I think so, yes.
I mean, I should have probably led you along to that conclusion to increase the amount you all had to read before hearing my final thoughts but, quite simply, I do think Better Call Saul is the right mix of everything I could want out of a TV show. Therefore I do feel comfortable saying that, at the time of writing this, it is probably my favourite show on TV. Or was… It’s ended now. I’m sad.
Better Call Saul is a prime example on how to do a prequel right; it elevates the original that spawned it (Breaking Bad) and recontextualises that show when you watch it again, after having seen this. In fact I’d say it does this so well that I even prefer Better Call Saul to Breaking Bad.
They took this character, Saul Goodman, who had originally been a one-dimensional sleazy lawyer whose primary job was to be the comic relief to lighten the mood after Walter White poisons a kid or something, and they turned him into the saddest character ever. Through six seasons of Better Call Saul you get the slow and winding tale of how years of resentment from his only living family, rejection in the only field of work he’s passionate about and only receiving support for his deepest flaws turns Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a flawed man who has redemption right in his hands, falls deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole of becoming an awful person; Saul Goodman.
Despite the show also detailing a lot of interesting stories about Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Mike Ermantraut (Johnathon Banks), the heart and peaks of the show’s drama comes from the quite moments between Jimmy and his partner, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). From the beginning, Kim is really the only person who ever believes in Jimmy and encourages him to be a straight lawyer, not a crooked one. But as they fall in love and rejection from other sources gets Jimmy more and more crooked, he begins to drag Kim down to his level. But what’s interesting about it is that Kim grows to enjoy rolling around in the dirt with him. And when two of the best lawyers, one of whom becomes involved with the Cartel, start scamming and cheating their way through life at the expense of others not for their own benefit, but simply because they enjoy doing so, things go horribly horribly wrong. And, in a perfect storm, just like in Breaking Bad, every single action they took from season 1/episode 1 comes back to bite them in the ass with consequences they aren’t prepared for.
And the result is that the Saul Goodman persona we see in Breaking Bad, who is often so jovial and funny, isn’t the face of a confident and tricky lawyer, but that of a broken man who’s never dealt with a single emotional moment in his life properly, hiding behind a toxic mask of bravado. And it’s so sad. I remember explaining to my mother why I liked this show once; ‘I enjoy watching Jimmy get up to whacky antics’. And now, after the end of season 6, it’s those very same whacky antics that have landed the character in a hole. The way the writers can make you sympathetic and hoping for a man we all know has done horrendous wrongs and has no way out is truly great, especially because they never once use crappy logic to justify anything he says or does. Jimmy is an asshole and is presented as one straight up, but you still like him and feel for him. Same for Kim, and same for Mike. You simultaneously condemn them and feel a bit sad ablut how that happened.
Poor Mike. Mike goes from Batman but he’s a criminal instead of a vigilante to Hitman, who either compromised every code of honour he thought separated him from lesser street thugs, or had the illusion shattered that any such code existed at all. The fact this character got as much development and stories devoted him might be more surprising than the fact Saul did; in Breaking Bad, Mike was introduced as a character because Bob Odenkirk wasn’t available for an episode they needed him in, so they invented Mike as one of ‘Saul’s contacts to fill the roll instead. Now he’s a lead roll in a six-season prequel that intriguingly details how Mike semi-redeemed himself from being the worst type of criminal there was and then falling back into that roll again ready for his appearance in Breaking Bad.
But there are still so many characters not in the original show who are absolute highlights of this one. Chuck (Michael McKean), is Jimmy’s mentally ill brother who also happens to be his only living family and the very person preventing Jimmy from advancing his career. He doesn’t believe Jimmy can change from the person he used to be and so blocks him at every turn. But when the wedge between the brothers is broken, Chuck loses everything and commits suicide. In a telling scene in the series finale, Jimmy says of Chuck that he tried to help… But that he could have tried harder.
There’s also Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) who’s a member of the Cartel looking to get out. But when Gus Fring turns him into a double agent to spy on and arrange the death of his rival, Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton), there’s only one obvious end in sight.
I mean for heaven’s sake, this show takes Hector Salamanca (a guy who in Breaking Bad rang a bell, pooped his pants and blew up) and somehow makes the reason he got into that wheelchair with the bell in the first place an incredibly compelling b-plot. People often joke of Star Wars spin-off’s ‘who are they going to make one about next, Babu Frik!?’ But the thing is, if you gave Babu Frik to Vince Giligan and Peter Gould, it’d probably be the most hard hitting show to ever grace Disney+.
I said in my season 1 and 2 review of this show that what I liked most about it was the slow pace, and that stands. It takes a while for the wheels to get rolling, but when they do you know something big is going to happen and that’s just how I like these types of TV shows. Whereas Breaking Bad was a faster-paced suspense-orientated show, Better Call Saul is more character and drama driven. The two are different, but both work well for what they’re doing. However, ultimately, I do like Better Call Saul more.
And I think part of that is how it works as a prequel, recontextualising Saul Goodman as the primary reason Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were anything more than street dealers just waiting to get picked up by the cops. And it doesn’t feel like a joke. It works, it makes sense and when you watch it, you really feel like the nut case with silly Lawyer UP plates on his car was actually a lot more than just Walt and Jesse’s get out of jail free card; he set them up for nearly every success they made.
I don’t think prequels ever have to exist. But this one is a benefit to the original story for existing. This isn’t like the Star Wars prequels where all we learn is that Darth Vader was little whiney when he was younger, this is something that changes your viewing of future stories and I admire that.
Of course I have to recommend Better Call Saul. It’s very slow and not for everyone because of that. The tone and stakes are constantly moving and sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re watching the same show any more, which can be a problem if you want something that’s consistent in that regard. But it’s all done with purpose, it’s not like that because the writers decided to have an off day. For me it works and I’ll definitely be rewatching this in the near future, beginning to end for one last hurrah.