We knew the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul will not be without casualties, but the deadly duo of Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan have eliminated a major character in the third episode itself. With 10 more episodes to go, we can expect more important characters to meet their maker before the end.
Note that this piece explores the third episode of Better Call Saul season 6 and its plot in detail, so a warning for spoilers. If you are not caught up until this point, it is a good idea to stop reading and come back once you have seen ‘Rock and Hard Place’.
So Nacho is dead, and millions of hearts are doubtlessly broken. Played with a fierce commitment and passion by Michael Mando throughout the show’s run, Ignacio “Nacho” Varga was initially deemed as a Jesse Pinkman stand-in.
But thanks to superb writing and Mando’s work, he emerged as one of the show’s most complex and relatable characters. He was also unique in the sense that he was the only Latino in the Breaking Bad universe who was not either a terrifying drug kingpin or an addict.
Some solace can be derived from the fact that he went down on his own terms. Before dying, he also gave Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) the metaphorical finger by revealing to his face that he is responsible for his current wheelchair-ridden state.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The episode began with the visuals of a barren landscape. Rain falls on a piece of glass. Nearby, one sole blue flower blooms as though in defiance of the arid soil of the desert. Pay attention to the beautiful if insignificant-seeming scene as it assumes meaning after the end of the episode.
We find Nacho after he abandons the vehicle after its breaks down. As the Twins and Salamanca men chase him, he finds shelter in a tanker, immersing himself in crude oil. He cleans himself in a nearby dwelling and makes a phone call to Mike, the same call we saw Mike taking in the second episode.
He talks to Gus and offers his life to the Salamancas and agrees to not reveal Gus Fring’s hand behind the attempt on Lalo’s life. In lieu of his life, though, he wants his father safe. Mike assures him if anybody goes after his father, they’ll have to go through him (Mike) first. This is as good an assurance as a son would want for his father’s life.
Jimmy and Kim are meanwhile continue in their attempt to discredit Howard and hire services of Huell to get duplicates of his car’s keys. Huell asks Jimmy why, when he and Kim are legitimate lawyers, they are doing this sort of underhand stuff. He responds it’s all for the greater good. You can almost see the glimpses of the man he will ultimately become. Jimmy and Kim do get a few scenes, and there are a couple of memorable moments, but Rock and Hard Place is a Nacho show through and through.
The final scene has Mike observing a curious scene from the scope of his sniper rifle as Nacho, now roughed up to indicate he was captured and did not turn himself in, is handed to the Salamancas. He utters everything he was holding within himself, even as he exonerates Gus by claiming he has been on the payroll of a Peru-based cartel for years. Astonishing acting from Mando at display here. He kills it.
He stabs Juan Bolsa in the leg and put his pistol against his temple. Mike quietly asks him to “Do it” from a distance. But then Nacho shoots himself in the head. Gus’ plan was to let Tyrus shoot him, but Nacho outwitted him.
Such a tragic yet beautifully thrilling end to an all-time great character. We are obviously left grieving, but also delighted that he achieved what he wanted to. Not many in the Breaking Bad get to accomplish their goals before saying goodbye.
But make no mistake, this is just the beginning. As I said earlier, as the show hurtles towards the end, many other fan-favourites are going to bite the dust.