Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Season 5, Episode 8 and 9
Ivan Radford | On 18, Apr 2020
“I can’t believe the only person I have to talk about this with is you,” says Jimmy in Episode 8 of Better Call Saul’s fifth season. He’s talking to Mike and four seasons ago, it would have been hard to believe. Even at the start of this penultimate season, it would have been difficult to buy, as the Breaking Bad prequel has struggled to consistently balance the two sides of its story: Jimmy McGill’s descent into the Albuquerque underworld and Michael Ehrmantraut’s increasing involvement in the world he’s already a part of. But Season 5’s penultimate two episodes bring the two halves of its tale – and their two figureheads – together in riveting fashion.
Episode 8 sees Jimmy take his biggest step yet, from lawyer to bagman, as he agrees to travel across the border into Mexico to pick up Lalo’s bail money – a cool $7 million in cash. Crucially, before he goes, he tells Kim what he’s going to do, although she tells him he shouldn’t. Everything seems to be fine until, of course, it isn’t, and he finds his return drive cut off by a group of gunmen, who flee with his money.
Enter Mike and his trusty sniper rifle, who saves Jimmy’s life – and Lalo’s cash. But their luck runs out soon after, as Jimmy’s old car breaks down. Ditching it off the road, they undergo the long walk back to civilisation, going off-raid to avoid being picked up by the lone surviving gunman from Jimmy’s attackers. It’s a gruelling, exhausting trek, one that sees Mike come into his element – and Jimmy completely come apart.
Jonathan Banks’ cool-headed enforcer has rarely been better, and rarely seemed so compassionate to Jimmy, a guy he recognises as being in over his head. Indeed, we learn just as much about Mike in these episodes by his oddly generous streak, as he also tries to get Nacho out of his life-threatening double-agent stance between the warring forces of Gus and Lalo.
Inevitably, Gus doesn’t agree with Mike’s suggestion that Nacho can now be released from his trap, suggesting that having a man on the inside is the best option. Jimmy, too, isn’t going to escape from the walls that are now closing in on him – we know that from Breaking Bad. The show begins to explicitly address that sealed fate, as Mike and Jimmy discuss the bad choices that have put them on the roads they’re now on.
As we continue to get insights into Mike’s melancholic, ruthless but kind personality, we also learn an immense amount about Jimmy by just how little he talks – it’s an almost wordless performance from Bob Odenkirk, who has won has over time and time again by his fast-talking charisma. Here, his motormouth is nowhere to be seen, his fake suntan replaced by a scorched face that’s lined with the trauma he’s weathered. He even pops up (after acting as a decoy for Mike to take out the final gunman) shaking, shocked and in a space blanket – the kind of fashion accessory we last saw on his late brother, Chuck.
Back home, Odenkirk’s performance remains just as fraught and fragile, and it’s no surprise that Kim automatically realises that he’s not himself. First, he loses a cases, second, he freaks out over an orange juicer – a sequence that’s edited to put us through a similar amount of jarring, head-shattering pain. As he finds himself with nobody to talk to but Mike, we get to see just how good Better Call Saul is when it’s got all of his elements in precisely the right place.
Kim, meanwhile, is inspired by the perspective of Jimmy’s life-or-death experience, and decides to quit Schweikart & Cokely to focus on her pro bono work – a decision that Jimmy says is a bad choice. But, of course, it’s the only good choice we’ve seen all season, as everyone just continues to seal their own doomed destinies.
Halfway through Episode 8 is possibly the worst decision of all – when Kim goes to prison to confront Lalo and ask where Jimmy is. That just brings Lalo to their apartment in Episode 9, as he interrogates Jimmy to find out what really happened during his desert excursion. Kim stands up to him to get him to leave – a rousing speech by Rhea Seehorn that blazes with support and affection – while Mike calls in over the phone (the handset left on the kitchen counter) to hear what Lalo says to them.
It’s a move that’s all the more striking because it’s driven by Kim’s love for Jimmy. While Tony Dalton’s electrifying, intimidating turn as Lalo Salamanca arguably steals the whole show these two episodes, they cement the truth that doing something kind for someone else in Vince Gilligan’s Albuquerque-verse doesn’t end well, whether that’s Mike trying to help others in trouble, Kim putting her head on the line for Jimmy, Jimmy attempting to aid his brother, or even Nacho, who has had to make impossible, necessary choices just to save his own father from getting involved. Because once someone’s made a bad choice, their loved ones are in the game too – and, judging by the way Nacho is taken to unknown location by Lalo come the end credits, the game is at the end of an increasingly dark road.
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.