We are only three episodes into the final season of Better Call Saul, and already the intrigue and heartbreak have been significant. “Rock and Hard Place” showed us more of Jimmy and Kim’s scheme to bring down Howard, a tense meet-up between Gus and the Salamancas, and the unsurprising but still devastating end to a major character’s arc.
Smooth as Glass
When we first see Jimmy and Kim, they are in their apartment going over their next steps in their plan to take down Howard Hamlin and get the Sandpiper case settled. Jimmy has a map of sticky notes plastered to the back of a wall painting, one of which has written Howard’s vanity plate NAMAST3. They are discussing the time and effort it would take to get a vehicle identical to Howard’s for whatever next step they have planned, and they decide to instead just use Howard’s actual car. While trying to figure out how they can do that without getting caught, Jimmy has an idea: “A valet scam!”
We then see Howard pull up to a restaurant, where the valet attendant runs over to park his car. The attendant drives Howard’s car to the parking area, and as he is running back to his post up front, he accidentally runs into someone in the stairwell. They exchange pleasantries, and the attendant rushes off. We then see Huell Babineaux is the other person in the stairwell, and ever the talented pickpocket, he has Howard’s keys in his hands.
He gives the keys to an associate in a parked van, who quickly makes a copy before the attendant can return to the area. “Better get a move on. The kid looks quick,” Huell goads his accomplice. By the time the valet attendant realizes he doesn’t have Howard’s keys and he runs back down what looks to be no fewer than 800 flights of stairs in about 30 seconds’ time, Huell and friend are gone, and Howard’s keys are on the ground under his car, right where the attendant did not leave them.
In Jimmy’s car, Huell tells Jimmy that everything worked “smooth as glass.” He was able to get a copy of Howard’s keys, and he hands them over. He then asks Jimmy why he is involved in illegal and nefarious dealings when he has a good job that pays good legitimate money. Jimmy tries to convince Huell that what he is doing will help many people in the long run. The “bigger picture” is what Jimmy is working toward, and if it requires him to be a criminal lawyer in addition to his day job as a criminal lawyer, then so be it. Huell seems unimpressed, and he exits the car.
A Friend or a Rat
At the courthouse, Kim runs into the Assistant District Attorney, Suzanne. She tells Kim she wants to talk to her about Jimmy. Suzanne has put two-and-two together and knows that Jimmy’s client Jorge de Guzman is actually drug kingpin Lalo Salamanca. She is concerned that Jimmy is caught up with the cartel, considering his past work with Nacho, as well as with Tuco Salamanca. But she does tell Kim that Jimmy has an out: if he wasn’t aware that Jorge was actually Lalo, then attorney-client privileges no longer apply, and Jimmy can help the D.A.’s office with future cartel-related cases, using information that Lalo has supplied.
Clearly, Suzanne thinks that Kim is more of a straight shooter than Jimmy with all of his “showiness,” and that’s why she is trying to appeal to her. But back at their apartment, Kim tells Jimmy about her conversation with Suzanne. Jimmy asks Kim if he should help the D.A. Kim replies, “Do you want to be a friend of the cartel, or do you want to be a rat?” And Kim continues to break a little more bad with each passing episode.
Good Deaths and Bad Deaths
When we see Nacho, he is still driving away from the perilous shoot-out from last week’s episode, in a truck that now has more flat tires than not and with smoke billowing from under the hood. He eventually pulls over, resigned to the fact that he can probably get farther on foot at this point. When he hears a vehicle approaching, he turns and runs into the brush. The only shelter he sees is an abandoned oil tanker, so he climbs up and in. Peering out through a small hole in the sidewall created by years of rust and sun, he sees the Cousins approach his broken-down truck and then the tanker itself. Because Nacho doesn’t have the time to plan an escape, he does the only thing he can do: he takes a deep breath and submerges himself in a pool of oil, completely covering himself up. One of the Cousins climbs on top of the tanker and looks inside, seeing no sign of anyone. Mercifully, the Cousin is called away by an accomplice, and Nacho hears the boots walk across the roof of the tanker and down the ladder on the side.
After waiting several hours to make sure he was alone, Nacho leaves the tanker the next morning and ends up at a rundown service station, and begins hosing himself off. The owner comes out and offers him soap and clothes to help him clean up, and he allows Nacho to make some phone calls. In his first call, Nacho calls his father. When Varga, Sr. answers, relief washes over Nacho’s face now that he knows he is safe, at least for the moment. They have a brief but sweet conversation, which brings tears to Nacho’s eyes. His next call is to Mike, and we see that this is the phone call that occurred last week in Gus’ office, and we are now getting the other side of the conversation. Nacho asks to speak to Gus and tells him that he understands the situation he is in. Gus wants him dead, and the Salamancas want information from Nacho that will implicate Gus in Lalo’s “death.” Nacho decides to lie for Gus and tell the Salamancas that Gus had nothing to do with the compound attack in exchange for promising that his father will be protected. Gus and Mike both guarantee this.
Next, we see Mike in a large warehouse with a box truck. He begins to remove the floor panels in the back of the truck, one by one. Eventually, Nacho emerges from the floorboard, safely smuggled out of Mexico. (Fans of Breaking Bad might be reminded of the episode “Granite State,” in which Walter White is smuggled to New Hampshire in the tank of a propane truck.) While Nacho is eating and finally catching his breath after being on the run for days, Mike explains to him that the plan to help clear Gus’ name with the Salamancas will occur the next day. But in order to make their story more believable that Nacho has been held captive against his will by Gus, Mike has to rough him up.
Later, Gus and Mike go over the plan with Nacho: Nacho is to claim that he’s been on the payroll of Alvarez out of Peru for years and that Alvarez, not Gus, was the mastermind behind the attack against Lalo. Mike then instructs Nacho that once he has said his part, he is to make a run for it so that he can take him out with his sniper rifle quickly and cleanly. Nacho says he understands. (And now we fully understand why Nacho was so emotional talking to his father earlier.)
At the meetup in the middle of the desert, Gus and his men pull up to the waiting Salamancas and Juan Bolsa. Out of their truck, they throw a beat-up, handcuffed Nacho onto the ground. Bolsa walks over to Nacho and starts interrogating him about Lalo’s death. Nacho sticks to the planned story and clears Gus’ name. But in the process of saying what he is supposed to say, he peppers it with his true feelings about everyone at the meeting. He says that he is glad that Lalo is dead and that he wishes he had been the one to kill him. He admits to Hector that he switched out his heart medication with sugar pills, which ultimately led to his life-changing stroke. Nacho then breaks script and cuts himself out of the restraints with a shard of glass he had gotten out of Gus’ trash earlier. He stabs Bolsa, grabs Bolsa’s gun, and holds it to his head. But instead of killing Bolsa, he turns the gun on himself and falls to the ground, the shard of glass next to him covered in Bolsa’s blood.
Like nearly all other episode cold opens of this series (and in its predecessor Breaking Bad), we don’t really understand what we are watching until we have finished the episode in its entirety. “Rock and Hard Place” starts out in the New Mexico desert, with thunder rumbling in the background. As the sky darkens with the impending storm, the camera pans to the right and finds a Desert Bluebell flower, surviving against all odds in the harsh environment. And farther to the right is a shard of glass lying on the ground. The rain begins to fall, clinking on the glass.
And in the episode’s final scene, we now know that the glass is what Nacho used to break out of his restraints, speak his mind, and leave on his own terms.
Better Call Saul‘s fourth episode, “Hit and Run,” will air next Monday, May 2 at 9 p.m. EST on AMC. Catch our weekly recaps here.