Five True Statements is exactly what it sounds like, a discussion about the most recent episode of ‘Better Call Saul’ centered around five undisputable statements of fact. Mostly undisputable, at least. I would never lie to you on purpose. Especially not about ‘Better Call Saul.’
1. Jimmy is Saul, Saul is Jimmy, there’s no going back now
The big question on everyone’s mind back when Better Call Saul started was “So when does Jimmy become Saul Goodman?” The people making the show knew this and teased the answer out pretty good over the first four seasons. Here he is using the name in a flashback to his Illinois grifting days. There he is buying a closet’s worth of Saul’s signature rainbow acid trip brightly colored dress shirts. Hey look, he’s using the name as part of his drop phone hustle, which explains part of why he’ll make the change, seeing as most of his client base knows him as Saul anyway. That’s cool. And the season four finale put a button on all of that for us by revealing that, yup, Jimmy McGill files a form after his suspension gets lifted to officially begin doing business as Saul Goodman. So that’s that.
But it turns out that was never the real question. It was never about when Jimmy would become Saul on paper and on billboards and in wardrobe. It was about when Jimmy would become Saul, internally, and shut out the glimmer of light that made Jimmy a hopeful character for an audience that knew all along there was no salvation coming. That one was a little trickier because it developed slowly, with a few pushes and pulls in both directions, coming from Jimmy himself and from Kim and, sometimes, even from Chuck. In any event, we have our answer to this question too now: He becomes Saul Goodman in the moment he decides, on the fly, to scrap his plan to read Chuck’s letter at the reinstatement appeal and wing it with an emotional speech that was never what it seemed.
Oof, right? Did that one hurt you as much as it hurt me? When he revealed the scam to Kim in the hallway and started calling the members of the panel suckers? Maybe it’s that I felt like a sucker, too. There I was, with no excuse to not know better, after a full episode of his fake tears and fake grieving, getting a little choked up as Jimmy said all those words that very easily could have — and possibly should have, if he wasn’t so broken — rung true. I was Kim Wexler, feeling stupid for letting this putz make me get emotional and feeling, maybe, a little manipulated and, maybe, a little scared. That performance was a little too good, man. Like, sociopath good. Jimmy is Saul Goodman now and Saul Goodman is Jimmy. I’m sure the show will tease things out a bit going forward and not leave it all so black-and-white because Peter Gould and company are really, really good at their jobs. Nothing on this show is ever a straight line. But we do have our answer now.
And can I confess one other thing about all of this? I’m sad. I did not see this emotion coming when this whole business kicked off. I thought I’d be excited when Jimmy became Saul. In hindsight, that was silly and misguided, of course, but I don’t think I was alone. But then the show introduced us to Jimmy and made us care about him and now it’s all a bummer of a story about squandered potential and shortcuts. Jimmy was always the kind of guy who would spend six hours on a scheme to get out of four hours of work but that was all part of his charm. Until it wasn’t. Until things got very real and very dark.
Poor Kim. Get out now, lady. While you still can.
2. Anton Chekhov remains correct
Russian playwright Anton Chekhov is best remembered for a rule of storytelling called Chekhov’s Gun, which goes something like this: If you show a gun in Act I, someone needs to fire it by the end of Act III. It’s all about avoiding wasted motion and keeping the audience in the story and hey look, there’s a gun in Mike’s glove compartment, oh well, I guess they just showed us that as a misdirect in the Lalo chase. to highlight how cool and creative the chewing gum move was, I bet it never comes up again, especially not in a heartbreaking scene in which Mike kills Werner for fleeing to a spa for some quality time with the wife…
It’s funny, in a way. It’s always seemed like Mike’s half of the story was way ahead of Jimmy’s. Mike started working with Gus first and did more of the straightforward “Breaking Bad prequel” things, with cameos and callbacks thrown in to back that all up. Jimmy, meanwhile, was off in his own world, a new one, where only Huell ties him to the events we know are coming. But then both of them, in the same episode, whacked the same kind of big unringable bell. For Jimmy, it was the hearing and the official name change. For Mike, it’s committing murder on behalf of a drug lord.
Both sucked a little. Not from an artistic or storytelling perspective, not at all. The episode was incredible and devastating and funny and exciting like all the best episodes of this show can be. It just sucked because it was our darkest reminder yet that, even though we like these guys in spurts and Mike is a really good grandpa, they’re both mostly monsters and that’s only getting worse from this point forward. I hate it and I also can’t wait to see it.
3. Screw Chekhov
We spent this entire season watching Kai be an insufferable doofus. He openly antagonized Mike, he got handsy and gross at the strip club, he cheated at volleyball. The guy was a scarf-wearing pile of comeuppance waiting to happen and I was here for it. This show can be stressful as hell and I was ready for a cheap and easy win via someone smashing an acoustic guitar over his head or something.
And then… nothing. I should have seen it coming. The show does this every now and then, gives us the old okie-doke, making us look at the rebellious goon and then ripping our hearts out by killing off the sweet father figure instead. So now, presumably, Kai is headed back to Germany and Werner is headed for a postmortem “accident” and there’s no justice in any of it.
I hope, perhaps during a cold open next season, after not seeing him or even hearing his name for five-plus episodes, we see Kai walking and whistling down a street in Germany and then suddenly whooooosh splash! he falls down an open manhole and into the gross sewer water. I think that would help.
4. Fred didn’t deserve to die, and I feel bad for him, especially because he was just a sweet helpful kid who got tangled up with killers through no fault of his own, but this was still cool as heck
Lalo from the ceiling!
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I like Lalo. He’s a weasel and a scoundrel and a killer and he does it all with a transparent shit-eating grin on his face. He’s a serious threat to Nacho, who — again, sorry — I also like, even more since we saw the safe filled with a potential Manitoba escape plan. He’s all flash and impulse and he’s the opposite of Mike, which is nice because it gives Mike a nemesis. Maybe it’s the mustache. Maybe that’s why I like Lalo.
Gus has problems, by the way. He’s got a hole in the ground and a Salamanca or two sniffing around and he’s taking it out on Gale which is unacceptable. You leave my sweet boy alone, you bastard. He’ll have problems soon enough.
5. ABBA is a gutsy karaoke choice
The episode was bookended with scenes in which Jimmy became a lawyer. The first one, in the cold open, was a flashback to the day he was sworn in and went out to celebrate with karaoke. It was fun. Ernie sang poorly but with gusto (I respect it) and Jimmy lured Chuck up to the stage to sing “Winner” by ABBA. There are some very clear metaphors going on here and you are very welcome to seek out other recaps to read about them or just google the lyrics and put it together yourself. I am, instead, going to make three points about the karaoke of it all:
- ABBA is a gutsy pick because there are a lot of highs and tricky parts to an ABBA song and if you don’t really commit it’ll look bad
- Hard laugh at Chuck yoinking the mic away and going full-ham when the song really picked up (Michael McKean is a treasure)
- I say this every time karaoke comes up and sometimes just out of nowhere but the best karaoke song is “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” because at the end of the George Michael part you can gesture to the door and do the “Ladies and gentlemen, MR. ELTON JOHN” thing and at least one person will look every time
Another season in the books. Still one of the best shows on television.