In the universe of “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad,” the only thing as important as the con is the cover story.
They tend to be labor intensive (Gus Fring’s chicken franchise), occasionally they are comical (Skyler White’s ditsy accountant act in Season 4 of “Breaking Bad”). But never has a cover story been as excruciating as the one that opens this episode, designed to help Nacho (Michael Mando) remain a mole for Fring. He has to endure the following ordeals: 1) getting shot, twice; 2) surgery in the back of a Jiffy Lube; and 3) a blood transfusion from a sociopath.
It’s enough to make you wonder — was there not a simpler, less gruesome solution here? The goal is to shunt blame for a concocted drive-by shooting onto some unnamed rival gang, and in the last episode, during a hospital visit with Hector, Nacho referred to a show of muscle that cowed an uppity crew. So it’s plausible. And I have to admit, every alternative I’ve imagined — Arturo vanishes, for instance, appearing to lam it along with the drugs — leaves some residue of suspicion on Nacho.
This better work. It does for now, provoking enough anxiety about cross-border shipments that Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) is instructed to find a local drug provider. And damned if he doesn’t already have a contingency operation underway — to make meth, at any rate. Hello again, Gale Boetticher (the winning and omnipresent David Costabile), whose reacquaintance we make as he happily toils in what appears to be a college chemistry lab, while singing that Tom Lehrer tune about the elements. Ever the connoisseur of crank, Gale offers his own drug confecting services to Gus after criticizing the samples that he’s been asked to test.
We know what’s coming. Fring already has dreams of a super lab, which Gale will help him build. This will be the greatest work experience of Gale’s life, and end with his murder by Jesse Pinkman. One of the oddities and pleasures of this prequel show is knowing the ultimate fate of so many of the characters.
Now to this week’s con. That would be the Hummel heist dreamed up by Jimmy, in which a cheap figurine is swapped for a similar looking $8,000 model in the office of Neff copier. I must say, it’s depressing to see our antihero, now knee deep in Season 4, thrilled by small-time thefts like this. He’s aged, been to law school, held several jobs, lost a brother, fallen in love — and yet he’s still a middling hustler. The only fun of this minor caper is the return of Ira (Franc Ross), who “Breaking Bad” fans will recall as the owner of Vamonos Pest, a company which helps Walter White and Jesse Pinkman cook meth in homes that are supposedly being fumigated.
The more compelling switcheroo in this episode is the handiwork of Kim Wexler. She has clearly ditched the letter that Charles left for Jimmy and turned it into a warm and sentimental farewell, filled with the sort of brotherly love so anathema to Chuck. It seems to fool Jimmy. I assume that Kim is reduced to tears, after the letter is read aloud, through some combination of relief (that it worked), sadness (that Chuck left behind such a poisonous kiss off) and guilt (for having to hoodwink her boyfriend).
Her actions tease out a variety of moral conundrum that the writers of “Better Call Saul” just love. Personally, I think she did the right thing. It was an act that was both dishonest and wise, a very rare combination.
Staying with Kim, what are we to make of her introduction to the scale model room of Mesa Verde? It’s filled with miniatures of banks that the CEO Kevin Wachtell (Rex Linn) plans to open — he plans to open a lot of banks. In Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Idaho, Oregon, Washington. Kim says she’s shocked by the aggressiveness of his ambition, but her face registers worry that verges on fear. It’s much more than the concern you would have for a client who is about to overreach. Kim smells something rotten here. I look forward to finding out what it is.
Closing thoughts: The sneaky producers of “Better Call Saul” don’t give Costabile a credit at the opening of the show. Bravo! The return of Gale is a surprise that should not spoiled with chyrons. So what other names do I hope to not see in the opening credits soon? Everyone is rooting for the actors who gave us Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, Hank Schrader. Fine.
But I’d add another name to that list: Norbert Weisser. He played Peter Schuler, the executive at Madrigal who commits suicide near the end of “Breaking Bad,” as the cops close in on the Fring superlab and its connection to the company.
Weisser, we barely knew ye. And it’s time ye turned up. The tale of how Schuler, who ran Madrigal’s fast food division, became Fring’s silent partner is as worthy a subplot as I can imagine.
Your turn. As the world of “Better Call Saul” sneaks up on the world of “Breaking Bad,” who do you want to see onscreen? Also, did Kim do the right thing? And if the head of Mesa Verde is about to commit a crime, which crime is he about to commit?