Title: Better Call Saul, Season 5 Episode 1 – “Magic Man”
Release Date: February 23rd, 2020
Genre: Crime Drama
It’s the season premiere of Better Call Saul, and one thing is immediately evident: Jimmy McGill is fading away, leaving the charismatic and conniving Saul Goodman in his place.
If you recall, back in the Season 4 finale, we saw Jimmy in court fighting for his law license to be reinstated. In a bid to show his noble intentions and honesty, Jimmy reads out a letter that his late brother Chuck left him in his will. Pleading with seemingly aching sincerity, it turned out Jimmy was acting the whole thing, calling the assembled Judges ‘suckers’ and then determined to start a new lawyer practice with a new name.
The Better Call Saul Season 5 premiere shows us Jimmy slipping ever more into the ‘Saul’ persona we know and love from Breaking Bad. In fact, he explicitly states that he wants to leave Jimmy McGill, the loser brother behind, seeing Saul Goodman as a fresh start. For those looking forward to this transition, it’s great to see and a natural place for Jimmy’s story arc throughout the series.
Enthusiastic about his fresh start, Jimmy starts bouncing around ideas on how he can get Saul Goodman’s practice up and running. And true to the con artist he is, we get some interesting if unethical ideas. Among them is a free cell phone giveaway to his clients (if you recall, he sold burner phones on the street last season, giving him a whole host of potential criminal clients) and to provide them with 50% off non-violent felonies.
As usual, Bob Odenkirk’s performance is so satisfying to watch. We see Jimmy (or Saul) at his most charismatic and confident. We are witnessing the cunning marketer, the conniving conman at the zenith of his arc. Just watching him attempt to sell his new law practice to the criminal scumbags makes you realize that he isn’t far off the man depicted in the Better Call Saul ads in Breaking Bad.
But on the flip side, we see more doubt in Kim. It’s abundantly clear that Kim is conflicted about her partner’s new business, especially since she went through so much to re-obtain his license. There’s a sense that, as Jimmy further embraces Saul Goodman, that Kim may lose the man she loves. It’s incredible how effectively Rhea Seahorn conveys this not just through dialogue, but through her facial expressions. Then again, great performances have never been a problem for Better Call Saul.
Meanwhile, the budding rivalry between meth businessmen Lalo Salamanca and Gus Fring develops. Gus pretends to be regretful for covering up Werner’s death and shows the work-in-progress meth lab underneath the laundry. However, his dishonesty continues, and he pretends that it’s a chiller for their product. In these scenes, Giancarlo Esposito continues to shine as the sinister Fring, leaving the viewer unsure of what exactly he’s thinking. There’s masterful duplicity at large in his character as he unhesitatingly lies through his teeth in cold syllables.
He bounces very well off the somewhat childlike and cocky Lalo Salamanca. The beautiful thing about Tony Dalton’s acting here is there is a psychotic nature clearly lurking underneath the Mexican drug dealer’s confident smiles. And ultimately, it’ll be interesting to see how this psychotic nature plays out as the episode seems to imply the two will lock horns further into the season. Fring sees Lalo as nothing but an obstacle in his grand plan and promises that he will eventually be dealt with. On the other hand, Lalo clearly doesn’t trust Fring, who he and Hector suspect might be gunning for him after the latter killed his former partner (and rightly so).
If you watched last season of Better Call Saul, you’d know that Mike killed Werner Ziegler at the behest of Gus. But with Werner being a genuine friend to Mike, it was a tough decision. In this episode, we can see the effects of Werner’s death on Mike. While as stoic as ever, the former cop clearly feels some regret over Werner’s death, and there’s a sense that he’s grown even more cynical because of it. There’s a sense that Mike feels done with his job – although it’s no spoiler to say that this feeling won’t give way to any permanent lasting changes in Mike’s career. Breaking Bad shows us a more experienced Mike who has been with Gus Fring’s lot for some time. Making tough decisions as Mike has can only make the character more resilient with passing time, and so, it’s interesting where it’ll go.
With the show finishing up next season, Better Call Saul is doing good work evolving its characters into the people they’re destined to become. We can see the seeds of Saul Goodman, Meth Emperor Gus Fring, and Mike Ehrmantraut grow towards their inevitable conclusion. But that’s really the crux of this episode where mainly, not a lot happens.
In many ways, this season premiere feels more like an ‘aftermath’ episode. It deals with the repercussions of the season 4 finale but doesn’t leave a lot of story threads hanging for the next episode. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say the show’s giving hints that certain relationships are going to be rocky this season. They may even change completely. But only time will tell.
Verdict: The Better Call Saul Season 5 premiere shows itself coming ever closer to the events of Breaking Bad – and that’s pretty darn exciting. Things are never going to be the same again in this show, but that’s what makes it all the more intriguing to see what comes next. A must-watch, for sure.