This week’s episode gave us a lot to digest. “Namaste” (written and directed by Gordon Smith) is one of those episodes that has both laugh-out-loud moments as well as some really dark stuff going on. Better Call Saul S5E4 saw some exceptional Saul Goodman shenanigans, Kim trying to stay in the light but going to the dark side, Gus trying to make the best of a bad situation, and Mike making a bad situation worse. And then there’s good ol’ Howard.
Jimmy and Kim wake up after a night of debauchery, beer bottles strewn around the apartment (not unlike the way Mike’s place has been looking lately). This is the most sexually explicit scene in all of Better Call Saul thus far, and I love that because it is so incredibly tame compared to the excessive sex (and sexual violence) we see in a lot of prestige TV. (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones.) It’s just Jimmy and Kim naked in bed together, and it’s not even really nudity considering all you really see is Jimmy on his side. It’s the male equivalent of the tasteful side-boob we so frequently see from women. So, side-butt? Is that a thing? Can I make it a thing?
Regardless, this is the most intimate moment we have seen between Kim and Jimmy. Usually their intimacy is implied or exists in small PG-rated moments: a suggestive glance, a shared cigarette, a thinly veiled bit of innuendo. It was actually shocking to see them in this state of undress, not because there’s anything strange about two consenting adults being naked in bed together, but because Better Call Saul simply does not go there. There is a larger significance in the choice to show them this way. First of all, given that things have been a bit tense between them lately, it is important to show that they are still intimate with one another. Things may be rocky in the streets, but they seem to be just fine in the sheets. Also—and we’ve seen this before—being bad makes Kim horny, and that is such an absolutely flawless character choice for her that I have to applaud everyone involved in making that decision.
As Jimmy and Kim leave for work, we see the evidence of their bit of fun strewn across the parking lot in the form of broken glass. Not surprisingly, Jimmy says that the complex will clean it up—after all, he is the king of letting other people clean up his messes—but Kim can’t allow that. Before Jimmy leaves, she tells him vaguely about the events of the previous day: “Yesterday was bad. Today I’m gonna fix it.” While it is unclear at this point whether she has filled him in on the details of her run-in with Mr. Acker, she is determined to make it right. She cleans up both of her messes in the parking lot, sweeping up the glass while on the phone with an associate asking them to gather the information she needs to try to sell Mesa Verde on an alternate option that would circumvent the Mr. Acker problem.
In a meeting with Kevin and Paige, Kim lays out her new plan: to use a different lot to build the call center—one with infrastructure that will better support the operation—and to use the land they already own to turn Tucumcari into a Mesa Verde company town. While this will cause a delay of a few weeks, she makes a strong argument that it will be financially beneficial and also save them from the “reputational risk” associated with removing Mr. Acker from his home. Kevin and Paige don’t see things her way—they believe that since they own the land, Mr. Acker is the one in the wrong legally and the ethical issues surrounding the situation don’t really matter. They politely shut Kim down and having exhausted her above-board options to fix the situation, she decides to enlist the services of Saul Goodman. It was fairly inevitable that things would go this way. I thought after last week that she would go to Saul first, but I commend her for this last-ditch effort to get the job done the “right” way. But Kim has enough experience to know that the right way doesn’t always work, and she’s now following the Jimmy McGill school of the ends justifying the means.
Jimmy’s day is going a bit better than Kim’s. He goes to meet with two of Saul Goodman’s latest clients—the knuckleheads from “50% Off”—who are keen to take him up on his discount offer. He is already employing some questionable legal workarounds by suggesting that the two guys have to tell the judge they will go to rehab, but he also tells them that (for an extra fee, of course) he can find a less-than-reputable establishment that will certify them without their actually having to complete treatment. With their many, many charges incurred during their little crime spree, Saul tells them they are looking at 12 months jail time (but that could feasibly be knocked down to five or six).
The guys agree to those terms, but when Saul lays out his rate—$4K even with the 50% off promotion—they balk and consider going with a public defender. Here we see Saul really selling himself as the “criminal lawyer” we know he becomes. He acts like he is too good for their case, that $4K is nothing, and pulls a “Do you even know who I am?” to get them to reconsider. At this point, Saul Goodman, Esq. is still building his client base and his practice, so he actually does need both the money and the clients in order to establish himself in the community as the guy you hire for this sort of thing. He does an excellent job here of making himself seem far more important than he actually is, and it works.
Jimmy meets Howard for lunch at Forque, a location we’ve seen several times during Better Call Saul. Apparently, it’s the go-to business lunch spot for the Albuquerque legal community as we’ve seen Kim there with Rich Schweikart the first time he made her a job offer in “Bali Ha’i” (S2E6), and Kim lunching with Kevin and Paige (and being interrupted by Howard) in “Slip” (S3E8). Howard is already there, schmoozing with a federal judge, and he introduces “Jimmy McGill” to him. Jimmy is quick to correct him and tell him he’s Saul Goodman now. Howard is interested to learn about this Saul Goodman character but asks if he can still call him Jimmy, at which point Jimmy gets in a nice little dig: “My friends still call me Jimmy. You can, too.”
After they order, Howard gets right down to it and asks Jimmy to tell him what Saul Goodman is about. Jimmy doesn’t know it yet, but Howard is basically asking for a sales pitch here. Jimmy tells him that Saul Goodman is “the last line of defense for the little guy […] he’s a righter of wrongs, he’s a friend to the friendless.” This is, of course, absolute nonsense, because what Saul Goodman really is is a greedy, unscrupulous guy willing to do anything to make a buck. Maybe he’s not fully there yet, but he’s well on his way.
Howard claims to understand why Jimmy changed his name and places the blame on himself and on HHM for tarnishing his legacy to the point where he can no longer use the McGill name. While this is partially true, it’s really not at the heart of why Jimmy has become Saul. Even if HHM hadn’t done Jimmy dirty years ago, Jimmy McGill would never have been able to practice law his way had he been hired at HHM. He was always going to cut corners and refuse to play by the rules, and as Saul Goodman he has the freedom to do all of that (and worse).
Season 4 found Howard in a very dark place, and HHM was suffering financially in the wake of Chuck’s death. Here, he seems to have bounced back and reached a point where he has genuinely reflected on his long history with Jimmy. Howard is cognizant of the many mistakes he made with Jimmy, but he’s not exactly apologetic here. He has come to realize that he “missed an opportunity” with Jimmy, and now he wants him to come work for HHM. There was a time when Jimmy would have given anything to be having this exact conversation, but that time has long since passed. Howard may have put everything between them in the past, but Jimmy most certainly has not.
It is interesting to see the old Howard back in action. He’s not exactly the same Howard he was at the beginning of the series, but he’s certainly not the Howard we saw after Chuck’s death. That was the only version of Howard Hamlin that felt truly sincere. Here, even though his words are apologetic and his offer is sincere, it is all based on a selfish need to right his past wrongs. Also, for all the self-reflection he’s apparently done, he still considers their personal issues to be fully based on Chuck. While he does hold himself accountable for not standing up to Chuck and hiring Jimmy, in Howard’s mind, it’s still all Chuck’s fault and there’s no reason why he and Jimmy can’t start fresh with Chuck gone. It is maybe the least self-aware Howard has ever been, and Jimmy is not on board whatsoever.
Howard tries to sell Jimmy on HHM by reminding him of the time he went to bat for Kristy Esposito, the candidate for the Chuck McGill memorial scholarship with a shoplifting conviction who was trying to turn her life around (“Winner,” S4E10). Jimmy was the only one who voted for her. He saw some of himself in her and the fact that she had real potential, but of course he was outvoted. Howard seems to have reflected on this incident and come to realize that they were wrong to judge her harshly for past mistakes. He praises Jimmy for his honesty, but then he goes for the hard sell and it is way too much. He tells Jimmy, “You’re smart, you’re scrappy, you’re a go-getter. You don’t wait for things to happen, you make them happen […] I could use you, Charlie Hustle.”
The entire conversation he’s had with Jimmy at this lunch is invalidated because, while he doesn’t realize it, Howard has spoken the only real truth: he wants to use Jimmy for the benefit of the firm. None of this is actually about Jimmy or mending fences. It is about the fact that Howard wants to put Jimmy’s skill set to work for him while also feeling like he has made amends for his past actions. At the end of the day, as always, it’s all about Howard Hamlin. He can pretend that he’s reached some sort of enlightenment, with the “NAMAST3” vanity plate on his Jaguar and his newfound ability to openly self-reflect, but it’s all just surface level. The fact is, Jimmy doesn’t need (or want) Howard anymore. He’s got Saul Goodman, and the Technicolor wardrobe suits him much better than pinstripes and Hamlindigo Blue ties ever could.
After her failure to sway Kevin and Paige, Kim goes to watch Saul Goodman in action. She sits in the courtroom where Saul has a court appearance for a client charged with stealing money from a convenience store register. The Saul Goodman approach to cross-examining the witness is controversial yet effective: he swapped out his client for another man, and had the witness ID the wrong person. This causes an uproar in the courtroom and the judge calls Saul into her chambers for a scolding. Kim, who has been watching the whole time—waits for Jimmy to get out. The judge has declared a mistrial, which is a win in Saul Goodman’s book. If Kim hadn’t been convinced that Saul Goodman was the way to go with her Tucumcari problem, his little courtroom stunt certainly convinced her, and she decides to ask him for help.
Jimmy heads out to Tucumcari to pay Mr. Acker a visit. Initially, Mr. Acker dismisses him, thinking first that he’s another Mesa Verde representative. When he tells him that he’s Saul Goodman, there to represent him, Mr. Acker still balks at the idea of having a lawyer. However, Saul Goodman always has a colorful approach to getting what he wants. In this case, he hands Mr. Acker his “proposal”: a picture of a man doing unspeakable things to a horse. Metaphorically speaking, Saul is the man and Mesa Verde is the horse, and he tries to convince Mr. Acker that he’s the guy to screw them over. There’s a lot to like about this scene, but I think my favorite part is that he has essentially perverted the actual Mesa Verde logo—a man riding a horse—as a part of his master plan. Saul sells himself as the little lawyer that could, determined to represent the everyman and stick it to the big, rich corporations that think they can do whatever they want to people. He’s speaking Mr. Acker’s language, and the plan works just as Kim suspected it would.
The cold open of Better Call Saul S5E4 showed Jimmy at a trading post, weighing the size of various items before settling on a set of three bowling balls. There was no context for this, and we had to wait for the payoff, but it was completely worth it. You can use Saul’s outfit to trace exactly when he went to the trading post—after he went to see Mr. Acker and was about to get in his car to go home, he checks his watch and then there’s this look he gives, like he’s planning something other than a night of beer and Chinese food with Kim. At this point, on his way back to Albuquerque, he makes that pit stop, and we see the endgame of that trip when he goes to Howard’s house and throws the bowling balls over the gate and straight on to his Jaguar. Perhaps Saul Goodman’s little diatribe about sticking it to the big corporate man hit close to home with Jimmy McGill, and so he decided that it was time for Jimmy to be the man and Howard to be the horse. Regardless, I bet Howard wasn’t feeling those Namaste vibes when he saw what had become of his precious car.
On the cartel side of things, Gus is still fuming about the fact that he’s out a half-million dollars, and he sits in his office at Los Pollos Hermanos waiting for news of the impending busts. Unfortunately for his ever-earnest and loyal employee, Lyle, Gus is in quite a mood and he takes it out on him in a very Gus Fring way. Apparently, no matter how hard Lyle tries, the fryer is not clean enough for Gus’s liking. Gus is always incredibly meticulous in everything he does, and he holds his employees to an incredibly high standard, but this isn’t about a dirty fryer. I’m sure Lyle did a fine job, in the same way it is always done and which has been perfectly fine with Gus until this particular night. Gus needs a distraction from the mess going on with Lalo and the DEA. He feels powerless in this situation, and the only way to exert any sort of power is to torture poor Lyle with the Sisyphean task of cleaning a fryer that will never be clean enough to satisfy his boss.
Meanwhile, Hank and Gomez are staking out one of the dead drops and waiting for the pickup. There is some more classic Hank-and-Gomie banter about the origin of the word culvert, so of course I had to check the etymology only to find that its origins are unknown. When the guy comes to make the pickup, he stops and looks around and seems to see Hank and Gomez parked off in the distance. There’s no way Gus sends his guy in there without telling him exactly what to do during the pickup run. Things are almost totally out of Gus’s control right now, but how his guy handles the situation during the bust is the one thing he is able to control with the intel he’s gotten from Nacho.
By having it look like his guy spotted Hank and Gomez during the final pickup, he puts it on the DEA for screwing up the stakeout instead of tipping anyone off (the DEA or Lalo) that he had knowledge of the bust ahead of time. While Gus knows the loss of his money (and the three guys who dropped the cash) is a foregone conclusion, orchestrating the bust in this way ensures that the DEA can’t track his guy to his final destination—where the money is delivered—because they are forced to take off after him. Gus planned it out so his pickup man is able to lose Hank and Gomez (while leaving the money in the car he was forced to abandon), and has Victor waiting to scoop him up before the DEA can catch him.
Gus’s plan ensures that the DEA are unable to question his pickup man about the final destination for the money. The street-level guys doing the drops wouldn’t know where the money ends up or who it ends up with, so the higher levels of the operation are safe while still satisfying the DEA’s need for arrests and cash (and Lalo being none the wiser). It’s the best that Gus can do in a bad situation, and it seems to go according to plan, and while Gus is still absolutely furious that he’s been put in this position, it is—much like Lyle’s final attempt at cleaning the fryer—acceptable.
Maybe Gus can take some small comfort in the fact that he really made the DEA work for it. While Hank gives his crew a nice congratulatory pep talk after the bust, he is dissatisfied with how it went down. He wanted the exact thing that Gus prevented him from getting: information about and/or access to the higher-level operatives in the organization. Instead, he got a bunch of cash on the table and some street-level guys. Still, he will have to keep his word to Saul and put Domingo back on the streets.
Mike continues to struggle to adjust to life post-Werner, and when he arrives at Stacey’s house for his regular Thursday Kaylee-sitting, Stacey is surprised to see him since he hadn’t returned her calls. She got another sitter, and Mike offers to pay her for the day anyway, but Stacey doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Mike to sit for Kaylee. Mike is obviously upset about having scared Kaylee and wants to smooth things over with her and go back to being his usual Pop-Pop self, but Stacey claims that Kaylee is already over it. The real issue for Stacey is that she doesn’t trust Mike with Kaylee in his current state. She can sense that something is very wrong, though she has absolutely no idea how bad things really are, and she doesn’t feel comfortable leaving Mike with Kaylee alone. She suggests that Mike take some time to “get back to himself,” which infuriates him. You can see him barely able to contain his rage at the suggestion that he is not currently fit to spend time alone with his own granddaughter, but he walks away before he says anything to Stacey he won’t be able to take back.
As viewers, we know that Stacey is in the right here. Mike is in a very dark place, and though he claims he’s got himself together and would be able to control himself around Kaylee, I think that may be wishful thinking on his part. Mike is in a place where he can no longer separate the Pop-Pop side of himself from the man who works for Gus Fring and killed Werner. He can’t compartmentalize what happened, and he’s a powder keg just waiting for a spark. Stacey can see that, and she doesn’t want Kaylee anywhere near him when he explodes.
Mike’s self-destructive streak reaches its boiling point when he purposefully returns to the site of his altercation with the street punks from last week’s episode. He’s still itching for a fight but this week things don’t go his way. He gets a couple good shots in, but he’s outnumbered and ends up catching a nasty beating and a knife to the gut. When he wakes up, he finds himself at an unknown location in the middle of nowhere. There are no noticeable landmarks to identify this place as anywhere we have seen before. My initial thought was that it is the same location where Mike recuperates in Mexico after the cartel shootout in Breaking Bad, but there’s not enough visual evidence to confirm that. Regardless of where exactly he is, this almost certainly has to be Gus’s doing. I have suspected that Gus has been keeping an eye on Mike since they parted ways, and I think it’s likely that Gus had him brought somewhere and treated (perhaps by Gus’s south-of-the-border doctor, Barry Goodman).
There is also a possibility that this is Lalo’s doing. He has been obsessed with figuring out who Mike is to Gus and what his real role in the operation is. I wouldn’t put it past him to somehow track Mike down, kidnap him while unconscious, and bring him to Mexico to try and get information out of him (or bring him over to his side). This is Lalo Salamanca we’re talking about. He’s capable of pretty much anything, especially when it comes to sticking it to Gus Fring. I won’t speculate any further, but I suspect we will have our answers soon enough. All I can hope is that this near-death experience is enough to shake Mike out of this self-destructive black hole he’s been in. We know he gets back with Gus and gets it together eventually. The only question is how.