For all of the hype Breaking Bad (deservedly) received, it's been confusing to see people not flock to its prequel series, Better Call Saul, in the same manner. Sure, the show is "slower" than the breakneck speed Walter and Jesse were moving at through Breaking Bad, but Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Giancarlo Esposito, and the rest of the cast have been putting in WORK in Saul, and the seeds they've sown in the four seasons prior definitely manifested themselves in this intense fifth season, which ended on Monday night with its 10th episode, "Something Unforgivable".
[Ed Note: Spoilers for Season 5 of Better Call Saul, including its finale, "Something Unforgivable", follow. You have been warned.]
Season 5 of Better Call Saul primarily dealt with two things: how Jimmy's newfound (legal) life as Saul Goodman turned into him working for the cartel, but also how his relationship with Kim Wexler grows, both as Jimmy and as Saul. Those two pillars came to a head in the eighth episode, "Bagman," and the ramifications of that episode (which gave us peak Breaking Bad vibes) reverberated through the last two episodes, including the finale, which everyone assumed would spell doom for Kim. We were all thrown a curveball, and now it's hard to tell how the final season of Saul will a) shake out and b) set viewers up for Season 1, Episode 1 of Breaking Bad.
Just like we did with the premiere, William and I struck up a chat about a season of Saul we loved, where it may have deviated for people, and what viewers can (should?) expect from the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul.
William: khal, before fully dive into the finale, I’m curious to get your thoughts on the fifth season overall. You’ve talked about it a little bit on the pod—and I’ve certainly been writing about on the site—but I think we’d be remiss not to walk through it together, especially since so much of the season has been building to the events that culminate in “Something Unforgivable.”
khal: Even during the quarantine, I fell behind on Saul—as per usual. There’s something about week-to-week shows that I love, but I still enjoy Saul best when I take it in two or three episodes at a time, and I will say this: I was hype. And it delivered. Actually, for a show deemed a “slow burn” by many, I felt like the pace in Season 5 quickened. Maybe it’s because we’re in the endgame of this series [Ed Note: AMC already announced Saul’s sixth and final season will air in 2021]. Maybe it’s because MANS WAS DRAGGING $7 MILLION IN CASH THROUGH THE DESERT. It was one of those seasons where the groundwork that had been laid really paid off, damn near every week. I’d need to run back and see where it stacks up with other seasons, but I am truly impressed by how consistently fire this underrated series is. You?
William: It feels like the entirety of Better Call Saul has been building to the events we saw throughout the season. Our compass for this show has always oriented itself around Saul’s panicked exclamation (“Lalo didn’t send you!?”) all the way back in Season 2 of Breaking Bad. As portrayed by Tony Dalton, Lalo has become another fantastic villain for this series, just as compelling and rich a text as Gus. Combine this horror with the trauma Jimmy faces in the desert during “Bagman” and now I totally understand why Saul had every single right to be absolutely terrified that Walt and Jesse were somehow involved with Salamanca. This show’s methodical nature makes so many of these character interactions and plot events all the richer now that we’re watching the show’s menacing elements overlap into other areas.
On the subject of darker tones, I’ve spoken before how the show feels like it is these two separate halves: the Breaking Bad, cartel-based part and the Jimmy part. As Jimmy inches ever closer to becoming Saul, it seemed natural for the show’s pace to quicken. Now, at the end of Season 5, the show has fully merged the two—effectively “breaking bad” itself in the process. I think this is a good stage to get into “Something Unforgiveable,” as the finale is a good deep dive between the show’s two thematic elements: the “doing good vs. being good” debate (as personified by Kim and Jimmy) and then the crime side (Lalo and Nacho). One is pretty straightforward and the other is a little more complicated. How did you feel about it all?
khal: Well I guess it depends on which one you consider straightforward and which is complicated, you feel me? Before I get into that, you blew my mind talking about the Lalo reference in Season 2 of Breaking Bad; he’s one bad MF. Went on a whole Punisher-esque rampage when the shit really got thick, although it’ll be interesting to see how that all shakes out.
ANYWAYS, back to what’s complex (heh) and what’s simple. I’d say the Lalo situation is actually the less complicated: he knows something is afoot, and doesn’t like the way it smells...and Jimmy’s gonna have to pay, one way or the other. Right? Even if Jimmy’s still reeling from that whole Mexico money ordeal, it’s still pretty cut and dry. I think the more complex situation is what Kim proposed: the taking down of Howard Hamlin. Jimmy was actually not really rocking with it, to my surprise; one of the running gags this season was just how often he’d fuck with Howard after Howard offered Jimmy a job. He was over it when he cut a massive promo on him, but now that Kim’s shed everything to stay closer to Jimmy and get some semblance of her life back, it’s interesting that she’s set her sights on Hamlin...and that Jimmy wasn’t really rocking with it. If this is the schism that separates Jimmy and Kim, it better be good. But I’m not sure I was even thinking that’d be part of the series’ endgame.
William: You nailed my thinking. Lalo’s total Terminator-like rampage was something to behold, giving us one of the best action set pieces we’ve gotten on the show to date. He knows Jimmy & Kim lied and that Nacho is somehow involved in selling him out. Everyone is going to be in for a rude awakening next season.
What I enjoyed so much about this finale is how it unfolded as anti-climax. The Sopranos would often do this: you’d expect Tony to kill Richie, only for someone like Janice to do it instead. The audience was primed for Kim to go out by Lalo’s hand, only for her to stick around. And then we anticipated this to be the end of Lalo, only for him to live to die another day.
Sidenote: I wonder if an element of his survival comes down to the fact Gould and the rest of the writing staff love Dalton’s performance too much to be rid of him completely. It’s almost similar to how Vince Gilligan was planning on killing Jesse at the of Breaking Bad’s first season, only to be won over by Aaron Paul’s performance. Totally projecting, but it’s a fun bit of mirroring.
While watching Tony Dalton whip ass is satisfying in its own way, it’s not quite as thematically rich as what Kim suggests. The Howard scheme is so perfectly representative of this “doing good vs. being good” push-pull we’ve seen throughout the show. For as much as Jimmy thinks himself to be Saul, he ends up far closer to Jimmy in the finale than he does our beloved scummy lawyer. In fact, if anything, Kim is closer to Saul Goodman than Saul Goodman is!
Bringing back Sandpiper is a lovely flourish for a few reasons: it’s a long-simmering pot I’d almost completely forgot was even on the stove and serves as a practical, plot-driven solution. Kim won’t have to worry about not making money from pro-bono work if her husband has Heisenberg funds. And it serves to take down Howard while also serving to befit a number of others in the process. It’s captivating to see Kim convince herself of this in real-time, much to the horror of Jimmy. The whole plot makes for a tidy thematic reversal of Kim’s gobsmacked reaction to the birth of Saul in the season premiere—not to mention Kim’s callback of Jimmy’s beloved finger guns.
I’ve got to say, watching Kim talk through this left a pit in my stomach. Watching her break bad is almost worse than if we were to see her die.
khal: The whole idea about Kim's fate in this season is what happens when people try to be all meta and Easter egg-y; they see oranges (and splashes of orange juice) and expect Kim to get got. I don’t think her surviving means the finale was trash; it’s just too easy of a thing to do. Maybe Kim doesn’t die at all; maybe Hamlin and Associates crush her. Who knows? (She probably will die at some point.) I’d much rather see the story unfold and judge it that way than be on some “oh this was kinda weak,” especially with the challenge this finale sets up.
You mentioning Jimmy really not being as Saul as he wants to be is so clutch; even though he’s Saul Goodman in the eye of the law, he’s Jimmy to his core. The process of “breaking bad” is a marathon, not a sprint. The whole Breaking Bad series saw Walter delve deeper into the pits of his own personal hell as the seasons go on. The shit he was doing at the end aren’t things he’d necessarily do in Season 2. Likewise, the Saul we meet in Breaking Bad isn’t the guy we’re seeing now, even after being a bagman. He’s still on the downward slide, even in Season 5. We could even get to a point where it’s Season 6, Episode 13 when he finally turns the corner. Seeing Jimmy so vulnerable and broken during the tail-end of Season 5 should really put certain things into perspective for people. There are lines that haven’t been crossed yet, and my thought is once we get there, there’s no turning back. That could be the death of Kim, which sucks immensely, but wouldn’t be a surprise.
Now Kim making it out alive, unscathed, and having to sever ties with Jimmy on some life-or-death shit? That’s what I’m gathering. Where do you think Season 6 is going to end up?
William: I was always curious as to whether or not the show would end up running concurrently with some of the events we see in Breaking Bad but I think that’s probably off the table for now. Which, honestly, is fine with me. Saul has really proved to be just as much of Kim’s story as it is Jimmy’s—and I’m far more invested in seeing what the future holds for them instead of seeing how Saul is dealing with Walt’s criminal empire.
I think a sure thing—as much as we can have those on this show—is that we’ll be spending extended time with Cinnabon Gene. His location in Nebraska seems all the more intentional after this season. Several sharp-eyed folks noticed the car driven by Kim’s mom in the cold open of “Wexler v. Goodman” had—wait for it—Nebraska plates. Perhaps a reunion of some sort between the two is on the horizon as Jimmy deals with the guy who discovered his secret, assuming Kim is somehow around.
Otherwise, everything feels wide open. There’s plenty of lingering danger out there to keep the tensions high. Looking back at it now, this superlative season feels all the stronger and richer for how it’s laid the groundwork for what’s to come. In the parlance of Walter White, all the right chemical elements are present to create one explosive reaction. It’s just a matter of strapping ourselves in and preparing for the final result accordingly.