It’s been an unusually long wait for the new season of Better Call Saul. When last we checked in on Jimmy McGill, he gave an emotional, remorseful speech about the death of his brother, earned his law license back, and then revealed to Kim that it was all an act. Now that he can practice again, he’s throwing away the Jimmy McGill name. From now on, he’ll use his burner phone salesman persona: Saul Goodman. It happened. We finally saw the full transformation from misguided-but-earnest Jimmy to amoral, fast-talking Saul. Then 2019 came and went with not even a hint of what would happen next. Vince Gilligan said it was down to cast availability. If the full cast wasn’t available to make the show as good as it could be, production of the fifth season would wait until they were.
So far, it’s totally worth the year-and-a-half wait. Starting off each season with Cinnabon manager Gene is such a great way to get us back into things. Right away, we’re thrust into the thick of paranoia. Eerily silent scenes are interspersed with light musical montages of Gene going through his day to day. The whole time we’re waiting to see where this is going, and the longer it takes to get there, the greater the tension becomes. Gene’s stint in the hospital from last season has him freaked out. Not only did he struggle to give his information at discharge, but the cab driver who took him home was from Albuquerque.
This episode, Gene hides out for a few days, so nervous he doesn’t eat his diner french toast all morning. When he finally goes back to work, the cab driver recognizes him on his lunch break. He tries to insist his name’s Gene, but the cab driver is strangely persistent. He forces Gene to point and say “Better Call Saul,” and nothing feels right about the exchange. Gene calls the man who helped him disappear into this new life. He’s ready to change identities again, but changes his mind in the middle of the call. He’ll deal with the problem himself. It’s just like this show to leave us on a note like that. I really want to know what he means by that, not to mention what the cab driver was up to. But we only get one of these per season. We’ll have to wait until at least 2021 to see what’s next in Gene’s story, it looks like.
Fortunately, the rest of Better Call Saul remains a fantastic show. The previous four seasons have been spent on one question: When will Jimmy become Saul? At the end of last season, we finally saw it happen. That means the show is in a really exciting place now. We’ve seen Jimmy’s descent. He has become the guy we met in Breaking Bad. Now what happens? How does he get from a name change to laundering money for meth dealers? Most importantly, what happens to Kim? Sad to say, this season might answer that last question. As soon as Jimmy decides on the name change, you can already see it driving a wedge between them. As he explains how the idea came to him, how he’s going to use his name to defend the people he sold burner phones too, she accepts it out loud, but there’s real fear in her eyes.
Can we talk about Rhea Seehorn’s performance for a second? Because it’s become my favorite part of the show. Bob Odenkirk is fantastic, and a lot of deserved praise has been written about his performance as Jimmy/Saul. But Seehorn’s Kim Wexler is so fantastically complex and nuanced. You don’t see performances this good on TV very often. All it takes is one scene with her, and you understand her. She’s Jimmy without the bitterness. She too worked her way up from nothing to become the successful lawyer she is now. She too has a deep hatred for injustice. That’s why she was attracted to Jimmy and stuck up for him in the first place. But Jimmy’s experiences with his brother’s betrayal and death have changed him. If no one will see him as anything other than Slipping Jimmy, he’ll show them how far he can slip. The problem is Kim is still trying to use her powers for good, and Jimmy is dragging her down with him.
With his new name, Saul starts racking up the clients. He gives out free cell phones with his number on speed dial. He gives out discounts for non-violent felonies, despite Kim’s warning that it sounds like he’s encouraging people to commit felonies. Kim’s really trying to see something redeeming about Jimmy’s turn here, but she just can’t. Then he drags her down to his level. When he meets her for lunch, she’s having trouble convincing a client to take a plea deal. She warns him if it goes to trial, he could end up in jail, but the client wants to roll the dice. Jimmy suggests they run a scam on him, and pretend that Jimmy’s from the DA’s office, that new evidence has come to light, and they’re taking the deal off the table.
Kim refuses and sends Jimmy away, but goes through with it anyway. She pretends that the deal is off the table, and that there is new evidence against her client. Her client begs her to try to make the deal happen, and she says she’ll see what she can do. Jimmy’s influence has now led her to commit fraud against a vulnerable client. Jimmy has brought her to her lowest point and the episode ends with her crying in the stairwell. It’s unclear right now whether or not this will come back to bite her, but it doesn’t matter if it does. She knows what she just did. It may have gotten her what she wanted in the short term, but she sees clearly what her relationship with Jimmy is turning her into. Now the question is what does she do about it?
We also got an update in the cartel storyline. After a break this long, this episode had a lot of work to do when it came to getting us up to speed, but it juggled every storyline perfectly here. A lot of that comes from Better Call Saul’s willingness to be slow. This show has never been in a huge hurry. It’s always been willing to let its moments build and breath. Here, it slows down the cartel train just enough that we can all jump comfortably back on board. Lalo is keeping an eye on the Salamanca side of the business, and he just learned of Gus’ extracurricular projects. His suspicions grow deeper when he finds that some of the meth being sold isn’t Don Eladio’s product. Gus has an explanation for all of it. He even shows the underground warehouse being built, claiming it’s a chicken chiller. Lalo puts on a show of accepting the explanation, but implies he knows more than he’s letting on.
Mike is left in an interesting place by the end of the episode. After Lalo’s comment, he sends all the construction workers home with full pay, even though the job is half done. None of them are happy about the decision to kill Werner, but they all agree to keep their mouths shut for the rest of their lives. It’s one of those scenes where the silence just gets to you. The wide angle shots of the desert as everyone gets into their cars just underscores how shaky this whole situation is. He returns to Gus, who tells him construction is stopping as long as Lalo Salamanca is north of the border. Gus offers to keep Mike on retainer, but Mike is disgusted with how Werner’s death was handled. They took someones husband away and “fixed” the problem with a payout. Mike tells Gus to keep his money. Now, we know from Breaking Bad that he’ll be back. Something’s going to happen to force Mike and Gus back together. Probably something big. I don’t think it’ll be too long before we find out what.
Better Call Saul premiered Sunday, and will air Mondays at 9 p.m. on AMC
Previously on Better Call Saul: