Monday, April 25, 2022

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Nacho Embraces Inevitable Tragedy According to His Own Terms in 'Rock and Hard Place'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 6.03 "Rock and Hard Place"

Still on the run, Nacho is forced to choose where his loyalties lie. Jimmy doubles down.

"Rock and Hard Place" was written by Gordon Smith and directed by Gordon Smith

Nacho is a dead man walking. He resigns himself to that fact when he calls his father. Manuel doesn't know it's going to be the final time he speaks with his son. It's a version of a conversation they have had so many times before. For Manuel, the choice is easy. He trusts the police completely. They can help his son no matter what trouble he has gotten himself into. And yet, Nacho can't escape this fate. He has carefully tried to walk this line of reluctantly being a part of the cartel. He was forever pulled in deeper because his proximity represented an opportunity that could be exploited. Mike saw him as a young man with potential. He could achieve so much. Nacho is desperately trying to survive. He has fought despite the impossible obstacles in his way. Lalo and Gus' forces want him alive long enough for him to tell their version of events. He is seen as the arbiter of truth for the raid on the Mexican compound. He doesn't get to speak the truth. Instead, it's better to form a compromise where his father is protected. Nacho will do whatever Gus wants. He trusts Mike to honor this pact. Gus will always be a cruel man. Moments before, he was willing to abduct Manuel to force Nacho's hand. He leads with brutality. He is surrounded by men willing to carry out those orders. Life in the cartel is very dangerous. It's volatility is fueled by bruised egos and the need to get the other person before they get you. Nacho has survived for so long. He has been incredibly scrappy. He has taken huge risks that have paid off. And yet, he was forever impeded from being able to carry out his own plans. Instead, he was forced into compliance. Mike could recognize and honor that plight. Nacho isn't deserving of death. It's still the inevitable outcome. Nacho was fighting to survive. In the end, he can only embrace a good enough solution. Juan Bolso declares a difference between a good death and bad one. Nacho needs to be forthcoming so he can die with honor. Of course, that would still be the plan Gus laid out. In that moment, the truth erupts. Nacho details his disdain for the Salamanca family. He was never a true ally. Hector, Lalo and the cousins were foolish to ever trust him. He then gets to rob them of the satisfaction of killing him. All they can do is blow a couple more bullets into his lifeless body. Nacho also refuses to make Mike the man who pulls the trigger. Mike is willing to carry out that order. He positions himself in the situation despite his recent clashes with Gus. Mike leads with grace and dignity. He treats Nacho well. He has lived a life with honor. It still ends in tragedy.

So much of this series is set up to function that way. Some fates are already known. Their tragic circumstances are guaranteed based on what happens in Breaking Bad. Those deaths being set in the future have robbed some of the cartel sequences of their power throughout the run of the prequel. However, this episode showcases just how brilliant all this delicate character has been too. Nacho started as a character in search of purpose. He ultimately rose up to embody the empathy and the yearning to do better that defined the show's inherent tragedy. He was a victim of his surroundings and circumstances. He played the game and got too entangled in it. He could never truly escape. That contrasts with the privilege Jimmy has. He and Kim are more than capable of pulling this scam on Howard. They have it all mapped out. Sure, they are making some details up on the fly. However, they have pure confidence in their success. They have the resources to make it a reality. That is never in question. As such, it's exhilarating for them to plot. That gives them purpose. It serves as a meaningful distraction from how chaotic their lives became as friends of the cartel. Saul Goodman had to represent Lalo in court. And now, the government is enraged they had Lalo in custody and he was let out to die in Mexico. As a result, no meaningful work can be done to understand his organization and prevent it from rising up to fill the void left by his death. All of this is possible because of Jimmy's slip up. He mentioned Lalo by his real name. That proves these legal characters can make mistakes. They can't distance themselves from the choices they've made. Jimmy and Kim have convinced themselves of the moral good they are doing. It's better to attack Howard in this way because it will produce a better outcome for their clients. They are mostly doing it because they want revenge against Howard. They are using him as a scapegoat for their problems. It's all merely a distraction. It's a powerful one. It means it's fun watching Huell and his associate run a scheme to replicate Howard's car key before the valet realizes it's missing. Again, that's a clear demonstration of Huell doing what he does best. Jimmy can rely on him to get the job done. Of course, Huell knows the personal details of Jimmy and Kim's lives. They are legitimate and successful lawyers. They don't have to pursue these criminal schemes anymore. They could have better lives that rise above all this. Confronting that reality isn't something Jimmy wants to do. Sure, it can't genuinely be ignored. It's simply people buying into all of this being necessary. Kim may present a choice for what Jimmy should do. It's still set in extreme terms because of their relationship to the cartel. Everything is inevitable even though life can still find ways to surprise people along the way too.