The perennial Emmy nominee “Better Call Saul” returns with flair. It wouldn’t be a season premiere without some real fireworks, and “Magic Man” provides plenty. Directed by journeywoman Bronwen Hughes, “Magic Man” attempts to recognize the blessing and curses that came for Saul Goodman. Bob Odenkirk shines in this premiere, embracing the comedy and drama of the episode in equal measure. Anyone who watches “Magic Man” will immediately understand his range and dynamic enthusiasm that perfectly marries the actor with the role.
“Magic Man” kicks off with the black-and-white intro we’ve grown accustomed to over the past four years. Jimmy (Odenkirk) continues to hide as Gene Takavic, the manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha. Last season, he thought his taxi driver recognized him. Now we see the fallout of that moment as he runs for his car, leaves his house and goes on the run. Even from the road, he calls to make sure his employees know what needs to be done. After checking in, he thinks he’s overreacted and returns to work.
Everything seems normal when suddenly his driver, an apparent fan named Fred (Don Harvey), confronts him. Not only does Fred recognize Saul, but he brings a friend to meet him. Shaken by the interaction, Jimmy immediately calls his cleaner, Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster). Ed instantly recognizes Saul’s voice, and doubles the price for the cleaning. Saul takes it in, and when asked if he wants to proceed, he says he will deal with the situation himself.
We jump back in time and color to find Kim (Rhea Seahorn) searching for Jimmy. He has changed his name to practice, embracing his alter ego of Saul Goodman instead of staying in the shadow of his brother. After he confirms the name change is not a spur of the moment decision, she lets him complete the paperwork.
Lalo Salamanca(Tony Dalton) watches over Nacho (Michael Mando) and Domingo (Max Arciniega). While Nacho continues to earn, Lalo does not trust him. After all, Lalo’s uncle Hector suffered a stroke on Nacho’s watch. But Lalo doesn’t know that Nacho snuck in the pill that caused the stroke. When some customers are upset about the quality of their product, they visit one of Nacho’s dealers.
Nacho’s team has a simple system. Mouse (Adrienne Lovette) runs the operation. She leaves Arlo (Spenser Granese) out front to complete the buy and hold the cash. Meanwhile, she sits on the drugs and dispenses down a drainpipe after the deal is made. When Lalo and Nacho check the stash, some of the product is not up to standard. The product comes from Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), who has already been at odds with Lalo.
Jimmy and Kim celebrate his renewed status as an attorney. Using popularity as a cell phone distributor, Saul hopes to gain a strong base for his clientele. He plans to give away his remaining burner phones. But first, he programs his number into each so he can be easy to reach when trouble comes knocking. After pitching this idea and a 50% off deal, Kim questions why he wants to be a lawyer for these clients. Jimmy admits that he can never break out of Chuck’s (Michael McKean) shadow. Instead, the new name and business give him the freedom he never enjoyed.
Lalo shows up at a sitdown with Gustavo and Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda). The three discuss Werner Ziegler (Rainer Bock) and his escape last season. Rather than tell the whole truth, Lalo blames the dead German, presses Gustavo about the construction project, and forces an introduction with Mike (Jonathan Banks).
Both Lalo and Gus are slapped on the wrist by Juan, who says co-existence is necessary for the business to continue. After he comments on the South Wall, Lalo and Javier leave. When Lalo voices his distrust of Gus, Juan tells him to stop. After all, while Gus will never be one of the guys, he earns well. As long as Don Eladio Vuente (Steven Bauer) is happy with the money he brings in, Gus is off limits.
At a meet-up in Albuquerque, a line gathers to meet Saul. Huell (Lavell Crawford) works as the bouncer, and Jimmy meets with the massive crowd. One-by-one he gives advice and begins to set up his clientele, only to run out of phones. He quickly gives out his cards and offers his 50% off deal.
In the desert, the Germans get out of a bread truck. Mike lets them know they’ll be heading home, despite leaving the job half-finished. They’ll be paid in full, and Mike gives them their plane tickets. When Kai (Ben Bela Böhm) makes a negative comment about Zeigler, Mike punches him out. The rest of the Germans leave. Back in the warehouse, Gus and Mike discuss Lalo and Zeigler. Gus offers to pay Mike, but Mike turns it down after learning that Gus paid off Zeigler’s widow.
In the courthouse, Jimmy ambushes DEA Oakley (Peter Diseth) with his faux camera crew. He spins the interview into a defense of his client and “networking” for potential new clients. Kim tries to talk her client into taking a deal for a five-month sentence. When her client voices that he can beat the charge, Kim grows frustrated with his unwillingness to understand the repercussions.
Jimmy stumbles into the situation and wants to pretend he’s from the DA’s office to push Kim’s client toward taking the deal. She refuses, clearly frustrated with his antics as Saul. When he walks away, she uses Jimmy’s plan and says the five month offer has been revoked. Her clients change their minds and agree to the shorter offer. Frustrated with herself and her significant other, Kim sits in the stairwell of the courthouse contemplating her next step.
- The black and white sequence remains the highlight of the episode. While the rest of “Magic Man” will rank among the better “Better Call Saul” episodes, Gene’s situation was quite the way to kick off a season. Tension filled and emotional, Odenkirk turns in some of his best work as Jimmy/Saul/Gene.
- Seahorn steals this episode from the rest of the cast. Her moments of quiet reflection and frustration are telling. We know where Saul will take Jimmy, and Seahorn brings every worry Kim is feeling to the forefront of her performance. She knows the slippery slope that Jimmy already walks, but her genuine love for him also makes her do stupid things. The stairwell at the end of the episode will have a lot of readings, and it’s a great moment to wonder where she’ll take the relationship from here.
- While Robert Forster was not one of the top ten or twenty characters in “Breaking Bad” it has been amazing to see this universe embrace his legacy. Between “Better Call Saul” and “El Camino,” Forster has become a regular in the Albuquerque crime world. Giving him the first title card in the credits was a classy move, and it was great to see him on the screen once more. RIP Robert Forster, you will be missed.
- Jonathan Banks gets limited screentime and does not even show up until halfway through the episode. This should serve as an important tone for the season, as Gus/Giancarlo Esposito has become a force throughout “Better Call Saul” season 4. It will be interesting to see how the showrunners utilize each of the Emmy nominees moving forward.
- Lalo has officially moved into Tuco territory, and no matter how his story ends, it will be explosive. Dalton brings playful villainy to the role, and its no wonder Gilligan and Gould cleared the decks for him. Undeniably one of the most exciting characters in the show’s history, Lalo represents the greatest wildcard yet.