Better Call Saul just might be the best show on television right now.
I’ve probably said that about other television series, and, I assure you, I meant it every time. I really mean it this time. Since BCS is a prequel series to AMC’s Breaking Bad, do you have to watch Bad in order to enjoy this one? No. But, you do need to watch Breaking Bad as well. What are you waiting for? It was great television also. And, yes, watching that series will add a few additional layers to your enjoyment of Saul. You’ll catch a few more Easter Eggs and in-jokes.
You can enjoy Better Call Saul without watching the series that spawned it, though. It stands just fine on its own.
This series is about how James McGill transforms into the sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman that we first met in Breaking Bad. As Season 4 ends, with the terrific episode “Winner,” Jimmy has his law license reinstated and has announced his decision to not practice under his given name. When his ever-suffering girlfriend Kim asks Jimmy what’s going on, he says, “’S’all good, man.” If you’ve watched this series since the first season, you realize this phrase was the origin of Slippin’ Jimmy’s alter ego, Saul Goodman, during his early con artist days.
In this season, we find Jimmy dealing with his brother Chuck’s death in some unusual and surprising ways. Up until the last episode of the season, he seemed little affected by Chuck’s suicide. Even in the last episode, he doesn’t really show how he feels to any character in the show, but there is a private moment when he’s having car trouble that I chose to interpret as genuine grief over his brother’s death.
That could just be me wanting to find something good in Jimmy. In that respect, I think I’m a lot like Kim Wexler, easily fooled when Jimmy McGill (played to the hilt by Bob Odenkirk) is faking emotion. Even after seeing Jimmy’s big reveal at the end of the finale, I still want to believe that some of the emotion he was revealing to the board was genuine.
Kim is very much the viewer stand-in in this show. She believes Jimmy is capable of being a good man, but at the same time she takes perverse enjoyment when he turns on his super conman powers. Just like me. I’m not sure what happens in the Jimmy-Kim relationship before this story arc plays itself out, but I get the feeling she’s no longer in the picture during the Breaking Bad days. Maybe I’m wrong. I just don’t want them to kill her off. I’ll accept that Kim decides she has to cut it off with Jimmy before he drags her down with him.
Mike Ehrmantraut spends much of this season supervising the creation of Gus Fring’s super-secret underground lab. Those of us who have watched Breaking Bad remember this lab in its finished state. I didn’t think that the story of its origin would be that engaging, but it has been. Without spoiling everything for you here, I will say that in the finale Mike has to carry out orders that cements his relationship as Gus Fring’s right-hand man. The moment also reminds me of another AMC show that I used to watch, The Walking Dead. ‘Nuff said.
Nacho Varga is another interesting character in this series. He was the one who spiked Hector Salamanca’s pills and caused his stroke. Hector will still be bedridden and ringing his bell in Breaking Bad, and will find one last way to lash out at Gus Fring as well. Gus figures out what Nacho has done, which makes Nacho one of Gus’s men now. By the end of the season, Eduardo Salamanca—known as Lalo—seems to be trying to take Hector’s place and is making Nacho be his personal driver. Meanwhile, Lalo is horning in dangerously close to Gus Fring’s private business, which probably won’t turn out well for Lalo in Season 5.
Since Nacho wasn’t in Breaking Bad either, to my recollection, I’m afraid things won’t end well for him either. Maybe he and Kim Wexler will run off together and elope. I’ll save that one for my fan fiction.
This show is stylish and beautifully shot, well-written, -directed, and -acted. Its pace is downright leisurely compared to the quick-cut editing we see in a lot of television shows, but the series is never dull. The story itself is unfolding right before our eyes, and it is a beautiful construction. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and emotionally moving.
I care about the characters on this show and can’t wait to spend more time with them next year.