BETTER CALL SAUL, 5.5 – ‘Dedicado a Max’

better call saul - dedicado a max
Mike takes an impromptu trip out of town; as she and Jimmy grow closer over their campaign to help a client, Kim makes a surprising call.
3.5 out of 5 stars

The obvious answer to what happened to Mike (Jonathan Banks) proves accurate, as he awakens to get his bearings inside a small Mexican ranch. He’s indeed been taken there to convalesce by Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) after being beaten half to death by thugs, with Dr Barry Goodman (JB Blanc) on call to sew up his stomach wounds and give him pain relief. Incidentally, I’d forgotten Goodman was a character we’ve met before, in season 3’s “Sunk Costs”, where he supplied Mike with cocaine, and he was also in Breaking Bad’s last few seasons.

Despite wanting to immediately leave the ranch, Mike half-reluctantly agrees with Dr Goodman to stay because he’s in no condition to walk many kilometres across the border. So he busies himself by powering his phone with a makeshift charger while building a rapport with his host —Mrs Cortazar (Alejandra Flores), who doesn’t speak a word of English—by helping with odd jobs like replacing her rotted window sill. This isolation, tranquillity, and ability to occupy his mind with simple tasks proves to be just the tonic for Mike after a difficult few months.

The ranch turns out to be something of a monument to ‘Max’, a character we met in Breaking Bad’s “Hermanos”. Max was the business partner of Gus and the person who helped him start the Los Pollos Hermanos chicken restaurant chain in Mexico, before using it as a cover to cook meth and distribute drugs. Their business venture is what drew the attention of Don Eladio, and ultimately led to Hector Salamanca murdering Max at Eladio’s mansion as Gus was forced to watch. It was a formative moment for Gus that fuelled his hatred of the Salamanca family, and now a fountain sits in the middle of the ranch that Gus secretly bankrolls. Considering the image of Max’s fatal headshot wound dripping blood into Don Eladio’s swimming pool, it’s perhaps not the kind of monument that lets Gus forget what happened to his friend.

Mike hasn’t had a great storyline this year, so far, but things are likely to turnaround now. Towards the end of the episode, Gus arrives to reveal the obvious to Mike: he wants him to come back and work for him as a “button man”, as he’s about to begin a war with the Salamanca’s. And while Mike still doesn’t want to be involved, the alternative path for him (late-night drinking, family estrangement, picking fights with hoodlums) isn’t much better… and both men are bonded by understanding one thing: revenge.

That was the most interest half of “Dedicado a Max”, true, but we still had some interesting hijinks with Saul (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) with the ‘Mesa Verde vs Mr Acker’ (Barry Corbin) debacle. Saul is once again pulling all manner of tricks to prevent his client being evicted— from making the sheriff doubt the court order’s address for Acker’s resident is accurate, to planting hazardous material and calling for a survey, then burying broken china that had to be identified by archaeologists (thank the New Mexico Cultural Properties Act), and faking a “miracle” image of Jesus appearing on the side of Acker’s home to draw in busloads of worshippers. It was amusing to see the various ways Saul could stall Mesa Verde’s people, even if it seemed to be a tactic that would eventually have to be put aside.

Kim claims she’s keen to leave the Acker case because of a conflict of interest now her boyfriend is Mr Acker’s attorney, but her boss Kevin Wachtell (Rex Linn) doesn’t allow it, and won’t be swayed into letting Acker get his way and instead move to an alternative site for his call centre. It’s here that Kim, again, gets drawn into Sauk’s more underhanded ways of operating, as they hire a “Mr X” called Sobchak (The Walking Dead’s Steven Ogg) to dig up dirt on Wachtell they can use to blackmail him into leaving Mr Acker alone. It doesn’t work, sadly, as Wachtell’s squeaky clean and Sobchak’s next-level idea (to bundle Wachtell into a van and drive him to the desert to frighten him into submission) rubs both Saul and Kim the wrong way. Or was Saul just pretending it did around his girlfriend? It’s a little unclear. The Saul of Breaking Bad would go with this option, I think, but maybe Saul in this earlier time period isn’t as comfortable with serious criminality. He’s a shyster. Regardless, it seems that Kim has found something in the photos Sobchak took inside Wachtell’s home that could help, so her enigmatic smile suggests that’ll come into play next week.

In smaller moments dotted throughout the hour, Howard (Patrick Fabian) contacted “Jimmy” and is still keen to know if he wants to come back and work for HHM, seemingly unaware he was responsible for throwing those bowling balls at his sports car in “Namaste”. But now it’s clear Howard is just being strung along and Saul has no real intention of going back there, so I’m not sure why Howard’s even in this season. Maybe they just like Fabian as an actor and want to keep him around (he’s a likeable and intriguing character), but it’s hard to see what longterm future there is for him now. Unless Saul does go back to HHM, briefly? Or for a reason that helps him in other ways?

Rich Schweikart (Dennis Boutskikaris) also followed his gut instinct that Kim isn’t genuinely interested in helping Mesa Verde evict Mr Acker, being goaded into saying this to her face after he suggests she takes time off. He’s correct in his suspicions, of course, but Kim causes an awkward scene at work by loudly asking Schweikart why she’d risk her position at such an illustrious firm like Mesa Verde, which she worked hard to be part of, for an old codger causing them nothing but grief. It certainly sounded convincing, but we know Kim’s the kind of woman has a moral code and is ultimately on the side of the Davids of this world and not the Goliaths.

“Dedicado a Max” was a great mid-season palette-cleanser. While slower than usual, it managed to drill down on the risks Kim is taking with her career, and provide a plausible reason for Mike to go back to work for a dangerous drug lord like Gus. He’s the lesser of two evils — or so Mike believes. Of course, Gus is also a master manipulator of people (if also genuinely sympathetic to an extent), so even an experienced and intelligent guy like Mike has certain buttons that can be pushed because of his tortured past. And we ultimately know where it’s all headed if you’ve seen Breaking Bad.

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