Better Call Saul 5.1: “Magic Man” Review

NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Better Call Saul” are present in this review



We’ve had to wait an extra long time for a new season of Better Call Saul, considering that the series took an extra year off the air, sitting out 2019 entirely. Fortunately, Netflix delivered their own addition to the Breaking Bad universe in the meantime, with the excellent El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie premiering on the streaming platform last October, and now that it’s 2020, we can finally check back in with everyone’s favourite criminal lawyer. “Magic Man” certainly kicks off Better Call Saul’s fifth season on a riveting note too, with Jimmy fully embracing the identity of Saul Goodman in his legal profession at long last, while Mike continues to try and escape Fring’s growing influence over his professional affairs.

As per tradition, Season Five of Better Call Saul also begins with yet another flash-forward to Jimmy’s post-Breaking Bad future, with ‘Gene’ becoming panicked and paranoid after former events, which is made worse when a cab driver recognizes him at the mall. Jimmy/Saul/Gene then tries to place a call to Ed Galbraith, giving us another last chance to enjoy the late Robert Forster in the role, only to change his mind about disappearing again, and deciding to handle whatever is going on himself. This is quite a lengthy flash-forward that, like many of the previous season-opening flash-forwards, doesn’t move Jimmy’s character leaps and bounds forward, but it does have a worthy payoff, even if we’ll possibly be waiting until the show’s upcoming sixth and final season to see how Jimmy plans to handle his present issues.

Back during Better Call Saul’s proper prequel timeline, Jimmy has proudly embraced his new legal moniker of ‘Saul Goodman’, as I mentioned. After completing the paperwork, Jimmy declares to Kim that he can work his way up with his low-class cellphone client base, believing that they’ll be more eager to call someone who has already helped them out n the past. This is a very interesting way to frame the origin of Saul Goodman’s criminal lawyer leanings, since Jimmy once again appears to have legitimately meant well here, in his own twisted, opportunistic way. Kim’s concerns are also very valid however, and she’s once again left to try and work around Jimmy’s latest disregard for the conventions of law and society.

Admittedly, Kim didn’t have a ton to do in this season premiere, but she did nicely round off Jimmy’s arc, by continuing to be that last tether to a more honest living that we know Jimmy is doomed to reject. After handing out free cellphones, which are pre-programmed for his attorney number, and attracting a huge amount of would-be customers, Jimmy then continues his aggressive promotion for his new legal practice, lying about high-profile cases, and eventually, pretending to be a D.A. representative for Kim, who is having difficulty convincing a client not to go trial. Eventually, Kim yet again capitulates to Jimmy’s charismatic deception to boot, corroborating Jimmy’s lie, and successfully convincing her client to take a plea deal, and avoid a trial. This allows the episode to end on Kim angrily expressing frustration in a stairwell, yet again being incapable of escaping Jimmy’s ends-justify-the-means mentality, which seems to currently be working a lot better than following the letter of the law, like a professional.

Naturally, this week’s season premiere was also heavy on the criminal storylines, to start laying the groundwork for the many criminal plots that Season Five is no doubt set to feature. This begins with Lalo making himself comfortable as Nacho’s new business overseer, first to confirm some allegedly inferior drugs that are being peddled by Fring’s people. This has Lalo, and the Salamanca cartel, almost learning of Fring’s plans to build the superlab that will eventually be featured on Breaking Bad, but Fring manages to tell a convincing cover story, exploiting Werner’s death, and claiming that he was killed for making off with stolen product. Lalo’s suspicions don’t currently go anywhere, but Nacho being under Lalo’s thumb creates an interesting, yet oddly familiar new status quo for Nacho’s character, who is yet again struggling under the thumb of a Salamanca thug, one who will likely elevate tensions with Fring in the long-term.

Speaking of tensions with Fring, Mike also featured in this episode, naturally, though he was the one character that didn’t quite keep pace with the other compelling story arcs in this season premiere. The material with Mike paying off and dismissing Werner’s construction crew, and receiving their judgment over the example that Mike had to make of Werner, is all great stuff, and plays well off of one of the most shocking and heartbreaking turns that Season Four concluded Mike’s arc on. The problem with Mike’s subplot however is that it’s yet again anchored around Mike resisting the inevitable, refusing Fring’s retainer, and trying to get out of Fring’s business, which Breaking Bad fans already know is never going to stick. Thus, it’s a waste of time to have Mike continue to go in circles from a narrative standpoint, leaving his interactions with Fring as doing nothing more but reinforcing what we already know, both through this show’s lens, and the original show’s lens.

That being said, “Magic Man” still kicks off the fifth season of Better Call Saul on a sublime note, with the series not displaying any ring rust at all, following its extra year off the air. The dynamic between Jimmy and Kim continues to be effortlessly compelling, and the new batch of criminal story arcs for this season appear to be equally promising. Mike and Fring arguing a losing battle continues to be the one instance of Better Call Saul suffering ‘prequel syndrome’, since we know that Mike will ultimately end up on Fring’s payroll one way or another, but that’s ultimately a minor blemish against what appears to be the beginnings of another winning season for Better Call Saul. Granted, Season Five just started, but this show isn’t generally of the habit of disappointing with its slow burn storytelling. With Saul Goodman’s law practice now being open as well, that burn may be about to become a bit more of a true sizzle this season too.

Better Call Saul finally returns for its fifth season premiere after a lengthy hiatus, once again setting the stage for a very promising season, with sublime character arcs all around.
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Jimmy's immediate exploitation of his 'Saul Goodman' identity
Lalo's first steps with Nacho and Fring
Mike's in-depth dismissal of Werner's crew
Mike and Fring continuing to pointlessly argue