Back to the beginning in Better Call Saul



Audiences get a look at how shady lawyer Saul Goodman got his start in AMC’s new show.

Better Call Saul, Vince Gilligan’s prequel (of sorts) to his hit show Breaking Bad that premiered Sunday on AMC, is smart and ambitious with the great writing that Breaking Bad was known for, with more obvious comedic moments mixed with dramatic ones.

Sunday’s premiere was followed by a second episode Monday.

The first episode opens with a black-and-white sequence of Saul (Bob Odenkirk), the shady lawyer who now sports a mustache, working at a Cinnabon in Omaha, Neb. The viewer sees a clearly paranoid Saul panic at the sight of a large man seemingly staring at—and then walking toward—him, followed immediately by relief as the man walks by to people at the store’s front door.

Once home and after pouring a large drink, there is evident regret, sadness, and misery on Saul’s face as he watches a videotape of the old “Better Call Saul” commercials he created before the psychological destruction, and journey into witness protection oblivion, wrought by Walter White in Breaking Bad.

Like the first few episodes of that multi-award-winning show, Better Call Saul features a protagonist who desires to be someone and make money, but gets tangled up in dangerous situations after being lured into nefarious activity.

Saul Goodman (known in the first two episodes by his real name, Jimmy McGill) is played brilliantly by Odenkirk, a comic and accomplished actor who we loved from Breaking Bad. He is still the same quirky, funny, and charming character who seems to be able to talk himself out of any situation.

The fascinating twist here is that we now we get to see him from the beginning. He is poor, unsuccessful, and he has yet to adopt his famous (infamous?) pseudonym.

Even though Odenkirk is primarily known for the comedic relief he brought to Breaking Bad’s dark table, he is quite adept in bringing the insecurity, fear, and nervousness inherent in the character to the surface, which makes him eminently sympathetic.

Bob Odenkirk infuses the title character with more than just a sense of humor, which makes him sympathetic.
Bob Odenkirk infuses the title character with more than just a sense of humor, which makes him sympathetic.

The first two episodes have done a good job of setting up Jimmy’s situation and background. Even though he is basically the same person he was in Breaking Bad, Gilligan has successfully gone deeper, revealing who “Jimmy” really is and who he wants to be. He’s made him a real person and not just a caricature.

The first two episodes also give Breaking Bad fans a few treats. Jonathan Banks, who plays the character Mike Ehrmantraut, is introduced as a courthouse parking attendant who gives Jimmy a hard time because he never has the correct validation on his parking pass.

There also is another character Breaking Bad fans will remember who creates some immediate and potential lethal trouble for Jimmy.

It’s clear that, like Breaking Bad, this show is about a man’s transformation, similar to that of Walter White’s but not as overtly powerful or dramatic. Jimmy/Saul has the same personality and goals, so the only real transformation we will see is Jimmy going from an unsuccessful lawyer with a few weak morals to rich and successful Saul with even fewer morals.

That transformation is not as stark as a quiet, insecure chemistry teacher turning into a murderous, sociopathic drug lord, which was the journey of Walter White.

That’s not to say that Better Call Saul is bad—it’s just not Breaking Bad. It’s still a very fun and exciting show with a very similar visual style: colorful with lots of close ups, wide shots of the desert, montages, interesting and unique camera angles, and of course the random shots of food.

Because of Saul’s degree of transformation, or lack thereof, it’s hard to see the show going more than two or maybe three seasons without getting repetitive, but who knows? Gilligan surprised us before with arguably the greatest show of all time, so maybe he will do it again.