Howard Hamlin's Biggest Mistake Ever In Better Call Saul

This article contains spoilers for Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 7, "Plan and Execution."

"Better Call Saul" has been hailed as perhaps the greatest crime show of all time, and a worthwhile successor to "Breaking Bad." While the pseudonymous crooked lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) was played for comic relief on the original show, "Better Call Saul" takes us deep into his past, unraveling a lifetime of choices that molded James McGill from a well-meaning lawyer into the show's titular crook who will do anything for a quick profit.

Much of "Better Call Saul" revolves around the goings-on at Hamlin, Hamlin, McGill, the law firm owned by Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) and Jimmy's older brother, Chuck McGill (Michael McKean). The McGill brothers have a bitter rivalry, and Howard is positioned as a minor antagonist who favors Chuck when caught between the two. While Howard comes off as a condescending jerk in early seasons of the show, he is slowly revealed to be a fundamentally kind and upstanding person who, like everyone else, is doing his best with the options he has. Some fans even think Howard is the real hero of the show. Fabian himself says the character "is acting in the best interest of not only his firm and himself, but also in the best interests of Jimmy and Kim."

Ultimately, that moral backbone becomes the seed of Howard's undoing. Taking the high road may be the right choice, but it leaves him vulnerable to a pair of scoundrels for whom the low road is their preferred route and whose descent into the world of cartel crime was something even the brilliant legal mind of Howard Hamlin never saw coming.

Trying to be straightforward with Jimmy and Kim was Howard's fatal mistake

For all his pompous suits and well-combed posturing as a shark of a lawyer, Howard Hamlin was always a fundamentally decent guy, deep down. It's that sense of gentlemanliness that would ultimately be his fatal mistake. In Season 6 of "Better Call Saul," Jimmy and Kim execute a dastardly trick to ruin Howard's career, framing him as a drug addict and manipulating him into mismanaging a major class action suit. They justify their actions by convincing themselves Howard has it coming, but it's clear that by this point in the series, they have completely abandoned all sense of morality. In one particularly disturbing scene, when their plan succeeds and Howard is publicly disgraced, Jimmy and Kim become aroused and make love while the live audio plays.

Howard, for his part, catches onto Kim and Jimmy's scheme before the net has closed around him. Rather than sink to Jimmy's level, he entices his fellow lawyer to a boxing gym and tells him that, whatever has come between them, they should settle it in the ring. A more honorable person might have seen it as a good faith gesture from a man who just wants to put their differences in the past. But Jimmy is undeterred and finishes out his plan with Kim.

Finally, after losing his reputation, Howard comes calling to Jimmy and Kim's apartment with a bottle of scotch in hand. He bares his heart to his tormentors, asking them, "Why go through this elaborate plot just to burn me to the ground?" Even in his lowest estimation of his former friends, Howard has no idea just how low they've truly sunk.

Howard had plenty of common decency, but could have used more common sense

Even after they've shown him how rotten they are in unambiguous terms, Howard can't resist the notion that he may still find some common ground with Jimmy and Kim, or at least extract an apology from them. He even reveals his most personal secrets to them, explaining that his marriage is on the rocks and his wife will probably leave him now that he's been so publicly disgraced.

It is at that moment Jimmy and Kim's past catches up with them, claiming Howard as collateral damage. Lalo Salamanca, the cartel boss with whom Jimmy became embroiled in Season 5, has escaped the attempt on his life ordered by Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) at the end of that season, and he spends the first half of Season 6 finding his way back to Albuquerque to exact revenge. As Howard bares his soul to Jimmy and Kim, Lalo walks through the door, but even though the two grifters are shaking in their boots, Howard doesn't see him at first. Lalo says he wants to talk, and then calmly shoots Howard in the head, killing him on the spot. It's a shocking loss that takes the cake, even in a series full of unexpected deaths.

There was a time when Jimmy McGill believed in improving himself, but that time has long passed. Now, he and Kim are in it for the sheer hedonic pleasure of getting one over on their victims. If Howard had simply understood that some people want to be bad and have no interest in being saved, he might have saved himself a trip to the Wexler-McGill apartment and, by proxy, saved his own life. In the world of "Better Call Saul," common decency is an important quality to have, but common sense is what keeps you alive.