Better Call Saul





Paul Asay
Kristin Smith

TV Series Review

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.

Habeus Corpses

Better Call Saul is a prequel for 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.

Not Getting Off on a Technicality

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.

But none of that excuses what we see and hear. Set aside the lighter tone and technical skill, this is still a dark show filled with dark characters doing dark deeds. While Better Call Saul may find a loophole or two, it breaks just as bad.

Episode Reviews

March 16, 2020: “Dedicado a Max”

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.”

Aug. 6, 2018: “Smoke”

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.

Better Call Saul: Apr. 10, 2017 “Mabel”

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.

Better Call Saul – Feb. 15, 2015 “Switch”

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.”

Better Call Saul: Feb. 16, 2015 “Nacho”

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.

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Paul Asay

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.

Kristin Smith

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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