WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR PART ONE OF SEASON 6! READ AT YOUR OWN WILL!
Vince Gilligan’s touch of storytelling within the Breaking Bad universe continues to prove how great of a hands-on director he is as he pulls off this heartbreaking first part to this final season of Better Call Saul, a prequel series to the original Breaking Bad show following the universe’s most famous side character, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), real name Jimmy McGill. In this season, the contrasting storylines of Saul’s life as a lawyer and his involvement with the Albuquerque cartels finally intertwine as everyone revolving around the small-city lawyer is put into his problems and suffers from the consequences of his actions.
Throughout this season, we’ve seen the culmination of the rivalry between Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) and Saul after the latter, with the help of Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), initiate their plans to expose Howard for indecency (with the help of their con man), but eventually this turns out for the worse after, spoilers, Howard is shot dead by Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) in Kim’s apartment. We’ve also seen the growing war between the Salamancas and Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) ‘army’ led by Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) with Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) stuck in between the two warring factions. Thanks to Saul’s involvement with the cartel as well as his rivalry with Howard, his life in the city of Albuquerque completely changes as he’s left to deal with his own mistakes.
With each and every episode, the team behind Better Call Saul continues to perfectly blend the humor and energy from seasons 4 and 5 with the hard-hitting, upfront seriousness from seasons 1 through 3. This compliment goes to the first few episodes of the season, specifically from Rock and Hard Place to Hit and Run. In these episodes, Saul and Kim’s plan comes into fruition with Saul pulling off a Howard disguise to trick Clifford Main (Ed Begley Jr.) into cutting the deal with Howard. The setup from the previous episodes contributed well enough to the full result and helps develop Howard’s growing anger at Saul and Kim and at this point, Saul disguising himself as Howard definitely felt a bit humorous. This perfectly balances with the cartel storyline in between the moments of this rivalry and relieves the tension set out by the intensity of Mike’s and Gus’ scenes.
Speaking of the cartel storyline, while it sets out to establish the Salamancas as the primary antagonists of the series, it turns to Lalo Salamanca to be this season’s main bad guy. While Hector and the Salamanca cartel have a prominent presence in this season, it isn’t as prominent as Lalo’s as most of the scenes involving his side of the cartel mainly focus on his plan to eradicate both Gus’ faction, which indirectly involves Saul. Dalton amazingly makes Lalo as his own character now separate from any influence and portrays his character as the new underground mastermind after planting his fake death scene in Wine and Roses. Near the end of Part 1 in Point and Shoot, with Lalo revealing himself to be keeping an eye on Saul and Kim, the suspense really built itself up and made Nacho a more terrifying threat in the end.
We also get to see the loose ends finally being tied up like the couple that stole money all the way back from season 1 as Saul finally gets to give some goodness through exonerating them as well as Hector Salamanca’s (Mark Margolis) last actions in this show by essentially ending Nacho’s story. In addition to Saul helping these two out, we also see
Francesca Liddy (Tina Parker) returning to help Saul and Kim out with their new law firm. We also get Lalo trying to hunt down the remaining members of Mike’s gang, who helped Gus and Mike build the excavation site under Lavandería Brillante, the laundromat where most of Gus’ operations take place. With all of these plotlines and characters returning for this final season, it balances the appearances and points out as to not interfere with the main storylines, which made these small details feel like a good short nod to the prior seasons and their stories.
Though Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan have been the main leaders behind creating the Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul worlds, they’ve handed their duties to other directors to foresee other episodes. Two of these episodes that really stood out to me were Axe and Grind (directed by Giancarlo Esposito) and Hit and Run (directed by Rhea Seehorn). While it’s obvious that both of these episodes were directed by the actors on the show, they really stood out to me in terms of the cinematography, and sometimes in writing as well.
In Axe and Grind, this episode’s story mostly focuses on Kim Wexler as a character even though we do get bits of the other characters periodically. We get this idea at the beginning of the episode, following Kim and her mother after Kim decides to steal something. This brief segment is a good enough reflection of Saul and his personality as he is the personification of ‘trying to get away with it’ and, of course, scamming. However, we do have those splits between Saul, Mike, and Lalo with Saul continuing to try and ‘expose’ Howard, Mike trying to balance his cartel and family life, and Lalo with hunting down Gus and company. The camera works makes the episode feel distant, going in and out with each shot depending on the tone. This particularly happens in the beginning with Howard’s coffee cup, which is topped with a peace sign made of cream, as Howard fails to get sympathy from his wife.
In Hit and Run, it still continues to follow the search for Lalo throughout Albuquerque as well as Saul and Kim’s plan coming to fruition. As I said before, Saul’s plan to trick Cliff was humorous, if a bit much at times, but it perfectly made itself out as one of the more ‘to entertain’ things within this show. The wraparound of Saul’s ‘lawyering’ storyline with Lalo’s search inside the courthouse felt really sad as to seeing Saul’s involvement with the mob having a backfire on Saul’s career, but then again, it’s a fall from ‘greatness’ (if you want to call his journey throughout the show.) Overall, these episodes were pretty good for what the show has in store so far and I’m interested to see how they conclude the stories of all these characters in August.
With two episodes of Part 2 of Season 6 now out, Point and Shoot and Fun and Games (with the next episode coming out tonight!), the suspenseful and riveting conclusion to one of television’s most influential shows continues on as the wider universe of Breaking Bad is coming to a close (for now since AMC revealed another possible spin-off.) In its entirety, Better Call Saul has proven itself to be a successful predecessor to Breaking Bad, if not a little bit better, and the impact this show has will live on in future media as it embraces a ‘slow and sure’ formula. Here’s to hoping that the remaining episodes in Part 2 will wrap up all loose ties and will be as impactful as this first part!