That face, that expression slapped across Jimmy’s face as Kim reveals her ‘brainstorm’ was the key moment of the Better Call Saul season five finale. The final episode of a simmering season didn’t boast a cheap death or definitive climax. Why kill characters who have been this superbly crafted and cultivated for seasons? Why turn down the heat when you can ramp it up a notch and seal the pressure cooker lid firmly shut?
Season five didn’t not so much offer resolutions as it did raise the stakes for virtually every character – yet at its core, simple scenes involving a fondness for truffle salt and late-night cheeseburgers have changed the game, and hauled Kim fully into it.
The fan love for Kim throughout the season has intensified – after all she appears to be one of the few decent souls in Albuquerque. Well, until her bombshell brainstorming session in the season finale as her bubbling rage against the corporate machine hatched a tangible plan to bring down Howard Hamlin, who now appears to have actually tried to do the right things all along in season five.
Yes, Kim breaks bad.
We’re yet to see how much she will enact of the fledgling plan to torch Howard’s career for the benefit of her, Jimmy and countless potential clients they will be able to help by setting up a new firm with settlement money, but that’s the beauty of where Better Call Saul has left the situation. Fans’ imaginations are now running wild with possibilities of what this darker Kim can achieve.
Her staunch opposition of corporate bullies was highlighted in her crusade to covertly help Mr Acker against Mesa Verde earlier in the season, but nobody could see the depth of her hatred and how far she would go to conquer the big cheeses.
Jimmy has always tried to one-up the big shots, the doubters, the snooty top dogs, and has always got his kicks from outmanoeuvring and outsmarting them, but Kim’s sights are firmly set on destroying them.
The look Jimmy gives Kim at first is one of a frightened man, as though he is looking upon a monster of his own making. His influence on Kim has been subtle yet relentless, to the point where Kim can’t see her own transformation. But Jimmy can.
He has been rocked since the desert incident, his focus on a house and life inside the rules has never been sharper, but it’s too late. Kim’s brain is whirring and season six will show the outworking of that.
Jimmy and Kim, though, are operating under a false veil of security. To his mind, Lalo Salamanca is dead. They are no longer loose ends for the cartel to concern over. In the couple’s eyes, at least.
Of course, we know that Lalo writhed himself free of an assassination attempt by Gus’s “best men”. Given their performance at Lalo’s home in Mexico, you’d be forgiven for questioning the training that led those guys to becoming Gus’s most trusted hit squad, but either way, Lalo is free and ready to rampage.
He is ready to shed the disarming charm that has turned him into a truly outstanding character. For all his wickedness, let’s face it, we were all kind of rooting for him to wriggle out of the raid…
While Lalo has been painted as the closest thing to a true villain in the series, he has actually enjoyed fairly moderate relations with the main players in Better Call Saul so far, maintaining working relationships with most and collaborating awkwardly with the likes of Jimmy and Nacho to achieve his goals. No longer.
Lalo knows Nacho opened the gate (more on our doomed friend Ignacio soon…), the red mist has already started to descend at being conned, but more than a simple vengeance mission against Nacho, Lalo will face immense conflict within the cartel. He brought Gus’ wolf into the hen house, he brought Gus’ man to Don Eladio himself…
Season six could place Lalo in a faction of his own. He could be ostracised by the cartel, he could be alone, but one thing is for certain, the rogue Salamanca trusts no-one and has firmly secured his place as a definitive antagonist for the final run-in.
A final word on Nacho: I really thought he was about to defect. His chat with Don Eladio, his speech about forging his own path and making his own choices appears to be something the cartel can offer, relatively speaking, in comparison to being trapped as Gus’ workhorse with a gun to his father’s head.
There have been hints, most prominently during Mike’s chat with Gus, that Nacho should be freed or at least the pressure eased on him to no avail. Opening the gate ended all hope of Nacho siding with the enemy, making a permanent shift to the cartel side of the war, and now he’s got a vengeful Lalo on his case. Rather you than me, Nacho, my friend.
In ‘Something Unforgivable’, we have a finale that doesn’t extinguish any flames, but unscrews the cap on a barrel of fuel next to the fire. Breaking Bad famously ratcheted up the tension with each season, the stakes getting higher and higher before some of the most explosive scenes in TV drama history rounded off the show.
Better Call Saul is now treading that same familiar path. If it sticks the landing, we’ll have witnessed another Vince Gilligan masterpiece.