better call saul season 5 review

The tragedy of Better Call Saul is that we know it is a tragedy. Call it fate, or destiny, but we know that sooner or later (and in this case, sooner), Jimmy McGill will go all the way to the dark side and become Saul Goodman. The same Saul Goodman we met in Breaking Bad – a sleazy, shady, unlikable lawyer willing to bend or break the law if need be, consequences be damned.

Over the course of four seasons, Better Call Saul has made this inevitability all the more heartbreaking by showing us that deep down, Jimmy McGill isn’t such a bad guy. In fact, he could’ve been a really good guy – if only he hadn’t made some bad choices. Now, as Better Call Saul enters its penultimate season, Jimmy is in full-blown Saul mode. Which means it’s only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down.

Better Call Saul season 5 picks up right where season 4 left off, with Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk, continuing to turn in fine-tuned performances that balance darkness and light), finally being allowed to practice law again, and bustling off to change his name to Saul Goodman. The move was played as a dark beat at the end of the final season, leaving Jimmy’s girlfriend and increasingly flustered sole supporter Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) looking both perplexed and even a little frightened. Here, in the opening moments of season 5, the show – or really, Jimmy – tries to walk that back a bit. Kim is still put-off by Jimmy’s plan to start using a new name to practice law, but Jimmy – being Jimmy – finds an almost sweet way of convincing her it’s not a big deal. “If I’m moving too fast on this just let me know,” he says, giving her sad puppy eyes. Kim – being Kim – can’t resist, and gives in.

Kim remains the most fascinating character of the series. Her proximity to Jimmy means she’s forced to go through his insane ups and downs right alongside him, and that creates a dilemma: How do you have Kim stick with Jimmy without having her seem like a complete push-over? It’s to the credit of the show’s writers, and Seehorn’s consistently brilliant performance, that Kim never seems like a sucker. Is she being sucked? Oh, of course she is. And Seehorn has a way of silently playing things so you can tell Kim sort of knows she’s being conned, but doesn’t quite want to believe it.

At the same time, there’s a part of Kim that gets off on Jimmy’s antics. When Saul started, Kim seemed like something of Jimmy’s conscience. But as the series progressed, we learned she had a bit of a wild side herself. Not as wild as Jimmy, of course – but it was there all the same. She gets a certain thrill out of watching Jimmy con people so easily, and she’s even good at doing a little con artistry herself from time to time. Despite all this, season 5 finds Kim nearing a breaking point. Jimmy’s decision to change his name seems to have tipped things over the edge, and while she’s still clearly fond of the man – and also not above using his not-so-ethical skills to her career advantage – Kim looks at Jimmy much differently now. Jimmy notices it, too, and keeps trying to lay on the charm. But how long can the two of them keep this up?

The first four episodes of Better Call Saul season 5 find Jimmy comfortably adapting into Saul Goodman mode. He slides on his eyesore suits, sets up shop in a carnival tent, and starts pressing the flesh to draw in the lowest of the low in terms of clientele. These scenes are likely what many imagined Better Call Saul would start off with it in season 1. The fact that it took five seasons to get here is a testament to the long-game the series has been playing – drawing us into Jimmy’s life and making us root for him, even though we know he’s inevitably doomed.

Season 4 had a little trouble connecting Jimmy’s actions to those of Nacho Varga (Michael Mando), a drug dealer for the Salamanca family who also happens to secretly be working with Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Season 5 eventually gets around to rectifying this, drawing Jimmy into a scheme that involves Eduardo “Lalo” Salamanca (Tony Dalton), a thorn in the side of both Nacho and Gus. All of this tangentially involves Mike (Jonathan Banks), another character who has almost lost all connections to Jimmy. Mike and Jimmy don’t reunite for the first four episodes of season 5, but the season does send Mike down a darker path.

He’s a much more haunted man now, having had to kill German engineer Werner Ziegler at the end of season 4. Mike has killed people before, but never like this – and the act has hollowed him out, and sent him back towards the bottle. Mike’s emotional fragility is underscored with a painful scene where he snaps at his granddaughter – a person he’s always had nothing but kindness for in the past. Banks, with his grumbly voice and hang-dog expression, continues to do marvelous work, saying so much by saying so little. Still, one can’t help wonder when (and if) he’s going to cross paths with Jimmy again.

What a wonder this show is. The world of TV will be worse off when it’s gone. With next season already established to be the last, Better Call Saul is catching up to Breaking Bad faster than ever before. Some familiar Bad faces pop-up (I won’t tell you who, even though you probably know by now), and yet the brilliance of this show is that nothing seems entirely inevitable. Yes, we know this is a tragedy. Yes, we sort of know where the story is going. But Better Call Saul continues to keep us guessing while keeping us on the edge of our seats. We hope things will turn out for the best, even though we know that’s no longer possible.

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Better Call Saul premieres February 23, 2020.

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