[Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 5, Episode 4, “Namaste.”]
More than maybe any other show on TV, “Better Call Saul” has fully weaponized that nagging sensation you get in the back of your brain. Call it temptation, call it compulsion, call it a harbinger, but it’s that tiny sense of creeping uncertainty that elevates this show from a mundane examination of people in and around the legal profession to a show that gets at the core of human nature quicker and more efficiently than almost any other on TV.
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In “Namaste,” it’s the tiny voice telling Stacey Ehrmantraut that maybe it’s best if her father-in-law and daughter spend some time away from each other. And it’s Mike’s feeling that, despite his subtle and overt objections, maybe she’s right.
It’s the small bit of intuition that tells Hank Schrader that the nearly three-quarters of a million dollars he and his partner just confiscated might very well be the bait at the end of the cartel leader’s line.
For the show’s central couple, it’s what’s telling Jimmy whether or not he’s good enough for a seat at the corporate firm table, bygones will never be bygones. It’s the thing that leads Kim to finding a perfect way out of her ongoing internal crisis: the man at her side who’s in a position to employ all the tricks she can’t.
Another episode of our beloved handful of wayward souls trying to stave off the inevitable is the season’s best yet. That starts right at the top, with a cold open that joins a proud lineage of “Better Call Saul” openers that dangle plenty of information with no possible way of connecting any of it to what’s about to come. There’s no indication that the weights Jimmy is testing will eventually be used as a massive “thanks, but no thanks” hurled into Howard Hamlin’s driveway. At this point though, it’s a testament to how much trust the show has earned to this point that there’s a certain comfort in knowing a trip to an antique store like that isn’t just a quirky diversion — there’s a payoff in sight.
Written and directed by Gordon Smith, “Namaste” is peppered with tiny signifiers. After bidding goodbye to Jimmy as he goes off to a day filled with new clients, Kim chooses to sweep up the aftermath of their late-night bottle tossing, assuaging the part of her guilty conscience that Jimmy’s overlooked in his. In the ongoing evolution of their morning routine, there’s a renewed closeness in their tooth-brushing, however hangover-affected that might be. Of course, there’s also the small difference in Jimmy’s client and the doppelganger he’s (presumably) hired to sit in to bring about a mistrial.
The show has always exhibited attention to detail, so here’s a chance for its characters to notice it, too. In the same way that Kim has long chosen to see Jimmy’s merits instead of his shortcomings, she sees the Everett Acker/Mesa Verde property dispute as a mutually beneficial way to mark some good in both of their ledgers. She gets to sweep away the bits of broken glass that would otherwise have effectively meant evicting a man from his home and Saul Goodman gets to add someone to his client list that (again, presumably) won’t be a gateway to risky, felony-inducing activity.
Speaking of felonies, last week’s episode turned out to be far more than a blip, as “Namaste” returns both Hank and Steve as they try to crawl their way up through their understanding of the local drug trade organizational chart. From the Schrader/Gomie two-man vaudeville stakeout routine to those pair of menacing stares as they try to coax their would-be perp out of his getaway car, to Dean Norris’ delivery of “Let’s spelunk,” this is a reunion that continues to earn its welcome.
Intercutting that chase with Lyle the manager’s painful scour pad scrubbing of the Pollos Hermanos deep fryer is a textbook example of “Better Call Saul” mining the thrilling out of the commonplace. All this show needs is a helpful bit of context and it spins wonders. It turns a sociopathic bit of control-seeking on Gus’ part into a life-or-death race to see who gets to come out of the Fring/Salamanca cat-and-mouse game alive.
What the episode says about Gus in his tiny adjusting of the row of fryers after Lyle leaves, it gets to luxuriate in for the better part of the hour when it comes to Jimmy. Aside from his trial shenanigans, “Namaste” offers a lunch meeting of Jimmy and Howard Hamlin. What the name partner sees as an opportunity to make amends and add to his firm’s bottom line in one fell swoop, Jimmy sees as one more reason to hold a grudge over their rocky shared history. It’s a rare show of backbone from Howard, one that after seeing the reaction to his vanity-plated Jaguar done in by a trio of $25 bowling balls might not be back again soon.
Once again, an adrift Mike remains one of the minor sticking points of “Better Call Saul.” Without the construction of an underground meth lab to coordinate and (in his mind) robbed of an opportunity to see his beloved granddaughter, he goes looking for trouble. Not having as much luck as he did with last week’s one-and-done arm snap, he’s jumped by a bigger group, culminating in a pocketknife straight to the stomach. When he wakes up in an unfamiliar locale, maybe his unraveling of who made sure he didn’t go to the hospital (and how he’ll get back home) will add some needed flavor beyond the go-to Jonathan Banks Sneer of Disapproval.
The twin fireworks of smashed ribs and smashed rear windows aside, “Better Call Saul” is back to its peak meticulousness, laying the groundwork for more scheming and doom. In a way, it’s scratching that same itch its characters are looking to scratch themselves.
“Better Call Saul” airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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