Better Call Saul has been a violent show ever since Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) pointed a gun right between the eyes of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) way back in the series premiere. Still, the most dramatic moments on the Breaking Bad prequel have often been less physically brutal than emotionally nasty. Jimmy (now better known as Saul Goodman) and his partner / wife / accomplice, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), have mostly existed in the world of courtroom drama, with very occasional and horrific left-turns into the murderous cartel underworld.
“Plan and Execution” marks a decisive turn, for reasons that are both SPOILER-tastic and demolishingly sad. For, alas, we have reached Howard’s end. Most of the episode focuses on the final act of the Jimmy-Kim plan to ruin Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian). It’s a thousand-point strategy that climaxes during a mediation hearing gone hysterically wrong. Some falsified photos and a bit of bad medicine make Howard look like a raving, drug-addled lunatic. With their argument in tatters, fellow attorney Cliff Main (Ed Begley Jr.) demands an immediate settlement with Sandpiper, represented by Rich Schweikart (Dennis Boutsikaris).
In the episode’s final scene, Howard comes by the Goodmans’ apartment. He offers a final confused summation of their horrifying actions… but isn’t prepared for the real horror at his back. That’s because Howard has absolutely no idea who Lala Salamanca (Tony Dalton) is, which means Howard has no idea why the man with a silenced pistol puts a bullet in his head. Poor Howard – and poor Jimmy and Kim, who did not have “Murder” on their board full of post-it notes.
EW spoke to Better Call Saul showrunner Peter Gould about the devastating midseason finale, and how it sets up the series up for the final six episodes, which will begin airing July 11.
Greg Lewis / AMC / Sony Pictures Television Rhea Seehorn on ‘Better Call Saul’
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about the big event of this episode, the moment that I personally feel the whole show has been leading up to. Rich Schweikert, Clifford Main, Howard Hamlin: all these super-lawyers in one room, finally! I’m curious, should we interpret this episode as the series finale for the lawyer side of the show?
PETER GOULD: Very happy to report you’re going to see some of those faces again, in a different context. You got Ed Begley, Dennis Koutsikaris, that whole murderer’s row of actors, you want to use them as much as you possibly can.
After Howard’s breakdown, he talks to Cliff about his theory that Jimmy was responsible for framing him. Is that something we should be thinking about going forward, that Cliff may be more aware of what was going on with Howard than anyone else?
I think the brilliance of Jimmy and Kim’s plan was that they counted on the fact that Howard was going to be suspicious of them. What Cliff takes from all this? It’s really hard to know. In this episode he’s mostly concerned with if he’s doing the right thing for his clients, because he’s a very good lawyer. I’ll just say I don’t think this is the last one you’re going to see on Cliff Main.
On Better Call Saul, different characters have always inhabited different worlds that are often loosely connected. In this episode we move from this amazing Sandpiper showdown to Lalo hunting Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Is it fair to say that, based on the shooting that ends the episode, those two worlds are more fused than ever?
They wouldn’t have been fused if it hadn’t been for what Jimmy and Kim did. A lot of this story is the story of unintended consequences. [Laughs] The consequences are just beginning, let’s put it that way.
Our perspective of Howard Hamlin has changed so much from season 1. At what point in the process did the writers decide that this is going to be his death?
Maybe I’m admitting too much, but we didn’t plan for this several seasons ago. We didn’t really understand this is where it was going to go until we started talking at the beginning of this season. In the end of last season, Kim Wexler shocked us all by suggesting, “Hey, maybe we should scam Howard and get the Sandpiper money now, instead of waiting three years.” In this season, we started to talk about, “What is the plan that these two are going to put into action, and what effect is it going to have?” The more we talked about that, the more we realized that Jimmy and Kim are sort of the bridge between these worlds, the legal world and the world of the cartel and Gustavo Fring and the Salamancas.
Being a bridge has a lot of different aspects, and some of them are pretty terrible. In some ways, you know, they’ve opened the door to hell. They didn’t fully understand what they were doing.
There’s a moment in Howard’s final speech when he tells Kim that there’s a piece of her missing, and suggests that she enjoyed ruining him. Is this the first time that Kim has really had to think about why she was doing this?
She’s being confronted with somebody who’s willing to say what she hasn’t been willing to say, and to talk about the things that she hasn’t been willing to talk about. There’s a lot more to say on this topic, and we’re definitely not finished. But Howard has a point of view that really makes an awful lot of sense. He has that great revealing moment when he says, “I thought it was about the money, but now I see it wasn’t.” Boy, he’s definitely right about that. You realize it’s more about the relationship than it is about the money.
In looking back at the development of Howard Hamlin, was there a moment for you that really defined him as a character early on?
You saw pretty early in the seasons that he wasn’t fully on board with what Chuck [Michael McKean] was doing to his brother, and that Howard really did not enjoy being Chuck’s hatchet man. Howard is the one who got stuck telling Jimmy, “Well, we’re not going to hire you at this law firm.” Howard is the one who felt responsible for Chuck’s death, even though it wasn’t in fact his fault. But more than that, he took responsibility for his death, and then he did work on himself. He’s gone to therapy. Sometimes it’s a little comical, but he’s gone to therapy and he’s tried to understand how to be a better person. You can see that he’s grown quite a bit. The guy who we know now in season 6, I don’t think he would have sent Kim to doc review. He punished her by having her do menial legal work, and it felt terribly unjust. But I don’t think he would do that now. It’s a fascinating thing to see the character grow.
And of course, our view of him, as writers and as filmmakers, can’t help but be colored by how we see Patrick Fabian. Patrick Fabian is one of the nicest, sweetest, most talented, positive guys I’ve ever met in my life. In a weird way, I think Howard grows – and becomes maybe a little bit more like Patrick, in a certain way. He grows, and Jimmy and Kim are both kind of fighting against growing. They don’t really want to think about their motivations. They certainly don’t want to talk about them. That this guy’s willing to go offer Jimmy a job and apologize for what’s happened in the past – ironically, I think that gets under their skin. Howard, I think, really irritates Jimmy and Kim because he’s telling the truth by his lights.
One thing I love about Better Call Saul is that literally everyone on the show is much smarter than me. Case in point: When Lalo realizes his calls to his uncle are being recorded by Gus, and then uses that knowledge to flush out Gus’ guards. When that happened, in my stupidity, I thought he was immediately going to attack the laundry. What’s the pivot that takes him from the laundry to Jimmy and Kim’s apartment?
I don’t want to give anything away because you’re going to learn a lot more in upcoming episodes. But Lalo was clearly surprised by the fact that Mike was there waiting for him at the laundry. He had no idea how well-defended the laundry was. He’s been at a disadvantage. He now realizes, “They’re waiting for me. They know I’m still alive somehow.” But through knowing that, he now has a little bit of an advantage. He knows what Gus Fring knows, and Gus Fring doesn’t know that he knows it. There’s a whole level of 4D chess going on.
One of the questions that I hope people who are watching the show are asking is: “Wait, why did he go to jimmy and kim? What’s he up to? Is he just settling old scores because they can’t get to Gustavo Fring now? Or is there something else going on now? ”Answers will be forthcoming.