With AMC’s “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul” set to air its sixth and final season later this year, we’re looking back at the first five seasons of Vince Gilligan’s second masterpiece series over five Thursdays. Next up is Season 5 (2020):
The simple charms of Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) running their Viktor-and-Giselle scams on arrogant bargoers gives way to the other side of the moral divide in “Better Call Saul” Season 5. It’s as gripping and propulsive as the previous seasons, but a viewer is asked to question whether Jimmy, Kim and Mike (Jonathan Banks) are still good people. This is intentional, not bad writing. That said, the slightest ding in “BCS’s” armor as one of TV’s best-written series appears.
Kim, who has occasionally been game for the small-time cons, actually becomes more gung-ho than Jimmy for big scams by the end of Season 5. And, even though I love Seehorn in the role (she and Jimmy are the cutest couple on TV, hands down), I don’t quite believe it. She targets Mesa Verde head Kevin (Rex Linn) before backing off at the last second and later cooks up a plan to target her former HHM boss Howard (Patrick Fabian).
These people are cogs in the corporate-legal complex she doesn’t like – indeed, she quits Schweikart & Cokely to focus on pro bono work (Kim and Jimmy quit an awful lot of jobs for successful people) – but neither are evil. Indeed, “BCS” points out from the outset that Everett Acker (Barry Corbin) – who refuses to leave his house on land leased from Mesa Verde – is bound by a fair and legal contract that says Mesa Verde can buy out the lease for the market value of his home plus $5K (which MV ups to $18K to be nice).
For the most part, Kevin and Howard have treated Kim well and she can quit at any time to get away from them (she has already done so at HHM). To target them is wrong, and does not help anyone. As a viewer, I don’t understand or believe Kim’s turn. Granted, Jimmy doesn’t either, and we’ll find out more in Season 6, perhaps with more flashbacks to Kim’s youth. (We get one brief glimpse this season.)
In a season that includes two awesome guest turns (Dean Norris’ Hank and Steven Michael Quezada’s Gomey from “Breaking Bad”), it’s actually Tony Dalton who steals scenes as Lalo Salamanca. He’s that type of villain who is mostly charming — and it’s clearly an act but you really want to believe it — but occasionally outright terrifying. Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), in prison until his “BrBa” return, is similar, but Tuco is crazy. Lalo has all his wits about him.
For a while now, “BCS” has gotten mileage from building up our expectations about standard scenes: For example, when the Salamancas collect the street drug money at their restaurant and a dealer comes up short, we fret over what they’ll do to the guy. And Season 5 does coast by on expectations for a while.
But it does unquestionably deliver an event that makes Jimmy – now Saul Goodman, professionally – question his position. He’s ambushed while ferrying $7 million in bail money to Lalo and would be killed except that Mike rescues him. Then they barely survive a desert slog where Jimmy has to drink his own pee (out of a Davis & Main water bottle, but this is such harrowing stuff that we can’t even laugh).
The repercussions for Jimmy’s position on the moral line are clear: He has helped Lalo, a murderer, and added further pain to the family of Lalo’s victim. Even though he’s forced into it, it doesn’t sit well with him. Meanwhile, Mike has decided to “play the cards I’m dealt.” While his epiphany happens without a big moment, it fits: He’s a guy who thinks his way to conclusions rather than being jarred into them.
Another ding in Season 5’s storytelling logic relates to Jimmy’s ambush on the desert road (by Colombian hitmen hired by an outside cartel, as far as we know). Jimmy can’t tell Lalo about the ambush (he claims car trouble and nothing else) because then Lalo will know Jimmy knows Mike and then will assume Jimmy knows Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), the Salamancas’ rival.
To me, the secret isn’t enough to be worth incurring Lalo’s enmity. So a key conflict of Season 5 hangs on something that’s a little forced – a rare misstep by this great series. Another oddity is that Jimmy earns $100K in drug money, yet he and Kim don’t talk about what they will do with it. As they fantasize about getting $2M if the Sandpiper case is settled, they forget they have $100K in hand.
I wouldn’t bring up these quibbles if it was any other show, but I’ve had almost no missteps to write about in my “BCS” flashback series to this point, so I can’t help it. The writers have earned enough of the benefit of the doubt that I suspect Kim’s arc and the Salamanca-Fring feud will pay off in the conclusive 13-episode season.
But just the same, I feel things could go in any number of directions as it resolves as many as three points on the timeline: the end of the narrative that hooks up with “BrBa,” more details about Jimmy’s relocation at the end of “BrBa,” and the future-set black-and-white story (a snippet of which has kicked off each season) where Jimmy (going by Gene) has his identity blown in Omaha. One thing is clear: “Better Call Saul” has grown far beyond a mere link-up prequel to “Breaking Bad.”
IMDb TOP 250 TRIVIA
- “Bad Choice Road” (9), which features that intense Jimmy-Kim-Lalo-Mike confrontation that I found slightly unearned because of its confusing genesis, is voters’ favorite episode of the season (and the whole series up to this point), rating a 9.8. So maybe I’m wrong about all that.