A review of this week’s Better Call Saul“Rock and Hard Place,” coming up just as soon as I take care of you and the Key Master
“Goodbye, Dad.” “Nacho.”
The writers of both breaking bad and Better Call Saul are proud to admit how much each show has been made up as it has gone along, and how many aspects of each were happy accidents. Jesse Pinkman was supposed to die within a few episodes of introducing Walter White to the ABQ drug scene, for instance; then Vince Gilligan got to watch Aaron Paul at work.
Few characters in either series are more symbolic of that improvisational quality than Nacho Varga. Nacho only exists at all because in Saul Goodman’s first appearance on breaking bad, he mentioned the names “Ignacio” and “Lalo” to Walt and Jesse when they dragged him out to the desert to scare him. So when they decided many years later to do a Saul prequel series, Gilligan and Peter Gould had to come up with an Ignacio to explain why Saul would name-check him at such a tense moment. The funny thing is, that never quite happened. The initial plan was for Nacho and Jimmy to be frequent antagonists in Season One – but then, the initial plan was also for Jimmy to turn into Saul Goodman before the end of that first year. As the creative team fell in love with Jimmy McGill, Nacho became an early storytelling casualty, disappearing from most of the season’s second half before he and Mike briefly crossed paths in “Pimento.”
But Gould and everyone else liked Michael Mando’s work, for obvious reasons, and they clearly liked having someone on the cartel end of things who didn’t fit neatly into the franchise’s pre-existing archetypes. Nacho started out as Tuco’s sidekick, but he was never as volatile as Tuco, nor did he have the swagger of any of the Salamancas. There was an understated certainty similar to Mike’s – it’s one of the reasons the two of them got along so well, and why Mike has been willing to stick his neck out for the kid
– but Nacho has generally come across as a scrapper more eager to get out of other people’s messes than to seek power for himself. On a show where Odenkirk, Banks, Esposito, and others are 15 years older than when we put them on
but playing around 20 years younger than they currently are, Mike treating Nacho (played by an actor on the verge of turning 41) like a young adult sticks out less than it would on a show where the ages weren’t so visibly weird.
From left: Luis Moncada, Daniel Moncada, and Mark Margolis as Marco, Leonel, and Hector Salamanca. Greg Lewis / AMC It’s one hell of a farewell scene, and an entire episode that serves as a reminder of why the show worked so hard to keep Nacho in play even when there didn’t seem to be any necessary plot function for him. Mando is
fantastic throughout – so tired, so defeated, and yet so insistent about ending things on something resembling his own terms if he can. It is a tour de force, particularly the phone call sequence and Nacho staring down the Salamancas for the last time. I would
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy
Greg Lewis / AMC
Earlier, while Jimmy is paying off Huell and his accomplice, our favorite pickpocket asks Jimmy why he is continuing to do criminal stuff like this now that he has a successful and legitimate life as an attorney. Jimmy borrows Kim’s line about how they will be doing a lot of good for a lot of people: both the Sandpiper victims who might not live to see the class action play out at normal speed, and the potential future clients of Kim’s pro bono defense firm . But you can see that even Jimmy has lost sight of that a bit – that, as always, he is caught up in the game itself, and not really thinking about the potential damage he could cause to himself or others. It’s a much more cavalier attitude than Jimmy’s occasional associate Nacho Varga was allowed to have over the years. Nacho and Jimmy didn’t get to interact as much as anyone had planned, but you have to think that the scrapping, hustling part of Nacho would be impressed – or, at least, ruefully amused – to know that Saul Goodman was invoking his name. to get out of unexpected trouble years later. This obviously was never the plan for Nacho, but he long ago learned what happens to men who try to plan anything.