SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched the seventh episode of “Better Call Saul” Season 6, titled “Plan & Execution.”
This week’s episode of “Better Call Saul,” like the six before it, has a bifurcated title — “Plan & Execution.” Season 6 has, so far, focused largely on Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim’s (Rhea Seehorn) plot against Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), the staunch attorney whose reputational downfall could directly lead to a settlement of the Sandpiper lawsuit and, thus, a healthy sum of money in Jimmy’s pocket. Fans have been patiently waiting to see their plan in action. But alas, it’s never that simple, and there is, of course, a different type of execution in this startling Part 1 finale, which abruptly ends after Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) shoots Howard in the head.
Lalo and Howard’s surprise encounter inside Jimmy and Kim’s apartment brings lead actors Dalton and Fabian together on screen for the first time, and marks the rapid escalation of Jimmy’s two worlds — the courtroom and cartel — intersecting. But before Lalo puts a bullet in Howard’s head, the kingpin spends almost the entire episode staked out in a sewer, carefully observing Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) covert laundromat operation from underground. After obtaining information in Germany about the Chicken Man’s secret meth lab, Lalo is planning to kill Fring and his men. That is, until he realizes Gus is onto him — at which point he must shift to Plan B.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and Kim’s plan unfolds perfectly — Howard is humiliated at the Sandpiper mediation, and it’s revealed that the private investigator he hired to spy on Jimmy is actually a double agent. Listening in on the mediation via phone, Jimmy and Kim get hot and heavy on the couch, but the celebration won’t last long.
Fabian and Tom Schnauz, who wrote and directed the episode, spoke with Variety about Howard’s shocking death, Lalo’s unexpected pivot, and what it all means for Kim and Jimmy.
Lalo spends the entirety of the episode surveilling Gus’ laundromat. Why does he decide to pivot to Jimmy and Kim’s apartment?
Schnauz: He gets the information he needs in Germany and comes back knowing there is a superlab being built inside the laundromat. So his plan is go in there, and he calls Hector Salamanca just to let him know, but he hears a clicking on the line — there’s a phone tap. Once he hears that, he flips out and knows his original plan is ruined. But he knows that if Hector’s line is being tapped, he knows Gus knows he’s alive. So he calls back and tells Hector that he couldn’t find proof and has no idea where this secret laundromat is. He needs to come up with an alternate plan, but we don’t know exactly what that is yet. We’ll have to wait for the next episode to see.
How does Lalo get around so easily, traveling back and forth from Albuquerque to Germany?
Schnauz: He needs proof in order to kill Gus Fring, to make it okay for Don Eladio. So he goes to Germany to get that. The mechanism of his travel overseas is never really determined. We discussed showing him taking a boat or using a fake passport … but I can’t say for sure. But we have a story calendar, and the timeline makes sense that he could get to Germany and find Casper and come back. Also, his disappearance from the series for several episodes made it hopefully more believable that he was figuring out how to get from location to location.
A couple episodes back, Kim learns that Lalo is still alive, but doesn’t tell Jimmy. Why is that?
Schnauz: Mike tells Kim, “The reason I’m telling you is that you’re made of sterner stuff.” When he told Jimmy the plans last time, he freaked out and hid out with Kim in a hotel. On some level, Kim wants to keep the scam going and if she admits the truth to Jimmy about Lalo, then they’re going to close up shop because Jimmy is going to want to go into hiding and protect Kim. It’s just better for Jimmy not to know so that he doesn’t panic.
Do you view Howard as an antagonist in this story?
Fabian: I don’t think Howard has done anything necessarily wrong. That includes the corn fields [shorthand for demoting Kim to doc review]. The only wrong thing he did was really not standing up to Chuck and doing Chuck’s dirty work in the earlier part of the series. Other than that, I think you can make a case that Howard is acting in the best interest of not only his firm and himself, but also in the best interests of Jimmy and Kim. On the internet, some people have a lot of sympathy for Howard, and then other people remind me quickly that he screwed Jimmy out of his money. For some people, it’s unforgivable. I think Howard’s a good guy, and I think he’s tried to do his best. But there’s absolutely a case to be made that some of the things he did helped push Jimmy into his becoming Saul.
Schnauz: Howard took on this whole burden that should have been Jimmy’s, and he did all the work that he needed to make himself get better. He went through depression therapy; he worked it out in the way a person should, and Jimmy didn’t do any of that. In a way, Jimmy is still suffering and carrying this burden, but instead of making himself better, he lashes out at Howard. So Howard should not be an antagonist in the story, but because of the psychological issues that Jimmy’s going through, he is.
When did you find out Howard was going to die?
Fabian: They called me before the season even began and told me I could probably make my vacation plans earlier than usual this season. They said, “Look, we found a hinge that swings the rest of the season open. It reveals a lot and it involves you. But that means you won’t be going forward with the second part of the season.” They didn’t tell me the details of how it was going to happen, and I was glad for that. I’ve never known what was going on three scripts ahead, and as an actor, I absolutely preferred that because you can only play what’s in front of you. Even though I was told it was coming, it’s still a surprise to read it on the page, and it was equally as surprising to film it.
What an amazing final monologue you got.
Fabian: It’s funny, my place in the show hasn’t been the monologue guy. I’ve been somewhat reactive. I’ve certainly gotten great things to say — there’s no doubt about it — but I’ve spent a lot of it listening to Kim yell at me and Jimmy wail on me with stuff. So I was a little nervous … all of a sudden it’s like a Howard episode. The good news is I’m surrounded by such great artists, and I got to stand next to Rhea and Bob for that final scene, who are some of my best friends and favorite people to ever work with.
When Howard walks into Kim and Jimmy’s apartment, he calls them “soulless.” Are they?
Fabian: I think for him, yes. When you see all the ways that Howard has gone about trying to show them the light, show them the right way to behave, give them an out from their errant ways of behaving … in the end, what conclusion can he come to? In Episode 4, his solution is boxing, which is unlike Howard, but he tries it. But he already knows it’s not going to work because he goes right from the boxing ring to the private detective — he already has Plan B lined up. By the time he gets to the apartment at the end of Episode 7, Kim and Jimmy have humiliated him; they’ve stripped him naked in his own office. You know, he’s a benefit of being who he is — a Silver Spoon, white guy, all those sorts of things. But at the end, he plays by the rules, and Kim and Jimmy do not at all. And so that is soulless, and I think he does believe it. Howard confessed to Chuck’s death, which the audience knows wasn’t even his fault. They know that Jimmy sat there and had an opportunity to take that guilt off Howard instead. I think a lot of what Howard says in that final scene is some of the questions that may be percolating around the audience’s brains as well. Like, why are you doing this? What’s going on? We want Jimmy and Kim to go off and live up near Santa Fe and have a couple of kids, and the fact that we know that doesn’t occur is part of the wonderful dread of watching the show in the first place.
How much of Kim and Jimmy’s plan could Howard have figured out?
Fabian: Howard might be many things. He might be vainglorious, he may be narcissistic, but he’s not a stupid guy. There’s only one person who could be doing this — it’s the bowling ball guy, the hooker guy. So he figures it out on the fly in the conference room. He’s embarrassed himself, but he sees it. But the more he keeps trying to explain it, it’s like a crazy person trying to explain something. And it doesn’t make any sense, so it’s a spiraling thing. And even when he gets it together and lays out the evidence, it doesn’t even matter because you can’t unwind what’s been photographed, seen and publicly showed.
Was their plot always going to play out like this, or were other options explored in the writers’ room?
Schnauz: We had probably a dozen different directions with this plot. The one that sticks in my mind the most involved the skateboarder twins from Season 1 Episode 1. We were going to trick Howard that he accidentally ran into one of them with his car, sent him over a railing and killed him. But it was gonna be a switch where one twin goes over the side of a rail, but the other twin was already laying down at the bottom, all bloody and twisted. We had all these other crazy plots, but we ultimately needed to figure out how Howard could embarrass himself during mediation and do enough damage that it made more sense to settle the Sandpiper suit than to renegotiate.
Does Howard’s refusal to play dirty inhibit him from fighting back against Kim and Jimmy?
Fabian: He’s not gonna play dirty, but at the end, Howard doesn’t care what happens to him. He’s going to be okay because he has enough behind him to rebound. But in terms of Kim and Jimmy, he’s just come over to announce, “Good one, but I’m in it for the long haul. And I will do everything I can and marshal my resources to make sure you pay.” That’s a new Howard. That’s a vengeful Howard. If things weren’t cut short, it would be very interesting to see how this would all play out.
There’s a lot of talk about Chuck in this episode, and his portrait looms above the mediation room almost watching over Howard. Why was there such a focus on him?
Schnauz: We wanted to touch on what Chuck meant to the show and what Chuck meant to Howard. And when he calls Chuck the “greatest legal mind” he ever knew [but then recognizes] “there are more important things” … at some level, he knows Chuck didn’t act the way he should toward Jimmy.
Does Chuck’s trick to not make the shaken-up soda explode actually work?
Fabian: Tom Schnauz’s uncle taught him that trick. I bet after tonight there will be a lot of people trying it. [Schnauz later corrected that it was his dad who taught him the trick.]
When was it decided that Howard was going to die?
Schnauz: We wrote these episodes two years ago, so I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but at some point, it just felt like something horrible had to happen as a result of the scam. It couldn’t just go perfectly for Jimmy and Kim. Maybe they’re going to be found out or somebody’s going to see or the police are going to find out … and the more we thought about the two worlds colliding, we knew that Lalo doing something very bad to Howard Hamlin just felt almost inevitable.
What was it like hanging up Howard’s suit after seven years on “Better Call Saul”?
Fabian: It was very emotional. It was that sense of leaving high school after graduation. But I had a wonderful ride, and they took me out in a beautiful fashion. I couldn’t ask for more. If you gotta get shot by somebody, you might as well get shot by the handsome Tony Dalton with all that charisma. What a way to go.