Better Call Saul continues to be the best show on TV and that's saying something.
Better Call Saul has now had as many seasons as its parent show Breaking Bad, a rarity for a spinoff to last so long, and rarer yet for a prequel to be better than the original. A controversial statement to be sure, but Better Call Saul being viewed in the shadow of Breaking bad is wrong, and the latest season proves it.
Most strikingly from beginning to end the fifth season of Better Call Saul is fantastically filmed. Every single episode manages to capture beautiful imagery, from the barren New Mexico desert to the inner sanctum of the disgustingly rich Salamanca cartel. It’s great to see behind the scenes photos of cameras wrapped in bags to film in fish tanks, and cars without windscreens to allow absolute freedom with their camera work. It’s a clear sign of there being an effortlessly talented team working on the show. But this isn’t news to those of us who have become accustomed to the camera work done on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
The most obvious addition to Better Call Saul is Lalo Salamanca, who entered at the tail end of the fourth season. A powerful and violent member of the Salamanca cartel who moves in to control drug operations in the area. A testament to the writing staff, and actor Tony Dalton, is how likable Lalo is. It’s hard to ever truly dislike Lalo no matter what happens, he’s perhaps one of the most charismatic characters in the show. His knowing smile and casual nature in every scene is oddly engaging. Dalton is excellent at making Lalo feel like a long-standing character in a fraction of the screen time other actors have had. Lalo instantly becomes the main antagonist for season 5, and his course throughout the season dictates one of the most important themes in this season of Better Call Saul, Jimmy’s ascent (or descent) to Saul. His involvement with Jimmy is perhaps the greatest catalyst for this transformation.
In Breaking Bad, Jimmy was only known as Saul Goodman, a shady lawyer known for working with criminal clients for big money. Better Call Saul as a series details this change, and season 5 is perhaps where this transformation truly happens. Lalo and other criminals help turn Jimmy from a criminal lawyer to a ‘criminal’ lawyer. The debate throughout this season between the characters over if Jimmy’s new persona is an ascent or a descent is one of the most powerful ideas the show presents. Jimmy has always been charismatic, and his penchant to do good has always made him the most likeable, but you start to see the cracks as he evolves. Some of the most scathing words come from past personal enemies of Jimmy who suddenly doesn’t seem so harsh. Worse yet you see the descent of those close to Jimmy. This change comes with a darker and more serious tone that is far more similar to that of Breaking Bad than the rest Better Call Saul. This is displayed clearest of all in episode 8, “Bagman”. Thankfully this season does also feature some classic Saul shenanigans defending clients in less than legal methods. Even the promotional poster for this season features Jimmy torn in two, a worried expression on his face and split between the good and bad, the people flanking his bad side outweighing the good. This theme is carried effortlessly throughout Better Call Saul, with far greater complexity than was ever managed in Breaking Bad.
The worst you could say about Better Call Saul is that you don’t see enough of all the characters. There’s a rich world but it feels almost too full, with some characters given far more screen time than others. It’s a given for central characters but it feels a little over the top in some areas, for example, scenes with Nacho, a fan favourite, were cut in one episode, likely to make space for Lalo the new addition. This is made all the worse seeing Nacho driving Lalo place to place with no real dialogue between the two.
But overall season 5 is as consistently excellent as previous seasons. Both Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn provide powerhouse performances as Jimmy and Kim Wexler, often underappreciated because of how consistently excellent their work is. But to single out Seehorn and Odenkirk feels unfair given how talented every single cast member of Better Call Saul is. One can only hope that season 6 brings a strong closure to the explosive ending of season 5.
Better Call Saul Seasons 1 to 5 is available now on Netflix. Watch the series trailer below: