Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 1 Review: Magic Man

Better Call Saul returns for Season 5 and the tension is already palpable. Read our review of the premiere here!

Photo: AMC

This Better Call Saul review contains spoilers.

Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 1

It may have taken four seasons of Better Call Saul, but the titular Saul Goodman is here. It’s likely a coincidence that fans are reunited with the genuine article so soon after a rendezvous with fan-favorite Jesse Pinkman in El Camino, but there’s a similar feeling of satisfaction watching the Magic Man finally evolve into the criminal lawyer we always knew he’d become. The McGill name is burnt; J.M.M. now stands for Justice Matters Most, in motto only.

Still, the transformation will not come without its heartache. Kim Wexler has inarguably become one of the most beloved characters of the Breaking Bad universe and no one needs reminding that she never appears in that show. We know that Kim and Jimmy’s paths diverge, or worse, and that fact is a bitter pill to swallow. Every time Jimmy slips on another garish suit, Kim slips further away. Forget about the inevitable cartel violence that’s seeping into the picture; the impending doom that awaits Jimmy and Kim’s relationship is the real reason we’re tense. 

Tension consumes “Magic Man” from its very first moments. Per tradition, we begin the season in Omaha with Gene Takovic. When we last left Gene, he had a suspicious encounter with a taxi driver who happened to have an Albuquerque air freshener hanging from his window. We pick up in the aftermath of that run in, and Gene is convinced he’s been made. He rummages through his things, collecting some diamonds and personal items and is off like a bat out of hell. He doesn’t stop driving until it’s time to break for breakfast, and if we know anything about the BB-universe, breakfast is always observed. 

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The moment of calm allows Gene to maybe come to his senses, and after checking to see if this coast is clear at his work, he makes his way back to Omaha but remains vigilant and careful in the process. Just as the coast looks to be all clear, the taxi driver catches up with Gene again at the mall. With a menacing edge, the man asks Gene to relay his old catchphrase, “Better Call Saul,” and after much prodding, Gene reluctantly obliges. It’s an incredibly tense scene, and Gene immediately calls Ed the Disappearer (the late, great Robert Forster in his final appearance as the character) to request a new identity. However, at some point during the call, Gene’s brow furrows, his lip stiffens, and he decides to call off the relocation; he ominously declares he’ll handle things himself. 

It’s such a great scene to kick off the season and lets the viewers know exactly what they have to look forward to in Better Call Saul’s penultimate season. Mike is brooding more than ever after the avoidable death of Werner, Gus has Lalo sniffing around his operation, and Nacho must carefully hide his loyalties. All these men are being forced to confront nasty complications in their lives, and even if they do survive (which isn’t guaranteed for Nacho) they’re going to lose a bit of their souls in the process.

As mentioned above, Lalo is still hot for catching Gus and Mike in some nefarious action unsanctioned by the cartel. He’s identified a change in the drug product, and he knows Gus is building something important, but Gustavo Fring is always two steps ahead. He bullshits a story to cover Mike’s and his own tracks, and Juan Bolsa buys it hook, line and sinker. Lalo isn’t convinced, but at least Gus now knows he must be careful around the wild card Salamanca, and he suspends construction on the superlab until the annoyance is gone. A new heavy was desperately needed on this side of Better Call Saul’s story, and Lalo is a type of villain we haven’t seen before. He’s capable of great violence and rage like Tuco, but he has a suaveness to him that the other, younger Salamancas lack.

The only person having any fun in this episode is Jimmy. In a great flash of inspiration, he decides to keep the Saul Goodman name and use his phone business clientele as his new Rolodex, so to speak. Using the free phones as an incentive, he meets with every low life in Albuquerque to inform them of his services, even programming his number into the burner phones so they don’t forget. It all makes perfect sense to Jimmy, but Kim is struggling to get behind the latest grift.

Kim is aware of everything it took, morally and spiritually, for Jimmy to be able to practice law again, and she just can’t understand why he wants to spend his time running a racket, exploiting and encouraging the worst behavior that the ABQ has to offer under an assumed name. He offers up Chuck and his old reputation as some sort of excuse, but it doesn’t help things much. Jimmy thinks that Kim is the one that pulls him back if he goes too far, but we watch her disapprove of Jimmy running a distasteful discount program, then see him implement it anyway behind her back. It’s barely the first night as Saul Goodman, and the man is already too far down the rabbit hole. If this is Jimmy on Kim’s leash…well, we know what he looks like off of it, and it ends with him living in Omaha as Gene.

Kim knows she can’t stay associated with this sort of morally-defunct hucksterism, cause standing too close to stench will start to soil her too. Kim makes a hard line in the sand when Jimmy suggests that she con her client, even if it’s for the dimwits own good; she won’t do it, it’s against her morals. But just like Jimmy slipping up and offering that shady discount despite knowing that it’s wrong, Kim finds herself misleading her client anyway. The difference is that when Jimmy slides a little bit further past his always-shifting line, he only reflects after he’s been caught, but the impact of what Kim has done catches up to her immediately. It’s unsustainable behavior.

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The premiere of Better Call Saul Season 5 is as brilliant as any fan of the series could expect and seems to suggest that things will only get hairier from here. With the cartel business on one side, and Jimmy’s less than respectable new gig on the other, things already seem set on going downhill, but you can bet that these two bullet trains are bound to cross. When they do, the bottom will really fall out.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5