NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the fifth season of, “Better Call Saul” are present in this review
After sitting out 2019 entirely, Better Call Saul could thankfully return on schedule for the early months of 2020, ultimately being unaffected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down virtually all avenues of entertainment for the time being. That’s great news, since the series’ endpoint has now been established (specifically, the show’s upcoming sixth and final season), and that leaves this year’s fifth season to begin setting the stage for the final series of events that will turn Jimmy McGill into the, “Criminal lawyer” we know and love from Breaking Bad. By the end of this season, we’ve gotten a pretty potent glimpse as to how exactly Jimmy’s ultimate fall from grace will occur as well. For most of the season though, Jimmy is desperately trying and failing to cling to his last shreds of morality, as his new cartel client, and eventually his own girlfriend, appear to be calling him to the dark side.
Despite officially changing his legal identity to ‘Saul Goodman’ at the end of Better Call Saul’s previous fourth season in 2018, Jimmy currently wields the identity as an honest desire to help the downtrodden and the forsaken, who seemingly have no chance with New Mexico’s legal system. This is also a sharp reflection of Jimmy’s girlfriend, Kim Wexler’s mentality, who finds herself growing increasingly tired of Mesa Verde this season, and ultimately abandons them. Seeing Jimmy and Kim play off of each other’s brewing tragedy made for one of the best elements of Better Call Saul’s fifth season. Jimmy proves to be the spark that ignites Kim’s desire to leave Mesa Verde most notably, after a property dispute with a homeowner that Jimmy represents eventually motivates Kim to walk away from both Mesa Verde and Schweikart & Cokely forever. It’s an outwardly sweet, but inwardly damaged relationship dynamic that makes Jimmy and Kim a shady, subversive power couple, and this star-crossed relationship lost none of its magic over this past season.
Seeing Jimmy’s ridiculous, yet strangely clever legal manipulation more fully take shape in Season Five also proved to be a delight. Both Mesa Verde and Howard Hamlin ended up being separately victimized by Jimmy’s sabotage this season, two life preservers that Jimmy and Kim alike both eventually come to reject. As much as Jimmy throwing bowling balls into Howard’s yard, or sending prostitutes to accost him at a work lunch, is pretty hilarious in a way, it also highlights Jimmy’s own decreasing hold over reason and conventional success. Jimmy is actively determined to make Howard suffer after what happened to Chuck, and that came to an explosive head for the end of Season Five, setting Howard up as the ultimate mark of Jimmy’s and Kim’s climactic legal scheme, which is set to unfold during Better Call Saul’s sixth and final season, whenever that ultimately gets made and released.
Of course, it’s not just Jimmy’s self-made legal shenanigans that lead to trouble for the fledgling Saul Goodman during Better Call Saul’s fifth season. Jimmy also finds himself on a downward trajectory after having a big favour called in by the Salamanca cartel, namely defending and posting bail for Eduardo “Lalo” Salamanca, after a scheme by newly-re-introduced Breaking Bad DEA agent duo, Hank Schrader and Steve Gomez ends up getting Lalo pinched. This starts to bring context to the nonsense that Saul babbles after being kidnapped by Walt and Jesse early on during the events of Breaking Bad, talking about whether ‘Lalo’ sent them, and that what went wrong was the fault of ‘Nacho’. Obviously, Lalo and Nacho are two formerly unknown characters that have come into heavy focus during the events of Better Call Saul, and this would appear to indicate that Lalo and Nacho may somehow be getting involved with Jimmy’s and Kim’s scheme against Howard and the Sandpiper case next season.
As much as it’s disappointing that Hank and Steve don’t ultimately play a huge part this season (the latter half of the season especially appears to simply forget about them), it’s Mike that ends up being shafted most during Season Five’s early stretch. After becoming consumed with guilt and torment following having to execute Werner during the events of last season, Mike spends the entire front half of Better Call Saul’s fifth season in a drunken, directionless stupor. Mike eventually finds renewed purpose when he inevitably resigns himself to working for Gus Fring, who continues to try and outwit the growing designs of the Salamanca cartel, but Mike’s character simply takes up space in the early episodes of Season Five, creating an unwelcome callback to Better Call Saul’s weaker second season, which just didn’t seem to know what to do with Mike’s character. Mike’s Breaking Bad destiny is inevitable, after all, and when he rejects it on no real basis, it just ends up wasting the viewer’s time.
Once Mike does get with the program though, much of the latter portion behind Better Call Saul’s fifth season climbs to new heights of excitement. While penultimate episode, “Bad Choice Road” is a bit of a clunker in comparison, simply moving characters into predictable, drawn-out places for the season’s climax, this episode is at least book-ended by two of the season’s best episodes. It’s preceded by, “Bagman”, centering around an excellent, highly engaging trek through the desert with Jimmy and Mike after Lalo’s bail money pick-up goes wrong, before being followed by season finale, “Something Unforgivable”, which sees Nacho take his shot at Lalo and miss, priming Nacho’s own inevitably tragic fate to start unfolding next season. Nacho’s character didn’t make huge strides in Season Five, on that note, since he’s well and truly screwed at this point, simultaneously serving as a pawn for Fring and the Salamanca cartel alike. Nacho constantly being the wild card for both sides did provide its own entertainment value though, even if Nacho will likely meet his end next season, considering that he’s clearly not around during the events of Breaking Bad.
The events of Breaking Bad are more blatantly beginning to connect to Better Call Saul at this point as well, with Season Five successfully completing the ground work for this spin-off’s ultimate climax. Overall, despite the additional year’s wait, Season Five is another strong offering for AMC’s Breaking Bad spin-off/prequel, even if its second half is a bit more rewarding than its first half. Still, the show is very rapidly beginning to move its familiar personalities toward their incarnations in Breaking Bad, with the last of Jimmy’s goodwill and Mike’s freedom in particular beginning to crumble over the course of this season. Meanwhile, personalities specific to this spin-off, such as Kim, Howard, Lalo and Nacho, have their own tragic, yet compelling backstories achieve riveting new dimensions this season, setting these characters up for their own fatal turns before the events of Breaking Bad actually kick off, a few years after Better Call Saul’s current timeline.
Considering the production challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and AMC’s upcoming programming schedule being considerably stalled from them, we could be waiting as late as 2022 to see how Better Call Saul ultimately ends, depending on actor contracts and filming availability, among other issues. That prospect certainly stings, but it’s nonetheless good to see that Better Call Saul hasn’t lost its dramatic momentum in Season Five, even after the show already skipped a year between its fourth and fifth seasons. Some characters (Mike in particular) take a few episodes to properly hit their narrative stride, but everything does manage to come together exceptionally later in the season, priming each central character for the ultimate bad decisions that will make them criminals, ruined, or dead by the show’s conclusion. Worse still is that, for all their ambitions of getting out or getting even, Kim, Nacho and Howard are all but forgotten by the time Walter White gets his fatal cancer diagnosis, suggesting that a tragic, but potentially deserved fate won’t just come for them, but entirely erase them, rendering all of their designs just as inconsequential as the ‘great’ Heisenberg, when he failed to escape his own self-made ruin.
Better Call Saul's penultimate fifth season largely maintains the series' high dramatic momentum, while moving it much closer to the early foundation of Breaking Bad.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Jimmy and Kim inspiring and magnifying each other's growing moral bankruptcy
Many more Breaking Bad connections coming into play
Nacho sparking the next phase of war with Lalo
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Some characters, Mike especially, aren't put to great use early on