The Most Intense Better Call Saul Moments

Better Call Saul is often seen as a "slow burn" compared to its progenitor Breaking Bad, but it can be every bit as tense when it needs to be.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul Season 5
Photo: AMC

At the beginning of the month, Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk picked up his fourth Golden Globe nomination for his lead role in the Breaking Bad spinoff series. In the midst of preparing for the sixth and final season of the AMC drama, Odenkirk found out about his nomination while walking his dog, and let slip to Deadline that filming for the new season will begin in March.

That’s not the only nugget of info that Odenkirk gave Deadline in regard to Better Call Saul season 6. In a phone interview, Odenkirk told fans to expect a combustible final batch of episodes. 

“I can’t wait for the fireworks, really,” Odenkirk said about the upcoming season, which is expected to feature more episodes than the usual 10. “Our show is a bit of a slow burn over the past few years, and [series creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould] build up. There’s certainly exciting moments throughout, but towards the end, it gets super supremely intense.”

“Slow burn” is a common phrase used to describe the prequel series that finds earnest lawyer and ex-con man Jimmy McGill slowly transform into the shameless criminal defense attorney and sleazeball Saul Goodman. In comparison to parent series Breaking Bad, which saw milquetoast chemistry teacher Walter White undergo a far more dramatic transformation into the drug kingpin Heisenberg, Better Call Saul is seen as a smaller stakes story far more focused on interpersonal relationships than thrilling set-pieces and explosive showdowns. 

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However, that reputation betrays the fact that Better Call Saul also offers plenty of high-stakes thrills and hard-charged moments. Below we’ve compiled the five most intense moments of Better Call Saul so far. These scenes offer a different type of tension than Breaking Bad, but are nonetheless arresting in their own way.

Chuck’s Court Room Blow-Up 

Season 3 Episode 5 “Chicanery”

The relationship and struggle between the brothers McGill is the lifeblood of Better Call Saul. Even after Chuck’s death (which is itself quite the intense moment), the psychological impact of the jealousy experienced and their falling out still informs so many of Jimmy’s decisions. “Chicanery” features the moment that their relationship deteriorated beyond repair in a stunning courtroom sequence that found Chuck revealed to be the true villain in Jimmy’s story.

Without stunning scientific feats, shootouts, drug deals, or fiery explosions, Better Call Saul captivated audiences simply by showcasing two brothers destroying their relationship. No Machiavellian efforts necessary, just Jimmy’s accomplice Huell slipping a harmless battery in a pocket; no surprise hitman at the door, just an unannounced appearance by a concerned ex-wife. The stakes are significantly smaller than a Breaking Bad setpiece, but far more personal and more than capable of keeping viewers at the edge of their seats. 

Chuck’s unraveling takes place in one room, but director Daniel Sackheim keeps things interesting by utilizing the reflections in clocks or by keeping the background action in focus. Michael McKean stuns with an incredible, spiteful, and vulnerable performance, making Chuck utterly despicable yet somehow sympathetic at once. But only sympathetic to a point. 

Though Chuck’s mental condition is clearly something to worry about, his gross jealousy and resentment shown toward his brother, a brother who respected and selflessly helped Chuck time and time again, is unforgivable. In this tense courtroom blowup, the man that Jimmy looked up to as a monument is reduced to pitiful rubble.

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Gene and the Cab Driver 

Season 4 Episode 1 “Smoke”

Prior to the beginning of season 4, co-creator Peter Gould said that Better Call Saul was envisioned as a “romp.” However, the first episode of the fourth season is most definitely not a romp. “Smoke” takes place in the immediate aftermath of Chuck’s death, with Jimmy seemingly trying to ignore his complicated feelings over his brother’s passing. But before we get to that, we spend a little time in the post-Breaking Bad timeline with Gene, Jimmy’s new alter ego living and working in Omaha, Nebraska, trying to exist under the radar and escape the fallout from his criminal past.

The time spent with Gene is the best part of the season premiere. Almost every season starts with a Gene check-in, but season 4 begins with a moment that almost scares Jimmy into abandoning his life in Omaha and starting over again. Jimmy has two close-calls, first at a hospital in the aftermath of a fainting spell. A nurse handling his registration says that his social security number is incorrect, causing the hair on the back of Gene’s neck to stand up. Before he starts hyperventilating, the nurse reveals she simply typed his information into the computer incorrectly, which gets a huge sigh of relief out of Gene. 

The second encounter isn’t as harmless. Gene is picked up at the hospital by a cab, and notices the cab driver staring at him uncomfortably. Finally, Gene notices that the cab driver has an Albuquerque air-freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. With just the thought of being recognized, we can see Gene’s blood run cold. It may not sound like a momentous moment, but director Minkie Spiro ratchets up the tension and makes us feel every bit of Jimmy’s intense fear of being discovered.

Mike Kills Werner 

Season 4 Episode 10 “Winner”

Most of Mike’s season 4 story revolves around him watching over the German team assembled to build Gus Fring’s super lab, the same lab that Walter White would use to perfect his meth cooks. It’s not the most exciting use of the hard-boiled hitman’s time, but it eventually leads to a moment that signifies Mike stepping over the morally grey line into full-blown villainy. This isn’t Mike’s only revealing moment of the series, as the sixth episode of Better Call Saul dives into Mike’s background and the revelation that he was directly responsible for his son’s death, but this is the moment of no return for Mike, the act that would solidify his involvement with Gus Fring’s operation and lead to his eventual demise. 

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After Werner, the engineer lead, escapes the underground facility after specifically being forbidden to do so, Gus orders Mike to hunt Werner down and tie off the loose end. Mike must find Werner before Lalo does, as Gus doesn’t want the Salamanca heavy to learn of his plans. The search and capture of Werner harkens back to the hardboiled delights of Mike’s scenes in Breaking Bad.

Also, the resolution of Mike’s search, ending with an expertly staged wideshot depicting Werner’s murder along with Mike’s wordless confirmation to Gus that the job had been done, shared some symmetry with Jimmy’s story. “Winner” finds Jimmy finally flashing the Saul Goodman seediness we’d come to know in Breaking Bad, so the episode depicts both characters seemingly shedding the last vestiges of their humanity.

Kim Faces Off Against Lalo

Season 5 Episode 9 “Bad Choice Road”

Lalo Salamanca was the big bad that Better Call Saul was missing. He’s the perfect villain and foil for Jimmy, someone that has as much swagger and charm as the slimy lawyer, but with a mean streak that rivals the best Breaking Bad villains. Lalo’s inclusion in the series has created nothing but chaos and danger, and the man has never felt more dangerous when showing up unexpectedly at Jimmy and Kim’s home.

 Jimmy’s near-death experience in the previous Season 5 episode “Bagman” may have been the most action-oriented episode of the series to date, but the follow-up features perhaps the most intense moment of Better Call Saul. In the middle of a fight after Kim abandons her position at Schweikart & Cokely, an argument that positions Jimmy as the selfish Chuck to Kim’s selfless Jimmy, the warring couple are interrupted by an urgent call from Mike; Lalo is at the door, and Mike demands that Jimmy keep his phone on so he can eavesdrop on the dangerous, impromptu visit. Lalo abandons his plans to return to Mexico after discovering Jimmy’s Esteem in the desert riddled with bullet holes and struts into their apartment to make himself comfortable. He’s ready to hear Jimmy’s story again, looking to catch him in a lie.

Throughout Lalo’s grilling, Jimmy gets noticeably more nervous and begs for Lalo to let Kim leave. During all of this, we watch Mike observing through a sniper scope on an adjacent building. Jimmy would typically have some sort of story ready to satiate Lalo, but he’s still in a fragile state and frankly appears shell shocked. His abilities as a bullshitter and impervious to Lalo. Fortunately, Kim steps up and speaks on his behalf, remaining tough with Lalo and poking holes in his concerns. 

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The entire encounter is a nail-biter because Lalo is so unpredictable; if you come at him with the wrong tone, he won’t hesitate to display his disapproval. Fortunately, the bold strategy works, and Lalo promptly heads out. Still, this moment signifies that if Kim wasn’t already in the game before, she certainly is now, and that’s a terrifying prospect for the beloved character. We know that Jimmy won’t fall victim to Lalo’s violence, but the same can’t be said for Slippin’ Kimmy. 

Nacho’s Betrayal and Lalo’s Escape 

Season 5 Episode 10  “Something Unforgivable”

When creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould first floated the idea of a prequel series titled Better Call Saul, many fans salivated at the thought of getting to learn the backstories of two of the most popular characters from Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut. While Better Call Saul has certainly delivered on fleshing out the origins of the beloved antiheroes, it’s also been successful in creating its own memorable supporting cast. 

New to Gilligan’s New Mexico crime universe was a young Salamanca soldier and dealer, Nacho Varga, whose business frequently intersects with our familiar returning protagonists. Nacho’s story finds him struggling for survival as he’s caught between the warring Salamanca and Fring factions. Nacho is depicted as a smart character with a decent moral compass, but he’s gotten himself mixed up in a bad situation that frequently looks keen on making Nacho collateral damage in a cartel war.

With his family threatened, Nacho is coerced into working as something of a double agent for Gus Fring, which has led to plenty of tense moments, but none more nerve-racking than the final episode of season 5, when Nacho attempts to aide Gus’ men in assassinating acting Salamanca boss, Lalo. After an uneasy meeting with Don Eladio, Nacho has to wait until 3 AM and unlock a gate located on Lalo’s ranch. When he walks outside in the middle of the night to complete the deed, Lalo is waiting in front of the gate, holding court around the fire. The tension erupts when Nacho uses a sneaky decoy to distract Lalo and open the gate. He walks out of the estate trusting that the trained killers will do their job, but Salamancas aren’t so easy to dispatch. 

In a thrilling sequence, Lalo out-maneuvers and decimates every would-be assassin. Lalo’s genial spirit is erased while surveying the damage. A rage boils inside of him seeing the bodies of the innocent people that Nacho was hoping would be protected. Lalo hobbles off-screen Terminator-style, looking to enact his revenge. If Lalo was a frustrating presence before, now he’ll return to Albuquerque like a plague.

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