Before we get into the review of Season 5 of Better Call Saul, I want to get a couple of other things off my chest.
Watching this series has made me want to watch Breaking Bad again. Maybe not right away, but soon. Every so often, I forget how much I loved that wicked-smart series about Walter White and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman. Then this show reminds me. So does watching Aaron Paul in Season 3 of Westworld, by the way. I realize now that Breaking Bad is destined to become one of those series that I’ve watched multiple times, like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. When I start my rewatch, I’m going to do it up right, giving the series a serious dissection while treating all minutiae with a near-academic, near-religious reverence. This is the Way of the Nerd, and I’m already getting a perverse thrill as I’m looking forward to it.
One day, I’ll probably do the same with this series. It’s that good.
The other thing I wanted to mention was that this was the penultimate season of Better Call Saul. Season 6 has already been announced as a 13-episode final season. The story will be allowed to reach its conclusion. I’m assuming this means the show will have caught up with the beginning of Breaking Bad, since this was a prequel series. Time will tell. I have mixed emotions. I’m saddened by the fact that the series is ending, but I’m happy that it has earned the right to reach a natural conclusion and a real finale.
When I rewatch Breaking Bad, my opinion of Saul Goodman will be affected by watching the prequel. Of that, I have no doubt.
Just as Breaking Bad was about the fall of Walter White as he transformed from respected chemistry teacher to villainous drug kingpin, Better Call Saul is about the transformation of Jimmy McGill into the lawyer Saul Goodman. I’m not sure if it’s a rise or a fall, however. Jimmy was a two-bit con artist. Saul is a lawyer, who still finds time to be a con artist. Like its predecessor, however, it is apparent that this series is a tragedy. We know through flashforwards that Jimmy/Saul ends up managing a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska, using the alias Gene Takavic, following the events of Saul and Bad. He is alive, at least up to that point. That’s no surprise since we already knew he was around when Walter White was cooking up his blue meth. The real question on the viewer’s mind is this: What happens to Kim Wexler? Maybe that’s the tragedy part.
Season 5 is about—Big Picture—Jimmy McGill’s metamorphosis into Saul Goodman. Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) rebounds from the year-long suspension of his license, motivated to become a success. By the end of the season, he’s not quite yet the shady strip mall lawyer we know from Breaking Bad, but he’s on his way.
I’m not going to ruin everything in the season for you. It’s worth watching, so I’ll let you find out what happens for yourself.
Saul Goodman is the main character, of course. But, I doubt that, even with the masterful performance of Odenkirk, the character would be as compelling if not for the tremendous cast of characters around him. Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is his love interest, and their relationship continues to grow in this season. I always thought Kim was what kept James McGill from going full-bore Slippin’ Jimmy in the past. In this season, it seems that Kim is going through a metamorphosis of her own. We’ve seen glimpses of her bad-girl side before, but there are indications that we’ll see even more of it in the final season. Since we never see her in Breaking Bad, the “What happens to Kim Wexler?” question remains a valid one at the end of this season as well.
Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) is another recurring character. Following the death of Saul’s brother Chuck, Howard is the sole managing partner of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. Howard actually tries to coax Saul Goodman to join HHM this season, which seems to help him commit to his alternate path.
Much of the world of this series could be rendered as two circles on a Venn diagram, with some overlap.
One circle is the lawyer world of Saul Goodman, which includes Kim Wexler, Howard Hamlin, Kim’s boss Rich Schweikart (Dennis Boutsikaris) of the Schweikart & Cokely law firm, all the folks at Mesa Verde Bank, which is Kim’s biggest client. Several of our subplots take place in this circle.
The other circle is the one dominated by Juarez Cartel business. This circle contains another interesting group of characters. Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) is a familiar character to fans of Breaking Bad, as is his hired enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) is a mid-level enforcer for the Salamanca drug ring, but as he is forced to become a double agent for Gus he becomes an increasingly interesting character. The Canadian-born Mando does more acting with his face and eyes than with dialogue. Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) initially came across as a loud, fast-talking example of criminal world nepotism. Throughout this season, I’ve begun to understand that he is, in many ways, the opposite side of the coin from Nacho. Whereas Nacho’s stoic demeanor tends to conceal his inner strength and ability, Lalo’s more raucous nature and grinning, seemingly oblivious personality accomplishes the same. Lalo is more scarily competent that either I or the other characters gave him credit for. As their story arc continued towards the season finale, I expected some sort of showdown between Nacho and Lalo. I wasn’t disappointed.
Saul Goodman, of course, is at the intersection of the circles on the Venn diagram, with a foot in both worlds. This duality is embodied in the character himself.
While the pace of some of the episodes seems languid, there’s a lot of story packed into these ten episodes. The season doesn’t really end on a cliffhanger. We know the status of all of our characters at the conclusion of the finale. What it does set up, rather effectively, are the potential storylines for our final season. We know that Saul, Gus and Mike go on to be in Breaking Bad. Unless this is an alternate history story (which would really be a surprise—as well as a disappointment), those characters will survive the final season. The fate of the rest of the characters remains up in the air.
Firewater’s Saul-Goodman-Speedy-Justice-for-You Report Card: A
This is still one of the best shows on television. Do yourself a favor: Watch it.