The first four seasons of AMC’s Better Call Saul chronicle the descent and metamorphosis of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a defense lawyer doing his best to break past the mistakes of his youth, into Saul Goodman, a sleazy shyster who oozes through the loopholes in criminal law. The show’s returning fifth season, arguably its strongest effort thus far, may recast that premise as pretense by posing a philosophical query: was there ever any difference? This theme is not unfamiliar to fans of Better Call Saul’s predecessor and canonical sequel series, the unanimously lauded Breaking Bad (2008-2013), though its slow unveiling still manages to unsettle and surprise.
While Better Call Saul is technically a spin-off series and prequel to Breaking Bad (created by BCS’ co-creator, Vince Gilligan), the show has come into its own with magnificent storytelling, a complex array of deeply flawed and human characters, and an expert interweaving of comedy and drama. Better Call Saul has rightfully garnered as much or more acclaim as its forerunner. “I run into people every day now who say ‘Better Call Saul’ is their favorite of the two”, co-creator Vince Gilligan said in an interview with Rolling Stone before the premiere of the show’s last season. “I love hearing that.”
The fifth season starts as each has, with a brief visit to Jimmy’s far-off future, wherein he lives a secluded, melancholic existence under the assumed name “Gene Takovic,” the hapless manager of a Nebraska mall Cinnabon. In contrast to the freedom and shedded inhibitions that Jimmy finds in the episodes to come, his future alter ego lives in fear of his past sins, and increasingly feels the cage of paranoia closing in. The main story resumes in earnest immediately where the last season left off, with the newly christened Saul Goodman riding the victory of his appealed disbarment. This is the point of no return for Jimmy, who eases into the role of guilty criminal lawyer for guilty criminals with great comfort. Less at ease is his partner in business and romance, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). Wexler is consistently played by Seehorn with incredible nuance and relatability. Formerly cast in the role of Jimmy’s level-headed moral compass, the one friend who always knew him to be good but misguided, Kim has removed her rose-colored glasses as the story (and Jimmy) shift into darker territory. Her own arc is severe and surprising- by the finale, she is unrecognizable from the character of prior seasons.
Among those returning with Better Call Saul’s immaculate cast of sordid characters is Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), Gustavo “Gus” Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), Nacho Varga (Michael Mando), Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), and Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton). Most of these are pre-established villains known to fans of Breaking Bad (Nacho and Lalo are names only mentioned in passing), though Mike is not quite yet the hardened enforcer he is destined to become. We see him well on his way as he, in line with the show’s motif of moral compromise, places his sense of duty above compassion in service to Gus. His legally culpable partnership with Jimmy/Saul continues to tighten; one episode finds them in the aftermath of a trade-off gone wrong, trudging through the desert side by side carrying a rifle and two duffel bags fat with cash. Esposito’s Gus, meanwhile, is deftly portrayed as the despicable, captivating, delightful-to-watch mastermind the audience has always known him to be.
In its ten episode run, BCS’ fifth season narrows the road to its tale’s denouement. Arcs spin together as each character spirals into the murk of bad decisions leading to worse. The show’s next season, its last, will be built upon the repercussions of those decisions- if not by way of punitive measure, then by the moral bankruptcy of those who escape it. An apt summation of the story’s ongoing theme, highlighted this season through its finely interlaced character dramas, may be this: What justifications do you need to do the wrong thing, and how many times can you yield to those justifications before you stop making them?
Better Call Saul: The Complete Fifth Season arrives on Blu-Ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment with an excellent AVC encoded 1080p transfer. This show is simply one at which to marvel with its immaculate cinematography that is rendered flawlessly here. The series remains pristine with a lovely, warmer color palette revealing vibrant colors within the various settings. The bright whites of the show are luminous, but do not fall victim to any blooming in this presentation. Black levels are nice and deep, giving way to a strong amount of detail in darker scenes. This transfer reveals a lot of fine detail within the clothing and intricate production design. There are so many interesting details to point out in the background of the law offices. Skin tones appear very natural throughout the presentation, and compression artifacts and noise are kept to a minimum. This visually sumptuous series is presented with a wonderful amount of depth, clarity and vibrancy that makes this a home run in high definition. The Blu-Ray presentation is stunning and represents an outstanding achievement from Sony.
This Blu-Ray comes with a lovely DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that recreates the soundscape of this world with care. Music is a very important part of bringing this show to life, and this track does a top-tier job of creating a strong sense of space while maintaining clarity within the experience. The score is very spacious and lush with a deft handling of both the more intensive moments as well as the subtle touches. The stellar dialogue comes through crisp and clear without being clipped by any competing sounds. There are some intense action-oriented moments within the shows such as shootouts and erratic vehicle madness, which the track handles with ease. These moments put the low-end support to good work as the subwoofer brings some texture to the situation. The environmental sounds of the world engage the surround speakers in a really pleasing way such as the low-hum of offices or the whistling wind of the desert. Ambient sounds are precisely placed in the rear channels. The audio track serves as a top-notch presentation for the fans of the series.
- Commentary Tracks
- Magic Man: A commentary track with Peter Gould, Jennifer L. Bryan, Larry Benjamin, Thomas Golubic, and Chris McCaleb.
- 50% Off: A commentary track with Peter Gould, Norberto Barba, Alison Tatlock, Rhea Seehorn, Michael Mando, and Mark Freeborn.
- The Guy For This: A commentary track with Michael Morris, Ann Cherkis, Bob Odenkirk, Tony Dalton, and Dean Norris.
- Deleted Scenes: A three-minute unused scene from “Magic Man” in which Kim receives an elaborate gift basket from Kevin.
- Ethics Training with Kim Wexler: A ten-part “continuing legal education” series totaling 28 minutes which finds Kim exploring ethics in topics such as marketing, civility, self-care, marital privilege and more. There are some fun animated bits that help demonstrate the points she is trying to underline. This is an essential watch for fans of the show.
- Namaste: A commentary track with Peter Gould, Gordon Smith, Mark Johnson, Diane Mercer, and Skip Macdonald.
- Dedicado a Max: A commentary track with Peter Gould, Jim McKay, Trina Siopy, Paula Dal Santo, and Jonathan Banks.
- Wexler v. Goodman: A commentary track with Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz, Michael Morris, Patrick Fabian, and Phillip W. Palmer.
- JMM: A commentary track with Peter Gould, Melissa Bernstein, Alison Tatlock, Rhea Seehorn, and Giancarlo Esposito.
- Deleted Scenes: Three unused scenes totaling three minutes are provided here featuring Kim handing over some responsibility to Pat, a quiet scene with Mike, and Jimmy making life difficult for Kim.
- Vintage Mesa Verde Commercial: A minute-long ad that was only briefly seen during this season.
- What Is Mesa Verde Hiding?: The four-part two-minute attack ad which finds Jimmy taking aim at Mesa Verde by accusing them of various misdeeds that may entitle some to a large cash settlement. Hit left while hovering over the “Play All” button to find a hidden sketch of the ads.
- Bagman: A commentary track with Peter Gould, Vince Gilligan, Gordon Smith, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, and Dave Porter.
- Bad Choice Road: A commentary track with Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz, Melissa Bernstein, Diane Mercer, Marshall Adams, and Cheri Montesanto.
- Something Unforgivable: A commentary track with Peter Gould, Ariel Levine, Mark Freeborn, Steve Brown, Al Goto, and Valerie Chu.
- Deleted Scenes: Two scenes totaling nearly five minutes are provided here featuring Mike and Jimmy in the desert and Lalo and Nacho gathering some funds.
- The Good, The Bags and The Ugly: A 13-minute look at the physically challenging “Bagman” episode and everything that went into bringing that episode to life.
- The Ambush: A 30-minute commentary from Vince Gilligan for “Bagman” in which he talks over portions of the episode to highlight the special effects, makeup, cinematography and more. I always love hearing more from Vince so this is a lot of fun.
- The Cannon Roll: Six different angles from the epic stunt featured in “Bagman” complete with stuntman crawling from the wreckage.
- Tell Me Again: A 10-minute look at crafting one of the most important sequences from the season in ‘Bad Choice Road” between Lalo, Jimmy and Kim.
- Gag Reel: Six minutes of flubbed and forgotten lines, humorous moments, random asides and more. Always a personal favorite among the special features.
- Crystal Balls: A nine-minute featurette in which actors predict what happens to their characters that never appear on Breaking Bad in both serious and humorous ways.
- The Effects for This!: A two-minute featurette which takes a look at shots from the series pre and post visual effects being applied. The moments are subtly implemented, but very effective.
Following up a series as beloved as Breaking Bad was always going to be a risky endeavor, but Better Call Saul has proven time and time again that you should place your trust in Vince Gilligan. Not only has the show matched the quality of Breaking Bad, it very nearly surpasses it most of the time. The fifth season finds the show barreling towards an ending that we are not sure we are emotionally ready to handle – but we love every moment of it. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has provided this season with a Blu-Ray sporting a 5-star A/V presentation and an impressive array of entertaining special features. If you are already a fan of the show, you know it is one of the best things on television. If you have been waiting to check it out, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to this sooner rather than later. Highly Recommended
Better Call Saul: The Complete Fifth Season is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.