Season five of Better Call Saul has concluded, and this triumphant and calculated season sets the table for program’s sixth and final season with its typical slow burn and character driven writing. Amazingly, the show has achieved this without sacrificing quality – a trap that even the greatest of shows (including the best series of the 2010s, The Americans) fell into.
In season five, we find out that almost every character is either trapped in ‘The Game’, as Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) so eloquently describes it, or hooked on the ‘juice’ that ‘The Game’ provides. The juice is alluring and addictive and every bit as dangerous as the crystal meth that floods the landscape of creator Vince Gilligan’s Albuquerque-verse.
One of these trapped characters is Salamanca Cartel soldier Nacho Varga (Michael Mando). Forced into being a double agent by rival drug dealer Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), Nacho’s walls are quickly closing in and his dream of leaving the juice behind and taking his family to greener pastures is evaporating. As Nacho continues to feel the pressure, viewers find themselves rooting for him the same way they rooted for Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. But keep your cheering in check – Nacho and Jesse aren’t good people, they’re just the least bad.
Another trapped character is attorney Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian). Season five sees the CEO of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill trying to make amends with Jimmy (NOT Saul) and persuade him into working at the family firm. It seems that Howard has dealt with Chuck’s (Michael McKean) death in a healthy manner (the NAMASTE license plate was a nice touch) and is ready to move on with his life; a realization that drives an emotionally unhinged Jimmy to terrorize Howard and erupt like Los Pollos Hermanos.
As for those who love ‘The Game’, we see Saul’s first foray into truly dangerous territory when he becomes the bag man for incarcerated cartel lieutenant Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton). Said money transfer takes place deep in the desert and of course the deal almost immediately goes awry. As Mike rescues Saul, Saul’s physical and psychological well-being are pushed to the limit with a great throwback to brother Chuck McGill and his failing mental health.
Speaking of Mike, it becomes evident that he has a masochistic side and believes he needs to be punished for his sins.
As Mike recovers from his stabs wound in Gus’ creepy Mexican Village (an homage to deceased business partner and lover Max), Gus strikes while the iron is hot and manipulates Mike into returning to the cartel. How does Gus goes pull off this trick? By simply uttering the words, “Because you understand revenge.”
Gus understands and exploits the fact that Mike loathes himself, has anger issues and is consumed by guilt concerning the death of his son Matty and subordinate Werner. From Mike’s perspective, The Game, merely provides access to the juice. Or maybe at his core Mike is a despicable villain like most of the characters in the Albuquerque-verse.
Now that we are done with the appetizers, I present tonight’s entree; ‘Slippin’ Kimmy McGill.
To be clear, season 5 of Better Call Saul is the story of Kim Wexler, the complex legal genius whose personal road to hell is paved with good intentions. As the season progresses, we see Kim’s decision making become more questionable, particularly leaving Schweikart & Cokely, marrying Jimmy, and in a heel turn that would make Vince McMahon blush, plotting to sabotage Howard’s career.
Kim’s rationalization for submarining Howard’s life and career is that the indigent clients at Sandpiper will receive their payouts earlier and in turn, those clients will have a better quality of life. Also, if this sabotage works, the McGill family will have enough equity for Kim to continue her pro bono public defender side hustle, as Jimmy will receive his payout earlier too.
Are Kim’s motives true? Is she hustling Jimmy? Is she still committed to helping those in need or has she jumped to the proverbial dark side? I don’t have an answer to these questions, but I do know one thing; Kim loves the juice.
This turn makes the audience ponder if the grift was always ingrained in Kim’s DNA or if Jimmy brought out the festering worst in her. We know that Kim has always loved pulling scams with Jimmy (fudging blueprints and scamming Moscow Mules come to mind), but we also know she is passionate about her work as a public defender. Regardless, plotting to destroy Howard’s life has taken her character to a new and uncharted territory.
Nowhere are Kim’s contradictions more pronounced than in her two scenes with Lalo. In the first scene, Kim is begging for Jimmy’s life and in the second scene, she (in perhaps the ballsiest scene in the series) calls out Lalo for not having the infrastructure to properly transport or wash money. In this altercation, Kim shows her toughness and brains and proves Mike right; Kim is in the game.
Kim Wexler is in the short conversation for the most complicated character on television and this season is HER story. Seehorn plays Wexler with aplomb and the writers are smart enough to respect Kim’s brains and guts and not marginalize her to rely purely on sex appeal. Contemporary prestige television needs more Kim Wexlers and needed them yesterday. Better Call Saul would perhaps better be renamed Better Call Kim.
The Television Academy should do themselves a favor and give Rhea Seehorn the Emmy right now.
PROSTITUTES & BOWLING BALLS
- My favorite Season 5 callback to Breaking Bad wasn’t Hank, Gomie, or Lydia, it was Peter Schuler (Norbert Weisser). In the Albuquerque-verse, Shuler’s bathroom scene has to be at least three years away, and it was cool to see him already losing his mind.
- I want more Cinnabon Gene, but who doesn’t?
- One criticism I have is in the way Gus was handled this season. His character seemed to exist only to drive the plot, which is fine, but in this character driven opus, Gus’s lack of meaningful dialogue was a low point for the season.
- No Chuck flashbacks this season, which is a bummer. More Michael McKean is never a bad thing.
- “You know who knew Jimmy? Chuck.” Howard over here spittin’ bars.
- A big thanks to Redditors u/resker2 and u/TheEasyTarget for their photos.
- Season 6 of Better Call Saul is purported to be 13 episodes and is set to begin production in September. Amid all of this Covid madness, let’s get Jonathan Banks into super-duper quarantine.
- Saul’s ‘50% Off Felonies Sale’ is comedy gold, but perhaps marks an end to the ‘criminal hijinks portion of his story. Rough waters are ahead.
- I will never look at finger guns the same way.