Season 5, Episode 1: ‘Magic Man’
Welcome home, Saul-a-holics. It’s been a long time since we gathered here to unpack the rising and falling fortunes of our favorite con man turned corporate lawyer turned mobile phone dealer turned plaintiffs’ attorney. But judging from this first episode, the wait has been worth it.
Let’s just say it: That was the best season opener to date.
We commence, as ever, in the future and in black and white. Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) is a Cinnabon manager in Omaha named Gene Takovic. As miserable as his new life and identity appear, Mr. Takovic wants to keep it, despite the somewhat terrifying sense that a menacing cabby named Jeff has discovered Jimmy’s previous iteration as Albuquerque’s own Saul Goodman. It’s the same Jeff, played by Don Harvey, who gave Mr. Takovic a lift in last season’s opener, and this time it’s clear that the guy isn’t just trying to drum up fares.
Either Jeff is looking for a bounty or to shake down Saul — probably the latter. We leave this predicament after Saul calls the Disappearer, played with his understated gravity by the great Robert Forster, who has since passed away. Initially, Jimmy/Saul/Gene wants to buy yet another identity, his fourth. Then he decides to save his squirreled-away diamonds and “fix it” himself.
Here’s hoping we don’t need to wait an entire season to learn what happens next. Though that seems likely.
Cut to the show’s present. Which is the very moment we left Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) at the end of Season 4, as Jimmy celebrates his masterful hoodwinking of the gatekeepers of the New Mexico State Bar. He’s been readmitted to practice, and his next move is to change his doing-business-as name to Saul Goodman. Kim is skeptical of Jimmy’s new career path, in particular his cellphone giveaway and half-price approach to finding clients.
But Jimmy seems like a man who has finally figured out his purpose in life, and he has a point when he says that if he walks the legit, corporate path he’ll always live in the shadow of his deceased and far more accomplished older brother.
So we get a montage scene of new customers, who have come for free phones and get a one-on-one pitch, in a tent. Worth noting: Once again the casting staffers on the show deliver, in this case one Fellini-meets-carnival-sideshow face at a time.
At the end of this episode, Kim has her moral compass titled Saul-ward when Jimmy improvises a con that convinces a client of Kim’s take a plea deal. While initially reluctant to roll with Jimmy’s plan, she quickly learns that his underhanded approach works where her honest approach does not.
Moral compromises — Kim is going to have to choose between them and Jimmy in episodes to come.
Plot-wise, the core of this episode, called “Magic Man,” centers on the looming conflict between Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Eduardo (Lalo) Salamanca (Tony Dalton). Lalo learns that customers are complaining that his minions are slinging diluted meth and he investigates. You know how a great sommelier has a great palate? Well, Lalo apparently has a great nose, and he can tell immediately which portion of his family’s cut of Fring’s product has been “stepped on.” Time to pay a visit to Gus to find out what has gone wrong, and whether it has any connection to the vanished German he’s heard about, and Fring’s surreptitious construction project.
What’s curious about the sit-down that follows, mediated by the Mexican cartel upper manager Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda), is that Lalo seems unsurprised that Fring has anticipated that he — Lalo — is angry about the stepped on meth. Either Fring knows about Lalo’s super discriminating nostrils or there is a spy in the House of Salamanca. There is, of course, and his name is Nacho Varga (Michael Mando), who was blackmailed into serving Fring as a double agent in Season 4 after Fring realized that Nacho had tried to murder the Salamanca overlord, Don Hector.
Lalo doesn’t bother hiding his distrust of Fring, even though, as ever, Fring has an alibi at the ready when it comes time to explain the construction project.
The vanished German was working on a chicken refrigerator, Fring explains, and to “prove” it, Gus has the German crew, which was previously building the meth superlab, clanging away at what is either a massive cooling warehouse for fouls or a Potemkin chiller.
Lalo isn’t buying this performance and he lets Fring know it.
“You know, it’s going to be a very nice chiller,” he says, winking. “South wall’s going to be beautiful.”
Fring knows that Lalo must be dealt with, and superlab construction is suspended until this Salamanca is either in the ground or back in Mexico. With nothing to do for the foreseeable future, the German crew is sent home. Mike (Jonathan Banks) hands out the tickets and punches the ever punchable Kai (Ben Bela Böhm) after he suggests that their now deceased leader, Werner Ziegler, whom Mike reluctantly killed at the end of last season, was “soft.” Casper (Stefan Kapicic) fares better by praising that leader (“He was worth 50 of you”) and daring Mike to hit him.
Bonus (Chicken) Nuggets:
Fun fact: The book that Gene is reading on his lunch break at the Omaha mall is “The Moon’s a Balloon,” a memoir by David Niven.
Season 5 is teed up beautifully in this episode. At long last, Jimmy has become Saul, at least during his professional hours. Whether he’ll be Saul off the clock isn’t clear because we didn’t spend a lot of private time with the man in “Breaking Bad.” His wardrobe, however, is evolving.
Lalo is a fantastic villain and foil. He’s ruthless, charming when necessary and smart enough to see through Fring in ways that Bolsa does not. His battles with Gus and Mike will be riveting.
As we revel in upbeat premonitions about what’s to come, your recapper would like viewer help with some questions about what we just watched.
1.) Who “stepped on” Fring’s meth? Clearly there has been a major supply disruption, courtesy of the demise of Herr Ziegler. But how precisely does that translate into diluted product?
2.) When Lalo is debriefing with Bolsa after the meeting with Fring, he says he doesn’t trust the Chilean. That’s ridiculous, Bolsa says. Fring is all business.
“All business?” Lalo replies. “Like what happened in Santiago?”
Uh, what happened in Santiago? It is the town where Max Arciniega, Fring’s murdered boyfriend, attended university, as we learn in “Breaking Bad.” But that murder occurred in Mexico. Is this Lalo’s oblique way of referencing that killing, which he’d just mentioned to Bolsa a moment earlier? Or did something else happen in Santiago — perhaps something that we viewers don’t know about yet?
To quote Jimmy, “Is there some angle I’m not seeing here?”
Help a Saul-a-holic out in the comments section, and opine away on the episode.
The post ‘Better Call Saul’ Season 5 Premiere Recap: Just Chilling appeared first on New York Times.