SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read if you haven’t watched the sixth episode of “Better Call Saul” Season 6, titled “Axe and Grind.”
Giancarlo Esposito didn’t appear in the final episode of ‘Better Call Saul,’ but that was because he was busy behind the camera directing this crucial episode, the penultimate entry of the first half of the season. 6.
“Axe and Grind” covered a lot of ground, set in Albuquerque, Germany, a long drive to Santa Fe, and even a flashback to Kim Wexler’s (Rhea Seehorn) childhood. The episode began and ended with Kim striking her heartbreaking “moment of doom,” according to Esposito. In the final moments, Kim heads to Santa Fe for an interview for a major job with a legal basis, but Saul (Bob Odenkirk) frantically calls her and warns her that their “D-Day” scam on Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) has encountered an obstacle. Instead of delaying their plot any longer, Kim turns around in the middle of the road, abandons her career opportunity, and heads back to Albuquerque to finish the job.
Elsewhere, Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) continues his reign of terror in Germany and finds Casper (Stefan Kapičić), one of the workers who built Gus’ meth superlab. He looks for dirt on Gus, but is briefly taken down by an ax in the side. However, Lalo gets the upper hand by slicing Casper’s face with a hidden razor blade and hacking off one of his legs.
The episode also introduces one of the most important, yet rarely seen, characters in the “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” world: the vacuum cleaner repairman. Dr. Caldera, the sketchy vet who treated Saul and Mike (Jonathan Banks) throughout the series, reveals he keeps a coded diary of illegal contacts. Inside the book is a map for Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster), who specializes in fixing vacuum cleaners and making people disappear when they have trouble.
Esposito, who has directed three feature films in addition to playing Gus in ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Better Call Saul,’ talks to Variety about his directorial debut on the AMC series, finding a German barn in Albuquerque, and why he thinks Kim is inherently a good person.
How did you end up directing this particular episode?
When I was working on “Breaking Bad”, I entrusted Vince Gilligan with my second film. Years later, as we were preparing to do the 401 of “Breaking Bad,” that infamous “Box Cutter” episode, I asked him if he had watched it and he said, “No, I haven’t. I didn’t have the opportunity”. I said, “Well, you’ve been a busy bee.” I never asked again; that was almost 10 years ago, but I watched and watched what was happening. The summer before we started filming, I got a phone call from Vince and I thought something had happened to one of the cast members, “Oh, what happened, did Jonathan Banks collapse?” It was Vince, Melissa Bernstein and Peter Gould, “We want to invite you to direct a Season 6 episode.” They didn’t know which one, and I just screamed. Good things come to those who wait. Through their conversations, they thought 606 would be the best connection to my personality.
What elements of the episode matched your personality?
My particular episode contains some edgy violence. I haven’t made many violent films; my films are more intellectual, more about social consciousness. I think they wanted to give me the chance to shoot a very delicate scene that took place in Germany with Lalo Salamanca and Casper. I think that may have been part of it. It was also a very complex episode in its planning of what Kim and Jimmy were going to do, how they were going to implement this whole plan on Howard. Still, there have been times with Howard’s story, which is very beautiful, that could have a certain sweetness and desire for Howard and his wife to get back together, and that’s not really happening. I think everyone knew that I had been through a marriage and had become very close to my ex-wife and had children, but we are not together. Maybe they turned to the sensitive side of me to direct some of this. No one knows I had that side, so don’t tell anyone.
Where did you shoot the Lalo scene in Germany? The show is normally in Albuquerque, how did you give this neighborhood a new look?
Our wonderful set designer has found an old barn in the Albuquerque Valley. I went to the studio where they had an old set of something else. They said you could shape the inside here and the outside there. We ended up going to the barn, a 90 year old woman owned it in the valley. It had the lovely feel of what would be inside a German barn. It was a stable, and we wanted it to be a barn that looked like it had Casper’s machines – he’s an engineer. There was already hay; it was the perfect interior.
The outside was across from Sandia, NM It really looks like Germany. But we didn’t have enough greenery; it was not the time of the season. I said, “Can we just get somebody here every day with a tanker truck and water? Every day for the next two weeks before you need to turn, just soak the soil. We brought in people from the greens and planted additional trees. It worked seamlessly thanks to the creativity of so many great artists.
Kim turning around at the very end is a perfect symbol of her choosing the Sandpiper scam over her own career. Is this the turning point for Kim?
It’s a heartbreaking moment for me in this episode, and I wanted it to reflect a very important decision in Kim’s life and her life with Jimmy. She has this opportunity that she has wanted all her career; she will walk in this room and get there. Make him make this decision, is it for love or is it the excitement of the scam? Either way, this U-turn is a perfect analogy for that. It’s a half-turn in his life.
She’s going to Santa Fe, and she has to come back to Albuquerque. We had this one route, and we wanted it to feel closer to its destination than its starting area. It was difficult to know which mountains to use. We found the right route, and it was perfect because there were two lanes on either side with a split, where we could actually do the stunt. We had a happy accident where we went a bit too far beyond our cone route. There were clouds forming in the passenger window as we see Kim from the driver’s side just as she hangs up the phone and makes this decision. We probably got it all in one or two takes, maybe one and a half. It was enough to create this moment of unhappiness in his psyche.
There aren’t many flashbacks used in the show, but they’re always very intentional. What does this openness with young Kim and her mother portend for her future?
We all have moments that we remember with our parents. We remember how it affected us negatively or positively. This moment for me is a reflection of Kim’s whole life and what she is really becoming. I inherently believe that Kim is a good person and probably has deeper legal skills than Jimmy. And yet she falls in love with the other life; how long, we don’t know.
In this scene you see links throughout the episode if you look closely. Earrings are important because Kim basically wears the same earrings all her life. You see them again in the vet’s office; if you notice, it’s the same earrings. They meant something to her. She needed the slap on the wrist, “No, we don’t.” But it was all just an act. She was probably content to be scolded by her mother for doing something wrong, needed that parental guidance, and then is blown away when her mother comes out and says, “Look what I have for you.” It was all a ruse. It’s heartbreaking. I think it breaks her in a way related to the decision she makes at the end of the episode.