After the phenomenon that was its predecessor, Better Call Saul is a criminally under-watched TV show despite receiving universal critical acclaim.
And in actual fact, it might even be better than its mainstream big brother.
*Minor plot details for Better Call Saul Seasons 1 – 3*
Each season the reviews come in and they are unwaveringly, overwhelmingly positive heaping praise on Bob Odenkirk’s fantastic performances, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s vision for the series, and the general excellence of the writing and direction. It’s a mystery to me why everyone isn’t watching this show. In my mind, it’s probably the best thing on TV right now.
Is it that the character of Saul that doesn’t appeal to people? Is it the slow pace of the show compared to Breaking Bad? Is it prequel syndrome? I genuinely don’t know. If you’re reading this and not watching Saul, I’d love to know why. Let me know below.
Saul, or Jimmy as he is known in his former years, is every bit as compelling as Walter White. Of course, we know he ‘breaks bad’ in the end and becomes the dodgy lawyer Saul Goodman but his journey there has been so fascinating in a way that prequels rarely are.
While the main focus of the show is on Jimmy, there’s plenty going on elsewhere. We learn of how Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Jimmy become acquaintances. We learn more of Mike’s backstory and how a seemingly good man like Mike ends up in such a dirty business. We even see the return of Gus Fring to our screens. There’s also new characters introduced; Jimmy’s friend and colleague Kim Wexler has every bit as compelling storyline as Jimmy and Jimmy’s brother Chuck is a fascinating foil to Jimmy.
In season 3 it certainly feels that we’ve seen the biggest contributing events that have shaped Jimmy’s transformation into Saul. But like with Walter White, we’ve come to know Jimmy. We empathise with him. We sympathise with him. We forgive his mistakes, his flaws and his actions because we know that, at heart, he’s probably a good guy. Watching Jimmy slowly get worn down from a try-hard, do-gooder with an appetite for the occasional misdemeanour into the beginnings of a cynical con-artist has been truly compelling.
This is really a testament to the incredible writing on the show. Each event, each confrontation, each moment of dialogue has purpose. There’s no single point that turns Jimmy into Saul. It’s a slow, subtle process. Jimmy at the beginning of season 1 feels like a very different character to the one we meet in Breaking Bad, or indeed the one at the end of season 3, but Saul is in there somewhere, just as Jimmy is still present in Saul. It’s a constant battle between the two. Throughout the series, he’s trying to compress his worst instincts. He’s trying to do things the right way. He doesn’t want to be a bad guy but sometimes, he just can’t help himself. It really is excellent character writing, with subtlety and nuance. It’s like the writers are slowly chipping away at Jimmy to reveal Saul. Jimmy is a complex and troubled character and Odenkirk is fantastic in the role.
Better Call Saul isn’t as explosive as Breaking Bad. It’s more of a slow burner. It’s more character driven and it has to be because we know that Jimmy is alive years down the line so putting him in life risking situations wouldn’t create any tension. So the tension instead is in watching this good man, albeit with flaws, slowly lose his morals and slowly lose himself to his worst instincts whilst trying to cling on to the good person inside. It’s tragic and incredibly compelling.