Poor Howard. I knew something was going to happen to our favorite blonde, overtly tanned lawyer, but the shock of seeing a well-known (and likable) character get his brains blown out was still quite, ah, shocking. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down. Howard suffers perhaps the worst day of his professional life at the hands of Jimmy and Kim and ends up a corpse all because he wanted a little payback.
Why was he subjected to such cruelty? Howard tries to make sense of it. “I sided with Chuck too often? I took away your office, put you in doc review? All of the above? Howard’s daddy helped him get to the top, but you both had to struggle. Howard has so much and we have so little, let’s take him down a peg or two?”
Really, Howard didn’t do anything wrong other than rub Jimmy the wrong way.
Funnily enough, where most shows make a point of showing that a character can rise above their natural persona to be a better person, in Better Call Saul, Jimmy is exactly who his brother said he was: dangerous. Like Walter White, everyone who brushes up against Jimmy, whether intentionally or not, ends up in a worse state than they were before. He’s a tornado, and now Howard’s blood is on his hands — and Kim’s too.
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Howard’s death comes at an interesting moment. Saul has always been two shows in one, but this season has seen both storylines converge and affect the other. Where previous seasons allowed Jimmy and Kim to more or less function on their own apart from Mike, Gus, and the drug cartel, now we see Lalo Salamanca very clearly step over the invisible barrier separating the plots and drastically altering the course of the other. He pulls the trigger that kills Howard and neatly wraps Jimmy and Kim into his battle against Gus Fring, the “clever, clever chicken man.”
Lalo also gave Jimmy and Kim the perfect opportunity to wipe their hands clean of Howard. I imagine the pair will say the man arrived at their apartment drunk and shot himself, or was executed by the drug cartels who sold him those tiny bags of cocaine. At any rate, now they can collect their moola from the Sandpiper case and get away scot-free.
The question is: will Kim want to get away? Or will she feel remorse over Howard’s death and slip back to the good side? Does this event ultimately separate the pair? Or bring them closer together?
I’m really hoping it’s the latter because the two make a helluva team. We see as much in the early goings of “Plan and Execution,” the de facto mid-season finale, during which Jimmy gets the gang back together to restate the photographs of the actor impersonating the Sandpiper judge — this time wearing a cast. It takes quite a bit of effort and Kim remains as committed as ever, but the team pulls it off despite the last-minute notice that pulls each of them away from their day jobs — who knew Drama Girl was into The Dark Crystal?
After a quick stop at the photo processing center where Kim coats the photos with the mysterious substance attained from Dr. Caldera last week — the very substance that caused Jimmy and Kim to go “Woa!” — Jimmy rushes the photos to … Howard’s private investigator, who delivers them to Howard. Said pictures show Jimmy handing a mysterious package to a man Howard doesn’t recognize, and it’s the same envelope Jimmy had in his possession last week — the one the PI explained was full of cash.
No matter, Howard prepares for the Sandpiper meeting with Cliff (Ed Begley Jr.), Rick Schweikart (Dennis Boutsikaris, who I just realized was in *batteries not included), and Judge Casimiro — the actual mitigator in the case. As soon as Howard sees the man, he grows agitated … just as the mysterious substance kicks in and causes sweat to pour from his brow and his pupils to dilate. He looks insane as he tosses allegations the judge’s way much to the confusion of everyone involved, especially Cliff.
“I have proof,” Howard exclaims before sending someone to fetch his photos. Except, now the photos show Jimmy catching a frisbee for a passerby in the park. Enraged, Howard storms out of the room desperate to prove his point. All the while Jimmy and Kim listen in on the conference line, eventually tapping out to make out on a nearby couch.
Rick notes he and his personnel have decided to accept a previous offer, which means everyone involved with Sandpiper — including Jimmy — gets paid much quicker. Case closed. Huzzah.
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Interspersed with Jimmy and Kim’s cunning operation is Lalo’s sewer-diving stakeout of Gus’ Lavandería Brillante. After beating the info out of Casper last week, Lalo knows this locale houses Gus’ personal meth lab. As such, the man patiently studies the location from afar, taking note of the guards and Mike on the premises. At one point, he makes a call to Hector and quickly deduces he’s being taped. A quick whiff of ozone and Lalo makes the call and spills his plans to Hector, knowing full well Gus will likely hear his intentions. Terrifying.
Of course, rather than storm Gus’ compound, Lalo goes to visit Jimmy and Kim who bask in their victory over Howard with a viewing of the classic Born Yesterday — about a naive young woman who jumps in bed with the wrong man. By the time the dangerous Salamanca arrives, Howard is already spilling his soul.
For what it’s worth, Kim begs for Howard to leave ASAP, but the man is either too slow or too drunk to heed her advice and ends up dead on the floor. Poor Howard.
“Okay,” Lalo says, “let’s talk.”
And now comes the long wait until July when the final six episodes of Better Call Saul will finally give us the answers we crave.
ODDS AND ENDS
- I found it interesting that Jimmy and Kim’s plan was never intended to harm Howard. They knew perfectly well his reputation would likely take a hit, but as the man says shortly before his demise, “I’ll be fine.” In many ways, Jimmy and Kim are actually the good guys in this scenario; and have just saved a bunch of older folks from years of court battles to attain their money right now. I’m not saying what they did was right, or that Howard deserved any of it, but I don’t find fault in their actions either.
- These drug cartels are extremely precise when it comes to executing plans. We’ve seen Gus Fring go to great lengths to carry out an operation with nary a wrong move, and now we get a beautiful montage of Lalo patiently enduring a recon mission in preparation for his attack. Like Gus, though, Lalo’s demise will likely come about because he underestimates his enemy.
- At one point, Jimmy implores Kim to get back in her car and head to her all-important meeting. Kim’s response? “I’m exactly where I need to be.” She has indeed picked a side and gotten in far too deep to walk away. In point of fact, she’s actually responsible for many of Saul’s flourishes, including his car, his suits, his business locale, etc. She’s as much a part of Saul Goodman as Jimmy, which is why I don’t think Howard’s death ultimately affects her the way the show wants us to believe it will — or am I overthinking this?
- After this first half, I still think Kim chases Jimmy out of New Mexico. Methinks hooking up with the Cartel proves too fruitful for her to pass up, and she dives the pair headfirst into the fire while Jimmy looks for ways out. Once Walter White comes along, Jimmy seizes the opportunity to bail and ends up working at a Cinnabon. But that’s just my half-assed theory.
- The first six episodes were slow — shocking, but slow. That’s not a complaint. I love how Vince Gilligan and Co. take their time to unravel the intricate plot and character beats. Shocking moments hit harder as a result of the long windup; and never play out as expected. I figured Howard would die, but I never expected Lalo to commit the deed. Absolutely brilliant.