Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Season 5 (Episode 1 and 2)
Ivan Radford | On 01, Mar 2020
This contains minor spoilers for the set-up of Better Call Saul Season 5.
“I would choose my next words very carefully.” Those are the ominous words from Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) to Mike (Jonathan Banks) near the start of Better Call Saul Season 5, as Mike struggles with the things he’s done as Gus’ fixer. He seems to want to walk away from the whole shebang, after he killed construction boss Werner last season to make an example of him – he doesn’t take kindly to the other workers speaking badly of the deceased, but he takes even less kindly to the fact that he’s far from innocent himself. The drugs? The dodgy building work? Those aren’t problems. The killing of a man he grew to like? That rankles.
It’s telling that this is where we’re at in Better Call Saul’s penultimate season: we’ve reached the point where doing something illegal isn’t the problem, but what kind of criminal activity is being done. That’s the kind of world that Jimmy McGill has come to inhabit, a world that has been twisted by, and steeped in, his own moral justifications, where there’s a difference between good crime and bad crime, between good lies and bad lies.
That starting point means that there’s tension bubbling from the off, as Jimmy’s already-compromised perspective is thrown into sharp relief by Kim (Rhea Seehorn), who stands firmly outside of his world-view – or, to be accurate, thinks she does. She’s already knees-deep, though, and the moments when she realises it bring Better Call Saul to life. Almost immediately, she finds herself trying to convince her client to take a deal rather than go to court and, when they won’t agree, Jimmy tries to lead her into a short-con to trick them into taking the deal. It’s not the fact that his instinct is to deceive and cheat to get what he wants that sets an ominous mood, but the fact that she, despite herself, goes along with it anyway. In this prequel to Breaking Bad, where everyone’s fates are sealed, being corrupted is inevitable – the question is how it happens.
The fact that we still don’t know how Kim will depart the scene ahead of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s arrival makes her the best character in the whole show, and Rhea’s performance plays that balance between unavoidable tragedy and hopeful mystery perfectly; she’s the last bright glimpse of idealism and justice before the darkness descends.
Jimmy’s changing his name to Saul Goodman is just the first step in their growing apart, as she can’t see why he would opt for such branding. A beautifully edited montage, which sees Bob Odenkirk at his razzle-dazzle best, demonstrates how savvy a move it is, as he capitalises on the built-in target audience of anyone who bought one of his burner mobile phones. From faked elevator breakdowns to sweet-talking the prosecution, he rattles through as many clients as he can to both build his reputation and bring in some quick cash, confident that he can use Kim as his moral anchor, holding him back from going too far.
But that’s clearly self-delusion, as we see Kim reflecting on her descent to his level in a silhouetted stairwell – Better Call Saul’s use of shadows remains impeccable. Because while she told him not to offer a 50 per cent discount on “non-violent felonies”, he went ahead and did it anyway. A sweet moment in a house viewing reminds us that they can make each other laugh and feel happy, but neither of them are making smart decisions in their current relationship, doing things even after they tell themselves, and each other, they won’t.
Linking between together all of these strands, as ever, is Nacho, and Michael Mando’s performance as the young Varga family heir makes him so much more than just a plot device – he, too, is another character destined to disappear before Breaking Bad begins, which gives him a moral complexity almost at odds with the murky world in which he operates. With Lalo sniffing around Gus Fring, Nacho is in a tight spot, and he serves as the barometer for the whole series, as it braces for crunch time, leaving everyone unable to avoid the complications and consequences of their actions any longer.
The customary cold open in Omaha where Gene Takovic is laying low only reinforces that sense of lines being crossed, as Gene begins to worry he’s been recognised for his Albuquerque alter-ego. A brief appearance by the sadly late Robert Forster as Ed, the fixer, leaves Gene deciding to take care of things himself – exactly the kind of resolve required of every character at the start of Season 5, even if their every action is doomed to further dig their own graves.
Just look at the two drug-dealers who cause chaos in a vividly shot sequence at the start of Episode 2, and inevitably crop up again to cause problems for more than one other character. There’s a deja vu in how everyone keeps orbiting the same drain of criminality, even as they think they’re swimming against the current. It’s all good, man, Jimmy told Kim at the end of Season 4. Now, his monogrammed briefcase is the only thing tying him to the man he once was; JMM stands for “Justice Matters Most”, he decides. That justice, it will one day turn out, is inescapable. The words he chooses carefully now? They’re already irrelevant.
Better Call Saul Season 1 to 5 are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive on Tuesdays, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.