By MILES PREKOSKI
Published May 26, 2020
“Better Call Saul” has returned, and writers Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan continue to deliver in the most intense, visually stimulating and plot-driven season yet. The AMC drama’s lead Bob Odenkirk has possessed the role of Saul Goodman for 12 years now since he made his debut in Season 2 of the hit TV show “Breaking Bad,” but it’s in the fifth season that viewers finally see our protagonist morph into his practicing name.
Season 5 sees somewhat of a departure from Jimmy McGill–Goodman’s birth name–to Saul, an amoral man who helps facilitate Walter White’s catastrophic rise to fame. It’s questionable whether Saul’s crucial transition is out of bitterness toward the legal institution that mistreated him, but for Odenkirk, there’s no going back to Jimmy. This allows for us to finally see Odenkirk’s thrilling transition from “Justice Matters Most” to “Just Make Money.”
Goodman walks through the Albuquerque courthouse with a new sense of purpose in Season 5; he negotiates reduced sentences and conjobs phony witnesses, he wears ties loud enough to draw noise complaints, and he possesses a swagger that would make any district attorney want to sock him in the nose. Clever ADA Suzanne (played by Julie Pearl) perfectly nails Saul’s strategy in Episode 2: “You’re looking for turnover. You wanna churn through more clients, make more money.”
Odenkirk isn’t the only star of Season 5, though. What’s best about “Better Call Saul” is the constant merry-go-round of side-plots that keep the viewer interested: Nacho Varga (my personal favorite character), Howard Hamlin, Mike Ehrmantraut, the list goes on. That said, it’s impossible to talk about “BCS” without mentioning the season’s best performance: Rhea Seehorn’s.
Seehorn’s Kim Wexler represents the scary unknown for this show. Her internal struggles externalize in Season 5, when she struggles to honor the wishes of her client–Mesa Verde Credit Union–while simultaneously aiding a person she truly wants to help in Mr. Acker. The decisions Wexler makes throughout Season 5 show that she’s a no-nonsense type of character, but it’s hard to tell where Kim will fall in terms of any moral-ethical line. One can only hope that Wexler will be something more than mere collateral damage by the end of Season 6.
While “Breaking Bad” may have much more violence than its spinoff, “Better Call Saul” excellently juggles the villainous conflicts between the Salamanca and Fringe empires in Season 5. At points, it feels like an indulgence of viewers’ most fannish instincts to watch episodes like “Bagman” and “Something Unforgivable.” It’s understandable that things can get a little boring for “Breaking Bad” fans looking for a callback to the 2008 show after McGill practices elder law for years, struggling to make a living for himself. It’s all worth it, though, after getting a chance to see Saul’s fiasco in the desert for Lalo Salamanca in the latter half of Season 5.
At its most simple times, “Saul” is a show about the infinitesimal social comedy that is being a criminal lawyer in Albuquerque, New Mexico (a criminal lawyer, that is). But the penultimate season in Vince Gilligan’s fictional world of large-scale crime is much more than that. It’s a high-octane epic drama that leaves fans on their toes for the sixth and final season.