TV: Better Call Saul (Season 5)

For those who may have missed my previous praise for Better Call Saul, well, it’s all over this site; there’s not much need to recapitulate its unlikely origin. It’s enough to say if you’re reading this review, you’re probably still onboard with one of Peak TV’s most confident, funny, patient, and masterful works of art. Initially an extended origin story for two key supporting characters in Breaking Bad—crooked lawyer Jimmy “Saul Goodman” McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and steely-eyed drug cartel fixer Mike Ehrmantrout (Jonathan Banks)—Better Call Saul has steadily ramped into a show every bit as good as its predecessor, if not better. Over four seasons, the show has charted the journey, or perhaps descent, of Saul and Mike from well-meaning strivers against unjust systems to conflicted players in the New Mexico drug underworld. Season five’s episodes propel them that much closer to their fateful encounters with Walter White, with a continued focus on slippery-slope decision-making as they further embed themselves with Albuquerque’s criminal element, eyes increasingly open to what that means.

But viewers familiar with their fates in Breaking Bad are also given new, intriguing mysteries to ponder. There is, of course, the flash-forward frame of Saul’s post-Breaking Bad life in Omaha, Nebraska as Cinnabon manager Gene Takavic, which here gets another loaded, tantalizing chapter. But more compelling may be concern for the fates of the show’s wild cards, two characters who don’t appear in the original series and therefore have uncharted futures: Saul’s subdued, shifty partner-in-scheme Kim Wexler (the brilliant Rhea Seehorn),  and Ignacio “Nacho” Varga (the underrated Michael Mando), a street-dealer lieutenant in the cartel who is increasingly entangled in a rivalry between crime lords supported by cartels south of the border. Series creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould had only vague plans for these two characters initially, with Kim as the woman in Saul’s life and Nacho as a possible first-season villain. Given how the series has propelled them both—especially Seehorn—to crucial elements of Better Call Saul’s mystique, this is rather astonishing. Mando develops further into an unsung hero of the cast for his angling, caught-in-the-switches turn as a double agent working for both El Pollo Loco frontman Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and volatile cartel boss Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton). And Seehorn is an absolute marvel as the complex, understated Kim, charging her every expression with intelligence, wit, and hidden agendas.

The upcoming final season really has its work cut out for it, connecting the logistical dots between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad, but however those details shake out, the key to the show’s ultimate success may be how well it delivers Kim and Nacho to the end of their arcs. In the meantime, in a field of tough competitors, the series climbs even further here in the ranks of my all-time favorites. This is an immersive, addictive show about tough choices, unfair systems, and moral gray areas, and while its heroes may be supporting characters, its supporting characters are the real heroes.

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