REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “50% Off”

The following is a recap and review of the second episode of the fifth season of Better Call Saul, available on AMC in the U. S. and on Netflix internationally. Expect story spoilers. 

In the second episode of the fifth season — 50% Off — Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) goes to work as Saul Goodman, Mike Ehrmantraut (played by Jonathan Banks) does a favor for his daughter-in-law, and Nacho Varga (played by Michael Mando) does what he can to earn Lalo Salamanca’s trust. 50% Off was written by Alison Tatlock and directed by Norberto Barba (making his Breaking Bad-universe debut).

One of the things that I have previously written about in these reviews is how the storylines of the two most important characters of Better Call Saul — Mike Ehrmantraut and Jimmy McGill — tend to go in very different directions. In my review of Better Call Saul: Mabel, the season premiere of the third season, I wrote that the Mike Ehrmantraut storyline was the half of the show that felt the most like Breaking Bad, thus insinuating that Jimmy McGill’s storyline felt more fresh and unique. In my review of Better Call Saul: Sabrosito, the fourth episode of the third season, I argued that the Mike Ehrmantraut character had become the glue that held the Los Pollos Hermanos-storyline and the McGill-storyline together. These different storylines have often made the show feel split down the middle, or like two different shows in one. I said as much in my review of Better Call Saul: Breathe, the second episode of the fourth season: “Sometimes the Gus and Mike section feels too far removed from [Better Call Saul] and too much like a different show.” Thankfully, in 50% Off, the two disparate storylines converged and made the show feel a little bit more whole.

Though I am happy about the way the ending of 50% Off signals the merging of the show’s two disparate storylines, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about the episode’s cold open, or teaser sequence, which, I thought, felt a little bit too silly to be taken seriously. We see these so-called ‘skells’ in the vein of Breaking Bad‘s Skinny Pete and Badger (only much less believable) racing through the city doing criminal acts while screaming about Saul Goodman’s discount deal. It, frankly, felt like a dream sequence. I was just waiting for Jimmy to wake up from a dream in which business was booming. But, though it may have been a little bit far-fetched, this teaser sequence was not a dream or anything like it. The teaser sequence happened, and it gave us the first glimpse of the interesting butterfly effect of Jimmy McGill’s fifty-percent-off discount deal. These small-time criminals and their discount sugar rush, as the ending showed us, would eventually lead to Jimmy McGill’s sudden return to the unsafe world of drugs, cartels, and Ignacio Varga.

Speaking of Nacho, it’s not easy being him right about now. Not only is he doing whatever he can to please both the Salamancas and drug kingpin Gus Fring (played by Giancarlo Esposito), he also has the added pressure of having his father’s life hang in the balance. Right when he thinks he is on stable ground with both parts of the drug cartel that he works for, Fring demands that Nacho must get closer to Lalo Salamanca (played by Tony Dalton), the very man who would most want to eliminate him if he found out what Nacho did to Hector Salamanca (played by Mark Margolis). Nacho doesn’t really know how to get closer to Lalo without making it all seem forced, which is evident from his attempt to show interest during Lalo’s poker game, in which the awesome origin of Domingo Molina’s nickname ‘Krazy-8’ (played by Maximino Arciniega) was revealed. Now, the writers could’ve stretched out Nacho’s many attempts to gain favor over the course of several episodes, but instead, they gave him a great way to prove his value in this very episode. It is a testament to Michael Mando’s great performance as and portrayal of Nacho that his infiltration of the Salamanca drug house was as believable and nerve-racking as it ultimately was. Ultimately, Lalo may not be entirely swayed, but he sure seemed impressed by Nacho, who, at the very end of the episode, picked up an ice cream-eating Jimmy McGill on the side of the road and ordered the lawyer in the back of the vehicle. The image of the mint-chocolate chip ice cream cone upside down on the pavement is a great way to symbolize the problem with becoming the lawyer that guilty people hire. The business may be booming, but the sugar rush only lasts until the most dangerous clients come knocking on your door.

But before Nacho pulls Jimmy back into the world of drug cartels, Jimmy McGill was so excited that he was already planning for the future with his partner Kim Wexler (played by Rhea Seehorn). As they have run out of room in their apartment and Jimmy now has a whopping 45 clients, Jimmy thought it was now time to settle down with a nice and roomy home in Albuquerque. Kim, who is still uncomfortable with the influence Jimmy has on her, doesn’t thaw out by the sight of this new building. Although she does tease him in the bathroom, she is rightly skeptical and it was rough to see here. Whenever Jimmy suggested something about their future together she shrugged it off. It will be interesting to see when their relationship comes apart, as I, sadly, don’t have high hopes for their relationship. As a side note, I want to say that it was thrilling to watch Jimmy do what he does best in the courthouse by shaking the right hands, making the right suggestions, and paying off the right custodian. We also got to see an impressive long take in the courthouse, which was a great way to illustrate just how good Jimmy is at what he does.

Meanwhile, Mike was still beating himself up about what he was forced to do to Werner Ziegler. His daughter-in-law Stacey (played by Kerry Condon) caught him at a terrible time when she asked him to babysit his granddaughter Kaylee (this time played by Juliet Donenfield). Sure, it is never wise to ask him about his son and his effect on his son, but it definitely didn’t help that Kaylee was asking her grandfather at this exact moment that he was at a low point. Seeing Mike yell at Kaylee was rough for a couple of reasons. I think this is a little bit out of character for Mike. I just don’t see him being so broken up about Werner that he would snap due to Kaylee’s questions. Frankly, I was also taken out of the scene by the fact that this is now the fourth different young actress to play Kaylee. She looks too old here when compared to how old she is in Breaking Bad. This isn’t the first time that there have been some inconsistencies with Kaylee’s age, and I don’t think it’ll be the last time either. In any case, Mike Ehrmantraut is in an even weaker and more distraught emotional state after the events of this episode.

In spite of the slightly unconvincing chaos of the teaser sequence and the small problems with the Ehrmantraut-scenes, I thought that 50% Off was a very satisfying second episode. It may have been noticeably shorter than the season premiere, but this fairly fast-paced episode was anything but filler, as it pushed all of our most active and exciting characters into positions that will challenge them going forward. We are likely about to see a very exciting season if the ending of this episode was anything to go by.

A-

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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