We’ve grown accustomed over this two-part season to seeing a character die in almost every episode. First came Nacho, then Howard, then Lalo. After last week’s explosive, action-packed episode, I spent the first half of this week’s installment thinking, Yes, yes, it’s perfectly natural to take a breath before the big final push. Let’s take stock, remind ourselves of what’s at stake, who’s playing for what. No need for any big departures tonight.
Like all expectations in the Breaking Bad Cinematic Universe (BBCU), that one was soon demolished. We may not have seen anyone get pumped full of bullets, but we definitely witnessed the death of a major character: Jimmy McGill. His transformation into Saul Goodman was gradual for so long, until it happened all at once.
We also saw the departure—though I will absolutely throw my remote through plate glass if it’s actually final—of none other than Kim Wexler.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
We’re used to cold opens that depart from the main story timeline, but there’s no escaping the chronology this go-round. Instead the episode opens with Jimmy and Kim, the morning after Howard’s death and the terrifying showdown with Lalo, doing their best to follow Mike’s instructions and behave like it’s any other day that ends in “y.” Jimmy and Francesca watch as workers install the sign over Saul Goodman’s office. Kim does a deal with Bill Oakley over a shitty cup of machine-brewed coffee. Meanwhile, Mike and his crew set about erasing every shred of evidence in their apartment.
When Jimmy and Kim get home, it looks as if nothing happened. A surreal miracle has been performed. As Kim lies in bed unable to sleep, Jimmy has a go at giving them both a pep talk: “One day we’ll wake up and brush our teeth and go to work and at some point we’ll suddenly realize: We haven’t thought about it at all—none of it. And that’s when we’ll know. We’ll know we can forget.”
Even as he’s saying it, we know how hollow this fantasy really is. The look on Kim’s face alone signals that she will never forget how she and Jimmy sucked Howard into their dark world. They set the stage for his murder. You might even say they killed him.
The opening credits finally roll, and suddenly we’re in Mexico with Gus, paying a visit to Don Eladio. It’s time for another showdown by the same pool where, two decades earlier, Don Eladio ordered Hector to kill Gus’s partner, Max—and where, not so far in the future now, Gus will carry out a mass execution by poisoning the boss’s tequila.
Last week, I thought Gus was headed for war with the cartel and the Salamancas, but I had forgotten my BBCS history. I’m not sure Eladio actually believes Gus’s lies, but I do think he knows that Gus is a formidable operator and moneymaker. And I think he’s genuinely sick of Hector and his bell.
But also, this is the first of two occasions in the episode where fact-checking fails to uncover the truth. Don Eladio asks the Cousins and Juan Bolsa to confirm details related to Gus’s story, and they all check out—not because Gus is telling the truth but because he and Mike are maniacal planners who cover every conceivable base when they run an operation. Likewise, in the scene with Howard’s widow, Cheryl, her efforts to get Cliff to disprove Kim’s false claims regarding Howard’s drug use backfire because Jimmy and Kim were having too much “fun” laying groundwork and anticipating every possible eventuality.
Anyway, long story short, Gus not only avoids punishment but actually wins, collecting more territory in the bargain. Before turning in, however, Eladio (played to blood-curdling perfection by Steven Bauer, as always) tells Gus that, when he looked into his eyes at Hector’s insistence, he saw hate. “A little bit’s okay. As long as you never forget who’s boss.” The whole encounter is so stressful that it prompts Juan Bolsa to pour himself a giant glass of tequila—foreshadowing!
Back in Albuquerque, Gus instructs Mike to get to work convening a new crew to continue construction on his underground meth lab. Then he goes out, alone, to celebrate with an obscenely expensive glass of wine.
Clearly, the first half of this episode is reminding us of Gus’s motivation. Twenty years earlier, as we witnessed in Breaking Bad, Don Eladio instructed Hector to kill Max, Gus’s founding partner in Los Pollos Hermanos. There’s always been a contingent of fans who think Max was Gus’s lover as well. Here, I’d say we are getting an unmistakable signal that Gus is romantically interested in a handsome, talkative sommelier. The usually all-business chicken man has all the time in the world for this guy’s Eurail adventure tales, and he all but invites him home to split a $5,000 bottle of wine.