BETTER CALL SAUL, 5.2 – ‘50% Off’
Saul's promotional stunt has unintended consequences. Nacho takes extreme measures to earn Lalo's trust. And, simmering with rage and self-loathing, Mike loses his temper.
This wasn’t as good as “Magic Man”, although I appreciated the focus shifting onto Nacho (Michael Mando) because his storyline’s been one of Better Call Saul’s unsung glories. Maybe it’s because we know where key figures like Saul (Bob Odenkirk), Mike (Jonathan Banks), and Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) will end up thanks to Breaking Bad, but Nacho’s future is cloudier.
“50% Off” opened following two burnouts who took Saul’s offer of a half-price discount on legal fees, as they embarked on a night of hedonism shot in a familiar zany style by director Norberto Barba. It was a visually interesting way to start the episode, but there was something about the two guy’s silly performances that rubbed me the wrong way. It didn’t help that these aren’t characters we’ve met before either, so it was hard to care about their night’s activities stealing a garden gnome and whatnot. And considering where the story ultimately led, it was a little unnecessary and seemed like it was killing time.
I expected the two young men to get into serious trouble that required Saul Goodman’s help, which he’d regret having to give for half his usual cost, and maybe that’ll still happen… but, for now, their storyline connected to the Salamanca family. After making a scene while trying to score some drugs down a drainpipe, the cops promptly arrived and caused everyone to split, meaning a potential disaster for Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) when a narcotics team arrived to investigate. Luckily, Nacho seized an opportunity to get into his new boss’s good books, by making a high-risk return to their drug house to retrieve their valuable stash.
The gamble paid off and Nacho returned as the “badass” hero of the hour, making Lalo see him in a fresh light, unaware that Nacho’s only trying to please Lalo because Gus Fring’s threatened his father’s life unless he becomes his mole inside the Salamanca operation. Nacho’s story is one of being permanently trapped in difficult situations, having chosen this life for the riches and power it offers, which is quite a tragic thing when one assumes he’d otherwise be poorer but happier working for his dad.
One thing Better Call Saul sometimes struggles with is that Saul’s storyline is usually the least involving of each episode, as the alternatives are more heavily indebted to the criminal lifestyle that proved enticing to watch in Breaking Bad. And that continued here, although it’s always character-building and often laying solid foundations for bigger events to come.
Here, Saul whisked Kim (Rhea Seehorn) to an open house on the market, showing her around as if to seduce her with dreams of a better life together. And it works, to an extent, although he has to admit he went with the stupid marketing idea of growing his business to 45 clients by offering a discount rate. As always with Saul, he’s trying to patch up his failing with a shot of fantasy and promise of better things to come… but Kim’s becoming immune to this tactic. The sequence ends with her offering a non-committal “… maybe someday” response to Saul’s attempt to dazzle her into submission.
A slightly more entertaining use of Saul came back at the courthouse, where again utilised his conman flair to get ADA Suzanne Ericsen (Julie Pearl) to settle many of his cases. She wasn’t interested in speaking to him outside of his designated appointment, so Saul paid a workman to ensure an elevator “broke down” with them both inside, then managed to get Suzanne to pass the time waiting for a repair to go through his folder of cases. And a faster turnaround of client business means more money, and a step closer to buying that beautiful home with Kim.
Of course, at the end of this episode, an upbeat Saul is brought down to earth when Nacho pulls up to him in the street and asked him to take a ride. As Krazy 8 (Maximino Arciniega) wasn’t lucky enough to escape the cops when the incident at the drug house went down, it seems the Salamanca’s are in need of Saul Goodman’s expertise. They certainly have the kind of hard cash he needs, but it brings a dangerous criminal enterprise a step closer to his life with Kim.
The least interesting and believable subplot belonged to Mike this week, as he babysat his grandaughter Kaylee (Juliet Donenfeld) while her mother Stacey (Kerry Condon) is away. Mike’s still grieving over what happened with his friend Werner Zeigler, so when Kaylee starts asking about her father (Mike’s son) and his past a police officer, it only raises difficult questions and terrible memories. And Mike’s unable to keep a lid on it, leading to him shouting at poor Kaylee and ruining their time together when she spends the evening locked in her room instead. But while it was interesting to see a less idyllic chapter between Mike and his beloved granddaughter, I didn’t quite believe someone like Mike would lose his cool so easily… and certainly not shout at Kaylee so quickly.
“50% Off” wasn’t a bad episode (if the show even has bad ones?), but it felt a little generic… apart from Nacho’s moment of heroism, running along a rooftop and entering a building about to swarm with narcs. We’ve seen better examples of everything else that was going down, however — from Mike’s home life and Gus threatening people, to Saul using dirty tricks to juice his legal work. However, this being a serialised TV show, there was enough storytelling value here to ensure future episodes capitalise on the way it nudged a few ideas along.