How 'Better Call Saul' Turned Nacho Varga Into The Anti-Walter White
Better Call Saul just gave us perhaps the most thrilling, heartbreakingly tragic, TV scene of the year that in no way involves determining whether a common object is a cake or not. Nacho Varga (big-time SPOILERS ahead) is dead. In the climax of this week’s episode “Rock and Hard Place.” Nacho plays along with a scheme to shift the blame for Lalo’s apparent death away from Gus – but instead of letting the cartel gun him down as planned, Nacho frees himself with a piece of broken glass and takes his own life, thus ensuring his father’s future safety.
In retrospect, this fan-favorite character was, in a way, the show’s anti-Walter White. Nacho was already in the drug trade at the beginning of Better Call Saul, and gradually became a guy desperate to get out – pretty much the opposite trajectory of Walt in Breaking Bad. This episode also gave us Nacho’s tearful final phone call to his father – which feels like a direct callback to Walt’s conversation with his son, except for the fact that while theirs was cordial, Walt Jr. tells his dad to go to hell.
And how many times did Walt get dragged out to the desert with a gun to his head, only to weasel his way out, further endangering his wife and son? On the other hand, Nacho is willing to die when in the same predicament, purely to protect his family.
And while Walt was “the devil” according to Jesse Pinkman, in this episode Nacho is positioned as a kind of metaphorical Holy figure; the show begins with Nacho submerging himself in oil in order to hide from the Salamanca twins – which people have pointed out functions as a metaphorical Baptism. Also, when he holes up in that auto repair shop, in one shot he’s framed with a hubcap above his head, which arguably resembles a halo.
And not unlike nearly every Superman movie ever, Nacho becomes a very Christ-like character. Nacho, like Jesus, is tasked with making the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. He even gets a “last supper” first.
Then he’s bound, and (very nearly) tortured, but frees himself using a piece of broken glass, creating a stigmata-like wound.
Actor Michael Mando has pointed out there is some “symbolism” in the “patterns on Nacho's shirt.” Sure enough, it’s full of either subtle crucifixes or a bunch of lower case t’s.
And while we doubt that Nacho is going to spring back to life in a few days, high-five the Easter Bunny, and deliver chocolate to the people of Albuquerque, the opening shot of a blue flower blooming on the site of Nacho’s death could represent his spiritual rebirth.
Blue is also a color that has a lot of meaning in Breaking Bad, specifically in relation to Walt, who cooks blue meth and kicks the bucket to the sounds of Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” But while Walt dies alone in a filthy neo-Nazi drug lab, Better Call Saul gives Nacho tranquility, and even beauty, to his death, that few characters in this particular fictional universe are afforded – we’re looking at you, bathtub guy.
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Top Image: AMC