Two back-to-back nights of new episodes is a BCS fan’s dream, and Better Call Saul S5E2 (“50% Off”) was a great follow-up to an amazing premiere. While this episode (written by Alison Tatlock and directed by Norberto Barba) does give us some interesting and significant moments on the Jimmy-and-Kim side of things, it is more focused on the cartel—specifically the incredibly dangerous position that Nacho has found himself in. I have said in the past that I think that Michael Mando’s Nacho has been a bit underutilized, but as we barrel towards the convergence of Saul Goodman and the cartel world, I think we’ll be seeing more of him (and that’s a good thing for the viewer, though maybe not so much for Nacho).
Before I get into Nacho’s predicament, let’s talk about Jimmy. At this point, I find myself struggling as to whether to refer to him as Jimmy or as Saul, and I think that is kind of the point. In “Magic Man,” we saw Jimmy signing his name on his bar association document as “Jimmy ‘Saul Goodman’ McGill,” which is tangible evidence that he is now officially two people. The “50% Off” title of this episode does not just refer to the promotional deal that Jimmy makes with his clients; it also refers to the fact that Jimmy is now 50% Jimmy McGill and 50% Saul Goodman. In his signature, that “Saul Goodman” literally split Jimmy McGill right down the middle, and the events of the first two episodes clearly show that Saul Goodman has taken half off of Jimmy McGill.
He is still Jimmy when he is with Kim, who neither fully understands or accepts the Saul Goodman she is only just beginning to know. Part of that knowledge comes in the form of the overflowing closet that is now mostly filled with the colorful Saul Goodman attire we all know and love. Saul Goodman is literally pushing Kim out of her comfort zone—her own closet, in what was once her own apartment. We can tell that this is a slight annoyance to her, and Jimmy is apologetic about it, but (as we will soon see) he has a plan to remedy the situation.
Jimmy’s “Magic Man” client outreach program seems to have paid off as he is taking a number of calls from prospective clients while Kim gets ready for work. While she does inform him that her PD client ended up taking the deal, she omits the part about how she scammed him into doing so. She is still feeling uncomfortable with having done that, and she doesn’t want Jimmy to know that she ended up following his morally questionable advice. To Kim, the admission that she used his plan (and that it worked) would seem like she approves of his tactics, which she does not.
Kim is in her car about to leave for work when Jimmy jumps in the passenger seat and tells her he wants to show her something. He promises her she won’t be late for work, and so she goes along with it. They pull up to a nice house for sale not too far from their apartment, and Jimmy tells her he wants her to see it. The idea of buying a house with Jimmy is not something that was on Kim’s radar at this moment in time, but it is clearly part of Jimmy’s plan for the not-too-distant future. It’s not the craziest idea in the world (they certainly need the closet space), and (as Jimmy reminds Kim) she’s doing very well financially. He also informs her that things are looking bright for him in that department. He’s already got 45 clients, which is a shocking number to Kim as she doesn’t understand how he could possibly handle that caseload as a solo practitioner. But he’s Jimmy, so of course he’s “got a strategy for that,” though he doesn’t elaborate on what that strategy is (and she probably doesn’t really want to know).
As they enter the house and start to look around, we see that it is pretty luxurious and spacious. Jimmy paints a nice picture for Kim of hosting movie nights, and she actually looks like she’s considering it—if not that house specifically, the entire idea of buying a house with Jimmy and making a home together. But she can’t fully get into it yet because there is some air to clear between the two of them. For Jimmy, it’s the fact that he did the exact thing she told him not to do: offer the 50% off deal. He apologizes, but I find it hard to believe that it’s a sincere apology since, as we all know, Jimmy is rarely sorry when a plan of his actually works. Of course, he doesn’t know that Kim was absolutely correct in assuming that his promotional deal would actually encourage crime. The cold open of Better Call Saul S5E2 shows us as much, with two meth-heads going on a drug-fueled crime spree around Albuquerque as they gleefully shout “50% off!”
Kim has to clear the air with Jimmy as well, and while she continues to lie by omission about what ended up happening with her PD client, she tells him: “Jimmy, I know you were trying to help, but I don’t want to lie to my clients.” He agrees, and after that the house tour resumes with a renewed enthusiasm. Between the massive walk-in-closet and spa bathroom, Kim is pretty into it. It’s the kind of luxury that she has always dreamed about and she’s reached a point where it’s actually within her reach. We know that Kim came from nothing, and she has always had big dreams—not just professional ambitions, but the financial security that comes with that.
During this entire scene, I was reminded of the early days of Jimmy and Kim’s relationship, specifically “Cobbler” (S2E2), in which Jimmy—newly employed at Davis and Main—was considering buying a house in between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. In one of their shared-cigarette moments in the HHM parking garage, Jimmy and Kim discussed this potential dream house. This was the point in their relationship where all of Kim’s hopes for Jimmy were being realized. He had the job at a respectable firm and was (seemingly) on the right track, and as he discussed the house he might buy, she (perhaps subconsciously) inserted herself and her desires into the picture. She looked longingly into the distance as she dreamed of a big house with horses: “a long ride through the country and then a glass of wine on the back patio at sunset.” And, of course, they had to get a smoker.
When we see Jimmy and Kim exploring this new house in Better Call Saul S5E2, we can see Kim’s longing for a life of luxury with Jimmy returning. She playfully turns the shower on him and drenches him in the bathroom, and for a moment we see the old Jimmy and Kim. After they leave, she tells him, “maybe someday,” but the seed has clearly been planted, as Jimmy knew it would be—because Jimmy knows Kim, and he knows what she wants out of life. While this may sound like I’m painting Kim as materialistic, that is certainly not the case. It’s more the fact that, when someone comes from nothing and grew up poor and wanting (as it has often been inferred that Kim did), the idea of having something luxurious that would have been completely unfathomable at one point in their life becomes a goal. For Kim, it’s not the money itself, nor is it the bells and whistles of a house like the one they see here; it’s what those things signify: financial security and tangible proof that her dreams have become a reality. Of course, a walk-in closet doesn’t hurt, especially with Saul Goodman’s ever-expanding wardrobe.
As to the question of Jimmy’s strategy for handling his caseload, we later see him at the courthouse, wheeling and dealing as Saul Goodman. He is able to get the perpetually harried DDA Bill Oakley (played by the always delightful Peter Diseth) to capitulate to his terms on one of his cases via some (questionable) new witnesses that have come forward. He gets one of his cases moved up. But his real target is ADA Suzanne Ericsen, who is handling a lot of his cases. He waits outside the courtroom for her, practicing the little spiel he’s prepared, but he is interrupted by Howard Hamlin.
Howard congratulates him on being reinstated, and while I think he is genuinely happy for Jimmy, I don’t think he particularly cares for Saul Goodman’s sartorial choices. They have a brief conversation about how their respective businesses are going and we learn that HHM has managed to get back on its feet, but when Howard asks Jimmy to lunch, he basically blows him off because Ericsen has exited the courtroom. There was a point in the life of Jimmy McGill, Esq. where he would have given anything to have a professional lunch on the books with Hamlin, but now (even though he basically pulls a “have your people call my people” to arrange it), he has bigger fish to fry.
We learn that ADA Ericsen is handling 16 of Jimmy’s cases, and he wants to bang out some deals to get them settled quickly. Suzanne sees straight through him, though, and calls him out on wanting quick turnover so he can make more money. Suzanne (like pretty much everyone in the Albuquerque legal community) is quite familiar with Jimmy. In “Something Stupid” (S4E7), after Kim took over Huell Babineaux’s case to help Jimmy out, Ericsen refers to Jimmy as “a scumbag, disbarred lawyer who peddles drop phones to criminals.” Of course, she paid for that comment when Jimmy and Kim orchestrated the scam that ultimately got Huell off with a slap on the wrist.
Given their history, Ericsen is not inclined to go along with Jimmy’s wishes. And it’s not just a personal issue; it’s the fact that she knows that Jimmy’s wish for “speedy justice” for his clients is nothing but a cash grab. She’s not wrong, either. With this whole 50% off deal and his desire for fast turnaround, we are seeing for the first time in the Better Call Saul timeline Saul Goodman’s trademark greed on display. He doesn’t really care about his new clients—not like he cared about his elderly clients or like Kim cares about her PD clients. Suzanne is absolutely correct when she accuses him of wanting fast cash.
But when you think about it, what else is there for Jimmy at this point in his legal career? He’ll never be respected in the legal community, and if he can’t be a respectable lawyer, he might as well be a rich one. He’s finally embracing the sentiment his dearly departed friend Marco expressed in “Marco” (S1E10). When Jimmy told Marco that he was a lawyer, Marco assumed he must be “king of the desert, driving around town in a white Caddy, making bank.” Of course, Jimmy’s elder law practice was hardly as lucrative as all that, but it was respectable, and he tells Marco as much. Marco doesn’t grasp this and tells him, “All due respect, you’re a lawyer and you’re not making bank, you’re doing it wrong.” With Saul Goodman’s arrival, we can see that Jimmy has shifted his priorities, and it seems as if it won’t be long before that white LWYRUP Caddy makes its first appearance.
But first, he’s got to get Ericsen to play ball, so he does what he does best: orchestrates a scam in order to get her stuck in an elevator with him long enough to convince her to start dealing. He bribes a maintenance man with half cash payment and half free legal services, and he ends up getting all but three of their shared cases taken care of in the 20 minutes they are “stuck” in the elevator together—Saul Goodman’s brand of speedy justice at work.
While Saul Goodman is thriving, Mike is struggling. After his last confrontation with Gus, which didn’t end particularly well, he’s gone on a bit of a bender. Mike is woken up sometime in the afternoon by a call from Stacey who needs his help immediately with Kaylee. He agrees to go right over even though he’s clearly hungover. Mike goes into full Pop-Pop mode, helping Kaylee learn her multiplication tables (through some football-related arithmetic) while they work on the treehouse together. He is his usual cheery grandpa self, but things take a dark turn when Kaylee starts to ask Mike questions about her father.
At first, it’s just little things, like the fact that Matty was an Eagles fan and that he was good in school. But when Kaylee starts asking about her dad becoming a policeman—a very touchy subject for Mike given everything that happened—Mike is clearly pained talking about it. When Matty was young, he had dreams of becoming an astronaut or a deep-sea explorer, but ultimately he became a cop like his dad, and he died because of it. The more questions she asks, the more uncomfortable Mike becomes, and he ends up snapping at her and yelling at her that she isn’t doing the treehouse correctly. “You either do it right, or you don’t do it,” he yells, and Kaylee ends up running away into the house and locking herself in her room without eating dinner. When Stacey comes home, Mike leaves without telling her what happened.
This scene was very hard to watch. It was truly shocking to see that scary side of Mike come out in front of (and directed at) Kaylee. It’s also always difficult to watch Mike remembering Matty. He blames himself completely for his son’s death, and usually he can choke that down, but given what has just happened with Werner—another innocent whose death he is responsible for—it’s too much for him to take, and he snaps at the innocent child who he loves more than anything in the world. I don’t think the damage here is irreparable, but Mike’s relationship with Kaylee will certainly be different going forward. In that moment, she was truly afraid of him (and rightly so, because angry Mike is truly terrifying). Not only that, he made her feel bad about herself, and at that age—when you think that someone you love is disappointed in you and that you have failed them in some way—it leaves a scar. Kaylee has always felt completely safe and loved with her Pop-Pop, but she will always remember that time that he screamed at her (and she will never understand the complex reasons why he did it).
Even though Mike is in a bad place, no one is in a worse position than Nacho. Having to play both sides in the Salamanca/Gus feud has been taking a toll on him for a while, but in Better Call Saul S5E2, we see things reach a boiling point. With Mike no longer willing to do dirt for him (at least for the moment), Gus has turned to Nacho in his quest to get rid of the current thorn in his side, Lalo Salamanca. Gus has sent Victor and Tyrus to drag Nacho out of bed and basically kidnap him. Nacho doesn’t understand what’s happening because he has done everything that Gus has asked of him, but he’s learning the hard way that when you work for Gus Fring, there is always something more to be done.
Gus has decided to use terror tactics to get Nacho to pick up the pace when it comes to getting Lalo out of the picture. Nacho is taken to a place where his father is and Victor goes inside with a gun. At this point, Gus gets in the car and tells Nacho that he needs to know what Lalo is up to: “where he is going, what he is thinking, what he is planning. I need to know what he’s going to do before he does it.” Nacho doesn’t know what else he could possibly do because he’s been trying, but all Lalo talks about is Werner and Mike. Gus tasks him with gaining Lalo’s confidence and trust to get him to talk. In threatening Mr. Varga’s life to light a fire under Nacho, we see the ruthless Gus Fring we knew in Breaking Bad: the man who slit Victor’s throat with a box cutter and threatened to slaughter Walter’s entire family, including his infant daughter. This is the Gus of nightmares, and Nacho is currently living in one.
It will be no small task to gain Lalo’s trust. We saw very clearly in “Magic Man” that Lalo is not buying Gus’s cover story about the construction project. In “50% Off,” he goes to visit Hector at Casa Tranquila to fill him in on recent events. He tells Hector that Gus is building something (“a tunnel, a lab, maybe a vault”). He isn’t sure what exactly, but he knows whatever it is, it’s something big, and that Gus lied to him about the Germans. When Lalo points out that Don Eladio and Juan Bolsa don’t really care what Gus is up to because he brings in money, Hector dings away until Lalo realizes what he’s trying to tell him: messing with Gus’s money is the only way to proceed. Just exactly how Lalo plans to do this is unclear, but knowing Lalo, it will be chaotic and messy (and it just might work).
We see a poker game with Lalo, Nacho, Domingo, and some other members of the Salamanca organization, in which Lalo plays poker exactly as one would expect him to: aggressive and intimidating on a complete bluff. Domingo falls for it and folds even though he had a good hand, and Lalo goes out of his way to shame him for it. Everything Lalo does has a purpose, and he is very astute when it comes to other people’s behavior. As far as this poker game goes, he doesn’t just see Domingo folding a hand; he sees weakness and fear, and this assessment will not serve Domingo well as he is about to get put in a very bad spot.
Just after his embarrassing poker play, Domingo gets a call from his 5th Street dealers about an issue at the stash house. The two knuckleheads from the cold open had paid for their stuff, but it got stuck in the drainpipe on its way down to them. The dealers think they may have stolen it, and the two morons think that they are being stiffed. It’s a potentially bad situation, and Domingo is tasked with handling it since they are part of his crew.
While Domingo is up on the ladder trying to get the stuff out of the pipe, the cops roll up. Everyone else bails out, leaving Domingo to deal with the police. He tells them he is just innocently fixing the drainpipe but when he taps on it, the stuff falls right out. He is taken into custody and the cops call for backup, including the narcotics squad.
Lalo and Nacho show up and lurk in the shadows, watching the block crawling with cops. The dealers were unable to get the rest of the product (which was “almost a full load”) and they know it’s going to be found and confiscated. With his father’s fate hanging over his head, Nacho sees an opportunity to win Lalo’s trust. He gets out of the car and goes after the product. Lalo, thinking he’s a goner, watches and laughs as Nacho gets on the roof of the neighboring building and jumps across. He enters the stash house from the roof and grabs as much as he can before jumping out the window just as the narcotics unit busts down the door. Lalo is impressed and calls Nacho a badass. It would seem that Nacho’s plan, while incredibly risky, actually worked.
The next day, back at El Michoacáno, a bunch of the dealers have gathered to tell Nacho that the coast seems to be clear. We see that Nacho’s attempt to win over Lalo has worked as Lalo trusts him to make the call as to whether to send them back out on the streets (which he does). After the dealers leave, Lalo fixes a plate for Nacho and tells him to grab some beers. The two sit down to a meal and a chat, and Lalo asks him about “Krazy-8” (the first time we hear Domingo’s street name in the Better Call Saul timeline). Nacho knows that Lalo doesn’t trust that Domingo (who has never done any time) will stay loyal under pressure—after all, he was the guy who folded under the pressure during a low-stakes poker game.
Nacho, who goes goes way back with Domingo, tries to assure Lalo that he is solid, but he assumes that Lalo is about to ask the worst of him. Looking pained (but trying to hide it from Lalo), Nacho asks if he wants him “to take care of it,” but Lalo says no. He’s “got something much better for him”—a very cryptic, Lalo-esque statement. What exactly Lalo has planned is unclear, but at the end of the episode, we see things come full circle in the Better Call Saul universe as Nacho pulls up on Jimmy on the street and tells him to get in the car. This is not really a request so much as a command.
Given Jimmy’s history with Nacho in Season 1, he’s not about to say no, and Better Call Saul S5E2 ends with Jimmy getting in the back of Nacho’s car (sadly, without his ice cream cone). Even though he doesn’t know it yet, Jimmy is directly responsible for his current predicament. It seems fairly likely that Nacho has picked up Jimmy in order to get him to represent Domingo, and the reason Domingo was arrested in the first place was because Jimmy’s 50% off deal sent the two meth-heads off on the spree that got Domingo busted at the stash house. “50% Off” ends with Jimmy back where he started at the beginning of the series: accidentally scamming his way into a run-in with the cartel. This time, though, he is not Jimmy McGill but Saul Goodman, and we know from Breaking Bad that Saul is very much mixed up in the drug game even before Walter White shows up. Is this the moment when it all comes together and Saul Goodman becomes the true “criminal lawyer” we know him to be? I can’t wait to find out.