Better Call Saul season 5 increased the stakes more than ever before, and in turn, became exactly the show fans originally thought it would be. Over a decade since Breaking Bad first premiered with Bryan Cranston waving a gun in his underwear, the series is still discussed at length and regularly ranked as the greatest TV series of all time. Despite Breaking Bad‘s end, Vince Gilligan’s story has continued via the Better Call Saul prequel spin-off. Focusing on Walt’s lawyer, Saul Goodman, the series is currently heading towards its sixth and final season and has been critically praised as a more-than worthy expansion of the Breaking Bad world.
When a Saul-based Breaking Bad spin-off was first announced, fans had certain expectations regarding of quality and tone, but also in terms of the story and timeline. Many would’ve expected Better Call Saul to explore the formation of the New Mexico meth scene and how Saul dug his way into representing the criminal underbelly. With Jonathan Banks’ Mike Ehrmantraut confirmed to be starring alongside Bob Odenkirk’s Saul, fans might’ve also been forgiven for anticipating the duo would be a double act of sorts, somewhat similar to Walt and Jesse from Breaking Bad.
This isn’t necessarily the direction Better Call Saul took. The prequel’s early seasons began by exploring Jimmy’s legitimate legal career in great detail, long before he even considered heading down the criminal route. The cast was predominantly populated by new faces, and Mike and Jimmy barely crossed paths with each other – casual acquaintances more than the double act some were anticipating. In season 5, however, Better Call Saul became the show many were initially expecting it would be. Jimmy takes some first tentative steps into criminality and his story is deeply intertwined with Mike’s. Viewers also get an origin story for the local meth business, with Gus and the Salamancas feuding for control and the favor of Don Eladio.
No episode captures this progression better than season 5’s “Bagman.” Jimmy is tasked with picking up $7 million in bail money for Lalo Salamanca, but he’s ambushed and caught in a shootout between his attackers and Mike. Left without a working vehicle, Jimmy and Mike trek across the desert avoiding the elements, baddies and, occasionally, each other. Considered among Better Call Saul‘s best, “Bagman” is a thrilling, tense and gripping episode that riffs heavily on Breaking Bad‘s “4 Days Out.” With the Jimmy/Mike pairing in full effect and a storyline that directly bleeds into the future narrative of Breaking Bad, “Bagman” highlights just how much Better Call Saul season 5 fulfills those early expectations viewers had for the spin-off.
While it might’ve taken almost 5 seasons before Better Call Saul became the show people thought it would be, the different direction is certainly no bad thing. Better Call Saul‘s first season might’ve been largely detached from Breaking Bad, but this allowed the prequel to develop its own style instead of merely following in the wake of its predecessor. Fans might not have expected Better Call Saul to be so heavily influenced by legal drama in the beginning, but these events add so much more to the characters than diving straight into the pre-Breaking Bad criminal elements would have allowed. Better Call Saul took its own route at its own pace, and benefited greatly from that slower approach. Not only did the earlier seasons create a more original template, but when the prequel did finally move close to Breaking Bad territory, the crossing over of stories, themes and characters felt well-earned and meaningful.