‘Better Call Saul’ Season 6, Episode 3 Recap: Viva Nacho

In the history of television, no show did death scenes with more panache than “Breaking Bad.” Think of Gus’s last moments, with half his face blown off after his arch nemesis, Hector Salamanca, detonated a bomb under his wheelchair. Walter White’s slow and bloody exit as he sentimentally communes with his meth-making equipment. Hank Schrader’s demise at the hands of neo-Nazis in the desert, punctuated with a defiant f-bomb.

At long last, “Better Call Saul” has contributed to this pantheon. Nacho Varga’s farewell in “Rock and Hard Place,” as the episode is fittingly titled, was wrenching, tense, violent, sad, filled with pathos and unforgettable. While on the run in Mexico, he decides that the only way to save his father’s life is to dutifully return and “confess” to the Salamancas right before they kill him. Tough assignment. But like all of Nacho’s tough assignments, he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. And once again, he over-delivers. Had he halfheartedly mumbled the falsehood that Peruvian drug lords put him up to the Lalo hit, the cloud of suspicion over Gus would have lingered.

So instead, Nacho clears Gus by suggesting that the “chicken man” lacked the guts and guile to arrange Lalo’s murder. What’s more, he goes on, Gus saved Hector’s life by intervening when Nacho tried to kill Hector by switching out his heart meds for sugar pills. (This is a nice, exculpating touch because it happens to be true.)

Nacho wanders way off script only when he cuts loose his zip tied hands and threatens to kill Don Bolsa, right before committing suicide. Nacho wanted to demonstrate a modest amount of agency in a professional life that has been dictated by a rotating group of murderous sociopaths. This was a pawn telling a king, “I could kill you.”

Nacho got the zip-tie cutting shank from the glass that Gus broke in the previous episode, which sat in a garbage bin in the office at the chicken farm. (The tip off is that kaleidoscopic shot of Nacho’s face, as though the camera was shooting through glass in the bin.) The shard shows up in the episode’s open sequence as the camera pans across the desert landscape where Nacho’s bullet-ridden body once lay , one of those bafflers that makes sense only when the end credits start rolling.

In the run up to his death, Nacho has a few final torments to endure. These include hiding in an oil tanker, under a puddle of oil, and getting beaten up by Mike so he looks appropriately bruised when it’s show time. If Nacho experiences any joy in this episode, it’s during the brief phone call to his father. He’s relieved to learn that the man is alive, or at least not a captive. And he gets to say goodbye.

Nacho made some terrible life choices, but like Jesse Pinkman in “Breaking Bad,” he is over-punished for them. It’s hard to think of a single moment of his life, visible to viewers, that looked satisfying. When he wasn’t being chased, threatened, shot or beaten up, he was in a state of abject terror or despair.

So, a salute here to Michael Mando, whose Nacho was a study in bottled up anguish, a character roiled by emotions that were evidenced only by superhuman efforts to contain them. As a character, he gets to express rage only in the final seconds of his life, and it erupts out of him like lava. It would have been great to see more of this stellar actor, but if you must leave a show, a more dramatic and affecting end is hard to imagine.

On the white collar side of our story, Jimmy and Kim are stealing Howard’s car as part of their continuing campaign to frame him as a drug abuser. Once again, Huell Babineaux (Lavell Crawford) is hired to pick a pocket and help create a copy of Howard’s car keys. When Jimmy conveys this plan to Kim — “I’ve got it. Valet scam” — it has an aphrodisiac-like effect on her. She suddenly gets amorous.

It’s just one small hint that she’s on her way to a state of mind that could be described as criminally rotten. This is especially obvious in her conversation with Assistant District Attorney Suzanne Ericsen (Julie Pearl), who tries to convince her that Jimmy should talk about his putatively deceased client, Lalo, and help prosecutors and police nail the part of the Mexican cartel that’s still in Albuquerque.

Ericsen seems to believe that Kim is more susceptible than Jimmy to moral suasion. Wrong. When Kim conveys this conversation to Jimmy she plays it anything but straight.

“Do you want to be a friend of the cartel,” she says when Jimmy asks for her advice, “or do you want to be a rat?”

Interesting way to frame it.

Keep in mind that although this show was off the air for two years, the end of Season 5 and the opening of Season 6 take place within a few days of each other. Jimmy has barely lost the sunburn he acquired while legging $7 million through the desert at the end of Season 5. And before that fool’s errand, Kim begged Jimmy to rethink the whole idea of ​​working for drug kingpins south of the border.

So, what accounts for Kim’s radical transformation, in a matter of days? One possible answer is money. Maybe she got a gander at Jimmy’s cut of the bail cash and had a change of heart. Keep in mind, she believes that the Ruin Howard scheme is going to net Jimmy and her a couple of million when it forces the settlement of a class-action lawsuit. She plans to use that money to open a law firm for the indigent, which is a very noble idea. Perhaps Kim is going to make, or has already made, a peculiar kind of Faustian bargain. She can connive, cheat and even abet criminals as long as the upshot is that she gets to defend poor people in court.

Consider the current trajectory of Kim’s awful-ward path and you can’t help but assume she’ll be in the meth game within a few episodes. Or she’ll be a cartel lawyer. Or something else that is very much against the law.

  • Shout out to Gordon Smith, who did a superb job both writing and directing this episode. Special thanks to whoever came up with the look of the garage where Mike and Nacho have their conversation and last drink. It’s ominous and perfect.

  • Speaking of grim touches: Nacho eats his last meal with plastic utensils,

  • Where’s Lalo? And when is he going to show up and ruin Gus’s story by producing the “proof” he mentions at the end of Episode 1?

  • So much for the theory that Nacho survives into the “Breaking Bad” timeline because Saul mentions “Ignacio” in Season 2 of that show. Was that just a red herring, or did the writers have some other plan to square that up?

  • Can someone help Your Faithful Recapper understand how Gus Fring explains to the cartel how he nabbed Nacho? He can plausibly say he was every bit as eager to seize the guy, given that he’s a suspect in the assassination plot against Lalo. But Gus doesn’t have operatives in Mexico, at least that the cartel knows about. Doesn’t this all seem… fishy, ​​even if Nacho shows up bruised?

  • Please opine on this and all the other details Your Faithful Recapper missed or overlooked. Or just couldn’t fit in the cruelly limited word count he’s been assigned.

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