19 April 2015

One Season and Better Call Saul Is Already Superior to Breaking Bad

How's that for a click-bait headline? But it's true.  I've made it no secret that I am not head-over-heels enamoured with Breaking Bad as everyone else seems to be.  But it's also true that after one season of the fascinating Better Call Saul my appreciation of Bad has increased, as without it Saul would not exist. 

I admit to what is probably an unfairly harsh bias towards Bad. But I maintain that Saul is the show that more deeply explores the human condition, shining a spotlight on the inherent moral quandaries and choices that face us all.

Jimmy McGill -- Saul Goodman's  predecessor self -- is a small-time hustler out of Chicago who inadvertently gets himself into some trouble with the law that only his powerful attorney older brother, Chuck (Michael McKean in a strong dramatic turn), can make go away.  In exchange, Jimmy swears to go straight and accepts a job as a mailboy in his brother's large law firm in Albuquerque. 

Jimmy may be a little crooked, but he also has a strong moral center, tenacious work ethic, and he indeed stays clean.  Bob Odenkirk plays him as the kind of guy you'd instantly like if you met him at a bar but of whom your wife would instantly disapprove when you invite him over to watch the game. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, the show's creators, deftly portray a man who straddles the unspoken morality line, sometimes leaning good, sometimes leaning bad.  It is this ambivalence that connects him to the audience.  When Jimmy is good, we applaud his, and ostensibly our own, moral righteousness.  When he does something bad or morally questionable, we're co-conspirators, sharing in Jimmy's post-scam high. In the worldview of Vince Gilligan, everyone is guilty of something. 

Beyond its darkly comedic take on moral relativism, Saul surprisingly delivers moments of profound tenderness.  The show smartly brought back Jonathan Banks' henchman extraordinaire, Mike Ehrmantraut. His backstory is both predictable and tragic; a riveting scene with his daughter-in-law about his son's -- and her husband -- death is powerfully affecting.  Another scene with Jimmy matter-of-factly explaining, "My brother thinks I'm a scumbag, and there's nothing I can do to change his mind," elicits tremendous sympathy and clearly plants the seed that leads to his metamorphosis into the unctuously corrupt Saul Goodman.

Where Bad brought horror and loathing, Saul brings subtlety and doubt.  And that probably, finally, explains why I prefer the latter so much.  I've never been much of a horror fan. 

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