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Better Call Saul episode 6.07 "Plan and Execution"

Before I watched this episode, I had been musing about which one I was going to write about and coming up short. I loved the show, but no one episode really stood out to me. And then I watched “Plan and Execution” and realized that everything from the very beginning had been slowly leading to this. I had no idea that the Better Call Saul train had been taking the scenic route for six and a half seasons towards the moment when a shadow passes behind a crazed Howard, leaving Saul and Kim gripping each other in blood-draining fear. I’ve really never seen a slow burn like this, a show so carefully crafted from the start around one episode that was still six years away.

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in "Plan and Execution". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Breaking Bad certainly took its time as well. It took me a minute to get into that show because I thought the first two seasons were sad and boring, but after seeing the whole thing I’m adamant that they were completely necessary. All the flashy, crazy moments hit so hard because of all the pent-up significance that had been building throughout its slower beats. But as it picked up the pace, Breaking Bad almost felt like it passed in waves. Huge, multi-episode sequences of thrilling heists and hand-wringing climaxes followed by a couple slower episodes of Walt picking up the pieces at home.

I wouldn’t describe Better Call Saul as flashy. I think that’s why I lost a lot of my viewing buddies that had gotten on the Breaking Bad train with me as I plowed through the seasons. And Saul didn’t have waves, so much as one massive tsunami slowly rolling in. But, like its characters, Saul is even more intense, meticulous, and just plain niche than its predecessor. I don’t even know how to describe these characters to people who don’t know them, they are so weird. And “Plan and Execution” is so masterful because we don’t even fully understand just how intense and weird they are until this episode plays out- and I’m not sure we would have followed them this long if we did.

Before “Plan and Execution”, I was convinced that Saul could do no wrong. I hated Chuck with a passion, he was so mean to Saul and anything questionable that Saul did was a direct result of Chuck’s mistreatment. Kim had some misgivings when he died but I was super sure that he and his terrible personality brought it all on himself. I still think that, but what they did to Howard wasn’t so cut and dry- and that’s why we never got the full scope of what exactly they were planning until it was already in motion.

We saw the planning board with the sticky notes and little bits along the way- the baggie of baking soda at the country club, the little performance with the hooker in Howard’s car. It was classic Saul and Kim schemes, and Howard wasn’t fooled for a second, so it seemed harmless enough. They’d justified it to themselves and to us by reassuring each other that Howard would be able to bounce back from whatever it was they were ultimately planning, and they would settle Sandpiper and get the old people their money back- the case that first made Saul so endearing in the early days.

The first half of this episode is thrilling in a good-naturedly exciting way. It’s ‘the day’ that their whole plan comes to fruition. D-Day, they’ve called it, but we don’t know what it entails. They’ve done a whole photoshoot with a guy that’s been made up to look like someone else- truly all we understand at that point- but in a pure coincidence Saul runs into whoever it is they’re trying to impersonate and sees that the man has a cast! Saul frantically calls Kim saying the whole thing is in jeopardy because they didn’t have their actor in a cast. Whenever the photographs come to light, whoever sees them will know they’re fake as the man in them doesn’t have a broken arm.

So Kim, on her way to a career-altering meeting, turns the car right around and helps Saul manically get his actor and his little community college film crew back together to re-shoot under the time crunch of all time crunches. “This is where I need to be,” Kim even declares. They snap the photos- the man, now in a cast, walks behind Saul sitting on a park bench and the two hand off a yellow envelope. Still don’t know what the photos are for, but now we know what they’re of. The gang rushes off to the dark room to develop them, and the second the pictures are ready, Saul and Kim carefully drip a substance over them with gloved hands. In the exhausting conclusion of this last-minute hail mary, Saul literally books it as fast as he can down the street and flings the envelope with the photos in the window of a waiting car.

Still from "Plan and Execution". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Moments later, everything makes sense. They had given the photos to the PI Howard hired to follow Saul, who we now understand was in Saul’s pocket the entire time. The PI gives the photos to Howard, who pulls them out of the envelope with his bare hands. He doesn’t know yet who the man is that Saul is exchanging the folder with in the photo, but he heads into this Sandpiper meeting feeling like he has the upper hand.

Francesca had already called HHM a few days ago, acting as a relative of a Sandpiper resident, and got the dial-in number that was distributed to everyone involved in the case. Saul and Kim used it to listen in over the phone as the moment of truth arrives. Everyone files into the conference room, with dozens of other people listening in over the phone. Howard and Cliff on one side, Sandpiper’s spokespeople on the other, and finally, in the middle, the neutral, court-appointed mediator- who happens to have a broken arm.

Howard’s jaw drops and he stops the proceedings, declaring that the man is “in cahoots with Jimmy McGill”. The man obviously has no idea what he’s talking about, and the accusation makes no sense. Why would Saul do this? As everyone looks around with mounting befuddlement, Howard’s insistence grows to a crazed level. That’s when someone notices his eyes. They’re super dilated. Listening over the phone, Saul mimes reeling in a fishing line. Howard is adamant now that this is all a ploy enacted by Jimmy McGill and if someone will just go get the photos out of his desk drawer- GO GET THEM RIGHT NOW- everything will be explained.

Someone does, but the photos are different now. Completely irrelevant and innocuous, with the mediator nowhere to be seen. Saul and Kim have abandoned the phone for sex now, riding the high of their successful mission. Howard, meanwhile, is honestly ruined. They said he wouldn’t be, but the dude is wrecked. Disheveled, pleading with Cliff to believe in him, his sanity, and his sobriety. In maybe the saddest possible answer, Cliff suggests that the reality of the situation doesn’t even matter. Howard’s actions have ended the case, regardless of Saul’s involvement or lack thereof.

Meanwhile, in a situation that no longer seems to concern Saul at all, Lalo has survived the attempt on his life and is proving just how far he’s willing to go; I’m not sure there’s a limit. He’s been living in the sewers, camping out in the storm drain across from the laundry and watching it through a pair of binoculars. It’s as creepy as it sounds, right? But we don’t just see that chilling image, we see what a day in the life of this routine actually looks like. He drives to a truck stop, pays for a shower, and rests methodically in his car, using an egg timer to keep himself from sleeping too long. Then it’s back into the sewers to spy with a packed sandwich meal. This is all by choice. In fact, this terrifyingly intense commitment to get to the bottom of what Gus is up to is the only reason his life was ever in danger. Nutty guy.

Tony Dalton in "Plan and Execution". Image courtesy of IMDb.

He's vlogging into a camcorder to document “proof” that Gus is betraying Don Eladio. This lets us in on his plan to infiltrate the laundry that night- that is, until a nearby cockroach sparks a thought that changes his mind. He doesn’t say what he’s thinking, but it’s like watching someone play a game of chess and finally think ahead to the move where they realize the other player is going to win. He has a new plan now, but we’ll just have to wait and find out what it is.

Back in Saul and Kim’s world, Howard is knocking on their door. They let him in- they knew this was coming- and they gaslight him, not admitting to a single thing. Saul breaks a little by reassuring him that he’ll “land on his feet”, a slip we know Chuck would’ve pounced on, but this isn’t even about getting away with it anymore. Everyone in the room knows they did it, and whether they admit it or not, the weight of this bizarre thing they did hangs in the air. Why did they do this?

“I mean, what do you tell yourselves? What’s the justification that makes it all okay? I sided with Chuck too often? I took away your office and put you in doc review? All of the above? ‘Howie has so much and we have so little. Let’s take him down a peg or two.’ This isn’t just pranks. This goes beyond throwing bowling balls at my car. This took planning. Coordination. How many weeks? Or was it months? It couldn’t have been easy. So tell me why? Why go to this elaborate plan to burn me to the ground? … You are perfect for each other. I was sure you did it for the money, but now it’s so clear. Screw the money. You did it for fun.”

Howard’s tirade is about to be interrupted, so we won’t get to hear what Saul and Kim have to say to this, but he’s able to make enough of his point that we realize he’s right. This isn’t like what they did to Chuck. Saul’s license was on the line back then, and frankly, Chuck had it coming. Howard never did anything wrong. He even tried to make amends. I understand the seed of resentment that Saul had for him, the seed that was never going to let him accept his job offer, but it didn’t warrant anything like this. They had nothing at stake here- in fact, they sacrificed a kind of insane amount to pull it off.

But there’s no time to sit with this now. If you clocked it like Saul and Kim just did, the candle flickered, just like it did when they let Howard in. A shadow passes behind Howard and pure terror washes over Saul and Kim. They grip each other in wordless fear and Howard recognizes that they have seen something beyond him. It’s Lalo.

Patrick Fabian and Tony Dalton in "Plan and Execution". Image courtesy of IMDb.

This has got to be one of the coolest moments on TV ever. Their reaction is some really standout acting, and the whole sequence gives me chills. If you were watching this show with a Saul and Lalo level critical mind, maybe you saw this coming. I did not, and I’m honestly glad I didn’t. It’s one of those moments that makes perfect sense once it happens but that I would never have guessed on my own. I remember having a thought somewhere around season 5 that it was interesting that Saul and Kim’s legal and scamming life had gone largely unaffected by the cartel activity that has been running parallel just a shoulder’s width away this entire time; but it was a fleeting thought that had escaped my mind by now, the moment where everything that had ever happened on this show collided in Saul and Kim’s living room.

Everything is turned upside down and sideways. First of all, Saul fully thought this guy was dead. And everything about Lalo and Howard in a room together just feels incongruous. World’s colliding. Howard and Saul are both at a complete and utter loss. Kim, who at least had the leg up of knowing that Lalo was still alive, tries to muster the courage to handle the situation, but what is there to even do? She tries to tell Howard to leave, but before anyone can really wrap their mind around what’s going on, Lalo shoots Howard in the head (like the episode of Breaking Bad that I covered, “Plan and Execution” has a fun little double meaning). Laid back as ever, Lalo looks up and says, “Let’s talk”. Roll credits.

The one thing I’ll say about this episode- I think they played this card too early or stayed in the game too long after showing their hand. I think the same thing about Gus’ death in Breaking Bad to a lesser extent, but sticking around and pushing his luck was so in character for Walt that it didn’t bother me as much. This felt pretty decisively like the end of the story, which I think is confirmed by the fact that the show transitioned almost entirely to it’s post-Breaking Bad timeline very shortly after. There definitely needed to be a beat of resolution on both fronts, and I did think we got the perfect amount of Jesse and Walter to scratch the Breaking Bad itch without going overboard, but there was just something flat about those last few episodes.

Better Call Saul has a distinctly different feel before and after this episode. Everything is different, and I don’t look at Saul and Kim the same way anymore. For so long I saw him as the anti-Walter, the ‘bad guy whose heart’s in the right place’, and now it all just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And that’s great storytelling to take me by surprise and change my mind about someone like that, but it just felt like this episode left it all out on the field and there wasn’t much more to say afterwards. Definitely nothing that warranted this season being longer than the rest, especially considering the present-day storyline ends with Saul just confessing to everything and going to jail for a really long time. It’s a pretty simple ending for a guy we’ve gone to such lengths to establish is anything but.

What say you? Did you see Lalo coming a mile away? Am I too hard on the way the show wraps up? Do you think it’s weird that I called him Saul instead of Jimmy?

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