Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould build riveting stories. Fans of Gilligan would not be surprised. After all, his career as the creator of “Breaking Bad” and writer of “The X-Files” puts him in high esteem. Gould’s breakout came with “Breaking Bad” as well, but as the co-creator of “Better Call Saul,” he’s become one of TV’s most interesting creatives. The two writers have crafted a unique prequel, arguably the best in the history of television. “Better Call Saul” remains one of the very best shows today as it begins the penultimate season. For Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito and Rhea Seahorn, the series continues to drill into the nuances of each character. Each delivers specific yet well-rounded performances to continue building the universe of the Albuquerque Cartels.
“Better Call Saul” opens on the future awaiting Jimmy (Odenkirk) after “Breaking Bad” as a man in hiding. However, we quickly jump back to the moment Jimmy officially becomes Saul. As he re-registers with the government under his new name, Jimmy leaves behind the specter of his brother. At the same time, it marks a moment of concern for Kim (Seahorn), who begins to question Jimmy’s authenticity and morality.
While Saul has finally won back his right to practice, Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) remain under the thumb of the cartels. Nacho serves multiple masters and neither feels stable. Gustavo Fring (Esposito) continues to amass power while Lalo (Tony Dalton) invites entropy. Violence and death await at every turn, and both Nacho and Mike are left vulnerable.
The performances of this season have already taken a step up from the great roles they occupied last year. With the announcement of season six as the finale, “Saul” has chosen to let its performers go. With Jimmy officially taking on the “Saul” persona, Odenkirk gets to recapture the spark that made him a fan favorite. He thrives on his comedic and manic energy, yet he’s most effective in his somber moments. Odenkirk continues to deliver one of the most exciting and lived-in performances on television. If he misses out on the Emmy again, future TV audiences will see this as an all-time snub.
The rest of the cast gets a boost as well. Seahorn remains one of the most underrated actresses on television. She represents one of the few wildcards to the series, especially as a character to cheer forward. Kim’s questions about what to do about Jimmy and her career are valid. Seahorn expertly paints her as a professional and someone seeking direction for their life.
Esposito is a frightening character at every turn, and its no wonder that he has become the go-to big bad for television series. He’s intimidating and unsettling, and anther Emmy nomination should await. Mando makes the biggest step thanks to more nuanced writing. He wears an air of arrogance better than most, but there’s real fear in his eyes. The dichotomy between his physicality and the subtleties of his performance instantly validate the time spent with him over the past five years. Mando’s got the talent to be a star, and it’s nice to see him used like one.
Finally, Banks brings new layers to Mike in unsettling ways. After the events of last season, Mike has become unstable. That in itself is scary, but it also makes Mike one of the more unique turns of Banks’ career. Whenever you think we’ve seen every side of him, a new and natural wrinkle grows out of a moment. This vulnerability is different than other moments we’ve seen from the veteran actor and makes it clear we cannot take this performance for granted.
As usual, “Better Call Saul” balances brilliant performances and top-tier writing. The screenplays coming from Gilligan and Gould’s writer’s room are brilliant. Every episode flies by with the unique blend of character development and action sequences. The dual storylines may not always build off one another, but each remains endlessly entertaining. This season’s use of Nacho and Mike sings, and Mando’s unleashing represents a huge step forward. Both his need to protect his family and his simmering rage unlock a new, important perspective to “Saul” as it nears its conclusion.
For several seasons, “Better Call Saul” has rightfully taken a corner of the Best Drama Series race. While it remains unlikely it can take home the big prize (despite deserving it last year), “Saul” features too many great performances to go unrewarded. Odenkirk, Seahorn, Banks, Mando, and Esposito are all nomination worthy. It’s now a question of whether Mando and Seahorn can finally breakthrough. Regardless of how you feel about “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” has created a unique blend of comedy and drama to become one of the most riveting series moving towards an explosive conclusion.