Better Call Saul Season 5 finale review: A thundering climax
Ivan Radford | On 21, Apr 2020
The words “scorched earth” come up halfway through the Season 5 finale of Better Call Saul, just in case you were under any false impression that things might end happily in the Breaking Bad prequel.
They’re uttered by Jimmy, as he comes clean with Kim about his petty paybacks against Howard, of HHM. Kim, who was once keeping Jimmy’s dubious antics at arm’s length, is now leaning in closer, encouraging him to frame Howard for an ethical misdemeanour that would prompt the firm to close out that Sandpiper case back from Season 1 and finally give Jimmy – and Kim – their cut of the payout. It would mean she could fully go pro bono without worrying, while also cementing their fortunes as a couple. Of course, thinking like that is exactly the kind of mistake that led to her sticking up for Jimmy in front of Lalo last episode – and, given we know she won’t be around after the sixth and final season, it’s an ominous decision to make.
Things don’t get much more ominous, though, than over in Lalo’s camp, where Gus and Mike are making their move – all they need is for Nacho to leave the back gate in Lalo’s compound open in time for a 3am raid. What could possibly go wrong?
That’s the question that looms over all of Better Call Saul, and Season 5’s closing three episodes have let it hover in the air beautifully, slowing down the pace even more than usual to allow for maximum wallowing in sheer dread. Just going round Lalo’s estate with Nacho, watching for when the double-agent will try to sneak over to the gate, is riveting telly, thanks to Michael Mando’s fantastic, charismatic, desperate, earnest presence – and Tony Dalton’s wildfire cartel boss.
Lalo is a man who’s increasingly unpredictable, even as he seems more confident and cocksure of what he’s going to do next – he flip-flops between affection for his people and anger at their apparent ineptitude, friendliness over drinks with Nacho and immediate, glowering suspicion that he’s been betrayed. He values loyalty above all else, yet doesn’t hesitate to use his team as shields from bullets; he’s charming, but also willing to deliver a frying pan of hot oil to the face of an intruder.
That kind of determination and unpredictability is only seen in one other character here: not Jimmy, or even the calculated Gus, but Kim, whose gradually more reckless view of morals and risk seem to have been influenced by Jimmy (her now-husband Saul Goodman). When Howard confronts Kim about Jimmy’s pranks, she just laughs in his face, something that would have been unthinkable several seasons ago. And so Season 5 ends not with Saul emerging triumphant, but with the one person keeping him in check throwing their tail to the wind and standing cheerfully at his side.
Rhea Seehorn’s really come into her own this season, and given how excellent she’s been in the four previous runs, that’s saying something, as the scripts just keep giving her more to do. Bob Odenkirk, meanwhile, generously gives the scene over to her, as he understatedly squirms in his sunburnt skin, unable to believe that this woman appears to have embraced her compassion for him with no more reticence.
Compassion is a dangerous thing in the Vince Gilliganverse, as Lalo discovers almost immediately after he jovially welcomes Nacho into his fold. What ensues, when Gus’ armed assassins descend, is a stunning set piece that sees Lalo quickly and ruthlessly take each and every one of them out, from above, below and round the corner. Peter Gould directs the sequence with an immediacy that gives it all a double-blow – first, the sizzling, searing nastiness of his strike back, and second, the knowledge that this same rage is soon to be unleashed on Nacho (and, probably, Jimmy and Kim).
Before he leaves the scene, he makes sure one of the men leaves a fake message that the job was done, buying him the element of surprise. Then, he begins a long walk back to retribution – and (in a move that’s typical of the whole show’s impeccable production work) his footsteps rumble with the portent of rumbling thunder, promising a final season full of burning consequences. If the earth isn’t scorched now, it soon will be.
Better Call Saul Season 1 to 5 are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.
Photo: Greg Lewis / AMC