B6B: TV REVIEW: Better Call Saul – Season 5, Episodes 1 & 2

By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – February 24, 2020)

We’ve spoken before, you and I, here in these reviews that date all the way back to the series premiere of Better Call Saul, about the inherent disadvantage the series has in its audience knowing how it will end, at least to some extent. The last “real” scene of the prequel has to be Walter White meeting Saul Goodman for the first time, although you have to expect we’ll get a black and white look at “Gene” that might actually turn to color as the true conclusion is what happened to Jimmy McGill after the events in Albuquerque and while he’s attempting to hide and escape all that would otherwise be coming to him.

But, what Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan have done so well over the past four seasons is craft a backstory that shows a devolution in McGill, who has chosen to assume the identity of “Saul Goodman” because he doesn’t believe he can succeed if he’s doing the work honestly, and by “it,” I mean life. He made attempts to do things right, but he couldn’t stay out of his own way and could never win the approval or love of his deceased brother, Chuck, whose very existence in his life leads him to know he’ll always be known as “Chuck McGill’s loser brother” as long as he keeps his real name.

There’s not much upstanding about Saul, which is a concrete representation of Jimmy McGill’s opinion of himself. The tent setup in the shadiest spot he could find to try and attract the scum of the earth is fitting, because Saul IS the lawyer version of the scum of the earth, so why wouldn’t he feel right at home defending the largely indefensible? He has come to a point where he feels this is where he belongs, that polite and above board society shuns him and has no love for him.

And it’s that word, love, that is the crushing side effect he’s gradually seeing disintegrate in Kim Wexler, the lone force of good in his life. She’s the one that DOES believe in him and does think he has value, and indeed does care deeply for him, but as we get to the end of that first episode, we see it breaking down more than ever before. When she lies to her client after the blowup with Jimmy in the hallway, which was real, it leaves her short of breath in the stairwell. She can’t keep doing this. She may not know yet that McGill could be her downfall, but what she does know is she doesn’t have as much respect for Saul Goodman and thinks it’s a terrible mistake.

Which, well…she’s right.

However, his charm hasn’t entirely worn off on her, as shown during the impromptu open house visit to the “maybe someday” place where she turns the shower on him and upsets the realtor. Still, he went against her opinion on the discount, mainly her objection being it would entice lowlifes to commit crimes knowing the 50% savings would be in effect for his services. He doesn’t see it that way, or maybe looks the other way, but yet again, as we watch the two dopes (in more ways than one) break the gnome, vandalize private property, and go on a meth filled rampage, they know full well it’s Tuesday.

And they know what it means. Again, well…she’s right.

Lalo and Hector are bothering the heck out of Gus Fring, and he ceases construction on the superlab, knowing Lalo is a problem that needs to go away in order to avoid further complications. Thus, Nacho is forced to earn his trust, with Gus using Varga’s father as bait. It leads to the harrowing, Spider-Man move to get the junk out of the apartment, which he does, because he had to “find a way” relative to Lalo’s inner circle of trust. It works, to a point, as Lalo calls him a badass and begins to give him more authority in decision making. Bold move, but when family is dangled, you do what you have to do. And Gus is accurate in his thoughts that Lalo is smart and dangerous, and probably suspects he knows Fring lied to him about the Germans.

We know that’s exactly what Lalo thinks. The business side and the distrust involved, the betrayal and the power struggle…now that’s interesting. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. Now, we kind of know who wins this thing in the end, at least between these two, but it’s not an easy victory. Watching its infancy is offering much in context and would make a Breaking Bad rewatch even more rich and rewarding.

That said, the actual drug business at street level doesn’t interest me nearly as much as watching Saul Goodman in action, with the elevator scam as my favorite moment of the first two episodes. Suzanne Erickson had no idea what she was in for, ending up helping him successfully plea bargain 13 of his 16 common cases with her in a 20 minute span. He’s good at being bad. It’s why he’s successful as a shady attorney, but it’s also why he ends up paranoid in a Nebraska Cinnabon. He could have been one heck of an attorney, with street smarts and savvy, but he now knows his in, his specialty, is in climbing BENEATH his own loser clients and just sifting through that sewage better than anybody else.

Mike Ehrmantraut is spiraling in the wake of Werner’s death and his own guilt and shame. When his granddaughter asks about her dad, Mike finally explodes at her in a way he never has before. It’s because she asked about him being a great cop and doing things the right way. Though he’s not a bad guy, he’s caught in a bad thing, and though he tells Gus to stuff his retainer where the sun don’t shine, he’s by no means free and clear. He’s dirty and now he really has no out. You don’t just walk away from Fring.

In some respects, Mike and Jimmy are one in the same, except that one wants out and the other is learning to revel in the grossness of it all. Maybe Mike is more like Nacho or even Kim, trapped in a bad situation with no exit plan. She doesn’t want to leave, but one way or the other, she’s going to. I hope it isn’t because she’s killed, but nothing about Saul Goodman doesn’t scream tortured or miserable. The public persona is one thing. But he’s not a happy man.

He can’t even finish a tasty ice cream cone on a warm afternoon, because his past and his associations follow him everywhere he goes, both now and several years in his future. Nacho’s father is used to manipulate and control him. Might that foreshadow Kim Wexler’s fate? Also, why does Howard Hamlin want to have lunch with Saul? What’s it about? Is there a job that’s going to slip right through Jimmy’s fingers because Goodman has replaced McGill? That was almost a throwaway, because it was so brief, but something tells me it’s a big deal that is going to play into something massive in coming weeks.

Gus vs. Salamancas, Saul vs. Jimmy, Nacho caught, Kim trapped, Mike snared, and we’re just getting started. Everybody on this show is conflicted or confounded. While these weren’t the best Saul episodes to date, both were still excellent. This show is consistent in all its genres, with plenty of dark humor and even more corny stuff, uber suspenseful, and still an absolute master out of using silence and sparing dialogue to create dramatic effect. This is going to be the season where everything REALLY goes wrong for Jimmy McGoodman. I’m torn on what to call him, but I guess we’ll go with Saul, since that’s how he sees himself.

Even though we know the ending, or think we do, the walk to that conclusion continues to be one of television’s most compelling, thoughtfully and precisely executed experiences.