'Breaking Bad' prequel 'Better Call Saul' season five is TV at its best
The best show on TV just got even better. “Better Call Saul,” the “Breaking Bad” prequel show about everyone’s favorite criminal lawyer, wrapped up its incredible penultimate season on Sunday in dramatic fashion.
Since the beginning of the series, viewers have wondered how the show would stack up to what many people consider the greatest show ever, “Breaking Bad.” With the conclusion of the show's fifth season, showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould prove that “Better Call Saul” has now officially matched — and perhaps even exceeded — its acclaimed predecessor.
At the conclusion of season four, Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman (played brilliantly by Bob Odenkirk), had taken his biggest step into becoming the sleazy criminal lawyer we know in “Breaking Bad,” when he officially changed his name from Jimmy to Saul. But even with the name change, McGill hadn’t quite made the leap yet to “full-on Saul.”
Season five picked up right where season four left off, as Goodman began to build up his clientele of drug abusers, lowlifes and — you guessed it — criminals. These are Goodman's people, the environment he thrives in the most as a criminal himself. In the four seasons before this, the show explored Goodman’s struggles to make a name for himself while he lied, scammed and cut corners in order to get there.
In season five, we see him at his most morally contrived, a man who’s more or less accepted his place as a criminal in society, even as he continues to wrestle with the side of him that wants to do good. His actions lead him further into a life of crime and to the events that we know will transpire in “Breaking Bad.”
As a result, storylines we’ve been anticipating since the beginning collide in some of the best episodes of the show's run. In “Bagman,” Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) find themselves being hunted while stranded in the desert with $7 million in cash. It’s perhaps the finest episode of the show so far and one that has immediate consequences in “Bad Choice Road,” where McGill and his ever-loyal partner in crime Kim Wexler (who I’ll get to in a bit), find themselves in a tense exchange with cartel boss Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton).
A note on Salamanca: In just one season he’s become television's most terrifying villain, a man whose friendly smile can turn deadly at the snap of a finger. By the end of season five he’s out for blood after being betrayed, with fan-favorite Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) at the top of his hit list.
That’s bad news for Varga, who, along with Wexler, is one of the two characters whose fates are still uncertain (neither makes appearances in Breaking Bad). Varga has quietly become one of the most important and tragic characters in “Better Call Saul,” and Mando does a fantastic job at portraying the character's fear and desperation as he reluctantly becomes more and more involved in the cartel. Unfortunately, if we’ve learned anything in the “Breaking Bad” universe, it’s this: No one escapes the cartel unscathed.
That brings me to the most fascinating character of the show, and the reason it arguably rivals that of Breaking Bad: Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). Wexler's been the one constant in McGill's life since the beginning, his voice of reason in the moments he so badly wanted to “break bad.”
But as we’ve seen, especially in the last couple seasons, Wexler has her own lust for the crime life, a desire which explodes in the season finale when she devises a plan to make $2 million fast, all at the expense of ruining the life of Howard Hamlin. A stunned McGill tells her, “Kim, doing this, it’s not you. You would not be okay with it, not in the cold light of day.” She responds with a smirk. “Wouldn’t I?” she asks coldly.
For years fans have speculated as to how and why Goodman became the criminal lawyer that we know in "Breaking Bad." Many have assumed it was something terrible that happened to Wexler (which it still might be). Wexler's moral degradation suggests it may not result from what happens to Wexler, so much as from what Goodman has turned Wexler into. Wexler’s become as much an anti-hero as Goodman himself, and the once good-natured Wexler we thought we all knew may be gone forever due to McGill’s actions.
And that’s where the tragedy lies: McGill’s turned the one person he’s loved and cared so much about into a monster with him.
Wexler has undeniably become television's most fascinating character. If there was one thing "Breaking Bad" sometimes lacked, it was female characters who existed outside of their roles as “wives in distress.” Take note, showrunners: This is how you create a well-rounded and amazing female character, and immense credit should go to Seehorn for her performance.
As the season came to an end, we’re left with many questions before the series sixth and final season. Although uncertainty looms for when we’ll get to see that final season, one thing is absolutely certain: "Better Call Saul" is, without a doubt, the best show on TV right now.
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