Has there ever been a show as stressful as "Better Call Saul"? The answer is obviously yes — there’s a lot of TV out there! — but cheese and crackers, I can’t remember the last time a show instilled this much dread in me. And to be clear, this is a show I love! In fact, I think it’s the best show on TV right now. And yet as I watched "Point and Shoot," the eighth episode of the final season, I felt nearly sick to my stomach. It was as if I had swallowed some sort of smooth, heavy rock, and the rock was sitting uneasily in the pit of my gut. The episode has ended, and yet even as I’m typing this, I still feel that weight. That dread.
It’s a little surreal. After all, this is a prequel. We know what’s going to happen to a lot of the characters here. And yet creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and their team have done an astounding job crafting something that seems wildly unpredictable, and tense. "Point and Shoot" arrives after a brief hiatus, with the previous episode ending with the shocking moment in which poor Howard Hamlin was killed by Lalo Salamanca. If you thought "Better Call Saul" would step back and let you off easy with this episode, think again. You’ve had weeks to get over your shock. Now it’s time to get shocked all over again.
She should do it
After a melancholy prologue in which we see Howard’s car parked by some sort of shoreline, his wallet and wedding ring on the dashboard, one shoe bobbing up and down in the surf, we cut right back to the moments after Howard’s murder. Kim and Jimmy are both in shock, and things are about to get much, much worse. Lalo wants Jimmy to drive to Gus Fring’s house and shoot him. Lalo doesn’t say the name Gus Fring, he merely describes what he looks like — calling the Chicken Man someone who "kind of looks like a librarian" — and informs Jimmy that he must first shoot him dead and then take a picture of the body. And to make sure Jimmy goes through with it, Lalo will keep Kim hostage. The task must be completed within an hour.
Jimmy immediately interjects, insisting Kim be the one to do the shooting. Kim is, understandably, terrified about all of this, but eventually, after much shouting, Lalo agrees and says Kim will be the one to go. What are we to make of this? The charitable explanation, and the one I’d mostly believe, is that Jimmy was just trying to get Kim out of there, to safety, even if it meant sacrificing himself. Indeed, we later learn that this is exactly what Kim thinks happened. But still, there’s a part of me that wonders if Jimmy was trying to push this massive weight onto Kim, consequences be damned. You could argue that Jimmy isn’t that cold-blooded. But can we really be sure about that anymore? After what Kim and Jimmy did to Howard, it feels like all bets are off.
Earlier this season, Kim and Mike finally met face to face — and thank heavens for that. Kim, terrified, goes through with her part of the deal. She drives to Gus’ place (after briefly spotting a cop car which she almost signals before deciding against it). She gets to the house, rings the doorbell, and raises the gun Lalo has given her. She does indeed seem ready to kill someone. And then, someone comes up behind her and pushes her into the house.
Mike is there, thankfully, and he is able to calm Kim down and get the story out of her — that Lalo is back, that he’s holding Jimmy hostage back at their place, and that he sent her to kill Gus (there’s a very funny moment where Kim spots a nerdy-looking guy in Mike’s crew and immediately assumes that must be Gus). Mike takes a bunch of his guys and heads off to Jimmy and Kim’s condo, where Lalo has bound Jimmy to a chair and left (all while poor, dead Howard continues to bleed out on the floor).
Meanwhile, Kim and Gus have a chat (via phone), where Kim confirms that Lalo originally wanted to send Jimmy, but Jimmy was able to talk him out of that. This gives Gus pause, and because he’s a smart guy, he realizes that this entire assassination attempt was just a diversion. Gus and some of his armed-goons speed off to the industrial laundry that houses his soon-to-be meth superlab.
Point and shoot
I had a sneaking suspicion Lalo wouldn’t make it to the final episode of the show. It was all but a given that he would meet his end at some point, since the character never shows up in "Breaking Bad." The question was: would Lalo survive and continue to be the big bad of the rest of the season, or meet his maker?
Gus’ intuition ends up being correct: Lalo is indeed at the laundry, and he gets the drop on all of Gus’ guards, killing them. Then, with gun and video camera in hand, he orders Gus to show him the secret meth bunker so he can finally have his proof of Gus’ deceptions. A few episodes ago, we saw Gus wander down into the bunker and hide a gun. In true Chekhov’s gun-fashion, it was only a matter of time until we returned to that weapon. But Gus can’t just immediately dive for the gun; he has to eventually get to it, creating an intense sequence that perfectly illustrates what Alfred Hitchcock considered the difference between "suspense" and "surprise."
Eventually, Gus is able to knock out the lights, run to his hidden gun, and begin shooting. Lalo shoots back, too. Both men are hit. Gus is wearing body armor, but he still is injured enough to draw blood. Of course, we know he’ll be fine, at least until his "Breaking Bad" demise. But Lalo isn’t so lucky: he’s been shot in the neck, and he dies with a smile on his face, because of course he does.
None of this ever happened
From here, the episode shifts into clean-up mode, and I have to admit there’s something satisfying about watching Mike and his guys go to work. Kim returns home and she and Jimmy embrace, after which Mike instructs them that they have to go about their normal day despite the terrible night they just had. Mike will get rid of Howard’s body (they get it out of the condo by placing it in Kim and Jimmy’s refrigerator). Later, Mike says they’ll leave Howard’s car a few states over by a body of water, and make it look like Howard died by suicide, perhaps by walking straight into the ocean. They’ll also leave some cocaine in the car, which, of course, ties into the frame-job Jimmy and Kim put into place, but seems extra ghoulish now. Even in death, Howard is still being robbed of his dignity.
Both Jimmy and Kim look shellshocked but agree to go about their lives. "I need to impress upon you that none of this ever happened," Mike says, reminding me of the famous "Mad Men" line in which Don Draper tells Peggy Olson, "This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened."
Eventually, both Lalo and Howard’s bodies are buried side-by-side in a hole in the ground in the bunker. It’s bleak and sad and strange — these two men who never knew each other, joined together forever in death, rotting side by side in a hole in the ground that no one will ever find. And now we all get to take a deep breath as we wait to see what stressful horrors await us next week. Have I mentioned I love this show?
- Whenever a character departs this show, we must pay our respects to the actor. This week we say goodbye to Tony Dalton, who did a remarkable job making Lalo such a loathsome-yet-endearing villain.
- "Today you’re Meryl Streep and Laurence Olivier." — Mike, telling Kim and Jimmy that they need to act like everything is normal in their increasingly abnormal lives.
- Lalo’s dead body is rudely tossed into the grave, but when it comes time to chuck Howard’s corpse into the same spot, Mike advises his men to do so in a more gentle fashion, and something about that really broke my heart, man. Poor Howard.
- After Gus is injured, he needs to call out of work at his fried chicken chain Los Pollos Hermanos. Luckily, his ever-faithful employee Lyle is there to pick up the slack. Is Lyle the nicest character in the entire "Saul"/"Bad" universe? He just might be!
- So where does the show go now? Obviously, Lalo is no longer a threat. But Kim and Jimmy have had their lives irrevocably shattered. They were already past the point of no return after what they did to Howard, and after they watched Howard die. Now, it’ll be a miracle if they both don’t have complete nervous breakdowns.