In the first episode of Better Call Saul‘s final season, “Wine and Roses,” Nacho is simmering in a stew of stress and anxiety in a rundown motel in Mexico, Lalo Salamanca is on the run (unbeknownst to just about everyone), and Jimmy and Kim are working on bringing down Howard Hamlin. “Carrot and Stick” acts more like the second half of one large episode as opposed to a completely separate script, and these storylines pick up right where we left them off.
Gus’s Hunch Is Right
Gus, just like nearly everyone else, believes Lalo Salamanca is dead. He is the one who sent the killers to attack him, and when he learns of Lalo’s supposed demise, he is concerned about his mercenaries’ deaths. He is also very unconcerned about Nacho’s well-being, and Mike tries to remind Gus of Nacho’s unwavering loyalty to him. Gus isn’t impressed by his loyalty, considering he never gave Nacho any other choice. But Mike tells him that the kid deserves Gus’ respect nonetheless.
Even though their feelings about Nacho differ greatly, neither one wants Nacho to be grabbed by the Salamancas. So Mike does what he can to find Nacho and bring him to safety. This involves Mike preparing Nacho’s apartment for an inevitable ransacking, planting false evidence to hopefully steer anyone away from Gus. He first has to clear out the place of druggies who are squatting there, and then he replaces Nacho’s large safe with an exact replica. Inside the safe, Mike plants a falsified wire transfer log that shows Nacho receiving money from someone who is not Gustavo Fring, and he also destroys the fake ID that Nacho created for his father, thereby (hopefully) removing Mr. Varga out of harm’s way.
Later, after being told numerous times that Lalo is indeed dead, and after having to be assured by Mike that if anyone were after Gus, he would already be dead, Gus still can’t believe that Lalo is really dead. So he figures a visit to Hector Salamanca will tell him what he needs to know and will finally settle his mind. He arrives at the nursing home with Juan Bolsa, and Gus offers Hector his condolences for the loss of his nephew. He tells Hector that they are all Don Eladio’s men, and “a strike against one is a strike against all.” Hector surprises everyone by offering his hand to Gus to shake. When Gus takes it, he sees Hector smile (smirk?) at him, which tells Gus what he has believed this whole time: Lalo Salamanca lives.
Nacho’s Hunch Is Right as Well
Who knows how many days have passed while Nacho has been hiding out at the rundown motel in Nowheresville, Mexico. The paranoia is thick at this point, and Nacho spends his time pacing back and forth, waiting for someone to crash through his motel door and attack. He sets up post in front of his one window and carefully looks through the curtains, searching for any sign of something out of place. And he finds it: across the lot is a boarded-up broken down shell of a building, covered in graffiti and trash. It looks like no one has been in that building since the turn of the 20th century, but Nacho notices water dripping from the air conditioning unit. This tells him that someone is indeed inside, and to see if Nacho is the person’s target, Nacho slightly opens his door and watches the building. When his door opens, Nacho sees movement in the building. So his paranoia was right.
Nacho escapes out of his room through a back air conditioning unit, knocking it out of the window to the ground two stories below. Nacho jumps out of the window and sneaks in through the back of the rundown building. He finds a man sitting in front of a boarded-up window, who is clearly focused on Nacho’s motel room. Nacho confronts the lookout, who tells him that he has no idea who is paying him to watch Nacho. So Nacho calls his contact, Tyrus, and tells him that he is getting anxious and is going to leave the safety of the motel. When he hangs up on Tyrus, the lookout’s cellphone rings. This tells Nacho that Gus is the one paying the guy to keep tabs on him.
Nacho knocks out the guy with a swift whip to the head with his pistol, and he walks outside to steal a vehicle to get out of there. While he’s trying to hotwire the truck, however, Gus’ men (including the Cousins) arrive to the motel to capture Nacho before he escapes. Nacho hides in the floorboard of the truck, but a gunfight breaks out, and Nacho has no choice but to participate. Sitting in the cab of the truck, Nacho empties two magazines of bullets. Meanwhile, the Cousins are making their excruciatingly slow, in-step walk to the truck, and Nacho gets back to hot-wiring. The Cousins instruct the other men to stop shooting by offering one word: “Alive.” Not only do we now know that Gus wants Nacho brought back alive, but we are reminded that the Cousins can, in fact, speak.
The Scheme Becomes Clear
Now that the little white baggie has been planted in Howard’s locker at the golf clubhouse, Kim and Jimmy work on a plan to get a meeting with Cliff Main. Jimmy offers some ideas about hiring an actor to request a meeting with him because of some illness, like mesothelioma. But Kim knows this won’t be enough to score a meeting with a head honcho like Cliff, and she eventually comes up with a plan. (Kim has been more “Saul” than Jimmy has throughout these episodes.) And before she tells him her plan, she warns Jimmy that he’s “really going to hate this.”
We then see Jimmy standing in front of the iconic Lady Liberty blowup that we first met at Saul Goodman’s strip mall office in Breaking Bad. But he is standing outside of Sweet Liberty Tax Services, run by Craig and Betsy Kettleman from season 1. Inside the small, shaky mobile trailer, Betsy nearly shrieks at Jimmy’s unexpected arrival, and she then tears into a minutes-long list of all the reasons why she hates him. He took away their lives, she says. Their children have to attend public school because of him! But once Jimmy calms her down, he offers her and Craig a proposition.
He tells the Kettlemans that Craig could be exonerated, because his counsel (Howard Hamlin, of course) was impaired during the embezzlement proceedings. Betsy refuses to believe Jimmy at first, but she eventually comes around, thinking they don’t have much more to lose at this point to try. But instead of going with Jimmy to help them clear Craig’s name, she fires him on the spot, planning to take the information Jimmy has just offered to a “legitimate lawyer” for help. Jimmy seems very upset, but this is exactly what he wanted to happen, because now, the Kettlemans will go to Cliff Main and further firm up his suspicion that Howard has a drug problem.
Betsy’s plan to hire Cliff Main doesn’t pan out, like Jimmy had anticipated, because Cliff tells the Kettlemans that his firm plans to partner with Howard’s on a longstanding case (i.e., Sandpiper), and working for the Kettlemans would be a conflict of interest. So Betsy calls Jimmy to talk with him again, wanting to pursue the possibility of Craig’s exoneration, even if it means having to work with Slippin’ Jimmy himself.
When Jimmy visits the Kettlemans, Kim joins him. Betsy is nonplussed that “the woman with the ponytail” has arrived, and she continues yelling at Jimmy for using her and Craig to ruin Howard’s reputation with lies. Jimmy gets nervous and offers the Kettlemans money to be quiet, but Kim steps in to take control. She calls her contact with the IRS and explains to him that she’s discovered a small tax service who is stiffing their clients of about half of what they’re owed. They turn in legitimate tax returns to the government but provide false ones to their customers to keep them in the dark. Betsy frantically ends the phone call, confirming Kim’s suspicions about their shady work. The threat of being turned over to the IRS is more than enough incentive for the Kettlemans to keep their mouths shut (and Jimmy’s stack of cash only sweetens the deal), and Kim even successfully gets them to pay back what their customers are owed. “You think you have lost everything?” Kim asks Betsy. “You have no idea.”
And as Jimmy and Kim peel out of Sweet Liberty’s gravel lot, a car follows them.
Better Call Saul‘s third episode, “Rock and Hard Place,” will air next Monday April 25 at 9 p.m. EST on AMC. Catch our weekly recaps here.