Better Call Saul: Magic Man
February 24, 2020 7:03 AM - Season 5, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Jimmy McGill is ready for the next phase in his life, and does some outreach and promotion to possible future clients, though Kim is worried about how those tactics reflect on him. Meanwhile, Eduardo gets a brief tour of Gustavo's new facility. "You know, it's gonna be a very nice chiller. The south wall's gonna look beautiful."

‘Better Call Saul’ Season Premiere Recap: Magic Man -- Jimmy McGill’s got a new name and a new client base as the penultimate season’s premiere begins the endgame (Alan Sepinwall for Rolling Stone)
Better Call Saul is back for its fifth season. A review of the premiere, “Magic Man,” coming up just as soon as I hear good things about the new vending machine over by family court…
posted by filthy light thief (31 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you, like me, are a bit lost, you can read the episode recaps from Wikipedia, which starts by mentioning that Jimmy of the future, Gene Takovic of Omaha Cinnabon fame, got into a cab with an Albuquerque Isotopes car air freshener and gets suspicious. And now we meet Jeff from Omaha United Cabs, who was probably that driver.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:11 AM on February 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Slippin' Kimmy?
posted by whuppy at 8:50 AM on February 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Better Call Saul's penultimate season kicks off the lawyering career of Saul Goodman (Donna Bowman for TV/AV Club, rated B+)
We’re back in Albuquerque, folks, with a defined end point for the first time. And it’s good to be back. These first two episodes are relatively quiet, seemingly more in the mode of setting us up for this season’s storylines than launching us straight into the action—and that may be the reason AMC is airing them on back to back nights, after what they hope have been a couple of weeks of straight Breaking Bad binging for their audience.

I say “relatively quiet” although there are at least four bravura sequences, spread over these two episodes, that are bound to get any fan’s blood pumping.
Bowman goes on to note:
Presumably these scenes [in "Omaha"] were filmed at the same time as Robert Forster’s appearances in El Camino. I thought after watching that movie that this was Forster’s last work—a lovely goodbye. So when he takes Gene’s call, it was like finding something you didn’t know you had from a friend who’s now gone.
Forester's obit post on the blue.

Slippin' Kimmy?

We've discussed that it's not likely that Kim will still be active in Jimmy's life by the end of BCS, probably because of something Jimmy/Saul says or does. He's clearly pushing her beyond her comfort zone, but she is swayed by something, perhaps Jimmy's words ("If this ["conning" her clients into taking the deal] isn't using our powers for good, I don't know what is"), or the idea that a kid will gamble his future on the chance that his story will play well in court, despite the fact that he was caught trying to sell a flatbed of hot mini-fridges to an undercover cop.

What if Kim gets disbarred? Or gets in trouble with one of her clients? In that scene, I was expecting one of two things to happen -- either the couple can actually hear what Jimmy is pitching to Kim, or the seller of "discount" mini-fridges has Saul's business card in his pocket and is thinking he should go with smooth-talking Saul, the "magic man," instead.

Oh, I was genuinely anxious and excited for the return of this show (even though I couldn't recall where things left off at the end of last season ;) ).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:03 AM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm so glad that this season started immediately after the ending of the last season. Kim was grappling with that 1-2 punch of first hearing Jimmy call all the people in the bar hearing "suckers" for buying his story about Chuck, and then finding out that Jimmy wants to change his practice name to Saul Goodman. It feels like Kim & Jimmy's relationship is at its end, and Kim knows it, and it'll be interesting to see how they drag this out for another two seasons, because Kim is needed for the show but it feels like they already spent all last season with Kim and Jimmy growing apart.

I loved this montage with silver-tongued Saul Goodman working his crowd in the circus tent, changing Huell's story every time. It was just like the montage at the end of season one after he's reunited with Marco and they're running cons. I love love love listening to Bob Odenkirk do this character.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:10 AM on February 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

It was a long wait for this episode. But if they're going to deliver this kind of great work, then I don't care about the long break.

Watching Jimmy and Kim was akin to seeing an already frayed rope twirling apart faster and faster. You could almost hear her inner monologue in the stairwell - "my god, I'm becoming him and I can't stop myself." Mike is still tortured by how everything went down with Werner. Knowing what we know from BB, Gus is not only laying down the groundwork for the superlab, but also for his revenge on Eladio. Lalo is sinister - and fun to watch. The tent montage is one of my favorites of the series, because not only is it fun, this is where we really see the full emergence of the Saul Goodman we know from BB in full character. And of course, that Gene opener. It was just a fantastic episode.

Even better... we get more tonight.
posted by azpenguin at 11:11 AM on February 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

I was a bit worried that the end of the last season jumped a bit too quickly to the transformation, but I like how they've been playing it. We saw a peek into where he was heading with a pretty abrupt sort of display, but we still see it playing out in such a way that a couple of things still make sense. For one thing, we see how his relationship with Kim is playing out in such a way that it seems pretty realistic, and past behavior in their relationship is perhaps enabling his current transformation (or at least Kim's starting to wonder if that's the case). I've never before thought that Kim was remotely complicit, but you are left at least observing how her saying "yes" to some things in the past didn't help, and now she feels stuck. So, Jimmy/Saul is still sliding somewhere with (relatively) good intentions while being a bit broken by the process. Also, you see how Jimmy transitions to the pretty crazy wardrobe that comes up later in such a way that it still makes some sort of narrative sense. He almost looks like he still has a bit of fashion sense (or is trying), one step closer to the genuinely bad taste in wardrobes that comes later.

I'm reminded how in BB, you didn't quite know how you would "come to hate Walter White by the end," as Gilligan and company predicted, but you eventually get there one step at a time. Sure enough, he's also taking us from Jimmy to Saul in a way that is painfully credible, with all of the attendant relationship issues that go along with it, one little realistic piece at a time. Also, we got a big old helping of "I wonder what happens to Kim" perhaps answered here. Holy cow, I was feeling how this could go so wrong...
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:22 PM on February 24, 2020

Even better... we get more tonight.

I can't believe I didn't even know this until right now. Did Christmas come early??

Seriously, made my day.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:23 PM on February 24, 2020

In that scene, I was expecting one of two things to happen -- either the couple can actually hear what Jimmy is pitching to Kim, or the seller of "discount" mini-fridges has Saul's business card in his pocket and is thinking he should go with smooth-talking Saul, the "magic man," instead.

Or, what are the chances that the couple sees the commercial Jimmy shot and realizes the same thing (Jimmy isn't the DA), and they already committed to the 5 year deal? I think this doesn't end up well for Kim. I also bet that if something like this happens, she does not turn Jimmy in, and says that it was her own idea, in order to protect him. If that happens, then there's no way that their relationship would survive.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:29 PM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, you see how Jimmy transitions to the pretty crazy wardrobe that comes up later in such a way that it still makes some sort of narrative sense.

Aren't these the suits he bought when he wanted to be fired from D&M (s2e7)?
posted by mikepop at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

SpacemanStix: Also, you see how Jimmy transitions to the pretty crazy wardrobe that comes up later in such a way that it still makes some sort of narrative sense.

mikepop: Aren't these the suits he bought when he wanted to be fired from D&M (s2e7)?

Here's an episode review with a promo shot (I think - it may be a screenshot) of Jimmy looking at his wardrobe, including some more colorful jackets, with the article noting:
Yet again flawlessly utilizing a stylish montage, we see the birth of the future Saul Goodman’s gaudy sense of style. Suits with flash and acting like an ass is all that it takes for Cliff to give Jimmy the boot, but not before he exasperatedly wonders aloud why Jimmy would ever sabotage such a good thing without ever giving it an honest try.
In short, I recalled that episode, too, and it makes me think of color symbolism from Breaking Bad (IB Times article, with speculation).

Here's a quick and dirty gallery I made with notes on suits worn by Jimmy/Saul this episode.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:49 PM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

and they already committed to the 5 year deal?

It was 5 months.
posted by Pendragon at 2:40 PM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh shit, Gene's got a plot now. Bold prediction: Season 5 wraps up the pre-BB storyline. Season 6 is all Gene.

No matter what, I'm terrified for the guy.
posted by whuppy at 5:12 PM on February 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

"And of course, she has been compensated."
" I would choose my next words very carefully, if I were you."
"Mm. *beat* You keep your goddamn retainer."

As Mike grapples with the nature of his new vocation -- and, for now, rejects it -- and Jimmy tries to create his new business model -- and evangelizes it -- the show as whole seems to be playing with concepts of value. All of the plots, both in the pre-BB timeframe and in the Gene Takavac sequences, are in part about how quantifiable value is weighed against more qualitative ones.

All of this, in one sense, sets up the climaxes of the episode: "Gene" deciding that he'd rather fix his exposure problem himself rather than paying (double) to vanish again, after not only his security but also his dignity are taken from him; Kim deciding that two to three years of a prospective father's life, and her client's actual best interests, are worth playing out Jimmy's -- sorry, Saul's -- scam, sans Saul. and sans that personal satisfaction she got from running "authentic" criminal defenses on the side while working the Mesa Verde account; and Mike deciding that Gus Fring's money is not worth the violations of his code that will inevitably be the condition of that continued employment.

Look, the Better Call Saul showrunners are, to a some extent, Romantics at heart; an ideal always works its way out in their plots, and events contrive to enforce that ideal, that principle. And so we are invited to sympathize with Mike, to empathize with Kim, and with Gene. All of them, at some level, risk something of value they get -- some compensation, be it material or immaterial -- for some other ideal or principle.

Kim will lose a little piece of her conscience and her desire to do "real" law for clients in need if it keeps another foolish client from making a Kettlemans-style mistake of imagining the universe, or at least the legal system, will bend to their naive, egocentric despite the hard realities. Mike throws back the money he takes from Gus for his beloved granddaughter and accepts the judgement of one of Werner's men that Werner was "worth fifty of him," that nothing really compensates for his killing of of a good man who made a very human mistake, or makes the enterprise that led to killing "worth it." (Gus, for his part, is willing to spend money and lose face to protect his own dreams of vengeance.) And Gene, in the end, decides that he will not live in fear, will not be victimized, and will not erase himself again. (I mean, sure, it's ultimately a mess he made for himself, but still and all, we can empathize witht hat part of it.)

But, tellingly, I think, we do not empathize with Saul, for whom this is all a branding exercise, who offers himself cheaply -- 50% off, even! -- in order to build a brand. Saul, who inflates jail sentences twice in the episode, once with his ever-evolving story of saving Huell (which leaves out Kim's role entirely) and once with his scam idea to coerce Kim's recalcitrant client (which drags Kim further into something she doesn't seem to want). And Saul, who -- unlike Jimmy McGill at their apartment, the man who thanks Kim for all she's done for him -- throws something shady Kim did for Mesa Verde in her face to try to get her on board with a a "helpful" scam.

The sick joke is that Saul is so sure he's salvaging Kim's dignity and affirming her worth -- those clients should be on their knees thanking her for getting that deal! -- that he's willing to tear it down to get her to go along with the plan. And, as several others point out above, the sicker joke is that the clients are engaging in the exact same wishful thinking that "one-button Saul" hawks to his prospective clients in that gaudy, soiled circus tent. Everything's negotiable, and nothing has consequences if the right words are used, the right image conveyed. Saul sells wishful thinking, false images and inflated values. Jimmy McGill was worth fifty of him, or at least 50% more.

In contrast, Gene, we like; maybe we even kind of feel, well, if not bad, at least embarrassed for the sad, perpetually chip-munching ADA we see. While Saul gives away phones and imagines that everything is solved with a performance, a rebranding exercise, a hustle, the Genes and the ADAs of the world sadly plink their coins into machines for a little relief. That Gene ends up not so different from the prosecutor he once turned into a prop is the show's poetic justice -- one of those Romantic ideals its works through -- but also Gene, in a sense, being victimized by his pas self, the image he created that now both haunts and tempts him.

So the shot that presages Gene choosing to "fix it himself" is that image of him in the convex mirror, the warped image that contrasts with the close-up where we see those straight lines of wall tile stretching past him to a vanishing point. Gene would want to vanish; the dignity and pride Jimmy, or maybe Saul, has left, doesn't want to. He wants to warp the trajectory, to bend it in a direction he'd prefer. Jimmy/Saul/gene has always, in the end, really drawn strength from being seen, since that lets him decide yo be seen as he wishes to be.

We can contrast this visual logic with another attention-getting shot, the one of Kim in her heels, clacking methodically down the pseudo-brick flooring design in the Albuquerque courthouse, trying to walk along the straight lines, parallel to those squared display cases of posters and documents lining the walls, but pulled aside by Jimmy, by Jimmy becoming Saul in trade name here, in person when she's back in that courthouse at the episode's end. what does she want, really, and how much is it worth? What is she willing to trade or give for it? What, in the end, will it cost her? We know what the cost will be to Mike and to Saul/Jimmy. We even know what, in the end, revenge will cost Gus.i But what price will Kim pay, or perhaps balk at?

That's the question the episode leaves hanging.
posted by kewb at 7:11 PM on February 24, 2020 [10 favorites]

But what price will Kim pay, or perhaps balk at?

At the end of S4 episode 8, Jimmy apologized to Kim for roping her into the Huell church deception, with all its mail fraud and contempt of court, swearing to her "we are totally done with all that, over and out, no more." Kim's response is to pause, exhale cigarette smoke, look at Jimmy and say, "Let's do it again." Jimmy looks shocked.

The next time we see Kim, at the start of episode 9, she's limping in a fake cast up to a government office, pretending to have a crying baby in the car and placing a leaky thermos of milk so she can switch out a set of plans so Mesa Verde can have a bigger office.

Kim's been an active, willing participant in the sleaze for a while now. She enjoys it. She's having serious second thoughts about enjoying it, sure, but she's only party being dragged down by Jimmy. The other part is all her.
posted by mediareport at 7:56 PM on February 24, 2020 [12 favorites]

"she's only partly being dragged down by Jimmy..."
posted by mediareport at 5:34 AM on February 25, 2020

Cannot wait for more Slippin’ Kimmy (and Fingers crossed, a happy end for her!)

BUT CAN WE NOT IGNORE the line where Lalo tells Juan Bolsa: ‘Hector {Salamanca, aka Tio Mark Margolis, ring a bell} has this crazy idea in his head that somehow the chicken man might carry a grudge after he shot Fring’s boyfriend in the head. ‘ We’ve known it for years but lads now Max & Gus are CANON.
Their relationship’s been heavily subtexted or really overtly conveyed like whoa (‘Hermanos’ and ‘Salud’ in BrBa tells you all you need to know really), affirmed by the actors’ opinions; ffs, on BrBa, the Cayman Islands slip is hidden behind a framed photo of the couple, Gale’s scholarship is called the Max Arciniega scholarship in his honor...
Imho, S5 has to explore the ultimate heartbreak of young Gus’s life which sent him on this vendetta against the Salamanca clan—whom, by the way, send some truly wretched homophobic/racist remarks to his face and behind his back both in BrBa and BCS (several concerning Max and Gustavo’s differing skintones), with Hector both the one who instigates the majority of the insults and pantomimes as well as sets up and pulls the trigger, then forces Gus to watch. Elsewise (as I saw several reviewers complain last season) to viewers less familiar with the BrBa universe, Gus appeared to them as a sociopath with kind of an unfocused hatred for the Salamancas which centers on ‘they murder civilians and are sloppy’, but neglects the motivation behind his quest to avenge the clan who plotted so cruelly to murder the love of his life. I’m hoping for a brief young Gus/Max interlude with new actors (since they did a stellar job with casting a young Jimmy and Chuck in Lantern s3 BCS) but I could happily do without. Just explain Gus and Max to the viewers & do it with love, because the affection between them was so clear and necessarily understated (in the flashback’s day and setting—until it wasn’t) and shining.

Also, loving Petty with a Prior and Saul teetering in the liminal space between Jimmy and Full Saul. CANNOT WAIT FOR MORE.
posted by rallumer at 5:36 AM on February 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

Max & Gus are CANON

Well, that the Salamancas *believe* Max and Gus were lovers is now canon. We still haven't seen direct evidence. Given Lalo's quick question to Don Juan about Gus's time in Chile ("Like what happened in Santiago? Was that business too?"), I'll bet we get more of the backstory before this is over.
posted by mediareport at 5:45 AM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

^ imho, the acting between Giancarlo Esposito and James Martinez (Max Arciniega - yeah, Krazy-8’s actor’s real name is Max Arciniega too, it’s a trip) and their dynamic in their scenes together convey enough depth of feeling — their reactions and Max’s impassioned speech of ‘he's my partner!’ in the end pretty much clinch the reality of a deeper relationship for me, personally. I’d say Hector was clued up enough on what was going on between them during the 80s to make all those awful jokes.

(Apropos of nothing, The official Bettercallsaul Instagram commented on David Costabile’s (Aka Gale)‘s promo pic of his flashback in s4 with him and Gus in the (uni?) chem lab with ‘I’d like to be in the middle of that sandwich’ which, I mean!)
The Chile/Pinochet theme keeps getting brought up as a running thread (‘the generalissimo’ etc) but I’d personally prefer it if they left that part of Gus’s life with a touch of ambiguity.
posted by rallumer at 6:06 AM on February 25, 2020

Yes, I think the "boyfriend" line says as much about Hector's homophobia -- which we saw back in Breaking Bad's Hermanos, Hector taunting Gus and Max by making exaggerated kissy-kissy faces at them -- as it does Gus and Max's relationship. Gilligan's very fond of "I don't know, what do you think?" ambiguity.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:01 AM on February 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Loved it, super-happy that we're back in the saddle... but, and this is nothing against Jimmy and Mike or their actors, I'm still very involved with/anxious about how Nacho and Kim will end up, still big question marks here. Nacho seems to be part of Lalo's crew now, and there won't be any swapping of medication with the new boss--Lalo is incredibly sharp and does not miss a single trick. (At least Michael Mando has another potential gig lined up that's pertinent to a certain MeFi meme.) And Kim... I still wonder about her past, but knowing that next season is it makes me wonder how much future she's got left, and what it will be like. Every time we see Gene, and she's not there, the tension seems to go up a notch. (For that matter, I wonder how much Gene's got left. Although a lot of Odenkirk's acting works around how he delivers particular lines, his Gene scenes prove that he can also work without them, mostly. And Gene has been acting like a trapped animal for a while now.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:21 AM on February 25, 2020

And Kim... I still wonder about her past

I wonder who damaged her to where she thinks Jimmy is what she should settle for, tbh.
posted by thelonius at 12:02 PM on February 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

We've been wondering how the transition from Jimmy to Saul would take place. Lo and behold, it's done in a tent with a cast from Zombie Zoo. Amazing writing.
posted by No Robots at 1:14 PM on February 25, 2020

I have to wonder what's going on that we didn't see in Breaking Bad that had him running (other than the known connection to Pinkman) ... if Pinkman's gone, I guess he feared Pinkman would turn up and implicate him? Did all that shredding (spoliation?) constitute more disbarrable activities on his part?

I'm curious where the "local meth" came from that they've inserted here came from. It couldn't be Chili P, could it? Too soon? And it wouldn't make sense because Crazy 8 would have had to get it from his cousin and there's no way Gus would have gotten it from Crazy 8's cousin and Pinkman.
posted by tilde at 6:03 PM on February 25, 2020

To finish my thought on him leaving and decide not to leave in the open (DIAMONDS? would he really do that to diamonds? They gotta be cubic zirconias to treat them that badly).

So we're assuming he took that vacuum cleaner exit around the same time as Walter White (a year before White turns up and surrenders to the cops after freeing Pinkman). But we don't know when Gene T is around. Or when this old ABQ fan met him. If White is dead and Pinkman is now officially gone ... is there anything to worry about anymroe?
posted by tilde at 6:32 PM on February 25, 2020

Heavy federal charges for the money laundering operation, I think.
posted by thelonius at 6:50 PM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm curious where the "local meth" came from that they've inserted here came from

Could they have taken the regular meth and reduced its quality to make it seem like a local inferior brand?
posted by mikepop at 5:38 AM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ohhh, cut it. Maybe. Lalo has amazing eyes if he could see that ... or they made it super obvious to get him out there to show off the whole "here's our new chiller building" song and dance.
posted by tilde at 7:19 AM on February 26, 2020

Why does it feel like I’ve seen all of this already? My husband says I’m crazy.
posted by ancient star at 8:40 PM on February 26, 2020

Mod note: A couple deleted; spoilers from next episode.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:50 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

It is interesting to contrast the "just out of the chrysalis" gaudiness of Saul (loving in particular the use of this eye watering design for his business cards) - and of his target clientele - with the sombre attire of not only Kim but also Gus.

I came upon this clip of Giancarlo Esposito in Jim Jarmush's "Night on Earth" - which serves to show that he can also play gaudy!
posted by rongorongo at 10:18 PM on March 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm super late to the party but one of the utmost pleasures of watching BCS for me is the legal-career character arcs.

My first shot at law, nearly 30 years ago, didn't work out for various reasons, existential and otherwise. But it's not unlikely that I'll be returning to it on a pro bono basis this year.

So it's quite personal for me. I've watched these four BCS characters with interest:
  • Jimmy/Saul, who came to the law through a combination of genuine aptitude and carnival barker street smarts, and whose journey as a businessperson and attorney is alternately made much more facile and then much harder through his inability / unwillingness to stay inside the lines. As the two-bit con in his hometown once said to little boy Jimmy after ripping off his dad: there are sheep, and there are wolves. Jimmy decided early on that he wouldn't be a sheep.
  • Kim, whose trajectory is somewhat typical of women in the law (worked very hard to get where she is, wound up in debt to a Big Daddy, and continues to work very hard both to be a good lawyer AND to do something that appeals to her personally). While cutting corners and gaming the system like Jimmy does might be an occasional turn-on or lark for her, in the end she'll always be constrained by / saved by her deep ethical sense.
  • Chuck, perhaps the most gifted legal mind of them all, who becomes phobic of literal power, and who has always been jealous of Jimmy's easy charm with people. Issues of wolves and sheep never really mattered much to Chuck, it seems: apparently he was Supreme Court-bound from an early enough age, unlike Jimmy. But The Law In Its Majesty did not save him from being undone by his envy of Jimmy and, more deeply, the fact that intellectual accomplishment and rigor couldn't dispel the looming unknown.
  • Howard, entrepreneur / macher first and lawyer second. Jimmy's legal smarts, one senses, actually exceed Howard's, but he could never have been a Howard, whom one senses comes from money and for whom all the social doors would have opened naturally. Jimmy has always had to find another way in. Remember Jimmy's Marine-style pep talk to a despairing Howard in S4? Howard would have crumbled in the face of what Jimmy has had to wrangle.
As much as we will see Jimmy "devolve" into Saul this season, he also is finally, truly free to be himself in a way he couldn't be when Chuck was alive: someone for whom the rules never worked, leaving him to devise schemes to survive. And he loves to scheme (and the showrunners love to show him scheming). He never has to be Chuck's loser brother again.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:01 PM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

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