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The Dominos Continue to Fall in the ‘Better Call Saul’ Midseason Premiere

With just five episodes left, the walls are closing in on the characters absent from the events of ‘Breaking Bad’

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Spoiler warning

One of the small miracles of Better Call Saul is how effectively it sidesteps common issues with prequels—namely, that much of what happens to the characters is already set in stone. This is, in part, because the series introduced compelling newcomers whose fates were up in the air: Chuck McGill, Kim Wexler, Nacho Varga, Howard Hamlin, and Lalo Salamanca. But as we move closer to the events of Breaking Bad, the show has begun to take these pieces off the board. Naturally, for a series that’s been pulled further into New Mexico’s criminal underworld, the characters aren’t exactly going out peacefully.

Chuck and Nacho took their own lives under very different yet equally tragic circumstances, and most recently, Howard was unceremoniously executed by Lalo for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fans have had a seven-week hiatus to process Howard’s shocking death during the midseason finale, and the series returns with more characters in harm’s way. Lalo killed Howard so he could have facetime with his lawyers and hatch a new plan to destroy Gus Fring. This puts Jimmy McGill, and especially Kim, in a precarious position against a man with nothing to lose. The thrill, as always, is seeing how Better Call Saul will manage to balance the scales between characters destined to come out of the prequel alive (Jimmy-cum-Saul, Fring) and its final two major players (Kim, Lalo) who are nowhere to be seen in the near future.

Picking up right where the midseason finale left off, “Point and Shoot” has Lalo lay out why he’s come to Jimmy and Kim’s apartment. Essentially, he wants Jimmy to take his car, drive to Fring’s home, get a pistol out of the glove compartment, and shoot the person who answers the door. (“He kind of looks like a librarian,” Lalo says, not inaccurately, of Fring.) As for Kim, she’ll stay behind with Lalo as collateral to make sure the job gets done. From Jimmy’s perspective, this puts his wife in greater danger, so he makes the case for Kim to go in his stead by arguing that a blond woman showing up at the home would be more disarming. Impatient with their panicked negotiating, Lalo agrees to let Kim do the deed.

Lalo’s nonchalance about the scheme—and its half-assed logic in comparison to the rest of his shadow war with Fring—tips the audience to an ulterior motive at play, and it’s rather brilliant. Kim’s attempted hit is an elaborate decoy designed to draw Fring’s henchmen over to Jimmy’s apartment to apprehend him; Lalo, meanwhile, heads to the laundromat holding the secret (albeit unfinished) meth lab. The goal isn’t to kill Fring: It’s to expose his new operation to Don Eladio before it ever gets started.

Of course, the great tragedy of Lalo’s 4D-chess move is that the game is rigged against him—no matter what he cooks up, Fring and the meth lab will appear in Breaking Bad. As a result, the tension in “Point and Shoot” doesn’t come from whether Lalo will succeed, but rather in how Fring will pull the rug from under his crafty adversary. The solution the Better Call Saul brain trust lands on is, depending on your perspective, a testament to Fring’s next-level intelligence or a rare hiccup from a prequel that backed itself into one too many narrative corners.

After Kim is easily thwarted, she’s held by Fring’s men while he watches her over some of his surveillance cameras. (My guy has nearly as many screens as Lucius Fox at the end of The Dark Knight.) From there, Fring communicates with her through a cellphone, questioning why Lalo sent her. As Kim explains, Lalo wanted Jimmy to attempt the hit until he was convinced to change his mind: a genuinely noble attempt from a husband to protect his partner. “He … talked Lalo out of it?” Fring says incredulously. Knowing just how stubborn Lalo is, and how insistent he was that Fring was hiding something, he goes to the laundromat on a hunch with the few henchmen who weren’t already over at Jimmy’s apartment. As perceptive as Fring may be, though, it doesn’t take long for Lalo to kill his men and grab him as a hostage.

With a video recorder in one hand and a pistol in the other, Lalo makes Fring take him down to the lab. (Fring initially resists, but one shot to the chest changes his mind—he might be wearing body armor, but the impact from the bullet is still painful as hell.) Lalo wields all the power in this sequence, and documents everything for Eladio like he’s a guerilla filmmaker. (Clearly, Lalo is the Alejandro González Iñárritu of the cartel world.) “Gustavo thought he was building an empire, but all he built himself was a tomb,” Lalo says in Spanish as he continues recording. He doesn’t know just how prophetic those words will turn out to be.

Viewers will recall that Fring stored a pistol in the lab earlier this season, tucking it away within the rubber tracks of a bulldozer; an actual Chekhov’s gun. How Fring could’ve anticipated a showdown with Lalo down there is anyone’s guess—did he borrow the Time Stone from Doctor Strange?—but the outcome is what you expect when one of these villains has a whole future (and iconic death) already mapped out for him. Fring catches Lalo off guard, kills the lights, heads toward the gun, fires in his enemy’s direction, and hopes for the best. It’s just enough: a bullet catches Lalo in the neck, and as he slowly chokes to death on his own blood, he sports a gory grin that’s absolutely chilling. In this sequence, I couldn’t help but think of Tony Dalton describing how he believes his character would accept death as an inevitable consequence of his violent line of work: “I figured his outlook toward life is a little more calm, enjoying life because it might go at any second.” Even in his final agonizing moments, Lalo remained alarmingly unfazed.

If Lalo’s demise feels somewhat anticlimactic, Dalton’s innate charisma could be partially to blame. The actor made the character so charming that, even though Fring declared that all the Salamancas were dead in Breaking Bad, you could still convince yourself Lalo found some way to survive (and, perhaps, live on to torment Jimmy in his new life as a Cinnabon manager in Nebraska post–Breaking Bad). The best thing that can be said for Lalo is that he became a victim of his own success: a captivating villain who stole every scene he appeared in and carried himself like the real star of the show. And for two glorious seasons, anyone would be forgiven for believing that he actually was.

All told, Lalo joins Howard in death not long after ending the poor man’s life, and the two characters literally share a makeshift grave at the bottom of the meth lab. With the understanding that Better Call Saul’s final season wasn’t originally intended to be split apart, “Point and Shoot” is best appreciated as the back half of a two-parter, closing the chapter on Jimmy and Kim’s plan to destroy Howard’s reputation as well as Lalo’s own scheme to take down Fring. Only Jimmy and Kim succeeded, but at an immense personal cost. Ironically, their dogged effort to paint Howard as a coke addict gives Mike Ehrmantraut the perfect cover to stage the former’s suicide, leaving his Jaguar parked on a beach a few states away and his shoes laying in the sand. (The police will simply assume Howard’s body never washed ashore.)

For those keeping score at home, that also means Kim is the only domino yet to fall among Better Call Saul’s key characters who don’t appear in Breaking Bad. Even in a universe as violent as this one, the law of averages would suggest Kim won’t follow in the footsteps of Chuck, Nacho, Howard, and Lalo—frankly, the show’s other timelines are a lot more interesting if she’s still hanging around. But just because Kim will probably live doesn’t mean she’ll find herself in a better place. Lalo pulled the trigger, but she should harbor plenty of guilt over Howard’s death after she orchestrated his unwarranted downfall in the first place.

Interestingly, cocreator Peter Gould already confirmed to Entertainment Weekly that we haven’t seen the last of Cliff Main, the lawyer who worked with Howard on the Sandpiper Crossing case and listened to his colleague’s wild (yet true!) accusations that he was being framed. Perhaps we’re in store for a bigger fallout over Howard’s death than the authorities ruling it a suicide. In any case, there’s plenty of material for Better Call Saul to cover in its final stretch, including the long-awaited return of Gene Takovic.

Still, the tantalizing possibilities for Better Call Saul’s conclusion don’t take away from how strange the remainder of the series will feel without Lalo’s wily charms. More than just a devious addition to the pantheon of great villains in the Breaking Bad universe, Lalo was arguably its finest showman: a chaos agent you couldn’t look away from in spite of the atrocities he committed. His absence leaves a vacuum. But with five episodes left and many more questions that still need answers, the show must go on.