There's a moment in Better Call Saul season 5 that, like many others, will only make sense to those well versed in Vince Gilligan's world of drug cartels, muscle men, and high-functioning sociopaths. It is the name of the episode's title, and the words found on a plaque bolted to an austerely designed fountain feature in Gustavo Fring's self-funded commune. It reads "Dedicado a Max."
Even for those, like myself, who haven't seen Breaking Bad in years, it's not hard to put two and two together. Max was Gus' partner in crime and romantically involved ingenue before rival cartel – the Salamancas – brutally murdered the former before his lover's eyes. Better Call Saul is full of these subtle callbacks, from its ever expanding cast of familiar faces, or throwaway lines that foreshadow the drug wars to come. But those winks and nods, tiptoeing around the events of the Heisenberg-shaped storm to come, are slowly turning into direct premonitions, explicitly setting the stage for a future that fans are more than familiar with.
Season 5, for instance, has already ushered in the return of Dean Norris' cavalier cop Hank Shrader, in a minor subplot revealing how he discovered the cook house that first introduced Walter White to Jesse Pinkman. The continued tensions between Gus Fring and The Salamanca clan, meanwhile, have also escalated into the full-blown conflict that underscores Breaking Bad's second to fifth seasons, with series staple Mike Ehrmantraut now fully on board as the Chilean kingpin's righthand "soldier."
Better Call Saul is no longer an origin story about Breaking Bad's "criminal lawyer", nor a slow-burn rumination on the ups and downs of the New Mexico legal system. Instead, as Vince Gilligan and his team edge ever closer to Walter White's descent into villainy, Better Call Saul has become an integral prequel series that's as relevant to the events of Breaking Bad as last year's El Camino.
Waiting for the one who knocks
As soon as Better Call Saul was announced, questions about which Breaking Bad characters could make their unexpected return to the small screen began to fly. It was indicative of fan expectations for a show that wouldn't so much be about Saul Goodman as it would be about expanding the Breaking Bad underworld, despite Gilligan himself stressing otherwise. Those unrealistic expectations go a long way to explain why Better Call Saul's first season – a leisurely paced legal drama focusing mainly on elder law, domestic fraud, and the complicated relationship between Jimmy McGill and his older brother – proved something of a disappointment for that same crowd.
Of course, examined on its own merit, Better Call Saul is nothing short of a masterpiece, precisely because of its refusal to simply follow Breaking Bad's footsteps. Unlike Heisenberg's explosive rise within the drug empire, the show's first five seasons have played the long and slow game, depicting Jimmy McGill's tragic transformation into Saul Goodman through a successive series of disasters, failings, and mistakes, big and small. Anchored by incredible performances from the likes of Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks, and Michael McKean, it's made for an awards-worthy compilation of unmissable character studies.
But all of that build-up is finally starting to boil over, specifically into the kind of high stakes drama that Breaking Bad got so many people hooked on in the first place. Jimmy McGill, free from the shadow of his brother, is now officially practising law as Saul Goodman, and venturing ever further into the cesspit of Albuquerque's criminal underbelly.
Gus Fring is about to make his first power play against the Salamancas, while characters like Huell, Crazy Eight, and Hector Salamanca are now where they were when we first met them in Breaking Bad all those years ago. While it's hard to estimate exact timelines, it's likely that we're now less than four years away from that show's pilot, though there's still plenty of threads that Better Call Saul needs to address before it directly collides with Walter White's own regression into antihero status.
Most notably, Kim Wexler – Jimmy's confidante and longtime ally – remains very much a part of the story, but given that she's nowhere to be seen both during the events of Breaking Bad and afterwards (more on that later), something is inevitably going to see her removed from the picture. Given how characters tend to exit Gilligan's universe, the most feared prediction is that Jimmy's recklessness is somehow going to get Kim killed. Either that, or the pair are about to endure a painful and irresolvable breakup, with the seeds of conflict already sown amongst this once happy couple.
Law and disorder
Another, wilder theory holds that Better Call Saul's sixth and final season will take place entirely after the events of Breaking Bad, expanding on the monochromatic bookends that have only been glimpsed at in the show so far. Here, we find a broken and dishevelled Jimmy, hiding in Omaha under the false identity of Gene Takovic, working in a Cinnabon, and clearly wrecked with paranoia about his past catching up with him.
Odenkirk has already promised a pay-off for Jimm- Saul.. sorry, Gene, by the show's end, and it's possible that season 6 will take the form of a fan-servicing epilogue in the same way that El Camino was for Jesse Pinkman. That Netflix movie gave Jessie a well deserved happy ending, but is Jimmy worthy of the same kind of redemption? It's a question that's becoming increasingly difficult to answer with Better Saul Call's fifth season, as this affable lawyer continues to cut corners and jeopardise the few good things left in his life.
Either way, it's going to be addressed, whether we like the answer or not.
For more, check out all the new TV shows coming your way in 2020, or watch the video below for our latest episode of Dialogue Options.