Better Call Saul Season 5, Episode 1: Magic Man (AMC, Sundays 10/9 Central) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, March 31st, 2020  

Better Call Saul Season 5, Episode 1: Magic Man

AMC, Sundays 10/9 Central

Feb 23, 2020 Web Exclusive
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He's sporting a suit more garish than those of Jack Nicholson's Joker. He's slinging free burner cellphones, with his law firm on speed dial, to degenerates of all stripes. And he chose a decrepit little tent to house all these wayward doings. Yes, Jimmy McGill couldn't look more in his element. He isn't so much breaking bad as slithering into the grass where reptilians naturally dwell. And viewers will helplessly cheer on the fact that Saul Goodman is finally back. 

Indeed, "Magic Man," the fifth season premiere (coming off an agonizingly long two-year hiatus) of Better Call Saul sees Bob Odenkirk's Jimmy McGill not merely embrace his sleazy lawyer alterego. He also legally changes his name to Saul Goodman in this episode (one of the series' best thusfar), before handing out business cards emblazoned with that fresh moniker to every low life looking for a discounted legal defense (McGill's successful sales pitch, of course).  

After all, it's entertaining as all get out to see McGill slum it as a talented courtroom vagrant. During the series' earlier episodes—in which "Slippin' Jimmy" did his best to put his (literal) misdemeanors behind him and impress his powerhouse lawyer brother—Odenkirk was endearing as a nice guy straining against his worst tendencies. But as a superfan of Breaking Bad, the series that Saul spun off from as a prequel, I've been clamoring for years to see the perfectly likable McGill finally embrace his dark side. I miss how Saul hilariously cracked wise while shamelessly skirting every rule in the book to aid meth kingpin Walter White's rise.

His girlfriend, Kim Wexler (an Emmy worthy Rhea Seehorn), of course doesn't share my glee at that guilty pleasure. Vince Gilligan, the mastermind behind both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, has a real flair for making ingrates seem like antiheroes. That's why viewers rooted so blindly for Walter White (Bryan Cranston), and hated on his wife Skylar (Anna Gunn), despite him being a murderous psychopath while she attempted to be a voice of reason. This time around, Gilligan doesn't let his antihero hog all the riveting depth, or leave a talented actress stranded with an underwritten character easily savaged by trolls (what Gunn had to endure really was shameful, and deserves a read here). 

Instead, Gilligan has rounded out the supporting characters amply on Saul, leaving us to root for both Jimmy to buck the system and for the out-of-his-league Kim to leave him. That's because her scenes are every bit as interesting as his (rather than the second fiddle dynamic that Gunn was sadly saddled with on Breaking Bad). In a fantastic scene from this season's premiere she palpably weighs whether or not to deceive her clients, at Jimmy's behest, for a greater good, or abide by the to-the-letter duties she swore to uphold as a lawyer. Her tense facial expressions in front of her clients, and doubled over posture in private, are the stuff that peak television was made for. 

Then there's the cracks coursing through crime lord Gus Fring's typically composed facade. Audiences will relish his scenes with supposed cartel colleague (but actual bitter rival) Lalo. The latter is played by a blissfully evil Tony Dalton, who all but twirls his mustache as he leaves viewers dreading his next ploy. Lalo's adventures in a drug den with henchman Nacho, meanwhile, are married to his confrontation with Fring by deftly shadowy lighting that ratchets up the tension and evokes vintage noir. 

Those peeks at Albuquerque's Latin underbelly are rivaled by the equally seedy tasks Mike Ehrmantraut carries out for boss Fring, in relation to the German construction crew he hired. The typically guarded Ehrmantraut (an endlessly scene stealing Jonathan Banks) is visibly haunted by his treatment of one of those expat laborers. In fact, his dogeared face speaks a bookshelf's volumes with every flinch and grimace in this scene, as he is confronted by the other members of the German crew, so much so that viewers won't be able to look away.

The less you know about the plot of this episode going in, the better. Suffice to say, the gems listed above, not to mention yet another hallmark Better Call Saul POV shot of contraband, along with a swan song cameo from a Hollywood legend, and yet another eerily gripping black and white flash forward of Jimmy's grim future, all make "Magic Man" a season premiere that more than lives up to its name. (www.amc.com/shows/better-call-saul)

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 10/10



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