AMC’s Better Call Saul Returns as Confident as Ever

“Yesterday was bad. Today, I’m gonna fix it.” – Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn)

AMC’s brilliant “Better Call Saul” is about many things, but an undercurrent of trying to “fix yesterday” definitely courses through all five seasons of the show. Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) was first trying to fix the yesterday of his conman past, going as straight as possible before realizing that his brother would never let yesterday go. Now he’s trying to fix the yesterday of Jimmy McGill by discarding that entire part of his existence, becoming Saul Goodman, an attorney who offers 50% and only half-considers how that may encourage his new clients to commit crimes they may otherwise not commit. Meanwhile, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) is unable to fix the yesterday of his complicity in the death of his son, while Kim is stuck between the perceived authority of Hamlin, Hamlin, & McGill, the pro bono work she finds more satisfying, and uncertainty as to whether or not she cares for Saul Goodman in the way she did for Jimmy McGill.

After the longest season-opening “flash-forward” to date, season five picks up close to where we left off last year. As it has for four full seasons before, “Better Call Saul” tracks multiple plotlines over the first four episodes. The main arc is that of Jimmy finally becoming Saul, owning the name, the style, and the bravado that he would be known for on “Breaking Bad.” He uses the networks created by the burner phones to find the people in Albuquerque who may need something better than a public defender but can’t afford Howard Hamlin. The writing on this show is so nuanced that one can track the gradual steps from Jimmy to Saul over the first four seasons, and see how what has happened to him with his brother, HHM, Kim, and others has brought him here. And he’s still trying to do some good by helping those in need of good counsel—at least, he can still convince himself he’s doing some good.

Kim Wexler isn’t so sure. One of the first arcs involves a man (played by the wonderful Barry Corbin) who is adamantly unwilling to leave the land needed by one of Wexler’s high-profile clients. He will legally be forced to leave because of a stipulation in his deed that allows them to buy it out from him at barely over market price, but there’s an interesting parallel being drawn between Saul’s work and Kim’s. Everyone is running some sort of scam or con—it’s just in different clothing.

The start of season five also brings back a theme of process and structure to a show that has often taken the time to detail how things get done. We see more of the internal operation of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) as he deals with the fallout over the Mexicans learning too much about his business. Tony Dalton is excellent as Lalo Salamanca, who starts digging around Fring’s business in a way that puts Nacho (the always underrated Michael Mando) in a tough spot. Finally, as the previews have revealed, season five of “Better Call Saul” brings back a serious feeling of yesterday with the return of Dean Norris and Steven Michael Quezada as DEA Agents Hank Schrader and Steven Gomez, respectively. Seeing Hank in this world again poignantly connects “Saul” through “Bad” and even “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.” Without spoilers, he’s on the edge of the Fring operation in a way that makes it feel even more tragic that he won’t connect the dots for years.

Where does “Better Call Saul” go from here? One of many remarkable things about “Saul” is how the writers have defied the common trap of prequels in that we still feel urgency even though we know that nothing too bad can happen to Saul, Mike, Gus, and now Hank because that wouldn’t line up with “Breaking Bad.” (Although I worry more about Kim with each passing episode.) Somehow, we still feel the immediacy of their situations in ways that “Bad” didn’t even do given how breakneck that show was in its pacing. The truly remarkable accomplishments of “Better Call Saul” that make it arguably the best drama on TV are in the subtlety and nuance of the characters—both in terms of writing and performance. It’s in the relatability of how they’re often just fighting to figure out how to get through the day, and sometimes too concerned about fixing yesterday to do what they should be doing—worrying about tomorrow.

Four episodes screened for review

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Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also the Editor of Magill's Cinema Annual, a writer for The New York Times, Vulture, The AV Club, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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