The ‘Better Call Saul’ Ensemble Went Out With a Bang

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Photo Source: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

As we prepare for the 29th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Backstage is breaking down this year’s film and television ensemble nominees for your consideration.

Main Cast: Jonathan Banks, Tony Dalton, Giancarlo Esposito, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn
Casting by: Sharon Bialy, Russell Scott, and Sherry Thomas 
Created by: Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould 
Distributed by: AMC

After 63 episodes of masterful storytelling, one could be forgiven for forgetting how silly the concept for “Better Call Saul” sounded at the outset. It was hard to imagine why Vince Gilligan and company would take the mountain of goodwill they amassed from their wildly successful, Emmy and SAG Award–winning “Breaking Bad” run and put it toward a spinoff about the show’s wackiest supporting character. How much could there really be to explore, and how compelling could such a premise even be? The answers, as it soon became clear, were: quite a bit, and very.

Gilligan, Peter Gould, and their writing team conjured up a fascinating morality tale for Saul Goodman, aka Jimmy McGill, revealing what lies beneath all the wisecracks and garish suits; and it took an impeccably cast ensemble to see that vision through. 

At the beginning of the sixth and final season, the titular crooked lawyer is living a double life: Saul in the streets, Jimmy in the sheets. But as his evolution into the man we see on “Breaking Bad” quickens, Bob Odenkirk plays his character’s internal conflict beautifully. The actor inhabits several iterations of Jimmy over time, from pre-“Saul” to post–“Breaking Bad” and points in between. Odenkirk peels away the artifice to reveal the fractured man beneath—always performing, always working an angle, until all that remains is an empty room.

Over the course of the series, Rhea Seehorn built attorney Kim Wexler into one of the most complex characters in the “Breaking Bad” universe. She and Jimmy are partners in both law and crime; and as Kim evolves, she both challenges his worst instincts and succumbs to a few of her own. Crowned with her trademark ponytail, she’s a lodestar of by-the-book competency whose morality gradually erodes over time. But it’s her need to correct injustice—a trait she believes she shares with Jimmy—that becomes both her undoing and her redemption. In the show’s penultimate episode, Seehorn delivers a knockout performance that more than merits her long-overdue Emmy nomination. After years of composure and guardedness, the actor rewards viewers’ investment in Kim with raw catharsis.

Better Call SaulCredit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Elsewhere in Albuquerque, Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) are dealing with the fallout of Gus’ blood feud with the Salamanca cartel. As two of the most prominent carryovers from “Breaking Bad,” Esposito and Banks—both multi-Emmy nominees—still find new intricacies to play. While Gus flirts with a stranger over a glass of wine, we catch a glimpse of who this criminal mastermind is when he lets his guard down. It’s an elegantly sad, small moment from Esposito, who, ever the technician, reveals no more than is necessary. Meanwhile, Mike’s arc on the final season is all about proving to himself that he has a moral center despite his deeply unethical line of work. When he fails, Banks conveys a resigned acceptance that helps us to better understand the Mike we see on “Breaking Bad.”

Michael Mando’s intense but sympathetic portrayal of career criminal Nacho Varga comes to a head when he tries to stay one step ahead of his fate. Patrick Fabian wrings every drop of sorrow out of vengeful lawyer Howard Hamlin as he endures Jimmy and Kim’s relentless cruelty. His collision course with Lalo Salamanca, a seemingly indestructible cartel leader played with charisma and panache by Tony Dalton, is one of the series’ most haunting plotlines.

“Better Call Saul” is a sublime achievement from top to bottom, and its stunning cast delivers all the way to the bitter end.

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