Of the endless possibilities for the midseason finale of Better call Saulthe final season of Plan and Execution, let’s give the show credit: Surely no one expected the parallel arcs of Howard Hamlin and Lalo Salamanca. But against all odds, two characters from polar opposite ends of the show — the legal and antitrust sides, who overlapped more with each season as Jimmy McGill morphed into Saul Goodman — found themselves desperate for evidence to back outlandish claims to shore up against their enemies, and arrived at the same destination. Howard and Lalo’s respective trips land them at Kim Wexler’s apartment before the credits roll, and it only ends well for one of them. Given their occupations, you can probably guess who got more than they bargained for.
Let’s start with Howard, who eventually found himself on the receiving end of Jimmy and Kim’s protracted plan to tarnish his career. Their plan was based on the recent meeting on the Sandpiper Crossing retirement home case being handled by HHM, mediated by a retired judge with a distinctive handlebar mustache. Jimmy and Kim hired a double to portray the judge and make it look like he was being bribed by Jimmy by staging photos for Howard’s private investigator to deliver to him. But as revealed in “Plan and Execution,” Howard’s private investigator has been working for Jimmy and Kim all along. And when the PI gave Howard the alleged evidence, the photos were covered in the mysterious topical substance Jimmy and Kim used in the previous episode of Dr. Caldera, something that temporarily causes a person’s heart rate to skyrocket and pupils to dilate. Basically, after Howard touched the photos, it looked like he was coked up.
When the judge arrived at the mediation session, Howard made a wild-sounding allegation that the mediator was being paid by Jimmy and said the photographic evidence was in his office. Of course, the fake private investigator swapped out the photos for some shots of Jimmy handing a frisbee to a college student with a mustache. (Without the context, these Frisbee photos would feel right at home in one i think you should go Sketch.) The humiliation of the sequence is underscored by Howard’s dilated pupils and sweaty, manic appearance: compelling evidence that something is seriously wrong with him. After the mediation is called off, the judge storms off and Cliff Main informs Howard that they must accept Sandpiper’s current settlement. Though the plan’s main goal was to ruin Howard’s image, Jimmy gets a nice payoff from the settlement that could go a long way in decorating the garish law firm he’ll be in breaking Bad. (Apologies to Francesca and her beautiful interior design.)
“This is Jimmy’s campaign to get me down!” Howard assures Cliff, but his accusations are useless. Howard suffers a similar fate to Chuck McGill Better call Saul‘s third season, when he angrily testified against Jimmy and came out the other end completely confused. The tragic irony is that, like Chuck, everything Howard claims Jimmy did — faked photos with a look-alike, hired a con artist as his private investigator, drugged him — is true, even if he can’t prove it . After years of sympathizing with Jimmy over the way Chuck treated him, including offering him a job at HHM last season, Howard has finally taken the brunt of one of Jimmy’s signature grabs. Despite having bowling balls thrown at his car and being approached by sex workers at business lunches, Howard has been admirably sober in the face of Jimmy’s antics – a fitting response from someone with a “Namast3” license plate. But Jimmy and Kim have gone too far, and Howard is ready for a long-overdue confrontation.
Meanwhile, Lalo has returned from his relaxing short vacation in Germany with a clearer understanding of Gus Fring’s plans to start his own meth lab. The problem is that he has to provide evidence to Don Eladio, who has no reason to suspect any of his top earners of wrongdoing. So Lalo spies on Fring’s laundromat from a drain grate hidden in Albuquerque’s sewage system like he’s Pennywise the Clown. For Lalo we can say: The guy is committed.
for Better call Saulthe Lalo conundrum is twofold: the show created an amazing villain, brought to life with scene-stealing charisma by Tony Dalton, but he never shows up breaking Bad and we already know that Fring’s meth lab will be operational in the future. (Fring also claims in breaking Bad that all Salamancas are dead, which doesn’t exactly improve Lalo’s chances.) All signs point to Lalo facing his doom – not only is he vastly outnumbered by Fring’s men, but the Chicken Man has a weapon in the still incomplete one Hides Labor in case they have their inevitable confrontation underground.
But Lalo gets a lifeline in “Plan and Execution”: When he calls to give Hector Salamanca an update, he hears a faint hiss over the line. The phone in his uncle’s room at the nursing home was bugged, leaving Lalo without an element of surprise against Fring and having to regroup. Just then, Lalo spots a cockroach scurrying around in the sewers. This may seem harmless, but in last season’s “Bagman,” Lalo assured Kim that nothing would happen to Jimmy in the desert because he’s a “born survivor” like him cucaracha. And since Lalo had a memorable standoff at Kim’s apartment back in Season 5, he knows exactly where to find him.
Howard is the first to show up at the apartment, which Jimmy and Kim expected. It’s a tense scene, not least because the ghost of Lalo hovers over it. But there are still brilliant little moments that reflect Jimmy’s inner conflict. When Howard mentions that he suffers from depression and marital problems, Jimmy seems genuinely surprised and looks over at Kim, the real mastermind behind the surgery. Deep down, Jimmy knows Howard probably doesn’t deserve such punishment. The fact that they heap up a man who loses his wife and is clinging to his career for a sense of normality is particularly cruel. “You guys are a perfect match,” says Howard. “You’re missing a piece. I thought you did it for the money, but now it’s so clear: Screw the money, you did it for fun. You like it, you’re like Leopold and Loeb, two sociopaths.”
When Howard promises to devote his life to uncovering the truth about her, Lalo arrives. Unsurprisingly, Jimmy and Kim are both terrified while Howard is unaware of the mortal danger he is in. “I just need to talk to my lawyers,” Lalo tells Howard, to which he replies, “You want my advice? Find better lawyers!” It’s a grimly funny exchange that almost immediately descends into freezing horror as Lalo attaches a silencer to his pistol and Howard begins to realize he’s overwhelmed. A feeling he won’t hold on to for long: with a quick shot to the head, one of the H’s in HHM is wiped off the board. Just before the credits roll, Lalo reminds Jimmy and Kim why he’s here: he wants to talk.
For viewers who saw it critically Better call SaulGetting off to a relatively leisurely start into its final season, Plan and Execution is a proverbial headshot, setting off an enticing cliffhanger before the remaining six episodes. (Glad we only have to wait until July.) And, like Nacho Varga’s tragic departure earlier in the season, the final leg has to do without another mainstay of the series in Howard Hamlin. Among the many great performances on Better call Saul— here’s my regular reminder to TV Academy that Rhea Seehorn deserves an Emmy nomination for that performance — that Patrick Fabian is easy to overlook. But the actor did an excellent job of getting the audience to loathe Howard early in the show and sympathize with him later. Between wanting to make Chuck right and his own misgivings about treating Jimmy like crap — and later facing the probable death of his attorney by suicide — Howard found himself constantly in existential turmoil, which he rarely polished behind the surface of one , high-lawyer quit. This reaction shot from Season 4 is an all-timer:
As for Jimmy and Kim, it’s hard to say what Lalo’s dramatic reappearance means or what they can do to help him get a leg up on Fring. (Again, it’s not like Lalo can much to do knowing that Fring is alive and the meth lab will be open for business breaking Bad.) If nothing else, we have a better idea of why Saul was so scared when he thought Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were sent by Lalo during his induction breaking Bad.
There’s also the small matter that Kim found out from Mike Ehrmantraut that Lalo was alive earlier this season and refused to tell Jimmy and whether that would put a strain on their relationship. Mike told Kim that he didn’t think Jimmy had the guts for this kind of work and that she was “made of stricter stuff.” Perhaps, given her absence breaking Badit is Kim who has reached a breaking point.
In any case, Howard’s death means that Better call Saul has reached a point of no return. As Jimmy and Kim were drawn deeper and deeper into Albuquerque’s criminal underworld with each passing season, the show’s legal side was increasingly hanging by a thread. Aside from the immense toll Howard’s death will have on the psyche of his main characters, Better call Saul is now fully subsumed under the cartel conflicts: a fitting development that we are getting ever closer to breaking Bad‘s timeline. (Not to mention Cinnabon exec Gene Takovic’s ongoing black-and-white adventures.) We know Jimmy-cum-Saul will emerge from his latest encounter with Lalo unscathed — after all, he is cucaracha. But with Howard lying in a pool of his own blood and Kim nowhere to be seen breaking Badall other bets are off.