Better Call Saul (S05E01) “Magic Man”

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Better Call Saul title card

“Magic Man” opens Better Call Saul’s penultimate season and grounds the series as it works towards an end date.  James Morgan McGill, aka Slippin’ Jimmy, starts his journey as Saul Goodman, joyfully, as the Magic Man from the title.  Other characters struggle to maintain their positions or resist changing themselves while walking fine lines between survival and disaster.  Bronwen Hughes wrote the episode while Peter Gould directed Magic Man.

Every season begins and ends with black and white cold opens of Gene Takovic in his future Omaha, Nebraska Cinnabon life.  Although all the black and white scenes will come together as one day or so at the series end, each represents milestones for the man. Magic Man shows clearly Gene Takovic still shares the souls of Jimmy and Saul, although viewers are still waiting to see the original McGill.

The cold open is long but significant: low-key Gene takes a stand a decides to stand his ground for once. Gene is spooked after his hospital visit and monitors police bands for any chatter about him.  At his home, he checks his stash of diamonds as Jim Reeves’ “Welcome to My World” plays, ironically, over the scene.

Somebody’s watching me

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“I just want you to admit it.”

“Magic Man” reveals that former Albuquerque cabbie Jeff (Don Harvey) drove Gene back from the hospital last season and has been stalking Gene since.   Jeff approaches Gene eating his solitary at the mall and introduces himself, demanding Gene admit his identity. “I just want you to admit it. Just say it .”

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Gene says quietly, “Better Call Saul”, with the finger point

Better Call Saul” he whispers, then repeats twice more, louder with the point the last time.  Jeff is satisfied but says Gene will do better next time because he is a bit rusty.  Jeff’s unknown friend witnesses it all from the background, purpose unknown. Jeff leaves Gene with what will surely be a future lifeline or deadly gesture. “Any time you need me, call Omaha Cabs and ask for me. I’m never more than five minutes away.  I’ll see you, Gene.”

“I’m going to face it myself”

A shaken Gene immediately calls an old contact about a vacuum replacement part- it is the late (and wonderful) Robert Forster aka Ed Gailbraith, The Fixer, who got Saul out of Albuquerque in Breaking Bad.

Forster’s death after the filming of El Camino had most viewers thinking it was his final performance.  Forster filmed the Magic Man scenes during El Camino filming, in one day.  This is his final performance and a terrific gift to fans.

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Repeat customer Gene will have to pay much more before Ed can help him again. Cash only

Gene’s first instinct is to bug out after being made bu Jeff, but he changes his mind on the phone.  After a long pause and several prompts from Ed, Gene decides he will handle Jeff himself, staying with the new life he built in Omaha.

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Gene “I’m going to face it myself”

This huge milestone for Gene comes after James, Slippin’ Jimmy and Saul all avoided confrontation whenever possible throughout their lives.  Gene choosing to stand his ground shows the man has changed although we don’t yet know why.

The cold open we should expect for the season finale will give us more information to add to the mystery of Jeff and his fascination plus his intentions towards Gene/Saul.

“Jimmy McGill will always be Chuck McGill’s loser brother.”

“Magic Man” sets up viewers for the season ahead, showing the main characters still struggling from the events of last season. Jimmy adopts Saul Goodman as his professional name although Kim can’t understand why until he admits to her that “Jimmy McGill will always be Chuck McGill’s loser brother.  That name is burned.” Kim gives Jimmy the monogrammed briefcase from last season and he decides he’ll say is it his motto, “Justice matters most” when anyone asks him about it.

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“Jimmy McGill will always be Chuck McGill’s loser brother,”

Saul leaps right into his Slippin’ Jimmy ways though, setting up a tent at a low rider rally,

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I’m available 24 hours a day

“He was facing 25 years in prison before I got him off”

then giving potential clients last season’s leftover cellphones,  with his own number programmed into the speed dial function.  He spins a tale of how he got Huell (Lavell Crawford) off from potential prison term of 3-25 years, so Huell nicknamed him the Magic Man.  Huell serves as a gatekeeper during the rally. By night’s end, Saul runs out of phones so offers discounts to clients with multiple felonies instead. Bob Odenkirk is fantastic in the manic montage of clients and spiels Saul runs through onscreen.

“This, this and this, is not our product”

Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) investigates claims that the supply is “stepped on” and discovers that another supplier’s product has been added to their own. He makes the rounds until he finds the other product.

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E Ripley photo of Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca, Magic Man

At a tense meeting with Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda) in which Fring “confesses” that Werner Ziegler stumbled upon his drug business and stole product, which he replaced with local meth, but has since handled the problem. Fring also gives a tour through the underground facility which is only about halfway finished.

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Fring takes Juan Bolsa and Lalo Salamanca on a tour of his underground facility. E Ripley photo

Lalo spots Mike (Jonathan Banks), who he hunted and tracked in season 4. Lalo insists on meeting Mike and the two men stare each other down briefly before Mike excuses himself.

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photo by E Ripley
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“I’ll just get back to it” Mike after meeting Lalo Salamanca. (photo by E Ripley)

The meeting ends with Bolsa reminding Lalo that he is behaving badly. Bolsa points out that the key to Fring is business, always.

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“Consider it a sort of retainer”

Fring has been busy turning events to his own advantage after lying about Ziegler. He neutralizes the threat from Lalo by planning to shut down various schemes at present.  Fring covers himself with the cartel by blaming Werner for the theft and got away with that too.  Keeping  Mike happy and available is the last big item on his to-do list. All will be well and Lalo will head back down south of the border sooner or later.

He gets Mike to dismiss the German work crew, with full pay, after guaranteeing their silence.  Each man or pairing get different vehicles and destinations.

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Kai shows he has learned nothing during his time there and tells Mike that Ziegler was weak so his death was necessary. Mike punches him out  giving Kai a final, necessary lesson in silence being golden

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Kai never learned when to be quiet.

but does nothing when another man tells him Werner was worth 50 of Mike.

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“Werner was worth 50 of you.”

He doesn’t disagree and takes the insult. Mike and Fring catch up at day’s end when Mike learns that things will shut own until Lao leaves the area.  Fring plans to put Mike “on retainer” and continue paying him for doing nothing.  Mike refuses the retainer and walks out.  Mike is the only character in Magic Man who remained fully himself, unchanged, as we have known him.

Kim’s struggles are around wanting to remain tied to normal life and morality while seeing how well Jimmy/Saul’s schemes work to advantage. She doesn’t understand why Jimmy wants to be Saul, worries that his client “felony discount” will result in more crimes committed by folks wanting the savings.

“You should take the plea deal”

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Saul and Kim put on a show so her client will take the plea deal (photo E Ripley)

She finally gives in, uses a Saul-hatched scheme to get a client to take a 5-month plea deal sentence instead of going to trial- and it works.  What is at stake here is a 5-month plea deal of prison time vs going to trial and getting a years-long sentence instead.  The client refuses the reasonable deal and is certain he would win a trial.

Kim runs into Saul in the hallway, some distance from the client and his family.  Saul pretends to be from the District Attorney’s (D.A) officer and threatened to take the plea deal off the table suggesting new evidence having appeared as the reason. The client sees Saul gesturing wildly so takes Kim’s advice finally. Going to trial would likely result in a long prison term.

Why doesn’t it feel like winning?

Kim and Jimmy promised to use their powers only “for good” and technically that is what happens when the client takes the plea deal instead of making a terrible decision for himself. But Kim dislikes the lying to and manipulation of clients, so she ends up torn despite her success. She ends the episode standing dejectedly in the stairwell, disappointed, a bit angry and confused.

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Her client took the deal but Kim doesn;’ feel good about it (photo by E Ripley)

Magic Man is a great setup episode for the rest of Season 5; we’ll see the discontent of Kim, Lalo play out further while Jimmy, Fring, and Mike will remain happy or at least content with their lot.