM film students are also in on the scheme. Jimmy has a table full of phones, each assigned to a different “letter writer” and he’s got the students on a script they need to follow (giving them some creative license with the voices). The makeup artist is especially enthusiastic to put her recent improv lessons to use. Jimmy has also set up a fake donation page (a la savewalterwhite.com) that shows Huell as an active and well-loved member of Coushatta’s Free Will Baptist Church. [AMC has actually created this page and you can (and should) take a look.]

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“Pastor Hansford” tells Ericsen all about Huell’s heroic deed in Coushatta, when he saved a bunch of elderly folks at bible study during a church fire. He also mentions that the church is planning on sending charter buses to Albuquerque so that the entire congregation can attend Huell’s trial. Ericsen looks pretty defeated by the time she gets off the phone, and ultimately decides to make the deal with Kim to avoid what she now believes will be a messy public trial. Leaving the film students instructions on how to man the phones, Jimmy goes to the courthouse and watches through the window as Ericsen concedes to Kim. She walks out of the courtroom with that icy Kim stare but when she gets into the stairwell with Jimmy, she throws him against the wall and kisses him.

This is definitely not what I was expecting to happen, but upon further examination, it makes perfect sense. This is the same feeling—that adrenaline rush from a successful scam—that Kim experienced in “Switch” (S2E1), when she first got together with Jimmy after running game on Ken Wins. At the end of this, another successful scam—one of which Kim was the architect—she’s got that same energy and that same desire for Jimmy. After so many episodes spent creating distance between Kim and Jimmy, there’s a sense of relief when they are finally intimate again. In bed, Jimmy does the pastor impression for Kim, which is a nice callback to one of my favorite scenes of the series: the sex toilet impression he does while painting Kim’s toenails in “Alpine Shepherd Boy” (S1E5).

They are finally a team again, even if it took Kim breaking bad to get them there. I should be upset about this because it is not at all in Kim’s best interest, but it is a choice that she is making. Kim Wexler has agency and if she uses that agency to willingly and happily enter the same morally gray space that Jimmy occupies, that’s her call. And I have to say, it’s much more fun to watch than the slow, painful disintegration of their relationship. For me, this is when Kim No™ turned into Kim Yes™.

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The rush of her scam and her reunion with Jimmy fades quickly when Kim goes to work and has a meeting with Paige and Kevin on the latest Mesa Verde business. It comes as no shock to Kim that Kevin wants some new and impossible thing—something that Paige has made clear to him isn’t realistic but which he decides to ask Kim for anyway. There was a time when Kim would have single-handedly worked herself to the bone to get done whatever Kevin asked of her, but she’s past that now. Even with all the power and resources of S&C at her fingertips, she straight up tells him no. She doesn’t do it in a rude way, just makes it clear that his request is not feasible. Of course, there’s a possibility that Kim could have made it happen, but that’s irrelevant; what matters is that she simply doesn’t care enough to try. The Mesa Verde work bores her to tears, especially in the aftermath of the Huell scam. At one point, I thought it would be enough for her to pay her bills with Mesa Verde at S&C and derive personal satisfaction from PD work, but that clearly isn’t the case. It would seem that, as she told Rich Schweikart in their first interview (“Inflatable,” S2E7), what Kim wants is “something more.”

Back in her office, Kim takes out the souvenir she keeps from her Ken Wins night with Jimmy: the Zafiro Añejo tequila bottle top. She ends up leaving work to go find Jimmy, who is looking at a particularly dingy office space. She waits for him outside and as they share a cigarette, Jimmy apologizes to her for threatening her career and his own with the countless illegal things they did to get Huell off. He promises her that they are done with all of that, to which she replies, “Let’s do it again.”

Kim, YES.

The episode ends with a little surprise for Nacho and the answer to one of the mysteries Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fans have been pondering for some time. We first heard the name Lalo in the Breaking Bad episode “Better Call Saul” (BrBa, S2E8), which was the first appearance of Saul Goodman in the BrBa/BCS universe. When Walt and Jesse kidnap Saul and take him to the desert, a desperate Saul references Ignacio and Lalo. Ignacio is likely Ignacio “Nacho” Varga, but Lalo’s identity remained a mystery until this episode. In “Coushatta” we learn that Lalo (aka Eduardo) is a Salamanca relative sent to help oversee the Salamanca’s business interests after the departure of the Cousins, Marco and Leonel.

This does not bode well for Nacho, who has been able to run that side of the business for Gus without Salamanca interference for many months now. It is a reminder for him and for the audience that, though Hector is out of the picture for good, there are still Salamancas kicking around out there, which threatens the safety and security of Nacho and his family. The fact that Lalo is friendly and outgoing is, in its own way, more frightening that the Cousins’ silent reign of terror. At least with Marco and Leonel, what you see was what you got; Lalo seems like he’s got some tricks up his sleeve.

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I have to tip my hat to Gordon Smith (and the entire Better Call Saul writers room) on this one because I absolutely did not see this Kim twist coming. The fact that a prequel show can continue to surprise me in new and interesting ways is one of the many reasons I can’t get enough of it. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this but my long-shot dream of Kim Wexler as Mrs. Saul Goodman lives—at least for now—and even though I know it’s not the “right” choice for Kim, it’s certainly the more exciting one.

I’m continually fascinated by Kim Wexler’s character arc. The Kim that wants to keep running game is a far cry from the Kim who didn’t want to know about Jimmy fabricating evidence to get Pryce off (“Cobbler,” S2E2). She’s been through a lot with Jimmy since then, but I think the real reason she is choosing to go down this road is a simple one: she likes it, she’s good at it, and it makes her feel alive. There’s no question that, despite his many flaws, Kim loves Jimmy, and I used to think that she went along with these things for him, but now I see that she derives the same sort of pleasure out of scamming that Jimmy does. If “Coushatta” teaches us one thing, it’s that Kim Wexler and Jimmy McGill are much more alike than any of us thought.


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