The brilliance of the writers of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul is a notion that has become memefied over the years. Praising creator Vince Gilligan is usually met with in-jokes and laughter among fans, and I sort of get it, because there’s a lot more that goes into making a show like this than just one man, and as good as it is, at the end of the day, it’s just a TV show. How “brilliant” could it truly be?
Well, it’s episodes like “Coushatta” that justify that kind of behaviour. “Coushatta” is an episode so-well crafted that pays off the finest details of the season in such a grandiose manner that you can’t help but admire it and disproportionately praise it. It’s an episode that turns fan theories on their heads for the umpteenth time in as many episodes, and before the credits roll, it even finds a way to set the next stage of the game in an unexpected but welcome way.
The main focus of the episode revolves around Kim and Jimmy working to get Huell off the hook for hitting a plain clothes cop who was accosting Jimmy with a bag of sandwiches. The DA see this as a slam dunk case so they’re throwing the book at Huell, who, as we found out in last week’s episode, would rather run than go to prison. Jimmy knows this is a bad idea and feels bad for getting Huell in this mess, so he’s willing to do something stupid (as last week’s episode title implied) to help get him off. But Kim, who after a long time-jump still cares for Jimmy despite the fact that they’ve grown apart, doesn’t want to see him get in trouble, so she comes up with a plan of her own.
That plan manifests itself over the course of the episode, and it’s glorious. It involves putting Jimmy on a bus to Louisiana, where he and his fellow passengers write hundreds of letters addressed to the judge, posing as members of Huell’s hometown church and pleading with him to go easy on their beloved Huell. The judge is incensed, but the ADA doesn’t back off, and that’s where the plan really gets good. Some of the letters have phone numbers, numbers from Jimmy’s stock of burner phones, which he and his commercial crew from last season sit around and answer using various accents. At the end of the day, it’s enough to convince the ADA to let Huell off the hook, fearing a full-on freakout from Judge Munsigner.
It’s the perfect, ridiculous kind of plan for this show that plays out in BCS’s signature meticulous fashion, with a long cold open during which we see Jimmy writing all these letters without knowing what the endgame is. And when it’s all over, we see Jimmy reassuring Kim that this won’t ever happen again, only to find out that she got a thrill out of it and, realizing her life of opening bank branches bores her, wants to do it again. Combined with the fact that she came up with the plan, one that put both her and Jimmy at risk of not only losing their licenses but also going to jail for mail fraud and other crimes, it once again says a lot about Kim and where the show might be going with her character. As I’ve spoken about a lot this season, many believe that she faces some tragic end during the course of this show, as we never see her at Saul’s side during the Breaking Bad days. And maybe that’s the case, but seeing her act as the mastermind behind this plan only reaffirms my belief that she’s right there next to Jimmy/Saul that entire time, just off screen. She may even be with him in Nebraska when Jimmy becomes Gene.
That may seem farfetched, but remember that slobbering praise for Vince Gilligan and his fellow writers that we talked about earlier. They’re no strangers to doing something crazy like that. There’s even proof of it in this episode, in Nacho’s story. The closing moments of the episode introduce us to Eduardo Salamanca, AKA “Lalo” (played by Mexican sta. Now, it’s been a while since Breaking Bad, but that’s an important name in this universe, as it is the first name that Saul Goodman utters when he’s introduced on that show, kidnapped by Walt and Jesse, right before he mentions Ignacio, making Lalo the second character birthed from a throwaway line from a decade earlier.
On the surface, Lalo appearing as a foil to Nacho’s newfound wealth and status is important because it advances that story, it gives Nacho something to do and it breeds a certain kind of conflict on that side of the BCS story spectrum that’s been desperately missing for a few episodes now, as Nacho ponders escaping to Canada with his father and a couple of fake IDs. But if you dig a little deeper it’s even more important than that, because we know that Jimmy eventually comes to know Lalo (likely through Nacho), so this is probably the table-setting for Jimmy’s introduction to the cartel world.
But I think there’s even one more layer, a subtle one at that. The idea that two characters can come to life based on a line of dialog from season 2 of Breaking Bad is sort of magical. It tells us that what happened on Breaking Bad isn’t the only thing that was happening. Nacho and Lalo represent what’s going on in the background. When Saul utters their names, the presumption is that they’re still alive at that time, even though we never see them during the course of the main show. It means that if this show intends to give Lalo and Nacho complete stories, we’re going to need to see what they were doing at the time that Saul utters their names for the last time. It means that, inevitably, the timeline of Better Call Saul needs to intersect with the timeline of Breaking Bad. And it reinforces my belief that Kim can exist during that time as well, because it means that we’re not seeing everything that Saul was up to.
And that’s where the brilliance of this show lies, in how it can take a single line of dialog and expound on it infinitely. It’s in the details of the details. It’s in how it tells the viewers to trust it and almost always pays off. “Coushetta” is a fantastic, layered episode of Better Call Saul and it gets 10 chartered buses from Louisiana out of 10.
- Quickly since I didn’t get to it earlier, the bunker storyline sees Kai get kicked out of a strip club, but the show once again throws a wrench in the works when it’s Werner who messes up the most by chatting up some bar rats about their construction plans. Mike scolds him and gives him a pass, but he seems uncertain when Gus asks him about it later on.
- It’s kind of jarring when you consider that this is the first time we’ve seen Nacho in nearly a year. He’s healed, heading up the Salamanca business and clearly benefiting from it financially, but he’s unhappy and scared and contemplating trying to leave. Still, he’s doing his job, ripping earrings out of his dealers ears when he needs to, so why Eduardo comes out to play remains to be seen, but you can already tell he’s going to have a big impact on the show.
- Jimmy’s southern pastor impression is his best impression yet. “I’ve got crawdad in ma pants. It’s a thing that happens to you when you’re sittin’ in the bayou.”
- And finally, Guillermo Del Toro (rightfully) thinks Better Call Saul is better than Breaking Bad. Read about that here.