Better Call Saul
During the time Breaking Bad aired, you couldn’t find a person who didn’t watch it or at least knew of it and saw pictures, videos, gifs, or had it recommended to them. It was the kind of show that enticed everyone to watch it, and, quite frankly, it kind of took over everything. It was everywhere. Hell, it still lives on through memes and the iconic Breaking Bad Remix. So imagine my surprise at learning how little hype there is around its equally amazing prequel, Better Call Saul.
BCS, which premiered in 2015, is set 6 years prior to Breaking Bad and focuses on con-man turned lawyer Jimmy McGill as he slowly becomes involved in the criminal underworld of Albuquerque.
While Breaking Bad imprinted itself in the minds of a wide audience, Saul seems to have only really stuck with the true fans, for reasons I still can’t wrap my head around. It’s written by the same people, it features a prominent figure from the original as its titular character Saul Goodman, it brings a depth to his story that is absolutely flawless in its buildup, and it also builds on other dearly beloved characters from Br Ba like Mike and Gus.
It is albeit a bit slower at times, but that’s only on the surface. Even in a scene that might seem purposeless to the normal eye, tons of things are happening through subtext, body language, even set design (for example, Kim no longer having room in the closet because of all the colorful Saul Goodman suits). Saul is one of the few shows that can actually afford to do this without becoming boring, it can take its time with things, it can introduce concepts and situations slowly because we already know the ending. Breaking Bad’s made sure we know how Saul (or Jimmy) ends up, what Mike and Gus’ fates are, and what they’re all heading towards. The fascinating part is seeing how they go from point A to point B, and seeing the characters’ good, passionate, innocent selves slowly being chipped away at.
I found Saul fascinating specifically because of its level of attention to detail and its pacing. Watching the progression – or regression – of Jimmy’s relationship with his brother, Chuck, witnessing it as the catalyst for what’s to come, seeing how, with each escalating conflict, Jimmy is nudged closer and closer into corruption is honestly such a captivating experience, especially as a writer. It’s such a great character piece that really nails real, believable people, spends time with them to develop their quirks, their flaws, their talents, giving a shape to their lives with so much detail you forget you’re watching a show.
Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, has a great talent for developing pitiful protagonists into monstrous assholes. Saul is no different. As long as Chuck’s in the picture, you can’t help but side with Jimmy, even though Chuck does make some good points about his brother’s nature and behavior. But as Jimmy escapes him and branches out on his own, you begin to see his true self, and you realize he doesn’t cut corners and pull elaborate schemes just because he’s got no better means to win his cases, but because he enjoys it. Even when things get incredibly dangerous, when his life is threatened, he is aware of how much he’s screwing up not only his life but his partner, Kim’s, as well, but he still continues down the same path. Jimmy refuses to change because he’s been pursuing power since day 1, and everything else pales in comparison. Keeping Jimmy’s essence all throughout and slowly exposing it in a way that doesn’t seem surprising or out of the blue is no easy feat, but Gilligan pulls it off flawlessly.
Speaking of character, there isn’t a single one in the main cast who isn’t brilliant. The complexity of Kim Wexler is next to none, with her initial function of friend/confidant and voice of reason branching out into something still tied to her essence but showing vastly different sides. Her character’s individuality, her headstrong decisions in her pursuit of a career she’s happy with, and her loyalty to Jimmy tie wonderfully into the story, creating a vast pool of situations that further not only the plot and her own character, but Jimmy’s as well. Although she’s such a down to earth, stable character and pillar of the show, her choices always surprise at first before you read into them and realize there was no better fitting route for her character. Her being a totally new character unrelated to Br Ba is also meaningful because it’s our first meeting with her, we don’t know her as well as we know Jimmy or Mike, but we do know in 6 years she won’t be there, so the question behind what happens to her remains with the audience all throughout the series.
Mike is someone more familiar. I have to admit, he’s always stolen the show for me, every episode. While Jimmy’s schemes and crazy stunts are entertaining to watch and make the story more dynamic, it’s Mike’s more soulful piece of the puzzle that really got to me. Exploring his reasons for becoming associated with the cartel in depth, seeing him struggle with the death of his son, his relationships with his granddaughter and daughter in law, and understanding the extremes to which he goes to guarantee them a comfortable life make his character a lot easier to empathize with that Jimmy’s. The fact that he’s hilarious and constantly a mood only further his character’s brilliance. By season 5, I cared more about him than Jimmy to be honest, but watching him is really bittersweet when you know what happens…
And finally, Nacho. From the start, Nacho represents reason, strategy, and smart thinking. He’s the one who saves Jimmy from becoming Tuco’s target practice, and he’s shown early on to want to branch out on his own, establishing him as someone who’s both dangerous but approachable. He continues to walk the line between the two sides throughout the series, growing to wish he’d get out, but learning he’s stuck. His story is heartbreaking mainly because he seems to be the punching bag of the show, always drawing the short end of the stick. Just like Kim, he’s a new character who doesn’t appear in Breaking Bad, but unlike Kim, his chances of actually surviving Saul are slim, especially with how season 5 ended. Nacho’s been my favorite character since day 1, so watching him constantly be jerked around by the Salamancas and by Gus and forced to take part in their war is incredibly frustrating, but that makes the watch so much more exciting.
Aside from our hindsight into the story from its source material, we're also offered a look at Jimmy's life post-Breaking Bad every season premiere, with black and white sequences showing how he's coping with his new situation. This technique creates even more anticipation for the viewer, as Jimmy's boring, lowkey existence as a Cinnabon worker is clearly shown to slowly slip away from him as well. We're being told what happened before through the whole show, but now we know what happens after too. It's an incredibly simple way to raise the stakes and engage the audience further, and it establishes the show as a flawless user of flashbacks and flashforwards. Even the glimpses into the characters' lives before the prequel are executed well and build the foundation of the story without being expositional or boring! You want to learn writing techniques? Give this a watch.
Even from the first episode, Saul is a masterclass in writing for TV. It shows how to create tension simply but effectively, has an opening scene that’s guaranteed to make you want to continue watching, exemplifies how you can introduce a character and tell the audience a heckload about them just through their actions (Jimmy arguing for his clients in the opening scene says so much about him as a person, from his wordplay about “nobody/no body being hurt” to how nonchalantly he works the case), and easily showcases how to start out from a small event and open the door to more and more complications as that event unravels, with a perfect ending hook to boot.
It takes patience and attention to enjoy Saul fully, but if you’re tired of mediocre TV and need a little bit More, then this is the right show. Frankly, you don’t even need to have watched Breaking Bad to enjoy it because it’s fantastic on its own, but there's loads of references to it, like the famous Hector Salamanca bell, which make watching Saul that much more exciting, the chance to pick up on Easter Eggs and passing odes to its source material becoming increasingly more fun. It deserves the same hype Br Ba got and more, which is why I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a try.
As always, thank you for reading, and see you next week!