Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Better Call Saul tours the majestic culverts of Albuquerque as Gus swallows a painful loss

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill. Pinky ring from the Marco Pasternak collection.
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill. Pinky ring from the Marco Pasternak collection.
Photo: Greg Lewis (AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

First things first: Hank and Steve aren’t totally off the mark with their musings on the etymology of culvert. The Oxford English Dictionary says it is “recent” and its origin is “obscure”; some have suggested it is named after a person. But a Dutch-French hybrid is a possibility: couler (to flow) + vaart (a boat journey or canal). And now, back to our regularly scheduled recap.

We don’t see much cross-cutting on this show, so the centerpiece of “Namaste” is quite remarkable — a chase sequence with Hank and Steve pursuing the guy picking up the money at the dead drop while Gus waits for word that the guy has gotten away clean. This is a high-stakes moment for the Fring enterprise. Here’s a man who is all about mitigating risk, insulating himself from the drug business with layer after layer of legitimacy and misdirection. In this gambit, he not only has to give up three bags of cash, but run the risk of arrests at levels in his organization that could be tied to him. He protects his people by providing diagramming a getaway play for the pickup, abandoning a truck and the cash. But if things hadn’t gone as expected, that could have gotten the DEA far closer to Los Pollos Hermanos than Gus wants to imagine.


As events beyond his control play out in the desert, he responds by clamping down control in the restaurant. Poor Lyle, the manager, scrubs that fryer over and over, trying to make the boss happy, as Gus stares at the burner phone that will tell him Operation Culvert came off. When Gus sends him home, Lyle wants to know “do you think it’s okay? Is it clean?” Gus isn’t willing to call this success — just “acceptable.” He hates the tradeoffs of playing defense against Lalo. You can’t say it’s good. You can only steel yourself to accept the discipline of what it had to be.


Jimmy and Kim, meanwhile, aren’t accepting jack squat. We don’t know that the cold open in the flea market is a bit of a flash-forward until we go back to the immediate aftermath of their bottle-smashing party (which involves a frankly upsetting amount of Odenkirk side nudity). Their agendas for the day both include opportunity — a chance to reconcile with Howard, and a meeting with Mesa Verde that could save Acker’s house. Of course, the two approach opportunity differently. Jimmy’s not interested at best, openly distrustful and resentful at worst. Kim, on the other hand, has manufactured this opportunity herself, out of sheer willpower. Jimmy slaps away the proferred hand of legitimacy, and Kim finds her legitimate proffer slapped out of her hands. So by the end of the episode, they’re partners again — joining forces outside of the lines to get a win-win that the system is determined to deny them. Jimmy lobs bowling balls at the establishment from outside the gates, and Kim plots to undermine them from within, but both have chosen a decidedly rebellious form of legal practice. What remains to be seen is whether Kim’s by-any-means-necessary quest, which has justice as its aim, can form a lasting alliance with Jimmy’s go-fast-break-shit disruptor vibe, which aims only at bowling over stuffed shirts like Jim Thorpe going off-tackle. He talks a good “sticking up for the little guy” game, but there’s not a hint of idealism in Saul Goodman.

Before Jimmy goes to lunch with Howard, we see that his discount law business has potential cash flow issues; the gleefully-vandalizing skells aren’t exactly rolling in dough. He ends up advising them to get their hooks into Grandma’s bank account, and friends, we are a long way from the man who tried to stop Sandpiper from draining their captive oldsters dry. So why is he not only uninterested in Howard’s invitation to join a lucrative steady practice, but actively offended by it? Because the name McGill now stands for everything he’s against. It’s not just that he doesn’t want to be in Chuck’s shadow; he doesn’t even want to be in the same profession. The law is about sticking it to the man, and at HHM, he’d be the man. No more aspiring to cocobolo desks and company cars; the boot of a Suzuki Esteem (“it’s an import”) is only office Saul Goodman wants or needs. Screw Howard and the luxury sedan he rode in on.

One last nihilist to check in on, and Mike is at the end of his rope. Stacey doesn’t want him to babysit Kaylee until he gets a handle on his temper, so Mike goes spoiling for a fight with the same street toughs who jumped him last week. This time they get him down and knife him in the side, in a moment that made me gasp out loud. And then he awakens in an adobe compound with a cross on the wall — a mission? This is uncharted territory. A good place to be as the real stories of this season are just kicking off.

Stray observations:

  • Love the soundtrack to the cold open: “Laventille Road March” by Bacao Rhythm and Steel Band.
  • Among the items Jimmy hefts in the antique store: lamp, trophy, tv (“still works!”), cast-iron teapot, lug wrench, pressure cooker, kettle bell, horseshoe, lawn dart, typewriter, laughing buddha, and golf club. Not only does he get a bulk discount on the bowling balls, he walks out with the bag — and you know he talked the owner into throwing it in for free.
  • Tonight’s Jimmy McGill classic movie pick: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders (1983), referenced when he tells the skells they can do a few years in prison plus a little probation and “you’re gold, ponyboy!”
  • Is Jimmy affecting some Yiddish for his Saul Goodman persona? He throws “nudnik” at the skells.
  • Somebody already snagged the NAMASTE personalized license plate from the NM DMV, but no worries! Resourceful Howard shows off his leet-speak by turning the E into a 3.
  • Who is Saul Goodman? 1. Last line of defense for the little guy. 2. Life raft when you get sold down the river. 3. Sharp stick when you get stepped on. 4. Guy with the slingshot when you’ve got Goliath on your back. 5. Righter of wrongs. 6. Friend to the friendless. 7. Man fucking a horse (Mesa Verde is the horse). 8. All of the above.
  • “All that’s left are your many, many misdemeanors.”