Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 1 Review: Magic ManTommy Czerpak at . Updated at .
Jimmy McGill hatches a new plan. Saul Goodman finally makes his first public appearance as a lawyer. Gene Takavic makes a big decision.
Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 1, "Magic Man," dedicates different segments of its runtime to the different versions of Jimmy we have been introduced to thus far.
Every season of Better Call Saul opens with a flash-forward segment and follows Jimmy McGill as Gene Takavic. These vignettes serve two major purposes.
For viewers who have seen Breaking Bad, they continue Saul Goodman's story from where that series left off.
For viewers who haven't seen Breaking Bad, they provide a hypothetical time-bomb for the current series, indicating that something goes horribly wrong for Jimmy McGill in the future, and create a sense of dread which increases the tension of the present-day storyline as we watch Jimmy McGill slowly morph into Saul Goodman.
This combination is part of what has made Better Call Saul such a special series.
The knowledge we have of Jimmy's future fills the series with a prevailing sadness and prompts us with questions that we may prefer not to have answered.
What happens to Chuck? What happens to Kim? What turns Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman?
Better Call Saul reveals that there isn't any singular moment where Jimmy McGill suddenly becomes Saul Goodman.
On Breaking Bad, Walter White took incremental steps further and further down the staircase of darkness, but not everyone's descent is as trackable.
Jimmy is like a rubber band. He stretches out too far with a scheme and then gets pulled back, becoming a little more flexible each time, which is why his shift into Saul Goodman has been so difficult to track.
This is the first episode of Better Call Saul that fully features Jimmy McGill as the eponymous lawyer, and yet his fluid transformation from previous is still in effect.
Small details, like Jimmy referring to women as "honey" and "sweetheart" are starting to emerge, and yet before he officially decides to practice law under his new name he genuinely asks Kim if she thinks it's right, proving that Jimmy is still very much a part of this man.
Kim: If this is how you're really feeling.
Jimmy: It is.
Kim: I say sure.
Jimmy's reasoning for practicing under the Saul Goodman identity is practical. He has built up a client base and feels he has found a way to make his year off selling phones worth something.
There isn't any malicious intent in Jimmy's decision here, but due to his naturally scheming ways, he immediately starts coming up with slippery plans to increase his chances for success.
This is the Saul Goodman in him, otherwise known as "Slippin' Jimmy".
Thus far, Saul Goodman has been kept in check by three major factors in Jimmy's life -- Chuck, his conscience, and Kim.
Chuck's influence was a huge tether for Jimmy. Jimmy's respect for his brother and desire to make him proud helped keep him tied to the right side of the tracks.
His conscience has kept him from stepping too far out of line at times as well, as evidenced in Better Call Saul Season 3 Episode 10, "Lantern," when Jimmy attempts to rebuild Irene's relationship with her friends after he turned them against her.
Chuck's death and Jimmy's subsequent refusal to grieve for his brother severed two of these tethers.
Not only did he lose his brother's influence (though that had already been degraded due to their tenuous relationship), but for Jimmy to ignore the role he played in Chuck's demise Jimmy had to shut off the remorseful part of his brain, essentially wiping out his conscience.
This leaves Kim as the only tether left between Jimmy McGill and a full-blown Saul Goodman.
Jimmy himself recognizes this.
This is why this works. I go too far and you pull me back.Jimmy
Which brings us back to one of our questions: What happens to Kim?
Whatever that answer is, that's when the rubber band is finally going to snap. Kim's influence is vital to Jimmy's existence, and the series doesn't let us forget it.
Kim's gifts to Jimmy after he is reinstated are very sweet, and those types of small moments of kindness are a bigger effect on Jimmy than even he probably realizes.
Saul Goodman has no one to go home to; no one to try to be better for. Jimmy's spent his life trying to climb out of expectations and shadows, just as he says regarding Chuck this episode.
He'll always be seen as Chuck McGill's loser brother (or at least, that's what he believes).
Kim gives Jimmy someone to come home to, providing him not just with support and advice, but with a person to try not to disappoint.
This is where the tension in Better Call Saul Season 5 will come from.
Kim and Jimmy's relationship is undoubtedly going to be strained as Jimmy becomes more engrossed with his new life as Saul Goodman.
We see the first true example of this character while Jimmy is giving away his last batch of phones to promote his new gig as a lawyer.
Bright outfit, exaggerated stories, and that slightly sleazy undertone that's ever so appealing to the criminal underworld.
Jimmy has always been an expert at slipping into different personas to best suit the crowd he is trying to appeal to.
He demonstrated this ability in the retirement homes playing bingo and during several of his earlier cons.
He does this here as well, speaking in terms most appealing to the customers at hand and offering them deals that will appeal to them.
At the end of the night, he offers a discount on non-violent felonies for the next two weeks, essentially encouraging his client base to commit a crime within that time, just as Kim had feared earlier.
What's brilliant about this moment is that the writers set up a believable "justification" for this, which keeps Jimmy's spirit intact.
When Kim expresses her reservations about Jimmy offering these sorts of discounts earlier in the episode, Jimmy misunderstands her concern and says he doesn't want to come off as desperate, completely missing the moral jankiness of it all to which Kim is actually referring.
The truth is, though, that Jimmy is desperate, and the persona of Saul Goodman has no issues with being seen as such, so as soon as he starts losing potential clients, Jimmy lets Saul take over and weasel his way into some extra clientele.
Due to Jimmy's earlier misunderstanding of Kim, we know that Jimmy himself doesn't believe he's necessarily doing anything wrong here since he believes these people will commit crimes anyway (hmm ... doesn't that sound familiar? Chuck used to say the same thing about Jimmy).
So Jimmy stretches a little further into Saul Goodman while still being informed by the character Jimmy McGill that has been set up so meticulously over the course of the series.
The problem is that Jimmy enjoys it. He's always loved pulling a good con and he will soon come to realize that Saul Goodman as an entity is basically a twenty-four-seven con job.
Near the end of the episode, when Kim tells him about her client Bobby refusing to take a plea deal, Jimmy immediately launches into a plan of how they can manipulate him into taking the deal even if he doesn't want to.
There is a joy in Jimmy's eyes even as he plays up the anger needed to sell the con. He's comfortable here.
This is the start of Saul Goodman.
He's been with Jimmy all along, but between the genuine practicality of using Saul's name, the lack of tethers keeping him tied down, the legitimate enjoyment Jimmy gets from conning, and his desperation, the worst of Jimmy McGill is going to start pouring out through the facade of Saul.
At what point will this become too much for Kim? She is clearly in distress by the end of this episode.
Despite refusing Jimmy's plan, she does lie to Bobby to get him to take the plea deal. She "used her powers for good," as she previously stated she would, but something seems off.
I think there is a part of Kim that knows things are going south, but she isn't quite ready to break away.
Maybe she'll decide to break away before anything truly tragic happens. Maybe she'll stay put until she absolutely can't take another moment.
Or maybe something tragic happens to her.
Better Call Saul is at its best when it focuses in on this relationship and leads us to ask these questions.
I'm looking forward to seeing how their relationship plays out over the course of Better Call Saul Season 5.
Better Call Saul is not at its best when it's attempting to create tension between Mike and Gus.
Part of good storytelling comes from a proper build of tension and then a release of that tension.
Unlike the time-bomb that is provided for Kim and Jimmy's relationship, Mike and Gus will end up working together for years to come, so for Breaking Bad veterans there is no innate tension built into this relationship due to our inherent knowledge of their futures.
Now, just because we know what's going to happen doesn't automatically ruin a storyline, otherwise we'd never enjoy rewatching anything.
However, I feel that Better Call Saul has used the fact that this relationship is a large part of its parents show as a crutch and therefore hasn't put the work in to build the tension up properly in Better Call Saul from a character standpoint.
It isn't just that I know that they end up on the same side that Mike's angry departure from Gus means very little, it's that I just don't care that much about their relationship.
Mike and Gus don't have that many scenes together in the show to build a relationship.
I think the show has set up both of them fairly well as individuals, with several solo scenes that exemplify their strongest personality traits as well as the subtitles that make them both human (though I'd argue the series has served Mike far better than it has served Gus).
As a unit, though, Mike is hired by Gus, and then they squabble, and then he comes back, and they squabble, and Gus says some basic drug lord jargon like "choose your next words very carefully."
These are the times this show is just a Breaking Bad prequel; a show that moves pieces into places to fit nicely into the parent show, and doesn't dive into exactly what these moments mean to these characters.
Is Gus at all distressed that Mike seems to have some sense of a moral code? Why doesn't Gus just hire a new right hand instead? What exactly has Mike done for him that no one else could do?
And if he doesn't want to keep Mike around so badly, why exactly is that? Why don't we see that?
The episode has a brilliant moment on Mike's side of this equation when Mike is sending the construction workers back home.
He was worth fifty of you.Casper
Casper tells Mike that Werner, head of the construction team and the man Mike killed at the end of last season for leaking information, was worth fifty of Mike.
Mike takes this comment hard. Mike doesn't emote often, but here we see how much this comment stings him.
At the end of the day, we see Mike through the lenses of these shows and these worlds. Amongst men like Gus and Walter White, Mike almost looks like a saint.
But he's not a good guy.
Casper obviously partook in an incredibly fishy construction. There is no way he doesn't know that what he participated in was massively illegal -- and he still views Mike as the bad guy.
(This parallels really nicely with Jimmy's idea of discounts on non-violent felonies. The episode consistently distinguishes between the severity of crimes and ties that to its characters.)
Mike attempted to serve justice to Kai for speaking out about how Werner was soft, but at the end of the day, Mike is the one participating in this bloodshed. He is in no position to dole out justice, and Casper reminds him of that.
In turn, that reminds us of the struggles Mike is facing with the decisions he has made recently.
It lends credence to his decision to walk away from Gus and provides us another intriguing question moving forward this season.
What will bring Mike back?
Gus gets none of this same treatment, and it's a huge disappointment because their relationship is vital to this story.
Better Call Saul can't rest on Gus being the big bad of Breaking Bad, and I hope we get a few scenes this year that deepen our understanding of Gus' feelings on Mike.
Even if he doesn't have any feelings about Mike, develop that idea and show us why so that their relationship can be as well presented and as ripe for tension as Kim and Jimmy's, or at least comparable.
All we get this episode is information about Gus that we already know -- he will go to great lengths to continue his business and he's good at lying to people.
Gus' cover-up story regarding the lower quality meth and the superlab is convincing; it's well written in the sense that everything lines up, but in regards to the overall story we already know that Gus is capable of this.
For Breaking Bad viewers, again, we already know where all this leads, so there is no innate tension created from the unknown, but the lack of depth to Gus' relationship with Mike is what truly undercuts their meeting.
I care that Mike is struggling with his decisions, but I don't care that he's stepping away from Gus, which is a problem.
Another missed opportunity regarding the building of conflict comes from Nacho.
There is some tension created by Lalo, as he is putting Nacho's position as Gus' informant at risk, and is forcing Nacho to adapt to this new scenario.
Unfortunately, less attention is put on Nacho here than is afforded to Lalo and Gus, which is a real shame.
Nacho is an interesting character and we've spent way too little time with him since the start of Better Call Saul Season 4.
He has so much to offer this series in regards to heart and intrigue.
His existence is a natural dichotomy and ripe for storytelling, and he deserves more spotlight in this series than either Gus or Lalo, who thus far, have mostly just perpetuated the Breaking Bad prequel aspects of the show.
However, while Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 1 does slightly perpetuate the shortcomings of the previous season with this storyline, it does manage to set up a brighter future for it.
There is ample opportunity to dive into Gus and still plenty of time to see how Nacho reacts to Lalo's interference, and Mike's departure may even allow more time to be focused on developing these stories.
At the very least, I hope that Mike's break from Gus allows Mike and Jimmy to return to each other's storylines.
Better Call Saul has basically been two separate shows for the last few years, with one focusing on Jimmy and one on Mike.
It will only work if these two worlds collide in a major way soon. With Jimmy's stretch into the underworld, the potential for a collision is obvious.
If these stories don't merge at some point, I won't be able to help but to feel like these stories should have been two completely separate shows.
When and if they do (and I'm sure they will), hopefully the massive amount of time we've spent with Mike will have laid the groundwork to allow more explosive stories to be told immediately.
The explosion of the time-bomb of Kim and Jimmy's relationship is getting ever closer, and hopefully so is the collision of Mike and Jimmy's storylines.
But there is a third impending explosion in the flash-forwards.
These flash-forwards are the only part of Better Call Saul where we don't know the big picture of what is going to happen.
I’m gonna fix it myself.Jimmy/Gene
The best part of whatever is about to happen in these flash-forwards is that it cannot be seen just under the lens of a continuation of Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad.
Despite "Saul from Breaking Bad" being a major draw to a lot of viewers regarding this prequel and the flash-forwards, Better Call Saul has done enough work with its lead character that these new events are framed in a new light.
Whatever Gene does, he will not just be acting as Saul, but as the Jimmy McGill we have grown to know over the past five seasons, and I hope that his future actions will be a culmination of each version of Jimmy McGill.
What will he do?
From a technical standpoint, the episode continues Better Call Saul's excellence.
The flash-forwards with Gene begin with a handheld camera that increases the tension of Gene's fear with its shaky and human movement.
The wide angles outside the mall hammer how alone he is home.
The music blasts with percussion and rhythm as he drives, creating the sense that he's being chased despite no one being in his rearview mirror.
The steady upward climb of the melody also helps increase the tension.
The sliding POV show of the drugs flying down the drainpipe is vintage Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul, adding flair and intrigue to an otherwise standard scene through camera work.
The scene where Jimmy builds his client base is edited quickly, with shots from different meetings stitched together to create a frantic pace and get the message across to viewers that Jimmy is meeting with many people and developing his persona just as quickly.
The confidence in which this scene is edited, and its smooth music also reflect Jimmy's confidence in dealing with these people and being Saul, as does the sound design with Jimmy's overlapping lines of dialogue.
It's telling that Jimmy is the only one who we hear speak during this scene; after all, aren't lawyers the ones who are supposed to do all the talking?
Details and thoughtful writing like this are what elevate even the most standard Better Call Saul episodes above your average hour of television.
An entertaining start to a season filled with potential, the premiere does what it needs to kick off the next chapter of Better Call Saul.
There are a lot of questions to be answered. Most I care about (What happens to Kim?), some I don't as much (What happens to Lalo?).
But the premiere has done a good job setting up most of these dominoes to be knocked down in a satisfying way while continuing to be a cut above the standard hour with its technical mastery and thought out writing.
What questions are you most interested in getting answered?
Did the premiere whet your appetite for more to come this season?
Let us know below, and watch Better Call Saul online if you need to catch up.
Tommy Czerpak is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.