Like its predecessor, Better Call Saul is shaping up to tell its full story in 6 seasons, the 6th being the last that will eventually lead into the events of Breaking Bad. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that was mastermind Vince Gilligan’s plan all along. Every detail from specific sub-plots to the grander transformation of its titular character has been well mapped out and crucially crafted to make the transition as smooth as possible. After 4 seasons of being enamored with a one-time side character known as a criminal lawyer, emphasis on the criminal, Better Call Saul has surpassed any doubt that this prequel could even work.
Season after season, Gilligan and co-creator Peter Gould continue to prove us all wrong. There’s no denying Better Call Saul would be an experiment to watch closely like a hawk – any hint of a drop off in quality and the show wouldn’t be in the same conversation as its narrative sequel however, the best hands to craft Saul from clay into the sleazy lawyer with the cheap college project commercials would be Gillian and Gould. Any character that has appeared in their universe, whether they had a brief appearance, or a recurring supporting role could stand on their own two feet with a 6-season series culminating into the granddaddy of them all.
The end of season 4 saw Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) reinstated to practice law after his 1-year probation. Only, Jimmy no longer exists. Professionally, Saul Goodman is now in control under a p/k/a and the gimmick doesn’t go over a single head of Saul’s close colleagues. Former employer Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) scoffs at the change and mocks the motto that Saul got the name from. ‘It’s all good, man’ he laughs at and proceeds to extend help to Jimmy now that Chuck has been gone and his memory wiped from Jimmy’s existence.
Even writing this review, I don’t know which name to use– Jimmy or Saul, or both?
Anyone who has watched Breaking Bad once or multiple times can attest to this burrowing thought as the series progresses and gets closer to the simultaneous beginning and end. What happens to all of these characters, mostly Howard and Kim (Rhea Seehorn). Kim continues to be Jimmy’s moral compass, his true north and will do whatever he can for her – professionally and as a romantic partner. Some of the schemes Kim and Jimmy come up with, or at least Kim goes along with are intricate and dangerous and yet Kim continues to make her own decisions to go along with whatever Jimmy thinks up.
By season 5, Rhea and Bob’s chemistry is the glue that holds the show together which makes the prospect of what happens to Kim at the end of the series more anxiety inducing. Kim challenges Jimmy for his morally ambiguous decision making but rarely leaves his side. So, it has to be heartbreaking knowing the trajectory for Saul Goodman. Just when you think Jimmy crosses a line that there is no coming back from or forgiveness, There Kim is – accepting Jimmy for all his flaws.
In a way, we all accept Jimmy too. His professional name change comes with good spirit – “the last line of defense for those who cannot defend themselves”. For one it shows incredible growth for the character even with his Slippin’ Jimmy idealism pushing for ways to beat the system. Saul wants to help people but doing it his way. In a sense the most dangerous people in the Breaking Bad world is a sick man who will do anything to make sure his family is set up after he dies and a con artist with the knowledge and support of a Bar association at his disposal.
While the main plot Is on the correct course, Saul triumphs with its secondary plots. Making up the ensemble cast year over year consistently is Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Both Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Epositio bring seasoned performances to their well-established roles, making a strong case for best duo in each season. And though we may know their fates, getting to witness their returns and professional relationship blossom makes the journey that much more special. Opposite the Los Pollos Hermanos side of the coin is the Salamanca side, now led by a quiet storm named Lalo (Tony Dalton) and his number 2 Nacho (Michael Mando).
What is possibly the biggest accomplishment of Saul is Gilligan and Gould’s ability to bring back characters from Breaking Bad and utilize them in a way that doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Everyone who is brought back (and I won’t go into spoilers) has a purpose to the current state of the world. Whether it’s during the consistent black and white framed future of Gene Takavic or a scene that further pulls on the emotional heartstrings, Gilligan and Gould are in full control. For the diehard fans of Breaking Bad, seeing a familiar face is a welcomed sight and its handled with respect to that character.
I have previously described Saul as a worthy successor to possibly the greatest show of all time. And Season 5 further proves that point and then some. Saul is Breaking Bad’s equal, and Jimmy’s continuous nuanced depth and growth over the span of meeting him goes way beyond what we knew him as when he was just Walt’s fast talking neurotic lawyer. Bob Odenkirk once again is a delight to watch, projecting a wide range of emotions that make sympathizing with the character easy. Saul is technically exquisite – balancing the high anxiety dealing with the criminal façade and the melodrama of a couple on the brink of being roped into a world neither wants to be involved in.
Created By: Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould
Episodes Directed By: Bronwen Hughes, Norberto Barba, Michael Morris, Gordon Smith, Jim McKay, Melissa Bernstein, Vince Gilligan, Thomas Schnauz & Peter Gould
Music By: Dave Porter
Cinematography: Arthur Albert, Marshall Adams & Paul Donachie
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Tony Dalton, Giancarlo Esposito
Where to Watch: Netflix
Release Date: February 23, 2020
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%