Better Call Saul: Why Did Jimmy Box Howard?

Jimmy McGill a.k.a. Saul Goodman and Howard Hamlin step into the ring to settle their differences on the latest Better Call Saul. But why did it come to this?

Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) box in Better Call Saul season 6
Photo: AMC

This article contains spoilers for Better Call Saul season 6 episode 5.

Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are both known for their fine-tuned attention to detail. This means that the plotting of both shows can be meticulous, but also produce a big pay-off in the end. The lead up to the explosive climax is typically filled with plenty of key turning points, though. These are the moments that the audience marks in their head and says, “this is going to be instrumental in what happens down the road.” 

It took nearly the entire five seasons of Breaking Bad for Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) to finally put together the Heisenberg puzzle. All the way through, there were moments where both the viewer and Hank started to think about the possibility of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) being New Mexico’s newest drug lord. Walter leaving his meth equipment out in the desert in the first season, only to be found by Hank was the first red flag. The drug bust set-up in the second season with a Walter White doppelganger was another key scene. And every time these pieces came together, it created audience intrigue. We wondered when Hank would finally have that lightbulb go off in his head. That’s why when the “eureka!” moment happened on the toilet in the final mid-season finale, it became legendary. 

Better Call Saul tried to have one of those turning points in the fifth episode “Black and Blue” in the Jimmy/Kim (Bob Odenkirk/Rhea Seehorn) versus Howard (Patrick Fabian) conflict that has been drug out for the entire season thus far. In an attempt to confront Jimmy for his shenanigans, Howard lures Jimmy to a gym for a boxing bout under the pseudonym “Mr. Ward”. Playing to Jimmy’s disdain for him, Howard is able to get Jimmy to jump into the ring and take his aggression out in a physical nature. Howard ends up winning the brawl, and Jimmy goes home with a black eye and bruised ego. We as an audience are left wondering what the point of it all was.

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Many fans online were pondering why Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould went this route with the plot. 

In a show that always has a reason for doing what it chooses to do, this one seemed a little curious. It wasn’t really in Howard’s character to turn to fighting as a way to solve problems. You could argue it is because he thinks that Jimmy will leave him alone after letting out his years of anger towards Howard, but even Howard admits after knocking Jimmy to the ground that this is not likely the end of their rivalry. Howard is immediately shown in a car with a private investigator after the scene, which is some nice foreshadowing to the fact that the two men are going to have even higher stakes brawls later in the season. 

It was certainly an entertaining scene, and one that was once again cinematically taut. If you are a fan of Bob Odenkirk’s other work, you know that he has experience with choreographed fight sequences. From the looks of it on Twitter, it doesn’t even look like he had a stunt double. 

As has been talked about ad nauseum, this show requires patience sometimes. The slow-burn style of the series is what produces such devastating finales and conclusions. What the audience wants though is to see where these scenes are headed and what exactly they serve to the show as a whole. The biggest question fans want answered with only eight episodes left in the series are probably, “what happens to Kim?” and “will Gene Takovic have a satisfying ending?” The boxing scene doesn’t seem to get us anywhere closer to answering those questions. 

This isn’t the first time things in these shows have seemed a little unconventional, though. We all know the infamous “Fly” episode of Breaking Bad was a maligned hour of television back in the early 2010s, but is now viewed as a masterpiece of storytelling. The fly in question served to show the paranoia that Walter had developed by the middle of his arc, and it also helped spur on some fantastic conversations between Walter and Jesse. If you think about the boxing bout between Jimmy and Howard in the same light, there are some genuinely sensical conclusions we can come to. 

It feels a little like Jimmy is being led by Kim this season. Jimmy getting punched out by Howard might symbolize a wake-up call that is coming his way. That you can’t keep playing around with people’s lives and get away with it. He put events into motion long ago by prompting his wife into embracing the bad girl persona she is now representing. And just like Chuck said to Jimmy in the third season, the younger McGill brother just hurts everyone he touches. In a way, he might be taking the blows that will soon be coming Kim’s way if they don’t both put a halt on their schemes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like the brakes are going to be put on anytime soon, and Kim will likely pay for it. 

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Howard says that Jimmy mistakes his kindness for weakness before they fight. This might just show that the misunderstanding of the true danger Jimmy and Kim have put themselves in will be catastrophic in the end.