refresher course

What to Remember Before Better Call Saul’s Final Season

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Almost exactly two years after we last saw them in action, Jimmy McGill, Kim Wexler, Mike Ehrmantraut, and Gus Fring return tonight for Better Call Saul’s sixth and final season, which will air seven episodes in a row before a brief break, picking up with the final stretch on July 11. Two years is roughly a lifetime in the crowded world of modern television, and even hard-core fans could be forgiven for not remembering exactly where this Breaking Bad prequel (and, in a way, sequel) last left its characters. It doesn’t help that creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and their writers have never been inclined to hold viewers’ hands in terms of recapping events from the previous season.

Well, that’s where we come in, giving you what you need to know as we prepare to jump back into one of the best dramas in the history of television. Considering the show’s rich tapestry of character work, that’s the best way to approach a refresher, person by person, starting with the man who gives the show its title.

Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk)

Photo: Warrick Page/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Jimmy McGill really became Saul Goodman in season five, giving up any pretense of maintaining the more “legitimate” side of the legal ledger as he embraced his “Slippin’ Jimmy” skill set. He spent much of the season building his client base by turning on that Saul charm, which led him deeper than ever into the criminal underworld. When he helped a Salamanca drug dealer escape charges by becoming an informant for Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), his worth became apparent to the cartel, particularly Lalo Salamanca, the new leader of the pack. Later in the season, he would be forced to travel to the Mexican border to retrieve $7 million for bail for Lalo, nearly getting killed on the journey, were it not for Mike.

At the same time, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) reached out, seemingly to help Jimmy after the death of his brother, but Jimmy kept pushing back against Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill and all that corporate law implies, including helping Kim with a rancher who refused to leave his land for a Schweikart & Cokely client. Jimmy married Kim, largely for spousal privilege, as tensions rose between them and HHM. In the end, they decided to sabotage Howard Hamlin to force a resolution in the Sandpiper case, a scheme that takes center stage at the start of season six.

It’s also important to remember where we left Gene Takavic. That’s the man that Jimmy becomes post-Saul, the Cinnabon worker who is seen only in black-and-white prologues that flash forward to after the action of Breaking Bad. In the fifth season premiere, after his cover is most definitely blown, Gene calls Robert Forster’s Ed to try and disappear again before deciding to handle it on his own. The last time we saw him, he said, “I’m gonna fix it myself.”

Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn)

Photo: Warrick Page/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Kim’s journey paralleled Jimmy’s in a lot of ways in season five, but she also had her own arc, influenced by both the ascendance of Saul Goodman and the conflicting feelings she has about her own profession that were brought to the surface by the aforementioned rancher. As Jimmy has become more entrenched in the law’s gray areas, Kim has been acting as his counterbalance on the karmic scales of justice, taking on more pro bono cases. Her impulse to “do good” seems equally rooted in easing her conscience related to Jimmy’s increasingly deadly clients and atoning for her time in the arguably more morally corrupt world of “legitimate” legal work, like what’s done at S&C, which she quits at the end of season five.

When Kim married Jimmy, she seemed to embrace more of his schemes, leading to some arguing that she “broke bad” in season five, but that’s a simplified way to look at one of the most complex characters on TV. She opens season six more confident about supporting Jimmy in their scheme against Howard, even as she worries about the danger rising around the side of her husband now known as Saul.

Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks)

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Mike spent season five consumed by grief and fear but used his conscience and instincts to battle both. Still reeling from his role in the death of Werner Ziegler, Mike was driven in season five to make sure that no further life is lost beyond what is absolutely necessary on his watch. As much as season five was about Jimmy becoming more like the Saul introduced in Breaking Bad, it was also formative in terms of Mike becoming the no-nonsense protector that first appeared on that show, one who tries to get the job done with as little loss of life (or words spoken) as possible. He approached rock bottom with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter when his grief led to hitting the bottle too hard, eventually ending up at one of Fring’s Mexican ranches after getting beaten up. At that point, Gus recruited Mike for the upcoming war with the Salamancas, which heated up when Mike turned the police onto Lalo’s involvement in the murder of the wire clerk at the end of season four.

Things got complicated when Lalo hired Jimmy to get the bail money, leading to a journey toward the border that required Mike’s protection as a sniper. After foiling a theft attempt, Mike and Jimmy basically walked back to Albuquerque, and the mission culminated in Mike having a scope on Lalo himself as the enforcer threatened Kim and Jimmy. The season ended with Mike thinking that all of his planning with Nacho would lead to the death of Lalo Salamanca and the protection of Nacho Varga. He will find out he was wrong.

Nacho Varga (Michael Mando)

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

One of the underrated MVPs of Better Call Saul, Nacho Varga started the series as a soldier in the Salamanca army but quickly became much more than that. He crossed paths with Jimmy McGill early in the series when the lawyer helped him evade kidnapping charges and even tried to kill Hector Salamanca for messing with his dad Manuel.

By season five, Nacho was a mole in the Salamanca organization, which is a very dangerous place to be. After being befriended by Lalo, Nacho filled Gus in on his rival’s plans but ultimately wanted out of this tug-of-war between ruthless men as the intensity grew. His final play for the season involved Lalo taking Nacho to Mexico to meet Don Eladio, which ended with a blessing for Nacho to become a major player in the organization. That was not the plan. In the finale, Nacho opened a gate to Lalo’s estate to assassins and fled into the night, presuming that Lalo would be killed. He, too, will find out he was wrong and begins the season trying to get back to New Mexico.

Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito)

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Gus Fring spent much of season five moving pieces around in his violent game of chess with the Salamanca cartel. It started with inferior cocaine and ended with an attempted assassination of Lalo Salamanca. He put pressure on Nacho to become an informant, finding out about Lalo’s moves before they were made. Much of Gus’s story last season was about defining his sense of loyalty and boundaries. Who is he willing to sacrifice to profit?

Season six starts with Gus still on very shaky ground in terms of his organization, awaiting the fallout from the assassination attempt on Lalo and realizing he will have to come up with a new game plan when that doesn’t work out.

Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton)

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Following cartel leader Hector Salamanca’s stroke, his nephew Lalo arrived from Mexico to take over operations in Albuquerque. Instantly, an alpha-male battle erupted between Lalo and Gus, and the heat turned up on that dynamic over the course of season five, culminating in the assassination attempt at Lalo’s mansion in the season finale. When the assassins burst in, Lalo killed all but one of them, letting the survivor leave to tell the tale. He then realized that Nacho wasn’t among the victims and that he had been betrayed by someone he had just vouched for to his boss. So season six opens with a righteously furious Lalo Salamanca, presumed dead by many and headed north for vengeance.

What to Remember Before Better Call Saul’s Final Season