Fans of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have been long awaiting the inevitable return of DEA Agent Hank Schrader and his partner, Steve Gomez. With Jimmy officially becoming Saul Goodman and dipping his toes into the cartel world, it is only fitting that those two fan favorites returned for Better Call Saul S5E3 this week. As I suspected, in “The Guy for This” (written by Ann Cherkis and directed by Michael Morris), Saul is enlisted by Nacho and Lalo to assist with Domingo’s possession arrest, which leads to his first run-in with Hank and Gomie.
After being scooped up by Nacho at the end of last week’s episode, this week we find Jimmy in the backseat of Nacho’s car. He is understandably nervous because he doesn’t know where he’s headed or what exactly is happening. While certainly less violent than the first time Jimmy was kidnapped by Nacho, given their history, Jimmy feels uneasy. In “Mijo” (S1E2), Jimmy’s first run-in with the cartel world led to him being hog-tied in the desert by Tuco and Nacho and questioned about how exactly he found himself at the home of Tuco’s beloved abuelita. Nacho was the one who convinced Tuco not to kill Jimmy and the two skateboard punks who called his abuelita a “biznatch,” but it came at a cost.
Nacho decided to take advantage of the fact that Jimmy was employing some unscrupulous tactics to get the Kettlemans to hire him, and he demanded that Jimmy help him steal the stolen money from the Kettlemans. Nacho saw the Saul Goodman in Jimmy McGill from the very beginning. At the end of “Mijo,” he even gave Jimmy his number “for when you figure out you’re in the game.” That seems like ages ago in the Better Call Saul universe now—and Jimmy has gone through many iterations of himself since then—but Jimmy is Saul now, and he’s solidly in the game, so it’s no surprise that he’s Nacho’s criminal lawyer of choice when it comes to the Domingo situation.
Nacho takes Jimmy to meet Lalo, and Jimmy assumes that the meeting is regarding his history with Nacho. Jimmy gets even more nervous when Lalo informs him that he is Tuco’s cousin. The interactions between Jimmy and Lalo in Better Call Saul S5E3 are some of the best parts of the episode. The two characters are not entirely dissimilar: they are both a lot more clever than most people give them credit for, they both have the gift of gab, and they both share a certain chaotic energy that helps them get the job done. Of course, Lalo is significantly more dangerous than Jimmy could ever be, but there is something very interesting and entertaining about these two characters’ interactions.
Lalo truly enjoys watching Jimmy squirm, and he tells him that Tuco told him all about “the guy with the mouth.” Lalo is impressed with Jimmy’s ability to talk his way out of a mess, especially with Tuco, who isn’t really the type to listen to reason before acting. They discuss bringing “Saul Goodman” on to represent Domingo, but Lalo has some very specific needs regarding his representation. Jimmy tries to get out of being personally involved by offering a drop phone to be smuggled into jail so they can talk to Domingo themselves, but Lalo wants him in the room and tells him, “You’re the guy for this.”
Jimmy doesn’t really even try to get out of it. He basically goes straight to the money, hiking his rates way up, and Lalo pays him in cash. After all, even Saul Goodman’s highest rates would be a drop in the bucket to the cartel. Jimmy’s idea of what is expensive is basically a joke to Lalo, and he rounds up his price and gives him $8K in cash straight out of his pocket. And so Saul Goodman is officially employed by the Salamanca cartel, and we find ourselves well on the road to the Saul Goodman we know in Breaking Bad.
As for Nacho, he is still in a bad position, caught between warring factions of the cartel and playing both sides as he worries about the safety of his father, Manuel. In Better Call Saul S5E3, we see Manuel paying Nacho a surprise visit at his home. Manuel takes in his surroundings and it’s clear that this is the first time he’s seeing Nacho’s place. It’s also clear that he can see the drug money in every inch of the place. Manuel had hoped that Nacho would find a way to get out, but his fancy car and house make it clear that he’s deeper in than ever (and reaping the rewards of that). Manuel is not the type of man to be impressed by material things, especially not things that are purchased with blood money. Nacho knows this, which is why he hadn’t invited his father to his place—well, that and the fact that he’s always got at least two half-naked drugged-out lady friends hanging around.
Manuel’s purpose in coming to the house is to tell Nacho that he’s had an offer to sell the shop, but he believes that this offer is actually indirectly from Nacho in order to get him to retire and leave town. This would make sense given that Gus has threatened his father’s life, but it’s naïve of Nacho to think that Gus couldn’t find Manuel wherever he went. But it doesn’t matter, because Manuel refuses to take the offer. He tells Nacho that he should either go to the police or run himself, but Manuel won’t run. I worry about Manuel being too upstanding and moral for his own good—guided by his ideals instead of thinking practically about the reality of his situation. Better Call Saul respects the characters that are presented as basically “good” people (Werner and Chuck, for example), but it certainly doesn’t show them any mercy.
Better Call Saul S5E3 spends one brief scene with Mike, but it is a significant one in terms of showing us where Mike’s head is at. Mike’s drinking has not slowed and has likely gotten even worse since the Kaylee incident. He drinks alone at a bar, and the bartender tries to cut him off, but Mike would rather hand over his keys and keep drinking. The chosen location of this bender is significant as it is the same bar he went to with Werner in “Coushatta” (S4E8). In that episode, Werner and Mike left the rest of the Germans at the strip club go have a quiet beer and conversation.
Mike was sitting then where he is now: in front of a postcard of the Sydney Opera House. In “Coushatta,” Werner told Mike that his father (also an engineer) spent 10 years of his life working on the Sydney Opera House. In “The Guy for This,” Mike can’t stand to look at that postcard and gets into it with the bartender about taking it down. It isn’t just about that postcard, or remembering the heart-to-heart he had with Werner that evening. That was also the same night that Werner screwed up the first time and ran his mouth drunkenly with some of the other bar patrons about the construction project.
This was the first red flag Mike got that Werner wasn’t entirely reliable in the secrecy department, but the whole idea of R&R for the guys and bringing them to an unsecure location is really on Mike. He blames himself for this and for everything that happened with Werner. Even though he did warn Werner after this incident (without flat-out saying it) that the “very serious man” they work for will not tolerate that kind of leak, he left it as a vague threat. Perhaps if Mike had been straight with him and said, “screw up again and you’re a dead man,” things wouldn’t have escalated. Or maybe Werner should have been cut loose after the first mistake. Regardless, things happened as they happened, and there’s nothing Mike can do about it now except drink himself into a stupor.
Even though the bartender ends up taking down the postcard to appease Mike without putting up much resistance, Mike is still itching for a fight. On his way home when he is approached by a group of punks trying to mug him—thinking he’s just some drunk old man—he dislocates one of their arms. He takes a punch to the face, which barely even affects him, and he walks off looking fairly satisfied with himself. This self-destructive streak can’t end well, especially since Gus is likely still keeping an eye on Mike.
What I find fascinating about Mike’s self-destructive streak in the aftermath of Werner’s death is that it recontextualizes the “half measures” speech he gives Walt in Breaking Bad. In “Half Measures” (S3E12), Mike visits Walt at home and tells him a story about a time when he was a beat cop and responded to a domestic dispute. The man ended up killing his wife during a later altercation, and Mike laments the fact that he didn’t take care of the guy when he had the chance. “I chose a half measure,” he says, “when I should have gone all the way. I’ll never make that mistake again.” Given what we now know about the half measures he chose with Werner and how that all turned out, the Breaking Bad scene takes on a deeper significance. This is one of those things that really makes Better Call Saul special—the way it can take something we are so familiar with from Breaking Bad and put an entirely new spin on it. Now I’ll never be able to watch that scene in “Half Measures” without thinking of poor Werner Ziegler (who did not even exist when it was written).
After Jimmy’s rough day of getting himself embroiled in cartel business, he returns home to find Kim having a beer on the balcony. He takes her empty, which he puts quite precariously on the balcony ledge instead of safely on the ground, and hands her a fresh one. Kim is preemptively celebrating a day without having to deal with Mesa Verde in which she has all pro bono clients. When she asks Jimmy about his day, it is the kind of thing that he has no intention of talking about in any detail with Kim (and the kind of thing she wouldn’t want to know). He is as vague as possible but does mention that it was a great success financially. “Saul Goodman just had his best day yet,” he says. “Good for Saul,” she replies.
It’s interesting but not at all surprising that Kim continues to refer to “Saul Goodman” as if he’s some sort of completely separate entity from Jimmy McGill. It makes sense for her because Jimmy McGill is the person that she chose to love and be with, and she doesn’t really know or understand who Saul Goodman is yet. As viewers (especially those who have seen Breaking Bad in its entirety) we know that they are not different people. Depending on how you choose to read the character, Saul is either an extension of Jimmy McGill who has always been there, or he is an evolution of the man that was once Jimmy McGill—Slippin’ Jimmy’s final form, if you will. Gene is one form of the man, but he was always just a costume for Saul to hide inside. In “Magic Man” (S5E1), we saw the Gene mask slip off and Saul Goodman start to come out to deal with his current predicament. At some point soon, Kim is going to realize that Saul isn’t just a mask that Jimmy wears for clients, and one of the most pressing questions I have for this season of Better Call Saul is how she is going to deal with that.
Kim’s celebration of her day of pro bono clients turned out to be a bit premature as she is interrupted at the courthouse by urgent calls from Rich Schweikart telling her she is needed in person to deal with some Mesa Verde troubles. Rich respects her pro bono work but, as he points out, “Mesa Verde keeps the lights on.” Kim knows that he is right, and she goes to deal with it, but she’s not happy about it. Kim likes the financial and professional security of her partnership at Schweikart & Cokely and the freedom that position gives her to do the work that she wants to do, but at the end of the day, she still has a boss and is beholden to her Mesa Verde and S&C partnership commitments. Unlike Jimmy, who is able to go completely rogue as Saul Goodman, Kim is still under someone else’s thumb. It is interesting to see her absolute frustration with having to deal with Mesa Verde—the client she once did very questionable things to secure for herself.
Kim heads out to Tucumcari (which I had to look up and which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Albuquerque) in order to deal with an incredibly unpleasant man, Mr. Acker, who is holding up construction of Mesa Verde’s planned call center. Paige is there along with some other associates, but no one has been able to get anywhere with this man. And so they call Kim Wexler, the world’s best lawyer, to deal with the problem.
Mr. Acker will not listen to reason and he’s very insulting in his interaction with Kim. She is trying to very calmly inform him of the fact that Mesa Verde now owns the land and he is legally required to vacate, but he won’t budge—even when Mesa Verde offers him $18K to speed the process along. Mr. Acker is another one (like Manuel) who stubbornly stands on principles when there is nothing to be gained and a significant amount to be lost by doing so. While the situation is unpleasant for him—no one wants to be forced out of their home—the fact remains that he signed a contract which allowed for the land he leased to be sold. While it is questionable of Mesa Verde to have chosen a site like this—where a lot of people had homes before they were bought out—they were within their rights to do so.
This is one of those situations where legally Mesa Verde is right but morally they are not, and this is what is really at the heart of Mr. Acker’s attack on Kim. He sees her as one of them, just another soulless money-grubber in a fancy suit driving a fancy car, and this bothers her deeply. She does not want to be lumped in with the Howard Hamlins of the world because she doesn’t view herself that way. Her financial success is relatively new. She grew up poor and had to scratch and claw to get anywhere in her life. So Mr. Acker’s words (and his generally unpleasant disposition) really stick in her craw when he says:
I can see you. You’re one of those people that give a little money to charity every month so you can make up for all the bad that you’ve done. You go to a soup kitchen once a year on Thanksgiving and that makes you feel a whole lot better about yourself—makes you feel like one of the best rich people. I don’t know how in the world you sleep at night.
This hits home for Kim because, to some extent, it’s true. She has been doing pro bono work, partially to counter the boredom and lack of personal satisfaction with banking, but also as a way to sort of absolve herself of the various sins she’s committed with Jimmy. At this point, Kim loses her cool and gets in Mr. Acker’s face. There is no more Ms. Nice Wexler as she lays out the cold hard facts about his situation and tells him how he’s not special and he has to follow the rules like everyone else and just deal with it. Paige is impressed with her taking a hard stance, but Kim knows that she didn’t actually solve the problem. Paige says that she “ended it,” and that’s what Mesa Verde wanted from her, but Kim knows she didn’t actually fix anything.
But she still wants to fix it, and so she ends up going back to Tucumcari because she doesn’t like the way things ended with Mr. Acker. She tried the stick; now she wants to try the carrot. She has to trespass to get access to him and she goes to his door with some real estate listings she found. She offers to personally help him move and pay for his moving costs herself. She tells him that she can’t understand what he’s going through because she’s never owned a house, and her family never owned one either. Here Better Call Saul S5E3 gives us a little more Kim backstory (which is something I am always thirsty for). She tells Mr. Acker that her family “never owned anything. When I was little, my mother used to shake me awake in the middle of the night yelling it was time to go. She was always one step ahead of the landlord.” Kim paints a picture of herself as a child, snatched from her bed in the night and forced to leave in bare feet. As viewers, our hearts break for Kim, but Mr. Acker is not moved in the slightest and replies, “You’ll say anything to get what you want, won’t you?”
What is fascinating about this scene is that it doesn’t actually matter whether or not Mr. Acker believes her story. If he thinks she’s lying to get what she wants, he doesn’t respect it; if he thinks she’s telling the truth, then he doesn’t respect her using her own traumatic experience to try to sway him. When you consider the few things we know about Kim’s life, we the audience believe that she is being sincere here, but Mr. Acker only sees someone who is willing to say and do anything to get what she wants. The thing is, though, we’ve seen Kim scam her way into getting what she wants. There was a time when such a thing would have been unthinkable for her character, but because of the things we’ve seen her do, we are left with just a tinge of doubt here. Is she telling the truth? I absolutely think so. But we know she has the skill set to come up with an elaborate lie and sell it as totally sincere—we’ve seen her do it—so it’s so fascinating to watch her tell the truth about something so personal and have someone else think she’s running a scam. And it’s also fascinating that a viewer who believes that she is lying could actually make a cogent argument for it.
Jimmy’s work day is going in an entirely different direction. He goes to meet with Domingo on Lalo’s behalf and gives him the script he needs to memorize per Lalo’s instructions. Enter Hank Schrader and Steve Gomez. After some classic Hank-and-Gomie banter, they are all business in the room with Domingo. Hank is suspicious from the jump because Domingo went two days saying nothing but then decided to talk and tells them about the dead drops. But, as orchestrated ahead of time, Saul Goodman comes busting in to lecture Hank and Gomez about talking to his client without his lawyer present.
Hank treats “Saul Goodman” like a complete joke (“S’all Good Man…Really? Come on, that’s your name?). Though he likely isn’t familiar with the trials and tribulations of Jimmy McGill, Esq. like many in the Albuquerque legal community, Hank still thinks Saul is a clown. He sees Saul for exactly what he is and continues to be suspicious of Domingo’s information. Both Hank and Gomez think that there isn’t actually any money, but Saul manages to get them to stick around and listen by agreeing that Domingo will stay in custody contingent on his information checking out—specifically, that it will lead to arrests. Saul also manages to ensure safety for Domingo once he’s back on the streets and turns him into Hank’s personal confidential informant. From Breaking Bad Season 1, we know that Krazy-8 was a DEA informant. In “Cancer Man” (S1E4), Hank explains that Domingo became his snitch when he was a street-level dealer, but as he moved up in the drug world, Krazy-8 started using his position as a CI to eliminate competition and steal their customers. Better Call Saul S5E3 gives us the full context for Krazy-8’s CI status—another example of how the prequel show enriches the original.
With things having gone pretty much how Lalo wanted, Jimmy and Nacho meet up with him to tell him how it all went down. The information Lalo wanted out there is now out there, but Jimmy has to explain whole CI thing to him and make sure he knows that ultimately it will be a good thing for him to have a direct line to the DEA.
It’s also good for Saul Goodman’s business to keep his clients alive, and Lalo is impressed with his quick thinking. The Lalo/Saul dynamic is endlessly entertaining because Lalo (while he has no problem using his intimidation tactics on Saul to get him to continue on helping the cartel with future issues) actually respects him and thinks he’s a clever guy. Lalo is generally one step ahead of most everyone, but I think he respects the fact that Saul can manage to do what he asks but also surprise him (in a good way). After Lalo leaves, Saul wants to know who they just set up, but Nacho won’t tell him. Instead, he tells him that what he wants doesn’t matter now that he’s in the game. Of course, Nacho has long believed Jimmy has been in the game even though he didn’t know it yet.
Nacho goes to tell Gus everything that Lalo put in motion and, while Gus is furious that Lalo bested him in this situation (and that Nacho helped), he has no choice but to let it go forward if he wants to keep Nacho within the Salamanca organization. After all, Gus is the one that forced Nacho to do whatever it takes to gain Lalo’s trust. This is part of the price Gus has to pay for that—and it’s a hefty one because he’s going to have to eat a significant money loss. This is exactly what Lalo wanted because he knows that all Don Eladio and Juan Bolsa care about is the money coming in. Gus is aware of this as well, but it’s not even the money loss that is infuriating him so much as the fact that Lalo outplayed him. But this is Gus Fring we’re talking about, and he’s not about to let this one go without some sort of reprisal.
Better Call Saul S5E3 ends with Kim returning from her unsuccessful trip to Tucumcari to find Jimmy on the balcony. She lights a cigarette and they share it, both of them having had rough days (although in entirely different ways). They don’t talk about any of it and instead decide to relieve a bit of tension with some good old-fashioned vandalism. The two of them gleefully throw beer bottles down into the parking lot, where they smash to pieces, and they run for cover when the neighbors’ lights start to come on. After her series of unpleasant encounters with Mr. Acker and a day that was a complete failure from start to finish, Kim needed to be a little bad (and Jimmy is more than happy to do it with her).
Something tells me that Kim is not done with Mr. Acker. She is the type who does not like loose ends, and she really doesn’t like to lose. While ultimately the fate of one man’s house is completely insignificant in her life, I can’t see her letting this go without a fight. She may want to prove to him that she’s not the person he thinks she is, or she may need to prove that to herself. Regardless, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this guy, and I have to wonder if she will enlist the services of Saul Goodman to fix the problem once and for all.