This article contains major spoilers for the Better Call Saul season 6 midseason finale.
Killing off major characters was sort of Breaking Bad‘s thing. Its prequel Better Call Saul has been a bit more reserved in that department through six seasons. Sure, every now and then you get a fiery Charles McGill suicide or the rare cartel murder that doesn’t mess with the original show’s continuity. But for the most part, Better Call Saul‘s legal drama format doesn’t create too many opportunities for bloodshed. That’s why when a character bites the dust, it feels particularly significant. And man, oh man, has a character death rarely felt as brutal as that of poor Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian).
In Better Call Saul season 6 midseason finale, Jimmy and Kim’s dark plan comes to fruition and Howard’s reputation is torn to shreds. Little could they know, however, that another bad actor was plotting an even darker plan, and one that Howard’s mere presence would prove an inconvenient impediment to. Oh well, nothing that a little silenced bullet to the head won’t fix.
Bravo to the Better Call Saul creative team for pulling off such an unexpected moment and an extra bravo to the episode’s director for tweeting this rope-a-dope with a straight face.
Simply put, this episode was a lot to take in so let’s take in the details together. What follows is our attempt to make sense of all the disparate plot threads of “Plan and Execu…” Oh my God, they named the episode “Plan and EXECUTION.” Those trolls…those absolute trolls. Anywho, let’s explain this ending.
What Was Jimmy and Kim’s Plan?
Last week, we put forward our best guess as to what Jimmy and Kim could possibly be plotting for Howard. And wouldn’t you know it, we did quite well! Save for a couple of small details. Jimmy and Kim’s plan was indeed to make Howard publicly lose his shit during the all-important Sandpiper case mediation. Even they probably could have never predicted how well it turned out.
Judge Rand Casimiro breaking his arm turned out to be only a minor obstacle to overcome. Jimmy was able to rally his usual UNM students and his “actor” to reshoot the candid photos of Jimmy handing the fake Casimiro a bribe. Then, with only moments to spare, Jimmy was able to drop those photos off in the capable hands of “Janidowski”, the fake P.I. that Jimmy hired.
While we were able to correctly surmise that Jimmy provided a phony P.I. (because that’s the kind of thing he would do), Howard is nice enough to fill in some extra blanks. After he realizes he’s been conned, Howard desperately tells Cliff Main that the office got a phone call that they’d need to switch security providers recently. He guesses that HHM fell for a classic phishing scheme and that’s when Jimmy installed Janidowski. We don’t recall this moment happening during Better Call Saul season 6, but knowing the show it probably did and knowing the show’s fans they’ll probably uncover the scene in question in no time flat.
Janidowski (who is worth three times whatever Jimmy is paying him) not only doses the photos he hands to Howard with the caffeine-like substance to make him appear crazy, he also switches the incriminating photos out for benign ones when he’s not looking. So when Howard believes he has Judge Casimiro dead to rights, he looks like a conspiratorial wild-eyed loon. Game over. The Sandpiper case is settled. Jimmy wins. Howard loses. Oh does he ever lose.
What Is Lalo’s Plan A?
As Nick Harley notes in his Den of Geek review of this episode, there are some interesting similarities between Howard Hamlin and Lalo Salamanca that went unnoticed until this midseason finale:
“Beyond both men participating in their respective family businesses and possessing preternatural charisma, they each spend the episode rightfully believing that their biggest rival is conducting a secret, elaborate plan to undermine them.”
While their current situations in life are quite similar, how they respond to them couldn’t be more different. Lalo has spent the entire season desperately seeking proof that Gustavo Fring is working against the cartel’s best interests. The quest for proof utterly consumes him, sending him halfway across the world to pursue evidence in Germany before returning home to spend his time in a literal sewer.
Despite his pathological obsession with finding proof, however, Lalo is able to sit back, gain some perspective and come to the conclusion that he’ll never find enough. The Chicken Man is too smart. He covers his tracks too well. Frankly, when Lalo records a sweaty video message to Don Eladio from his sewer, claiming that Gus has a secret villains lair in an industrial laundromat he sounds just as unhinged as Howard. And he knows it. So he calls his uncle Hector and tells him he’s going back to Plan A.
Plan A is undoubtedly to just simply kill Gus. This is riskier but it will be easier and a hell of a lot more satisfying for Lalo. Is it possible, however, that Lalo isn’t as impatient as he seems and is in fact still playing the long game?
When Lalo first calls the medical facility housing Hector Salamanca, he appears to receive a sudden rush of paranoia and hangs up the phone. Then, however, he calls right back, gets through to Hector, and tells him he’s switching back to Plan A. Now, I’m not a brilliant cartel mind, but doesn’t “Plan A” seems like a pretty weak operation name? To anybody listening with a knowledge of context, it’s very clear that Plan A involves killing some folks. In fact, there are some people listening to that phone call with that knowledge of context. Mike’s people intercept the call immediately and are able to present it to Gus within 20 minutes flat. Because of course they can. Of course Gus Fring would bug the phone line of the facility where his archenemy resides. That’s like Gus Fring 101 stuff.
So in the end, Lalo’s Plan A might not really be Plan A but in reality a shrewd continuation of Plan B. Do I sound like Howard Hamlin? Don’t answer that. Speaking of Howard Hamlin…
What Happens to Howard?
Well, he dies, as if you could possibly forget. Howard’s fate comes suddenly in the form of a shot to the head from Lalo Salamanca’s pistol. It’s a brutal, terrifying moment that no Better Call Saul fan will soon forget. In the annals of history, it will also likely overshadow the equally powerful scene that precedes it.
Before we have any indication that Lalo has snuck into the Goodmans’ home (and with those flickering candles, he may as well be an actual ghost), it really does seem as though Howard’s meeting with Jimmy and Kim will be the emotional climax of the entire series. Hell, it still might be. Howard, having dutifully bit his tongue for so many seasons, finally comes out with what he really thinks of Jimmy McGill…and he has him dead to rights.
It’s Kim who really gets his ire though. Jimmy’s a known quality. He’s been rotten ever since the days of Slippin’ Jimmy in Cicero. Kim, however? She was supposed to be one of the good ones. Howard will never know what made Kim break bad. Honestly, none of us might ever know. But Howard does know one thing: “You’re perfect for each other. You have a piece missing. You did it for fun. You get off on it.”
He says that not even knowing that Jimmy and Kim made love while listening to his downfall, copulating on his metaphorical corpse shortly before he would become a real one.
Through six seasons, Better Call Saul is a been more patient and understanding to its characters than Breaking Bad. The darkness was always within Walt, just waiting for a convenient excuse to come out. One has never really gotten that sense with Jimmy McGill or eventually Kim Wexler.
Both Jimmy and Kim have legitimate reasons to feel slighted. They have fought, clawed, and scratched through their lives to find their place only for the Howards of the world to waltz into their daddy’s job with a smile and a firm handshake. But in order to set right those perceived scales of justice, they’ve let themselves slip, and slip, and slip, and slip until they’ve become unrecognizable beasts.
They don’t even have the same names anymore. They’re the Goodmans and there’s a dead man on their carpet.
The final episodes of Better Call Saul begin airing Monday, July 11 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.