Fourteen years ago, no one could have predicted that a show about a high school chemistry teacher selling drugs by a little-known television writer named Vince Gilligan would become an American cultural phenomenon. Yet “Breaking Bad” won 16 Primetime Emmy Awards, earned a spot in “Guinness World Records” as the most critically acclaimed television show and spawned both a prequel television show and sequel film. Finally, the “Breaking Bad” universe is coming to an end with the release of “Better Call Saul” season six on AMC+ starting April 18, 2022. However, before we get to that, let’s take a look at “Better Call Saul” season five to celebrate it finally coming to Netflix on April 4 after airing on AMC+ in 2020.
Like the first four seasons of “Better Call Saul,” the show revolves around three central characters: criminal lawyer Jimmy McGill (under the alias Saul Goodman), his lawyer girlfriend Kim Wexler and the retired police officer Mike Ehrmantraut. The supporting cast includes “Breaking Bad” favorite Giancarlo Esposito as drug lord and fast-food entrepreneur Gustavo Fring, Michael Mando as drug dealer Nacho Varga and Tony Dalton as the dangerous cartel associate Lalo Salamanca. The show was created by Gilligan and Peter Gould, who both worked on “Breaking Bad” as writers, directors and producers.
“Better Call Saul” season five’s greatest strength is its storytelling, as the show weaves together three main plot lines, one for each main character, to form one cohesive narrative that never feels like it is ignoring one of the major characters. The points where these narratives coincide are key moments in the show and the end of the season manages to tie all three plotlines together in an incredibly satisfying way. Episodes eight through 10 mark a high point in the season, featuring many great moments that are tense, exciting and even heartbreaking.
However, the method of storytelling in “Better Call Saul” can be a bit of a double-edged sword, as the show requires you to pay close attention to the events of each episode and not only be able to recall moments from earlier in the season, but also key plotlines from previous seasons and even from “Breaking Bad.” If anything, “Better Call Saul” is perhaps too smart for its own good by demanding intelligence from its audience, but it is refreshing to see a show that treats its audience like adults. Nonetheless, the show has incredible moments that pay off all of the storylines and reward audience members who can keep track of everything that is going on, making it more than worthwhile to stay engaged with the show.
Similar to the storylines, the characters of “Better Call Saul” are phenomenally written and also well acted. As the name of the show implies, Goodman is the focal character of the show and his arc from the naive public defender McGill in season one to the “criminal” lawyer Goodman in season five is spectacular to watch. Bob Odenkirk’s performance is superb, as he adds an extra layer of depth to Goodman that we never got to see in “Breaking Bad” by going into the origins of his sleaziness. The makeup work on Odenkirk is also impressive because it manages to make him look just as young as he was in “Breaking Bad.” Although this is a small detail, it really helps the audience buy into the fact that “Better Call Saul” takes place before “Breaking Bad” and keeps them from being taken out of the story.
The other two main characters, Wexler and Ehrmantraut, are also both incredibly compelling. Wexler, a new addition to the “Breaking Bad” universe, is wonderfully portrayed by Rhea Seehorn. She manages to convey both the hard exterior of her character that allows her to excel in the legal world while still giving off the warmth that makes the audience (and Goodman) fall in love with her. The story also gives Wexler more to do than just be the main character’s love interest, one of the main criticisms of “Breaking Bad.”
Jonathan Banks reprises his role from “Breaking Bad” as Ehrmantraut and “Better Call Saul” explores the relationship between Ehrmantraut and Fring. While Banks had the opportunity to show flashes of the anger and pain inside Ehrmantraut in “Breaking Bad,” he really gets the chance to let it all out in “Better Call Saul,” particularly in season five. While these scenes can sometimes be painful to watch, they do a lot to develop his character and make the audience question whether or not Ehrmantraut is someone they can root for.
Beyond the main three characters, the supporting cast is also excellent in “Better Call Saul.” One of the main standouts is Esposito, who is able to pick up right where he left off in “Breaking Bad” with the chillingly cool Fring in the process of building his drug empire. Season five of “Better Call Saul” also features some surprise appearances and cameos from “Breaking Bad” characters that are sure to bring a smile to any fan’s face.
The last thing of note about “Better Call Saul” season five is its direction and visual style. While television shows are usually not known for their camerawork, “Better Call Saul” utilizes the camera extremely well, making the show feel cinematic in its movement and scope. One particular shot has Goodman and rival lawyer Howard Hamlin framed in two separate windows of a door, capturing the divide between them. Another great shot uses racking focus to change the focus between Goodman and Wexler in a single scene, depicting them being out of synch at that particular moment of the show. Every shot in “Better Call Saul” is carefully constructed and important, something that makes the show very compelling to watch.
Moving on to the flaws of the show, there really are none. It is rare these days to find a show without a major problem, whether it be a poorly written character or a glaring plot hole, but “Better Call Saul” season five manages to avoid all the traps and be consistently excellent for its duration. Every episode has you on the edge of your seat and somehow manages to top the last, with each episode ending on a brutal cliffhanger that makes you need to know what happens next. The only small problem is that you have to be familiar with “Breaking Bad” to enjoy the show, but that is hardly a criticism given that both are set in the same universe.
If you could not already tell from reading the article, “Better Call Saul” season five is not just a good season of television. It is one of the best ever put on the small screen. If you are a fan of “Breaking Bad” but never got around to watching “Better Call Saul,” right now is the perfect time to catch up on seasons one to five of “Better Call Saul,” which can all be found on Netflix (along with “Breaking Bad”). And if you are lucky enough to still be able to experience “Breaking Bad” for the first time, then you need to watch both shows as they are two of the highest-quality programs that you will find on any streaming service right now.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars