[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Season 5 finale of Better Call Saul, "Something Unforgivable." Read at your own risk!]
Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) walked through fire -- or at least started one -- in order to be free of Lalo (Tony Dalton), and it backfired. In Better Call Saul's Season 5 finale, Nacho was trapped at the Salamancas' place in Mexico, forced to bend the knee to Don Eladio (Steven Bauer) while secretly acting as the inside man in Gus' (Giancarlo Esposito) plot to take out Lalo. But the attempted hit on Lalo went south when Nacho went to let Gus' men inside and found their target awake by the back gate. Setting a small fire in the kitchen bought Nacho just enough time to open the gate, let Gus' men onto the property, and get out alive -- but the night ended in a bloody massacre that left everyone else, except Lalo, dead.
It shouldn't be hard for the most charismatic Salamanca to figure out who betrayed him; he's already looking sideways at the drink he and Nacho shared. Wherever Nacho goes next, it's clear he's in trouble heading into the sixth and final season -- and actor Michael Mando is just as worried as the audience is. Mando doesn't know what the writers, who are currently working on Season 6 remotely, have in store for his character, a wild card whose fate in the Breaking Bad timeline remains unknown. But the actor is hopeful that by the time Better Call Saul wraps up, Nacho's long fight to get out of the cartel will be rewarded.
TV Guide caught up with Mando (who recently released his first single, "The Wild One," from his upcoming EP, written while the fifth season was shooting) to talk about what's next for Nacho. The actor also weighed in on why his character was so determined to open the gate, what could give him the upper hand in a showdown with Lalo, and what he thinks makes Nacho an iconoclastic character.
I'm worried about Nacho. What do you think he does next?
Michael Mando: Oh my God, I can't tell you how excited and scared I am for Season 6. I feel like it's gonna be the inevitable fates, you know? All trains are going to crash, everything is revealed and out in the open, there's nowhere to hide, there's no one to turn to. It's the scariest and most exciting moment in the story. And I don't know what's going to happen. But I really believe that this character is seeking the light with all his heart and all his might. I'm a person who believes in second chances, and I feel like it's a redemption story. So I'd like to see, at least metaphysically, that he is in a better place one way or another at the end of all this.
If he's going up against Lalo, what advantages do you think Nacho has?
Mando: Nacho is a guy who does not lead with his ego, and I think that's what has made him survive so long around the Salamancas... They're all very hot-headed and make emotional decisions, and Nacho is someone who doesn't make emotional decisions. He makes rational decisions, and he doesn't make decisions based on ego. He makes decisions based on outcome. And I think he has a very healthy ego -- he's able to not talk very much, and he doesn't have to be at the center of anything. He actually just really wants out.
Nacho tells Don Eladio in the finale that he doesn't want to have to look over his shoulder anymore. Does he still believe it's possible for him to live like that someday?
Mando: To me, Nacho is an iconoclastic character. He's the antithesis of Scarface. He's everything you expect in a cartel character, and then does everything that surprises you in that archetype... And I think it's like the story of Ulysses. He wants to go back home. Home is not so much a physical place, but it's a place of morality. He wants to go back home, he wants to go back to his father's love. He wants to go back to who he was as a child growing up. He was raised with very good values, and I think he was sort of blinded by the light, then got into the cartel for the wrong reasons, thinking he was just going to make money to be able to take care of his father. He would be somebody in the community, and people would look up to him. And he had this incredible wake-up call, realizing he wants nothing to do with this [cartel life]. So I hope he can make it out. I think it's an important story. I hope one way or another he can, and I think he believes it. He's a fighter. He's a warrior, and he's got faith that there's a way. And if there isn't, then he's going to die trying.
Mike (Jonathan Banks) has said that he doesn't think that fear is going to be an effective motivator for Nacho in the long term. Do you agree with that?
Mando: I do. You know, I think Nacho has been surrounded by sharks, surrounded by psychopaths and sociopaths. Almost everybody he's crossed, everybody in the Salamanca family and even Gus Fring, they have very sadistic ways of doing things. Except for Mike Ehrmantraut, I mean -- [Mike and Nacho are] maybe the only two characters with a kind of conscience, and that creates a lot of emotional and psychological calluses. And I think more and more [Nacho] is able to slow down his heart rate around these people and to control his fear. So I don't think fear is a motivator anymore.
When Nacho finds Lalo awake by the fire in the finale, I was thinking that maybe Nacho wouldn't open the gate. Maybe he would tell Gus' men that they need to find another way. Do you think that that ever entered Nacho's mind, or was he just determined to do what had to be done?
Mando: An important thing that I spoke to [co-showrunner] Peter [Gould] about [was that] Nacho wouldn't be OK with killing any innocents, and we agreed that Nacho has no idea that innocent people will die. However, I think he takes a leap of faith in Mike at that point. I think he believes Mike is somehow behind it. He has a certain penchant, a certain inclination towards Mike... And that's very important for Nacho going into Season 6: that he feels that this is a way to make Mike an ally and show him that he's reliable, and that he's more than holding his part of the bargain. As Mike said, he's done way more than what was expected of him.
I love that Mike is advocating for Nacho to Gus.
Mando: It's beautiful. The relationships are so tender between these characters. Peter Gould and the writers have created such a romantic character [in Nacho]. It's such a pretty character, and I just find him so heartwarming. The relationship he has with his father and with Mike, it's almost -- it's very feminine, you know? And I mean feminine in a good way. It's very healing... You know, there's masculine and feminine, Yin and Yang, and these characters are able to travel between those energies. It's really tender.
Were there any moments this season when you were worried that Nacho wouldn't make it out alive?
Mando: I was, yes. I was very worried. I was scared. I really don't know how they're going to conclude the story. You've got to deal with the girls [who live with Nacho]. You've got to deal with the money that he has. He's got to deal with his father. He's got to deal with getting out of the cartel. And now he's got to deal with whatever Don Eladio is going to want from him, whatever Gus is going to want from him. And most importantly, he's going to have to try to keep his father safe in all this. I mean, there are so many question marks here with Nacho. I can't wait for the next season.
Seasons 1-4 of Better Call Saul are available on Netflix.