Better Call Saul Remains One of TV’s Best in Tense, Exhilarating Final Season

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Better Call Saul Remains One of TV’s Best in Tense, Exhilarating Final Season

Grab the expensive tequila and take a deep breath, friends, because Better Call Saul is back. After two long years, the AMC drama’s sixth and final season is upon us at last. The first seven episodes debut with a two-hour event Monday, April 18. Then, after a short break, the Breaking Bad prequel will return for its final six episodes on July 11.

To the casual viewer, it might seem strange to split the season when the break between halves isn’t all that long (the first half finale will air May 23). But it’s a clever ploy by AMC to ensure that Season 6 is split across two Emmy cycles (the eligibility window ends May 31). Better Call Saul is not the first show to do this: Sex and the City pioneered the split season back in 2003-04, and The Sopranos perfected it a few years later. Many more shows have done it since, including Breaking Bad. But by scheduling the season in this way, it means the first half of the season airs as close to the Emmy deadline as possible, while the second half will be airing during voting on the first half (nominations are announced July 12). Translation: The show will be front and center at the most opportune times. I bring all of this up because, somehow, Better Call Saul has yet to win a single Emmy despite being one of the best and most consistent shows on television.

During its five-season run, Breaking Bad won 16 Emmys from 58 nominations. Saul has exceeded every expectation viewers had for it, managing to take a smarmy and comedic (but also kind of one-note) supporting character and turn his origin story into one of television’s best and most engrossing tragedies. Many have even said the series is better than Breaking Bad. But what does it have to show for it? Thirty-nine nominations, zero wins, and countless articles by critics who can’t figure out what Emmy voters aren’t seeing.

Of course, the point of creating art is not to win awards. But in a world in which awards are viewed as lending legitimacy and defining quality, the repeated snubbing of Better Call Saul—especially with regards to Rhea Seehorn, who has done extraordinary work turning by-the-book lawyer Kim Wexler into one of the most fascinating TV characters since Walter White (Bryan Cranston)—is frustrating, to say the least. Will this season break the show’s losing streak and allow it to stand beside its parent series in the TV hall of fame?

In Season 5, Better Call Saul skilfully merged its two narratives, with the lawyer storyline and the beginning of the criminal arc that defined Breaking Bad becoming one after mostly running parallel for years, with only the occasional crossover. It marked a major turning point in the series, as Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) fully embraced his Saul Goodman persona and his role as a criminal lawyer. But it was Kim’s decision to continue her new husband’s harassment of their former colleague Howard (Patrick Fabian) that proved to be the most important character and plot development of the season. Not only did it reveal a darker side of Kim, but it also reminded us that we still know very little about this woman, someone who loves a good con but also shows at least a semblance of guilt for it.

The final season picks up immediately following the events of the Season 5 finale, with Kim and Jimmy waking up in the hotel they absconded to after Lalo’s (Tony Dalton) tense visit to their apartment in the penultimate episode. It’s also where they began to hatch the scheme to ruin Howard’s reputation in order to move the old Sandpiper case along. Doing so would not only get the elderly claimants their money, but it would lead to a large payout for Jimmy and Kim too, which would allow the latter to open a pro bono practice.

Without saying too much, Season 6 continues to take Kim down this shady new path, further cementing that the fan-favorite character has few qualms about harming or threatening people she thinks have done something to deserve it—or who haven’t worked for and earned what they have. Her polished, ever-present ponytail and seemingly altruistic nature (she’s still working with pro bono clients and enjoying the job immensely) butt up against her very real desire to derail Howard’s career, further underscoring her moral ambiguity while reminding viewers she has the same kind of duality that previously defined franchise characters like Walt, Jimmy, and even Mike (Jonathan Banks). It’s frustrating to have to point out how few shows offer this kind of complexity to women, but it’s the awful, stupid truth, so it’s worth noting again and again and again. And Seehorn unsurprisingly continues to nail it at every turn.

Elsewhere, south of the border, Nacho (Michael Mando) is on the run after setting into motion an attempt on Lalo’s life on Gus’ (Giancarlo Esposito) orders in the Season 5 finale. Unfortunately for Nacho, Lalo survived the assassintation attempt, and, in the aftermath, he’s perhaps more unpredictable and more unhinged than ever before. The immediate resulting storyline features some of the most heart-pounding, stressful moments of television you’re likely to see all year. As Nacho holes up to await the arrival of Gus’ rescue team (who may or may not be coming), we’re privy to the emotional and mental toll this ordeal (and everything that led up to it) has taken on him. It’s difficult not to worry—the fact he survived Season 5 at all after being forced to serve two equally dangerous bosses was somewhat surprising. So after the failed assassination attempt, it’ll be a miracle if he manages to escape the aftermath unharmed. But this is also a man who’s tired and desperate, and we’ve all seen what a tired and desperate man is capable of doing when he breaks.

All of this is par for the course in this universe, though. As we’ve inched ever closer to the world of Walter White and Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul has simultaneously gotten more tense and more exhilarating. The two episodes of Season 6 sent for review are so far from where the series was in Season 1 that they might as well be a different show. And yet, it remains easy to trace the narrative throughline to see how every move, every decision has brought us to this moment in time, from Jimmy’s broken relationship with his brother (Michael McKean) and his relationship with Mike, to losing his license and adopting the name and smarmy persona of Saul Goodman. It’s all right there.

But there are still a few questions we need answered before Better Call Saul signs off for good later this year. We know what happens to Gus and how his war with Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) ends. We know what happens to Mike. We even know what happens to the Cousins. What we don’t know is why Kim, Jimmy’s wife and partner in crime, never appears in Breaking Bad. (Does she die? Does she flee the state?) We don’t know what’s in store for Nacho. (Does he escape the clutches of the dangerous men who’ve been pulling the strings and get to follow in Jesse Pinkman’s [Aaron Paul] footsteps?) And more importantly, we still don’t know what ultimately happens to Jimmy/Saul/Gene in the present.

For the first time, the new season doesn’t open with a black-and-white flash-forward to Gene and his life in Omaha, Nebraska. It raises a number of questions, especially after the taxi driver in the Season 5 premiere revealed that he knew about Gene’s past. So there is plenty of story left to tell before Better Call Saul reaches the end of the road, and the mysteries and questions that accompany these final episodes might be some of the most important yet. But it’s the privilege of watching a series as well written, well made, and well acted as Better Call Saul that is the real takeaway here, and the work that went into making it possible is likely to be the show’s legacy. So even if Emmy voters continue to ignore what’s right before them, those of us who’ve been on this journey since the beginning know the truth: Better Call Saul is, and remains, one of TV’s very best shows, not just of the last decade, but possibly of all time.

Better Call Saul Season 6 premieres with back-to-back episodes Monday, April 18 at 9 p.m. on AMC and AMC+.

Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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