Prequels are weird. This is, perhaps, not the most professional or articulate way to open a discussion about the final season of one of television’s best shows, one that is part of a much-celebrated televised universe that dates back to the Bush administration, one that has maintained its distinctive style while galloping between genres and timelines, but, like… still. It’s true. It’s especially true when it comes to Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad prequel that is still on the air with its original cast 14 full years after the original began, and which is about to kick off its sixth and final season later this month.
There’s a lot to unpack here, in a lot of ways, but it’s probably best to start by getting to the point: The new season, through the first two episodes released to critics, is good. I suspect this information does not surprise you. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have been doing this — doing it well — for a while now, and the result is a confidence in their storytelling and visual style that feels comfortable to watch even when the action is steeped in menace. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a television show — or movie, for that matter — be so enjoyable while continuously building dread. Everyone here knows what they’re doing and is going to do it regardless of what you expect. I said something similar in my review of the new season of Atlanta, which feels right, in a way. The shows are very different on their faces but not so different in their bones. It’s cool that they’re both back.
An example will help, with as few spoilers as possible: It takes a lot of guts to come back after two full years off the air, after a season finale that closed with an assassination attempt gone awry and the show’s moral center starting to break bad herself, and slip a wordless five-minute montage set in a completely different time period into your season premiere. Find me another show that can pull that off. I’m serious here. Please, find me one. This show is about to end and I need other good stuff to watch. It’s going to become a problem.
But let’s rewind, briefly, if only to fill in some spots that have gone blank in the 24 months since the season five finale ended. When the credits rolled on that episode, the following things had just happened:
- Gus Fring and Mike Ehrmantraut had tried to assassinate Lalo Salamanca at his compound, with an assist from a double-cross by Nacho
- Lalo had thwarted the attempt by going full John Wick meets Spider-man on the killers, complete with hot grease flinging and gunplay, and had faked his death upon his escape to make everyone think the operation was a success, continuing his run as one of television’s most charismatic and terrifying villains
- Jimmy McGill had started his transition into Saul Goodman, finally and officially, with the colorful suits and ties to match
- Kim Wexler had started going to the dark side a bit, complete with plans to ruin her ex-boss Howard and Jimmy-style finger guns
Also, Lalo had just done this, which was not as much an important plot point as it was, like, my favorite thing that has ever happened on television.
It was a lot. Today, the day this review goes live, is April 4. The new season premieres two weeks from today. You should probably at least consider a season five rewatch in the interim. The last few episodes, at minimum. You should do this in part because you’ve probably forgotten some important stuff and in part because Better Call Saul — like Breaking Bad before it — loves to drop little references and callbacks to its own history, and while you can follow along just fine without catching all of them, they do add to the experience in a really fun way.
And you’ll want to find fun anywhere you can in all of this because large chunks of it are going to be stressful. This is one of the things I mean about prequels being weird. The fact that we’ve seen Breaking Bad and know what happens to most of the characters on this show already — Saul meets Walter While and everything goes to hell and he becomes Gene the Cinnabon Man; Mike dies; Gus loses about 45 percent of his face and then dies; etc. — makes the things we don’t know more nerve-wracking. What happens to Kim Wexler, who plays a huge part in Jimmy’s life and the action in the show and is never mentioned or seen once in Breaking Bad, even though the timelines are starting to squeeze together? What happens to Lalo, who is now out hunting Gus and Nacho and is briefly referenced but never seen in Breaking Bad? Will there still be lots of stakeouts where characters hold up binoculars to look at the action in the distance? Spoiler on that last one: Yes, there will be.
This final season is going to be split into two parts, with the first seven dropping from April through May and the last six rolling through in July and August. We are still over four months away from getting the answers to all of these questions, probably, although I suppose there’s a chance Kim could just up and move to Monte Carlo in the third episode and settle that part of it. (Let me pretend for now, please.) There’s going to be a part of you that just wants to hunt these answers, to speculate and look for clues and yell about it all if the show doesn’t provide them in the time or fashion you want. That’s fine, for the most part. It’s one of the things that makes watching a show like this one fun. Let’s get all the way in there for one last go-round, you know? Cover the wall in your living room with pictures of characters and unhinged handwritten notes and connect them all with strings of red yarn and thumbtacks. I would never take that kind of joy away from you.
But please, when that part of your brain starts yelling “JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS TO KIM, JESUS CHRIST, COME ON,” try to pull back a little. The show is and has been too good for too long to let the loud part of your brain take control now. There’s a beauty to what’s happening here, to watching smart people make something cool, to watching something wholly unique and original play out before your eyes at its own pace, to settling in and letting the story come to you instead of trying to rush out ahead of it all the time. Don’t lose sight of the whole thing in a maniacal hunt for a handful of specific pieces. Don’t ruin a good thing for yourself. That’s what I’m getting at here.
Enjoy the ride while you can, people. There’s only so much of all of this left.
The first part of the final season of Better Call Saul premieres on AMC on Monday, April 18