“When the going gets tough, you don’t want a criminal lawyer”, Jesse Pinkman informed Walter White way back in Breaking Bad’s second season, “you want a ‘criminal’ lawyer”. If Breaking Bad was about a suburban man releasing his toxic masculinity in a criminal underworld, Better Call Saul is a more controlled disintegration of a conman trying to claw his way into the respectable side of the law, even as he slips further down. There has been a tragic inevitability over Better Call Saul’s past four seasons, observing the affable Jimmy McGill descend into the sleazy Saul Goodman. Season 5 picks right off from Season 4’s quietly devastating cliff-hanger – Jimmy adopting the Goodman name to practise law under – setting up a season that cements his gradual downhill path.
Better Call Saul is a show about process, often with whole episodes around the elegant schemes its players have created, and Season 5 seems to be investigating the consequences of such plans. Mike’s usually stoic separation of work and morality is seen weakening after his actions around Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) secret underground meth-lab. The lab itself causes suspicion from Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton), which threatens the precarious balance Nacho (Michael Mando) has created between him and Fring. More directly, Season 5 sees Jimmy embracing his recklessness, taking shortcuts to maximise his client-base and expedite their cases.
Kim (Rhea Seehorn) is Better Call Saul’s secret weapon. She despairs at Jimmy’s change into snake-oil salesman, especially because she understands why she does it. She sees the appeal of the easy route, but Seehorn’s wonderfully subtle acting shows her commitment to hard-work and her growing disillusionment with Jimmy.
Despite this undercurrent of dread, Better Call Saul is still a gripping and entertaining show, with moments of extreme tension interspersed with peppy montages of Saul’s sleazy salesmanship. Bob Odenkirk is so adept at this huckster showmanship (literally using a carnival tent in the first episode) you understand why Jimmy leans into it.
Better Call Saul has been exceeding Breaking Bad in its last few seasons, with patient world-building and stellar character-development, along with the confrontation of everyday moral tests. I am both sad and excited for when Jimmy will inevitably vanish beneath Saul Goodman’s gaudy multi-coloured suits. Even if I already know the destination, Better Call Saul consistent quality has me ready to see Jimmy’s journey through, for when he takes the final step from “criminal lawyer” to “‘criminal’ lawyer”.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr