“And Now The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For.”
Too often, this old saw is deployed to describe something no one was really ever waiting for — at least, not impatiently, not with anticipation or longing. The moment you’ve all been waiting for: our featured lecturer! The moment you’ve all been waiting for: meatloaf!
Season five of Better Call Saul, by contrast, is truly The Moment We’ve All Been Waiting For. And what a moment it is.
Season four ended with con man-turned-attorney-turned-local commercial director-turned-burner phone salesman Jimmy McGill, still numb from the death of his mentally troubled brother Chuck, working up enough crocodile tears at his legal reinstatement hearing to get his license back. Jimmy cheerfully tells a shocked Kim (Rhea Seehorn) that he is going to do business under a certain pseudonym that rhymes with “It’s All Good, Man.”
Did it take forty one-hour episodes for the Saul Goodman Breaking Bad fans know to finally turn up? Yes, yes it did. Did this deliberate, methodical (some might say slow) mode of storytelling lose a lot of Breaking Bad fans who were expecting more corpse-disposal sequences and fewer document-review sequences? Yes again. But those viewers are screwing up in a big way, and — mark my words — they’ll be back.
Because while the stakes of Better Call Saul are unquestionably lower than those of its parent show, the storytelling is every bit Breaking Bad’s equal, and arguably better. It might have seemed a little slow, but we needed to see Jimmy’s progress from public defender to eldercare worker to Davis & Main to losing his law license to selling burner phones — with his increasingly futile efforts to win the respect of his brother Chuck — for his transformation into Saul Goodman to truly land and make sense as something that a basically goodhearted person might see as a reasonable life choice. We needed it so that we’d understand Jimmy’s perspective, and stay with him as a sympathetic lead, even when he starts making bad choices.
The first shot to pick up where season 4 left off is an excellent example of what I mean. As mentioned above, Kim has just learned that Jimmy plans to file for his new law license under the name of Saul Goodman, and she is confused. Director Bronwen Hughes does not simply show us Kim looking confused. She shows a totally out of focus hallway with bright colors — colors that evoke Saul’s familiar Craig Sager-inspired wardrobe — swarming around a befuddled Kim as she approaches the camera and both she and the rest of the frame come slowly into focus.
That’s not just giving us the story of the scene in a single shot, it looks to be a visual metaphor for the entire season. It’s these types of directing choices like that — along with the familiar grace notes that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s creative team makes look so easy, like the montages, the inventive camera angles, the nonlinear editing — that puts this show so far ahead of the pack.
Because that Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For? This is not a fake-out, Charlie Brown football moment. Saul Goodman arrives in all his glory this season, with the suits and the Bluetooth and the colorful wisecracks, and it is every bit as much fun as we hoped. I don’t want to get into a lot of detail here, because that would spoil a lot of fun surprises, but a few things to look forward to:
- The longest Gene scene yet. Each season has opened with a black-and-white flash-forward to Saul’s post-Breaking Bad life in hiding, managing a Cinnabon in Omaha under the name Gene Takovic. This season’s Gene scene is by far the longest yet, and strongly suggests that the series will end with a resolution to Gene’s story.
- Lalo Salamanca. Introduced last season, Tony Dalton’s jovial, grinning disposition as Lalo belies the character’s ruthless approach to business. Suspecting that Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) is preparing to strike out on his own and take down the Salamancas, Lalo begins the season sniffing around Fring’s business. Fring, in turn, senses Lalo’s suspicion, and puts Nacho (Michael Mando) in a very difficult position.
- Hank! If you are engaged enough to be reading this, you have probably heard that ASAC Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) makes a couple of appearances, along with his partner Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) in a plot that touches on Saul’s, Nacho’s, and Mike’s parallel stories, which have seldom intersected up to now.
- Memorable sequences. This team still does the best montages in the business, and there are a couple of corkers on the way, including Saul’s first night recruiting clients for his new practice from a circus tent. There is also an excellent long tracking shot that follows Saul around the courthouse as he makes very efficient use of his time. It’s a lot of fun, because Saul has several of his signature bon mots in the process, and it reminds us that beneath everything, Jimmy McGill is a very talented attorney.
The performances, the dialogue, the photography, the direction, the editing, the score — Better Call Saul is a fully satisfying experience, soup to nuts. Based on the first four of its ten episodes, season 5 looks like its best yet.
Season 5 of Better Call Saul premieres at 10pm ET Sunday on AMC (after The Walking Dead) before settling into its regular timeslot the following night, Monday at 9pm ET. Recent episodes will be available on demand.