Season 6, episode 3 “Rock And Hard Place”

Luis Moncada, Mark Margolis, and Daniel Moncada in Better Call Saul

Luis Moncada, Mark Margolis, and Daniel Moncada in Better Call Saul
photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

It was a certainty that death was coming in this end Better Call Saul season, what with the Gilligan ABQ Universe being populated by more than a few characters who don’t get a single second of screen time in breaking bad. But when the first death of season six comes with more than 75 percent of the storyline left to unspool—and when it’s a major death, at that—I assume the curveballs yet to be tossed our way are going to be intense.

For the current state of affairs (note: major spoilers follow): Nacho. Ignacio Varga has always been a few steps ahead of the game as a member of the Salamanca drug cartel. But once he was forced by Gus to keep tabs on Lalo, far and away the most clever of the Salamancas, Nacho’s status became much more precarious. And once his mole duties turned into actively working against Lalo, Nacho’s days were numbered. That number was just a few, for despite his desperate efforts to survive the wrath of Salamancas, which involved evading The Cousins ​​and immersing himself completely under a pool of oil, Nacho met his end, pulling a gun trigger to his own head so Leonel and Marco would be denied the chance to torture him and kill him.

Before that, though, Mike’s warning to Tyrus in the previous episode—“Whatever happens next, it’s not gonna go down the way you think it is”—reverberates when Nacho rocks Tio Salamanca’s world twice, telling Hector that he’s the one who switched his heart meds with sugar pills, leading to the stroke that leaves Hector in a wheelchair and unable to speak.

It was a bitter bombshell Nacho spit out in a last, rage-filled rant that was probably more satisfying than his last meal. (Michael Mando may show up in later episodes this season—I’m here for a Nacho flashback or two—but it has to be noted again: His outstanding work in just the first three episodes is worthy of his first Emmy nomination.) But While it may have been partly driven by his desire to motivate Gus to keep his promise not to kill Nacho’s dad, Manuel—Nacho mentioned in his tirade that Gus had been the one to save Hector—Nacho also may have inadvertently sparked Manuel’s death.

Hector was furious at the revelation, of course, so much so that he had The Cousins ​​carry his wheelchair to Nacho’s dead body so he could unload a few bullets into him. But we’ve seen Hector’s temper on display before, and his desire for vengeance against Nacho is not going to be sated by a few postmortem slugs. Hector knows who Manuel is; he met him at his shop de el, and he knows how beloved Manuel is to Nacho. Gus and Mike committed to Manuel’s safety, and that’s a formidable defense. But the lineup of “psycho sacks of shit,” as Nacho called the Salamancas, is committed, too. And if Hector can’t get proof of Gus’ involvement in what Juan Bolsa and the rest of Don Eladio’s cartel believe was a successful hit on Lalo, he is going to get payback somewhere, and Manuel seems like the most likely, or at least the most immediate, target.

Speaking of Lalo, he was physically MIA in “Rock And Hard Place,” but he continues to wreak havoc in name only, whether it’s “Lalo Salamanca” or “Jorge de Guzman.” ADA Suzanne Ericsen has pieced together Jimmy’s legal (and illegal) dealings with Lalo and is trying to get Jimmy to confess to it via Kim. But Kim’s forthright interactions with Ericsen with her own court cases has fooled her colleague into thinking Kim is a straight shooter when it comes to Jimmy. When Suzanne tells Kim she knows Jimmy, despite his showiness from him, is aware that what he’s done with Lalo is wrong, Kim’s increasingly annoyed reaction to their chat from her is to correct her. “Saul,” she curtly tells Suzanne. “He practices now under the name Saul Goodman.” Suzanne continues her ruse about thinking Jimmy—er, Saul—just got caught up in something beyond his intentions from him with the cartel, but the writers have set up what could be another clever cat-and-mouse game that will take us through the Saul end.

And for any doubt that Kim is not only all-in, but steering her and Jimmy’s “mouse” half of the game, Jimmy asks her what she thinks he should do about Suzanne’s request that he tell her all about Lalo. “I guess that depends,” she tells him. “Do you want to be a friend of the cartel, or do you want to be a rat?” Whoa.

Michael Mando in Better Call Saul

Michael Mando in Better Call Saul
photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Again, Kim continues to break bad so hard that even Saul-aspiring Jimmy seems less in charge of their master plan than Mrs. McGill-Goodman. And Nacho, remaining one step ahead of everyone even in death, drops a character-to-character doozy the likes of which we haven’t seen since Walt destroyed Jesse with the truth about his role in Jane’s death in “Ozymandias,” one of the greatest episodes of TV drama ever.

Those are obviously big shoes for the Saul team to continue to match, as Better Call Saul goes gliding towards its ultimate bridge to breaking badbut there are no narrative cobblers more capable than these ones to make the ongoing journey between the two series a more scenic, eventful one.

Stray observations

  • One of the things that made Nacho such a compelling character was that he was a smart, usually calm, quick-thinking and reacting, compassionate guy, and not the drug-cartel villain he could have been in the hands of lesser writers or actors. That final phone call with his father was crushing him, since it was pretty clear by that point that there was no way out for him. And it was made more heartbreaking when the mechanic who had lent Nacho soap and the use of his phone de él went inside the garage to find Nacho had left him a pile of cash. Sure, Nacho had no use for it at that point, but it was still a kind gesture of gratitude when Nacho had so many other things on his mind about him.
  • How is Manuel Varga going to feel when he learns Nacho’s phone call was the last one he’ll ever get from his son, who he brushed off with yet another reminder that he (naively) saw Nacho going to the police as the only way to get himself out of his drug cartel life? And then when he learns Nacho stopped running for his life from him in order to save his dad’s from him? Assuming Papa Varga lives to find out his son he is dead.
  • Who is Alvarez?! Gus and Nacho decided Alvarez would get the blame for planning Lalo’s assassination. Nacho even tells Juan Bolsa Alvarez has been paying him for years to work against the Salamancas. But in multiple watchings and re-watchings of both breaking bad and Better Call Saul, I don’t remember an Alvarez. I Googled such a character and…no results. It would be completely unlike the BCS writers to throw a deus ex machina character into the mix, ever. So, again, who is Alvarez? Theory: What if there is no Alvarez? After all, if Nacho gave Bolsa the name of a real person, that person would be dead. And if Bolsa admitted there was an enemy so dangerous, yet he did not even know his name, he would rise to the top of Don Eladio’s hit list.
  • Giancarlo Esposito’s always-calm demeanor is his own very frightening brand of villain, but a little shoutout to Mark Margolis’ Hector face of fury. The scrunched nose and widened eyes he gets going is every bit as effective.
  • Even after he confronts Mike on the phone about knowing Gus meant to leave him alone to be killed at the motel after he fled Mexico, Nacho still trusted only Mike to ensure Gus would allow Manuel to live. Nacho and Mike had bonded, with Mike the pseudo father figure / mentor missing for Nacho with his father’s constant disapproval of him. Those little nods Nacho and Mike exchanged when Mike got out of the van at the desert meet-up became devastating when we soon learned the twist they had cooked up with Nacho and the gun.
  • One of the best visual tricks of the season so far: when Mike unbolts the bottom of the truck where Nacho has hidden to return to Albuquerque, Nacho is lying there, eyes closed. For a second, it looked like he was dead already.