“Better Call Saul” and the Chameleon Importance of Being Lalo Salamanca: Ce mal voyage

Eduardo “Lalo” Salamanca presents himself as a gentleman with a sweet smile that betrays little. The “Better Call Saul” villain, played by Tony Dalton, doesn’t raise his voice, and when he speaks, he imbues his words with melodic joy. The first time we meet him, which happens late in the fourth season, he cooks while singing along to the radio. When one of the Salamanca cartel’s top men in Albuquerque walks in to talk to him, Lalo offers him a plate.

“Never in your life have you tasted something so delicious, it’s true. Wait…” Lalo pours out in Spanish, dances around the stove like a happy gourmet on a plate of his creation.

Then he presents it to his man with what could be either an invitation or a threat: “You are going to die.

He talks about the flavor but, this being “Better Call Saul”, he also makes a promise. The man he’s flirting with is Nacho (Michael Mando) which, intentionally or not, makes this exchange a bit prescient. This marks their first meeting, and it is quickly followed by a visit to the crippled Don Hector, Lalo’s uncle, whom Lalo cheers by reminiscing with him about a cherished time. tio tortured a hotelier to death.

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Then Hector’s nephew presents him with a memory of this crime that solidifies Lalo forever in the universe of “Saul” and “Breaking Bad”: the reception bell.

We haven’t seen much of Lalo in the first half of this final season of “Better Call Saul,” but now that he’s resurfaced, the show’s writers and Dalton are reminding us of this character’s pivotal role in the movie. examining corruption through history. They cement in the viewer the truth that Lalo’s charm and diplomacy are the traits that make him uniquely terrifying and dangerous. He’s a man who can take down two armed human traffickers without much fuss, but he’ll also politely return the money the men took from the people they were going to smuggle with a sweet offer of ” be careful” before leaving.

Lalo’s charm and diplomacy are the traits that make him uniquely terrifying and dangerous.

Lalo seems to be the most reasonable of the Salamancas. Nothing like Tuco, the madman who scared Walter White and broke someone’s leg if they looked at him the wrong way. Not like the Cousins, Leonel and Marco, the heartless assassins who make offerings to a dark deity before silently hunting their prey. Dalton makes Lalo civil and sociable, the kind of man you’d do well to invite into your home under the right circumstances. That’s the scariest part of him.

But the fifth and sixth episodes of the final season demonstrate another aspect of Lalo’s anxiety-inducing horror that we may not have considered before, which is that he’s a Mexican who looks more European than native. He’s white, in other words, and that gives his brand a sinister global access that his nemesis Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) doesn’t enjoy so easily.

Dalton’s performance doesn’t specifically lean into this in its portrayal. Instead, the writers drop a few clues into the script in scenes where the Salamancas belittle Gus, especially when the latter overbooks and shows off the criminal organization’s legacy team. Along with that, the actor capitalizes on the extra weight that his suave friendliness lends to his character.

Gus and Lalo are two sides of the same coin. The pair have built an underground network to meet their needs: Gus’ front involves thousands of chickens at a farm outside of town that appears to supply his chicken restaurants, Los Pollos Hermanos.

Lalo’s involves a network of regular devotees south of the border supported by the Salamancas, as seen at the end of the fifth season and the opening of this sixth. After surviving an assassination, Lalo stumbles into the desert to find one of the families he’s caring for.

Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca in “Better Call Saul” (Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)Unfortunately for them, the man also looks like Lalo. . . which means that they too have always been cattle. Gus fry the poultry; Lalo burns the humans. The world must think he’s dead. These two fulfill this purpose by substituting for the bodies.

Gus is far more elegant and well mannered than Lalo because he has to be. His sophistication and local philanthropy mask his criminal enterprises. He must also behave above reproach in the community and towards his cartel boss in order to survive. While Lalo can just be as he is and adapt to a few small tweaks, that’s how Dalton delicately nuances his psychopath.

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When Lalo first appears since the series premiere in the fifth episode, “Black and Blue”, he is in a bar in Germany, dressed in the costume of a handsome American who is making his way in the company of a woman named Margarethe. Lalo is sweet and kind, and she considers it a coincidence that he is from the same town where her husband died.

But chance does not exist in Lalo’s world – she knows that her husband, Werner Ziegler, was secretly hired by Gus, but never had proof of the reason or why.

This Lalo is charming, empathetic and a bit melancholic. He earns her trust with his wit and intellect and makes us hold our breath in awe when it seems like she might invite him over to her house for a nightcap, or something more.

Because we know he’s capable of one more bloody sight. We have seen the evidence. That’s why he pisses us off more when he breaks into her house the next day while she’s at work and almost gets caught there when she retreats. It’s a relief that he doesn’t ruin the fantasy he created the night before, choosing to climb out a window instead of waiting to kill her, as he easily could have done.

The tension between Lalo and Gus has always been about competing intellects.

Lalo is more than a survivor, you see. He is also a butcher. In Margarethe’s house, he finds a way to find the men who worked with Werner on Gus’ mysterious construction. In the sixth episode, “Axe and Grind”, he finds one named Casper (Stefan Kapičić), one of Werner’s former employees, calmly walking on his property with the same friendly smile before chasing him through the woods.

“Axe and Grind” is the first episode directed by Esposito, giving the man who plays Gus Fring a chance to contribute to the legacy of his character’s nemesis. It adds an extra measure of precision to what we see, especially at the point where it looks like Lalo might meet his end by means of an axe.

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Casper and Lalo end up in a dimly lit shed where Lalo lets Casper think he’s got it on the ropes, hissing Margarethe’s name just to get him close enough to stab Casper and then cut off his leg – all a precursor to what’s to come. is sure to be an information-gathering torture fest. Even then, there are no cries; Lalo simply removes his belt and hands it to Casper. “Tie that up before you bleed to death,” he said. “You and I are going to have a talk.”

From the moment Lalo enters the scene, he is obsessed with defeating Gus.

The Salamancas and Gus are two sides of the cartel operation in New Mexico, the former providing the muscle and the latter facilitating the operational side of their drug dealing.

But the tension between Lalo and Gus has always been about competing intellects. Lalo always (correctly) suspected that Gus was sabotaging the Salamancas side of the operation and building something beyond the cartel’s reach; Gus suspected (correctly) that Lalo was onto him, which is why he tried to have him killed.

The failure of that mission means the threat of Lalo has haunted these final episodes, still felt but not seen, and the trip to Germany reminds us why Gus and his men, along with Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) are so nervous about his survival. His meeting with Margarethe proves that he can slip into any place and any conversation and gain people’s trust without being questioned.

“Axe and Grind,” the penultimate episode before “Better Call Saul” goes on its midseason hiatus, is notable for its glimpse into a formative episode in Kim Wexler’s life, where we learn why she is attracted to Jimmy and his squeaky ways.

This explains why she’s so willing to let go of an opportunity that would allow her to do legitimate philanthropic work in her field to help Jimmy pull off the scam he’s been running all season to take out his former boss and tormentor Howard Hamlin ( Patrick Fabien).

But Lalo’s exploits in Germany explain why Lalo is one of this universe’s most compelling characters, joining Nacho as the other “Better Call Saul” character who was mentioned but never seen in “Breaking Bad.”

For Walter White, it was a name. For us, and through Dalton, he’s the kind of demon we can’t look away from – one who wears the seductive skin of a seducer and lures us into a place of intimacy before slicing through our sense of security.

New episodes of “Better Call Saul” air at 9 p.m. Mondays on AMC.

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