The following article contains spoilers for Better Call Saul S6E2 (“Carrot and Stick”), written by Thomas Schnauz & Ariel Levine and directed by Vince Gilligan.
Oh, Kettlemans. How I missed you. The misadventures of Betsy and Craig Kettleman were one of the highlights of Better Call Saul’s first season, and I was delighted to see them back and just as deluded as ever. It was Kim’s idea to enlist the Kettlemans as part of her and Jimmy’s Hamlin scam, and despite the fact that she knew these two are the last people on earth Jimmy would want to deal with, it really was genius. Because of course Craig (and especially Betsy) wouldn’t be able to resist the idea of clearing the Kettleman name.
One of the most entertaining things about Betsy Kettleman is the fact that she is truly the most delusional person in the world. She’s one of those people who believe that the world owes them something, and even though she and her husband are thieves, she still believes that they are somehow above it all. She clings to this idea of their innocence while knowing full well they are guilty, and (as we learn in “Carrot and Stick”) even after Craig’s felony conviction and jail time, they are still out there stealing people’s money. So who better to run a scam on than a couple of scammers?
Step two in Kim and Jimmy’s plan is to bring a case to Davis and Main—one that will intrigue Cliff enough that he’ll take the meeting, but one the firm won’t ultimately take. All they need is to get someone in the room with Cliff so he hears about Hamlin’s drug problem from another source. The Kettlemans are perfect for this because they have a history with Hamlin and HHM but their case is unwinnable. Also, Betsy is incredibly annoying, so I’m sure Jimmy had himself a chuckle thinking about Cliff Main having to take her seriously.
Jimmy takes a trip out to Betsy and Craig’s new business, Sweet Liberty Tax Services, which they run out of a trailer in the middle of nowhere. Now how a convicted embezzler was allowed to start a tax services business is beyond me, but I’ll allow it because the whole thing is hilarious. When Jimmy arrives, we see that the blow up Lady Liberty that adorned Saul’s office in Breaking Bad is outside the Kettlemans’ trailer. I was wondering where that monstrosity came from, and now we know. When he enters, we see some patriotic wallpaper and hear the same music—”The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—that played in Saul’s office waiting room in “Blood Money” (Breaking Bad S5E9).
If you’d told me that the Kettlemans’ business would be the inspiration for Saul’s later office decor and general vibe, I’d never have believed you, but clearly the kitchy patriotism schtick is doing something for Jimmy because he basically copies it later for his own place. I still think there will be some other office space that comes before the office we see in Breaking Bad, and perhaps that one will have a touch more class, but maybe not.
Betsy is just as happy to see Jimmy as you’d think, and Craig is the same old Craig—just a really nice guy who lets his wife control every single thing he does. I always feel bad for Craig, but the Craig/Betsy dynamic is just so funny that I can’t help but laugh every time they are on screen together. Director Vince Gilligan agrees; in the Better Call Saul Insider Podcast for the Season 1 episode “Bingo,” Gilligan gushed about how much he enjoys the Kettlemans, and his love for Betsy and Craig is obvious in “Carrot and Stick” as well.
After deflecting Betsy’s initial displeasure at his presence and listening to her lament the horror of having to send her children to (gasp) public school, Jimmy presents her and Craig with an opportunity to make some money through a civil suit. Of course, Jimmy knows the drill with the Kettlemans, and he’s not about to give up any valuable information or legal counsel without having them sign letters of engagement. He also knows that Betsy will have no problem taking the info and running with it, so he subtly name-drops Cliff Main to subconsciously direct her exactly where he wants her. Once he’s got them interested and the (pointless) letters signed, Jimmy tells them that Hamlin was “nose-deep in the devil’s dandruff”—a line that only Bob Odenkirk could truly do justice—and that his substance abuse is grounds for a case. You can tell that Betsy is so proud of herself for thinking she’s about to pull one over on Jimmy by absorbing all the information he gives and knowing her rights to whatever counsel they choose, but the Kettlemans are nothing if not predictable, and that was all a part of Kim and Jimmy’s plan.
Armed with the information about Howard, the Kettlemans go straight to Davis and Main and take a meeting with Erin Brill. However, meeting with some “prepubescent intern” isn’t good enough for Betsy and she demands to speak to someone in charge. Just as Kim and Jimmy suspected, Cliff isn’t interested in taking their case—not just because it would be a clear conflict of interest for their firm (still working with HHM on the Sandpiper case) but because the case is unwinnable. Betsy leaves in a huff, because of course she does, but the seed has been firmly planted in Cliff’s mind even though he doesn’t want to believe it.
And of course he doesn’t want to believe it, because it’s bad for him both personally and professionally. Sandpiper case aside, Howard is his golf buddy. He can’t be associated with him in any way if what he’s hearing is true. And Jimmy knows better than most how much Davis and Main’s reputation means to Cliff—after all, this is the same guy who flipped out over a TV commercial that he thought was off-brand for the firm (even though it was incredibly successful in terms of bringing in clients for the class action). Cliff would never let anything jeopardize them winning the Sandpiper case, and Jimmy and Kim know that the threat of Hamlin’s “problem” becoming public is enough to get him to settle things quickly and cut ties.
So with Cliff sorted, it’s back to the Kettlemans, whose choices tend to be irrational on a good day. But now Betsy is pissed and she wants revenge on Jimmy. Kim knows this and she wants to take a hard stance (the stick), but Jimmy thinks that Betsy is more of a carrot type. He’d prefer to just bribe her to keep quiet, but Kim doesn’t trust it (and she’s right not to) so she insists on going with Jimmy to pay the Kettlemans a visit. When they arrive at the Sweet Liberty trailer, Kim sees an old woman headed out to her car, and any thoughts of letting Jimmy use the carrot over the stick go out the window. If there’s one thing we know about Kim Wexler, it’s that she has a soft spot for the elderly, and the knowledge that Craig and Betsy are stealing tax money from old people has Kim running hot before she even walks in the door. It’s one thing to steal from the county treasury—some nameless faceless thing—but this is taking money out of the pockets of people who need every cent, and Kim will not allow it.
Kim lets Jimmy do his thing for a while, just poking around the trailer and biding her time as Betsy (predictably) demands that Jimmy find a way to exonerate Craig. Betsy loves to demand the impossible from people because, again, she is completely delusional. By the time she threatens to go to Hamlin directly and tell him about Jimmy’s smear campaign, Kim has had enough of her bitching and moaning—it’s time for the stick.
I don’t know whether Kim and Jimmy just correctly assumed that the Kettlemans’ business was a “once a scammer always a scammer” type situation or whether they did a little digging, but it doesn’t matter. Kim makes a call to the IRS to report them for tax preparer fraud, and all the evidence she needs is written on Craig and Betsy’s faces. Jimmy and Kim have them right where they want them, and Kim demands that they not only forget all about the Hamlin thing but that they also return all the money they stole from their clients. Jimmy ends up giving them the money anyway (which was part of his Lalo stash), if only to smooth the waters a bit after Kim absolutely ripped into Betsy.
When he gets into the car with Kim to leave, he says “wolves and sheep”—a callback to S2E7 (“Inflatable”), when a young Jimmy was working at his parents’ corner store and encountered a grifter who told him, “There are wolves and sheep in this world, kid. Wolves and sheep. Figure out which one you’re gonna be.” Jimmy decided a long time ago that he was going to be a wolf, and Kim’s inner wolf has certainly come out of late.
As the two of them pull away, we see a car following them but don’t get a look at who is inside. My initial thought was Lalo, although the car is not his Monte Carlo, which would be in impound anyway. Lalo doesn’t appear at all in Better Call Saul S6E2, and we last saw him at the end of “Wine and Roses” (S6E1) deciding not to cross the border. After a discussion with Hector, Lalo decided he needed proof before going after Gus—could Saul Goodman be the proof he needs? Lalo was suspicious when he found Jimmy’s Esteem in a ditch riddled with bullet holes, and while Kim’s ballsy attempt at convincing him it was nothing in “Bad Choice Road” (S5E9) was enough to get Lalo to leave, it may not have been enough to allay his suspicions completely.
If Lalo thinks that Saul is involved in Gus’s attempts to have him killed, he wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Jimmy may not have known he was playing Gus’s game the whole time, but he is connected to Mike who Lalo knows is Gus’s man. If Lalo figures out there is a connection between Saul and Mike, that it was Mike who saved Saul out in the desert after an ambush, that may be all the proof he needs to go after Gus without having to worry about repercussions from the cartel. Of course, we know that Gus and Mike both live (at least until Walter White shows up and ruins everyone’s fun), so Lalo won’t be getting the revenge he desires. There will be no sangre por sangre as far as Gus Fring is concerned, but Nacho…
Poor Nacho. I know he’s technically a “bad guy” who is in the game—he’s no civilian or game-adjacent innocent like Werner Ziegler (RIP)—but I can’t help but root for him anyway. Things aren’t looking great for Nacho, who is still holed up in the motel room and going a bit stir crazy waiting on his extraction (or any information, really, about when he’s getting out of there). While he’s rotting away in a dark room with a broken air conditioner, Mike and Gus’s guys are at his house, using their own carrot and stick to get Nacho’s tweaked-out lady friends to leave the premises and never come back. After a not-so-friendly suggestion from Mike, the ladies decide to take the carrot: a wad of cash they can use to start over somewhere else—hopefully not on the couch of another drug dealer, but that’s not Mike’s problem or his concern.
No, Mike and the guys are there on a mission: to plant an envelope in Nacho’s safe before the cartel guys show up. They crack the safe and Mike bags all the money, but when he comes across Nacho and his father’s fake ID cards, he pockets Nacho’s father’s card. Mike may not like the way things are going down with Gus and Nacho, but (as we will see later on) he absolutely draws the line at allowing Manuel Varga to be dragged into it. What Gus doesn’t know won’t hurt him, so when they replace the safe with the same exact one and put all the money back into it, Mike only puts Nacho’s ID in there. He also places an envelope on top which, we soon learn when Juan Bolsa and the cartel guys show up to toss Nacho’s house, contains documentation of offshore bank transfers—weekly payments of $15K—along with the phone number to the motel where Nacho is hiding out.
Gus was already pretty convinced that Lalo is still alive, and when Tyrus presents him with all the reports and crime scene photos, it does nothing to change his mind. In fact, the burned body of “Lalo” only makes him more suspicious and further convinced that Lalo made it out. But Gus can’t let on to the Salamancas or the cartel that he has his suspicions, so he makes plans to meet with Bolsa and Hector at Casa Tranquila to “make peace” and assure Hector that he stands behind the Salamancas and will help find Nacho so he can be brought in for some Salamanca justice.
Hector accepts this and goes so far as to make the considerable effort to reach out his hand to shake Gus’s, and between that and the smug look on Hector’s face, Gus now knows 100% that Lalo Salamanca is still out there. Bryan Cranston gets a lot of credit for his face acting (as he should), but scenes like this show that Giancarlo Esposito can do it just as well, if not better. Unlike Walter White, who was much more emotional and expressive, Esposito’s Fring is taciturn, measured, and reserved by nature. This doesn’t allow for the sort of facial histrionics Cranston could get away with, which makes the fact that we can understand what Gus is thinking through the almost imperceptible choices that Esposito makes that much more impressive.
Gus calls Mike to tell him that Lalo is alive and it’s clear at this point that Gus has no intention of letting the Salamancas get their hands on Nacho—at least not while he’s still able to talk. Gus may have planted that envelope to alert them to his location, but he had no intention of letting Nacho live long enough to be questioned. He knows Nacho has been loyal to him up to this point, but that loyalty was forced and wouldn’t stand up to a Salamanca-style interrogation.
As for Nacho, he’s no dummy; he’s starting to figure out that Gus and his crew may not be coming for him. Initially, he thinks it might just be paranoia, but he notices that there is a building across from his motel room with boarded-up windows, two of which have small peepholes in them. There is also a functioning AC unit running in the building. Nacho’s suspicions that he is being watched are confirmed when he opens the door to retrieve the food being delivered to him and sees motion behind one of the peepholes. He escapes his room out the back after knocking the AC unit out of the wall, and he’s able to sneak up on the man watching him. A quick phone call to Tyrus telling him he’s not waiting any longer to cross the border confirms Nacho’s suspicions: when the man’s phone rings immediately after he hangs up on Tyrus, he knows that it’s Gus who is having him watched instead of extracting him and bringing him home.
But it’s too late for Nacho to get away unseen. The cartel already knows he’s at the motel, and before he can make a clean getaway, the Cousins show up with a cartel squad and a firefight ensues. The Cousins end up taking out one of their own guys because he was shooting to kill and they need him alive, which is the only reason Nacho is able to make it out of there alive in a stolen car.
On the other side of the border, Tyrus reports to Gus that Nacho escaped and the cartel still thinks Lalo is dead. Nacho’s escape has Gus rattled to the point where he accidentally breaks a glass—something that would be a normal oopsie for a regular person, but not for the ever-poised Gus Fring. Mike tries to ease his mind a bit by pointing out that if Lalo was coming straight for Gus, he would have already been there, or at the very least they would have heard of him popping up somewhere since they have eyes and ears everywhere they think he might possibly turn up. He correctly assumes that Lalo wouldn’t make a move against Gus without proof that Don Eladio and the cartel could get behind, so he’s most likely still in Mexico searching for Nacho.
Mike wants to go down to Mexico personally to confirm Lalo’s death and bring Nacho back, but Gus has other ideas. He’s not interested in the carrot; he wants the stick. He tells Mike to bring Nacho’s father in and Mike doesn’t hesitate to say no. Gus Fring is not a man who is accustomed to hearing the word no and Tyrus already has his gun up and ready, but Mike holds steady. He’s drawn his line in the sand and made it clear what he absolutely will not do, but before things come to a head, Mike gets a timely call from Nacho (who has been trying to reach him since he escaped). He picks up and we don’t hear Nacho’s side of the conversation; all we learn is that he wants to speak to Gus directly.
Nacho Varga is one of the Better Call Saul characters whose fate we do not know, so there’s a level of tension when it comes to his storyline that just isn’t possible with other characters—such as Gus and Mike, and even Tyrus or Victor—who we know survive into the Breaking Bad timeline. The only scrap of information we have from Breaking Bad that could (and likely does) pertain to Nacho is the scene in “Better Call Saul” (Breaking Bad, S2E8) where Walt and Jesse take Saul out into the desert to threaten him. Saul yells, “It was Ignacio. He’s the one,” and he also asks if Lalo sent them. This would imply that Lalo is still alive in the Breaking Bad timeline, but it doesn’t clarify one way or the other whether Nacho makes it that far.
It’s not looking great for Nacho right now. Everyone on both sides is looking for him, and Mike is the only person in the world he even remotely trusts (and he works for one of the guys trying to kill him). The only thing Nacho has going for him is the fact that Mike seems willing to put his life on the line to keep Manuel Varga out of the line of fire. After the situation with Werner (which almost sent Mike over the edge), I don’t think he can stomach another innocent person’s blood on his hands. Now, what this means for the Gus-Nacho-Lalo hate triangle, I have no idea. I still think Lalo might be going for Saul instead of Nacho, which is a move that neither Gus or Mike sees coming, and unless Nacho can come up with some reason for Gus to keep him alive, he’s toast. But Nacho is a pretty smart guy, and with Mike on his side, he just might make it home in one piece.
See you next week!