What to Watch Verdict
A tense and beautiful episode of Better Call Saul that sparks the match of the powder keg sure to be the mid-season finale
Rhea Seehorn, once again, and forever
More familiar faces
Incredibly tense moments
Terrific direction from Giancarlo Esposito
Attempts at sympathizing Howard don't quite land
"Axe and Grind" is the second episode so far in Better Call Saul season 6 that’s been directed by a cast member. After Rhea Seehorn’s stellar work on "Hit and Run," Giancarlo Esposito steps up to the plate and also does a terrific job. In this outing, Esposito lines up another tense installment that keeps you on the edge of your seat and eagerly anticipating the next episode as soon as the credits roll.
Things kick off with a flashback. Kim has been caught stealing jewelry; Kim’s nervous twitch of tapping her right foot in tense situations was apparently present from an early age. Kim’s mom chews out her daughter and demands she pays for the stolen merchandise, making her seem harsh but fair. Turns out, Kim’s mom couldn’t care less. This is all an act and she helps Kim essentially get away with it. Seems like dodging a rap sheet is a Wexler specialty.
We then cut to Howard (Patrick Fabian) meticulously getting ready for work; putting on his collar and cuff links and making bougie espressos with peace signs. We get a deeper glimpse of his seemingly loveless marriage, awkwardly navigating their social calendar separately. Cheryl’s coldness, from her apathy to his coffee art and the mention of the "Jimmy" problem, is unsurprising given how insufferable Howard is. It's no wonder Howard finds at least the smallest semblance of joy in finding out from his PI that Jimmy has made large withdrawals from a bank. He’s got something on a man he dislikes.
We then catch up with a familiar face — Dr. Caldera (Joe DeRosa) — innocently helping a couple with their puppy. However, he has some other business as well, helping Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) with some sort of eye dilation drug that they’re planning to use in their scheme for Howard.
Caldera talks about his dreams of going legit and being a real veterinarian and giving up his little black book of seedy clients and contacts, complete with a calling card for a vacuum cleaner salesman. This is definitely the same book of ciphers that was being thrown out of Saul’s apartment in the intro to episode 1 earlier this season. Kim reflects on Caldera’s desires on going legit. She seems conflicted.
The next day, Cliff (Ed Begley Jr.) observes Kim in court. She crushes her case and when approached by Cliff, expresses her gratitude in regards to his mention of HHM. Cliff clearly respects Kim and informs her of a justice reform program, the Jackson Merger Foundation, coming to New Mexico.
When she goes to tell Jimmy she is greeted by Francesca (Tina Parker), who really seems to love her (and interior decorating). Jimmy’s working with an actor to play Casamiro (the judge on the Sandpiper case), dealing with mustache problems, when Kim tells him the good news. She has an interview with heads of a few organizations, but it’s on D-Day (when they execute their grand scheme for Howard). Jimmy tells her to go and not to worry because he’s got D-Day under control.
Later, we see poor Francesca being manipulated by Jimmy to get mediation call-in instructions for the Sandpiper case. It’s kind of funny to see how much of a pure soul Francesca is during year one of working for Saul versus where she ends up during the Breaking Bad days. Guess this is a universe where everyone in Jimmy McGill’s area of effect gets dragged down with him. When one of Jimmy/Saul's criminal clients is peeing in the middle of the office against the wall, Francesca rebuffs him with a "You clean it up!" That’s the Francesca we know and love.
We catch up a bit with Mike (Jonathan Banks), as Tyrus asks him why he took people off his home. Mike tells him he doesn’t need them. Tyrus questions why he didn’t take people off Alameda street. We find out it’s to protect Kaylee and her mom. When Mike goes over that night we see a pretty heartbreaking but sweet scene of Mike watching over his granddaughter from the base across their home, talking about astronomy with her.
The night before D-Day, Jimmy and Kim go over plans to ensure no stone is left unturned. They have a sweet moment where they have a boozy night picnic in front of the HHM law offices. However, the moment of peace comes to a halt the next day. Jimmy goes to buy a bottle of Zafiro Añejo only to unexpectedly run into the real Casimiro, who is sporting something their actor never had — a broken arm in a cast, prompting Jimmy to need to call Kim to abort the mission.
There’s a bit to deconstruct here solely from the symbolism of the Zafiro stopper. Peter Gould has said in response to Kim’s fate, "keep your eye on the bottle stopper." We see it on the curb in the beginning of the season and periodically appear as a symbol of Kim being tempted further and further into the "Saul Goodman" lifestyle. It’s a symbol of addiction in some ways through the course of this season, which began with an episode called "Wine and Roses," an allusion to the 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses about a man who introduces a woman into a downward spiral of alcohol addiction.
The journey of Jimmy and Kim has loosely echoed this movie’s trajectory. The re-emergence of this tequila bottle stopper coupled with Gould’s cryptic interview, likely foreshadow that rocky waters are just around the corner for Kim and Jimmy.
New episodes of Better Call Saul air Mondays at 9 pm ET/PT on AMC in the US and on Tuesdays on Netflix in the UK.
Mike is a proud, sarcastic nerd with a penchant for comic books, comic book movies, and movies in general, and occasional delusions of grandeur. He's also a UC Berkeley graduate who decided to go into writing over pre-med because he figured he'd ultimately save more lives by not being a doctor. He's a Slytherin and a Pisces, so he's very emotionally sensitive, yet also evil, but can be defeated by exploiting his insecurities. His goal is to live one hell of a unique life, and it's been working so far! His proudest moments are being retweeted by James Gunn and Ryan Reynolds in the same week, and getting 999,999 points on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland.
You can find Mike's writing around the web at publications like The Nerds of Color, What to Watch, Spoiler Free Reviews, and That's It LA.