*MAJOR SPOILERS INBOUND*
Was there ever any doubt that “Better Call Saul’s” season five premiere “Magic Man” would be a poor showing? It has everything “Better Call Saul” fans are looking for. It features good humor, darker elements of mystery and crime, as well as amazing interpersonal drama.
The season opens like all the other seasons before it, featuring Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman’s (Bob Odenkirk) post- “Breaking Bad” life as Gene Takovic, a lowly Cinnabon manager in Omaha, Nebraska. These sequences are always shot in black and white, conveying just how little excitement or pleasure there is in Saul’s new world.
This sequence picks up where the last one left off. Saul, fearing that he’s been made by a taxi driver he took a ride with, goes off the grid for a few days to throw him off. However, the driver returns and taunts Saul with the knowledge, and bullies him into admitting who he is. Odenkirk really sells how pathetic Saul has become, weakly denying the accusations until he finally caves in. Saul calls back his disappearer Ed Galbraith (played by the departed Robert Forester) to set him up with another new identity.
However, the old Saul comes back at the last minute and decides to take this matter into his own hands. This is the best Gene sequence to date, building off what has been set in motion for four seasons and featuring a great posthumous appearance by Forester.
Back in the present, the main conflict of the premiere is the working and romantic relationship between Jimmy and Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). At this point, Jimmy McGill is dead. After having been forced to display grief over his brother Chuck’s (Michael McKean) suicide at his bar hearing, Jimmy’s soul and spirit have been completely eroded. Despite Chuck having gaslit Jimmy and foil his law career for years, the New Mexico state bar expected him to pay lip-service to his brother, and Jimmy gave them one hell of a performance.
Jimmy, as we have known and loved him for four seasons, is dead and gone, leaving only Saul Goodman behind. It is heart-rending and fantastic to see Bob Odenkirk slip back into the role he was so known for on “Breaking Bad.” The tacky suits, off-color comments and willingness to bend and break the law are back in full swing for Albuquerque’s finest criminal lawyer. There’s a great sequence where he’s handing out free flip-phones to the seedy underworld of the city in order to build up his new legal practice, and it’s just so funny to watch him shuck and jive his way into their hearts and minds.
Kim, however, is a legitimate lawyer who has a reputation to maintain. She’s covered for Jimmy and has done cons with him in the past, but she finds herself being corrupted by Saul’s sleaze, as Saul suggests that she lies to one of her clients about a plea bargain being put off the table in a gambit for him to take it. Kim despite initially protesting it, does so anyway, and immediately regrets it afterwards. It hurts to see one of the best partnerships and relationships on television erode, but alas, it was fated to happen as per the canon of “Breaking Bad.”
As for our deuteragonist, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), he isn’t doing so well. For the season four finale, “Winner,” Mike had been forced to execute the leader of the construction project for Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) meth superlab, Werner Ziegler. Werner, for the most part, was an innocent man, and Mike’s actions clearly have taken a heavy toll on him.
When he and the construction workers are parting ways, one of them tries to kiss up to Mike and says that it was good that he killed Werner because he was a weak link. Mike decks him across the face, knocking him flat on his ass. Another worker says Werner was worth 50 of him. Mike simply takes the insult and does nothing to retaliate. Mike is no better than the corrupt cops that he once worked with, and he knows it.
Jimmy’s and Mike’s narratives compliment one another brilliantly. As we look at them in the context of the wider series, we realize that both are stories about good men going bad, much like Walter White’s story in Breaking Bad. To be more specific, their capacity for evil and harm is caused by the environment they put themselves, which turn them jaded and apathetic. Mike and Jimmy are looking more and more like their “Breaking Bad” selves: seedy and dangerous.
The last major storyline deals with series newcomer Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca, another member of the Salamanca crime family. To call Lalo a show stealer would be putting it lightly. Unlike his other, more outwardly violent family members, Lalo is precise and focused, like a surgeon’s scalpel. He tries to disarm other characters with his charms and light ribbing, but everyone knows there’s something deeply unsettling beneath Lalo’s smile.
And not only that, the guy is hilarious. Everything he does is just heightened to the tenth degree, whether that means harassing his subordinates for answers or driving like a coked-out maniac. Lalo is putting the squeeze on Mike and Gus, as he’s well aware of their secret construction project. He just has to find more proof.
Overall, the first episode of season five is setting up some exciting things down the road, and I’ll be paying close attention every step of the way.