Better Call Saul Reviews: “Dedicado a Max” (season 5, episode 5)

“Dedicado a Max” does a few things, but doesn’t finish any of them. As we’ve discussed before, it’s what we’d call a middle chapter.

We know this because it spends its time following two stories closely, paying only lip service (if anything) to other threads and characters. It advances both stories just far enough that the second half of the season can make full use of them. And, really, that’s about it.

Which isn’t to say that it’s not entertaining, especially because of the second thing “Dedicado a Max” does: It reminds us that Better Call Saul is a comedy.

Not exclusively, no. The show is often dramatic, sometimes harrowing, frequently insightful, but we are supposed to be laughing, too. The past few episodes have been pretty heavy, with many of the characters either at low points or actively self-destructing. We’ve gotten a few smiles here and there, but “Dedicado a Max” gives us actual, sustained comedy.

There’s Jimmy delaying Mesa Verde’s construction project day by day. There’s the “private eye” Jimmy and Kim hire who suggests throwing a bag over Kim’s client and hauling him out to the desert. There’s the fucking incredible scene during which Kim impersonates Kevin and Jimmy impersonates Kim…which is so funny and adorable and real that it’s very easy to remember why these two people are in love.

They shouldn’t be in love, and I’m sure they are each going to regret being in love, but in this moment, probably along with them, we remember how they got there.

And then there’s the phone conversation between Jimmy and Mike.

JIMMY: I’m sorry, I’m getting some kind of reverb or something. Are you in a tunnel, or…
MIKE: Yes.
JIMMY: What’s that?
MIKE: Yes, I’m in a tunnel.
JIMMY: Okay… Anyway…

Bob Odenkirk is a gifted comic actor; nobody needs to be told that. But playing him against someone as steely as Jonathan Banks — someone who is doing everything but rising to the comedy routine — makes everything that much funnier.

That phone conversation is also the third thing “Dedicado a Max” does.

I’ve written many times about how strange it is that Better Call Saul has two decidedly separate protagonists who only rarely overlap and who — to date — haven’t played any significant role in the other’s story.

Narratively, this is frustrating. I love this show, and I love these characters, but if I were writing a book or making a film in which two protagonists had totally isolated, rarely overlapping adventures that didn’t even share the same tones or themes, I’d have to step back and really wonder if both stories needed to be told at the same time.

As we’ve discussed before, there is one reason Better Call Saul has these two protagonists: Breaking Bad. We already know these characters from that show, where they shared the connective tissue of Walter White. But on its own merits, how do their dueling storylines benefit Better Call Saul?

I’ve wondered what it would be like for someone with zero knowledge of Breaking Bad to watch Better Call Saul. Would they be confused about why these two separate stories are being followed at the same time? Would they assume things will eventually come together and we’ll understand it in retrospect? I don’t know and can’t know, but I wonder.

That phone conversation — with Jimmy inviting Mike (once again) to join him for chicanery — reminds us that Better Call Saul knows how weird this is. Mike refuses (once again), and that’s that. Both stories are given a chance to overlap, and then they both shrug and decide to do other things instead.

Better Call Saul has guts, I’ll give it that.

The fourth thing “Dedicado a Max” does is that it lets Kim establish herself as the architect of her own misfortune. We’ve also talked about how easily Kim lets herself get dragged around by Jimmy’s poor impulses, and last week we discussed the fact that she wakes up in the morning with a clear head (however we’d like to define “in the morning”) and Jimmy does not.

Here, for what I think was the first time, we saw Jimmy trying to apply the breaks. Kim’s unethical manipulation of her own client is a damned fun adventure for Jimmy, but eventually the sun comes up and he realizes it’s time to move on.

This time, it’s Kim who refuses. Jimmy is dragged back in (just as easily as he usually drags Kim), a decision that’s guaranteed to seal a number of fates.

The fifth thing that “Dedicado a Max” does is let us know — to some degree — why Mike would willingly walk back into Gus’ employment. After he put his foot down and tried in his own ways to cope with what happened with Werner, why would he return to the life that caused him so much pain? Money isn’t the answer; Mike made that clear the moment he told Gus to stuff it.

We find out the answer here: “Revenge.”

But I’m not sure that that’s the full answer. At the very least, I’d have difficulty accepting it as one.

Revenge makes sense for Gus; Hector killed Max. So, yeah, by all means, ruin that fucker’s life, Gus. Your opposition to the Salamancas is justified.

Mike, though? There was the situation with Matty, and we saw how Mike got his revenge in season one. More recently there was the situation with Werner, which had nothing at all to do with the Salamancas. (The argument could much more easily be made that Mike’s “revenge” should be against Gus.)

Gus is on to something, I am certain. But I don’t think it’s as easily summed up as that one episode-ending word would have us believe.

There’s something else there. There’s more to the story.

Of course there is.

“Dedicado a Max” is a middle chapter.