It’s been called the first Star Wars show meant for adults. And that, obviously, comes with some problems.
You’d expect the titular character in Better Call Saul to be named Saul, right? Yeah, not so much. At least not initially. Long before Saul Goodman ever met Breaking Bad’s Walter White or Jesse Pinkman, back when crystal was what hung from those wagon wheel chandeliers at the Hotel Albuquerque and Blue Sky simply described the weather most of the summer, Saul was known as Jimmy McGill—an attorney with, shall we say, a certain intimacy with legal trouble.
Hey, everybody says to do what you know, right?
Jimmy knows all about the law because he’s broken it so many times. He knows the ins and outs of client-attorney conversations from having sat on the other side of the table. Yessir. If you want a lawyer who has experience, few have the sort of experience that Sau—I mean, Jimmy has. And he uses that experience to help his clients out of all sorts of fixes.
Walter White, clearly, wasn’t the first guy who broke bad in the American Southwest.
Better Call Saul is a spinoff of AMC’s grim but acclaimed drama Breaking Bad—plucking from its bleak morass the show’s most reliable comic relief (and a few other memorable characters as well). Star Bob Odenkirk was a staff writer for Saturday Night Live for eight years, so instead of succumbing to Bad’s suffocating sense of doom, Saul sets out to add a bit of wit to the wickedness.
Jimmy comes in contact with—and often defends—pretty bad people who’ve done pretty bad things. In the series premiere, for instance, he tries to argue that when his teen clients cut the head off a corpse and then had sex with it, they were simply “boys being boys.” And that’s just the beginning of the allusions to sex and violence and drugs, of course. Language can be foul, too, including s-words. And believe it or not, Better Call Saul’s sense of morality may be more troubling than its predecessor’s.
Like Breaking Bad, Saul revels in the collision of good and evil, sin and moral relativity. Both shows are, in their own ways, dark morality tales. But in Breaking Bad, Walter White grew purposefully less sympathetic as the story unwound. The good man that he once was got torn apart by his own sin and greed and (most powerfully) justifications of both. Then, in true Old Testament fashion, Walter was eventually destroyed by what he did.
We already know that Jimmy isn’t on the same trajectory as Walter: He’s not a good guy breaking bad, he’s a regular Joe who likes to dance on the line between good and bad like a medieval fool. He’ll do the right thing and have it come out wrong. He’ll do the wrong thing and find everyone’s the better for it. He’s a slimy, irresponsible cad—but a likable one. In fact, the caddishness itself is part of the guy’s onscreen charm. And that, of course, can be a problem.
Better Call Saul may be better than its forebear, technically speaking, when it comes to raw content—and that’s appropriate, given Saul’s experience with legal technicalities. And the show is, artistically, impressive. Creator Vince Gilligan doles out each episode at a languid, purposeful pace, with each shot and scene practically curated to match mood and mission. The writing is top-shelf stuff, and the camera work … well, many a filmmaker could learn a thing or two here.
If there’s anything we can learn from the world of the Walter Whites and Saul Goodmans, it’s that Scripture is right when it tells us that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” as the two will stop at nothing to get as much of the green as possible. And while Better Call Saul may find a loophole or two exonerating it in the eyes of the law, it breaks just as bad.
When Saul is captured by law enforcement, he is forced to deal with all of his past crimes—and he works out a potential plea deal.
Saul evades the police, and he crawls into a dumpster. Saul punches a door. The deaths of various characters, including spoilers for Breaking Bad, are referenced. A boy is said to have broken into a liquor store and drank a large quantity of alcohol. A client of Saul’s is mentioned to have publicly exposed his genitals.
The s-word is used twice. We also hear instances of “h—,” “a–” and “d–n.” “Crap” and “b–tard” are also used. Jesus’ name is misused three times.
Jimmy and his wife hatch a plan to take down their old law firm. Meanwhile, drug cartels prepare to go to war. We see a nude man (critical bits hidden by clever camera angles) in a men’s locker room. A nude statue is removed from a house. Someone removes a woman’s dirty undergarment from a bathtub. We see a man dressed in just a shirt and underwear. Later, he starts to remove his clothes. A married couple sleeps in bed together. They kiss in a later scene. Several mercenaries are let into a house to kill the nephew of a drug cartel leader. Later, we see corpses everywhere as police investigate (and we learn that someone killed the mercs but not before they completed their task). An ant begins to eat one of the bodies. Someone puts a card depicting Saint Muerto on a burned body falsely believed to be the nephew. The nephew survives but takes a bullet to the shoulder, which he bandages later. He then uses a pair of kitchen shears to kill the couple who helps him (though this isn’t seen on screen). Later, he shoots two more men (offscreen, but we see their bleeding corpses) when they refuse to return his money after he cancels their services. A man running for his life (for letting the mercenaries into the house) is led to a motel room with a gun hidden inside. He is told to shoot anyone who comes to his door until he can be relocated to a safer location. Jimmy’s wife throws away a coffee mug with a bullet hole in it. A man is provoked to violence, but his friends hold him back. We hear that someone used a knife to commit armed robbery. There are several prescription medications on a bathroom counter, including Viagra. Jimmy feigns Anti-Semitism when someone tries to kick him out of a golf club. He makes several racial comments to get his way. He then purposely clogs a toilet as a distraction while he plants a baggie of cocaine in someone’s locker (which we learn is actually baby powder). Jimmy lies to police and lawyers. We hear a teen was manipulated by his friend to be the getaway driver in an armed robbery. Several people hide in hay bales to illegally cross the United States border. We hear uses of “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “d–k,” “h—” and the s-word.
Jimmy helps postpone an investigation to help an impoverished client. Kim represents a client she intends to destroy. Mike recovers from a fight in Mexico while being faced with a life-altering decision. An elderly man receives stitches in his abdomen after a brawl, and we see the bloody wound. A few lawyers lie and use unconventional methods to defend their clients. Jimmy asks Kim if she’d like to take a shower with him. A woman wears a cleavage-baring top. A couple drinks beer and make a reference to consuming champagne. A man tries to decide if he should associate himself with a notorious drug dealer. God’s name is misused a few times, paired with “d–mit” and “d–n.” The s-word is heard once and other profanities include a few utterances each of “h—” and “son of a b–ch.” A man is called a “shyster” and a “low-life.”
Jimmy struggles to process the tragic death of his brother Chuck. Howard reveals a secret and Mike, a friend of Jimmy’s and a mob hand, investigates at the multifaceted company Madrigal. Jimmy passes out at work and is rushed to the ER where he lies shirtless. Nurses inject him with needles and check vitals. Later, he has a panic attack and believes he sees Chuck. Many grief-stricken friends and family members attend Chuck’s funeral. Jimmy and his love interest, Kim, lie in bed together (fully clothed) and later take shots of liquor. A drug lord praises a man after he secretly drugs an opponent. There’s further talk about stealing, fighting and illegal business dealings. A man steals an employee’s name tag and gains illegal access into a facility.
It’s the aftermath of Saul’s Season 2 finale: Chuck, Jimmy’s brother, has Jimmy’s confession on tape that he meddled with some critical legal documents (a felony); but the tape itself is inadmissible in court, so Chuck begins to scheme how he can make Jimmy’s life miserable anyway. Meanwhile, Jimmy confronts an Air Force officer (whom Jimmy lied to in order to film a commercial near a B-29 with a fraudulent “war hero”), and Mike Ehrmantraut—future henchman of a Breaking Bad drug kingpin—discovers a tracking device on his car and figures out a way to track the tracker. Mike cuts a deal with a shady tech middleman. Jimmy lies and schmoozes. He also rubs the back of his girlfriend and fellow lawyer, Kim. Someone pops open a beer. There’s a reference to drinking champagne in celebration, as well as perhaps a nod to marijuana use. In a flash-forward, we see Jimmy (now calling himself Gene and running a mall-based Cinnabon franchise) faint while smearing frosting on some cinnamon rolls. He also helps cops find a shoplifter, but then tells the shoplifter to “say nothing” until he gets a lawyer. Mike carries a gun. Characters say the s-word three times. We also hear the profanities “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—,” as well as the vulgarity “crap.” God’s name and Jesus’ name are both misused once, and we hear the f-word stand-in “frigging,” too.
When Jimmy gets a job offer from a prestigious Santa Fe legal firm, he stars living large at a fancy hotel while racking up a bill he has no intention of paying. “I finally decided to be me,” he tells his girlfriend, Kim. He convinces her to join him on a spur-of-the-moment con job for a few shots of tequila. Meanwhile, aspiring drug dealer Pryce fires his bodyguard, Mike, feeling like he can trust the folks he’s dealing with. That naiveté leads to Pryce’s house getting ransacked. Tequila chases tequila, along with wine. Oral sex is slyly referenced. Jimmy blasts his own conscience, insisting that “it’s never stopping me again.” There are a couple of s-words, along with “h—” and “b–ch.” God’s name is mashed up with “d–n.” There are references to “donkey balls.”
Jimmy’s in a serious pickle—one that may threaten the lives of a family of white-collar thieves. He tries to warn them, but the next morning he finds that their house has been ransacked and they’ve vanished. Gangbanger Nacho is quickly captured … but insists he had nothing to do with the crime. Jimmy runs from two people he fears are in Nacho’s gang but turn out to be police officers. He’s roughly pushed to the ground. He continues his ongoing battle with a parking attendant (Mike Ehrmantraut, who becomes a hit man on Breaking Bad), and their fight eventually leads to a physical confrontation with Mike throwing Jimmy to the ground and nearly breaking his arm. We hear about blood being found in a van. Nacho threatens Jimmy with death. There’s talk of talking dirty on the phone and listening to a “sex robot voice.” In flashback, we see Jimmy in jail for a potential sex offense. There are jokes made about someone’s bowel movement, urination and cannibalism. In the opening credits, cigarettes are snuffed out in the scales of justice. The s-word is used four times. Other profanities include “a–,” “p—” and “d–n.” God’s and Jesus’ names are abused once or twice each. Jimmy repeatedly lies and misleads.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. His favorite movie is La La Land.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her fiancé indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
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