There’s a First World War adage that conflict is long periods of waiting punctuated by moments of sheer terror. This has always been the tone of Netflix’s Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul (although the show has also thrown its fair share of dark humour into the mix).
The beginning of the sixth and final season of the drama series - which is split into two parts - is consistent in this respect. After an explosive season five finale which saw cartel member Lalo Salamanca evade an elaborate assassination attempt and stalk off into the night, the season opener reined things right back, with a clear focus on dialogue over gunplay.
The characters who have been built up over five phenomenally written seasons are now crawling inescapably towards whatever fate lies ahead. However, we can already make a pretty good guess at where characters will end up because of Breaking Bad, which takes place six years after Better Call Saul’s finale.
We know for instance that Saul’s set up as a crooked lawyer is predetermined, Mike will continue in his own shadowy line of work and Gus will do well in the drugs game for a time before having half his face blown off. But seeing how these characters will get to where they’re going is all part of the fun.
And what about those characters who don’t appear in Breaking Bad? For example, Kim Wexler, who now has an army of devoted fans, does not even get a mention in the original show, leaving many to worry about her fate. She has so far mirrored the trajectory of Breaking Bad protagonist, Walter White, having fallen far from the straight laced lawyer she was in season one. Her absence in Breaking Bad suggests three options for her: a split from Saul, jail, or death, with each path imbued with its own sense of tragedy.
Another element of the series that needs resolving are the flash-forwards involving Saul, now living as Gene Takovic and working at a Cinnabon restaurant in a Nebraska shopping mall. The first five seasons began with black and white scenes showing Saul/Gene living a miserable 9-5 life in obscurity, but it’s not yet clear how he got there and if that really will be the end of his story. The season six opener is noticeably lacking the flash-forward that many fans will be looking for, but it’s almost certain that somewhere in season six, the mystery of Gene’s fate will be revealed.
To tie up these loose ends season six continues to follow the two distinct storylines, which have run through Better Call Saul since the beginning - the drug wars between the Salamancas and the scheming of Kim and Saul. In the first episodes, the pair are on a quest to take down lawyer Howard Hamlin in brutal fashion, with the rationale that they are doing the wrong thing for the right reasons - destroying Howard’s reputation so that the Sandpiper case will be settled and residents will get the money they are owed.
And back in the murky underworld of drug running, Lalo, Nacho, Gus et al. are doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons - attempting to obliterate all competition in order to become untouchable. As they navigate a cold war - which got very hot after the events of season five - the storyline will expand until Saul is pulled irretrievably from his world of petty grifting into that of a full scale drug war.
Ultimately, what makes Better Call Saul such a watchable programme - and one which rivals Breaking Bad - is its characters. Breaking Bad saw unassuming chemistry teacher Walter White become dangerous drug lord Heisenberg, and Better Call Saul has seen Jimmy McGill fight against his own nature as circumstances conspire against him and push him to embrace the persona of Saul Goodman. Bob Odenkirk plays Saul with heart and despite - or more likely because of - Saul’s obvious flaws, he is arguably even more relatable than Walter White.
And if we (unfairly) compare Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler to Anna Gunn’s Skyler White, there’s no question of which performance, and which character is more compelling. No-one seemed to mind that Skyler’s fate at the end of Breaking Bad is unknown, but conversely how Kim’s arc will end is one of the burning questions of Better Call Saul.
Season six begins with everything that was best about seasons one through five - long moments of nerve shredding buildup that are punctuated by bursts of cathartic violence. The characters remain a joy to watch, whether they are discussing case work or plotting bloody revenge, and the story is as compelling as ever.
Through 50 episodes the lives of the show’s lawyers and criminals have moved - sometimes at breakneck pace and sometimes painfully slowly - toward some grand endgame. The first half of season six feels like the calm before the storm and it would not be surprising if the final run of episodes, due out in July, ends in a blur of explosive violence and drama that would challenge Breaking Bad’s crescendo. Roll on season six part two.