Better Call Saul – “A Criminal Lawyer”


Photo Courtesy of AMC

The sixth and final season of Better Call Saul aired on AMC over the summer, and provided a satisfying conclusion to Saul Goodman’s story.

Compared to the massive success that was Breaking Bad, the show’s 2015 spinoff, Better Call Saul, can feel boring. Slower episodes, less dialogue and fewer memorable characters. This doesn’t sound like it would make for an entertaining show, but even though the stakes of BCS are inherently much lower than Breaking Bad, they are treated as dramatic equals. 

The main character is Jimmy McGill. He isn’t a criminal like meth manufacturers Walter White or Jesse Pinkman. However, subtly his knowledge of the law lets them tiptoe across the line of what’s legal or illegal, and it makes Jesse and Walter far more criminally successful than they ever could have been without him.  

But why am I calling him Jimmy? The show is literally called Better Call Saul, how did Jimmy get the name and persona of Saul Goodman? That is the question the show sets out to answer, the how

For fans of Breaking Bad, we know what happens and how sleazy of a lawyer Saul really is and the lengths he will go to to get his clients (who are nine times out of ten actual criminals) off scot-free. 

Better Call Saul’s biggest strength is being able to tell a well-realized crime story while still keeping relatable human characters. Nacho Varga is the window for most people into this fictional take on Albuquerque and I think a lot of people will identify with him the most. He manages to get himself roped into some disturbing cartel dispute where he has to spy on the Salamancas, a cartel family south of the border, for Gus Fring, a drug kingpin on the northern side of the border and owner of fast food restaurant Los Pollos Hermanos. 

Scenes involving Nacho are intentionally depraved, with him being physically and psychologically tormented by guys on both sides of the border, all while Gus threatens his father’s life. So, he wants out, but neither side is ever quite done with him. Season five was the climax of Nacho’s story.

After an entire season of Nacho gaining the trust of Lalo Salamanca, a deranged high-ranking cartel member, he is finally able to attempt to beat Lalo at his own game by letting seven of Gus’s men into his super-secret hideout to try and take him out. The men end up failing and Lalo lives on another day, but he actually faked his own death and now Lalo is using that entire event to his advantage. 

Now, that was just one season of one character’s storyline. Mind you there are about three other storylines going on this whole time. You have Mike, who has saved just about every character’s life at one point or another in this show. He is stoic and brooding. Often being the one to get characters out of violently sticky situations. However, you can tell behind his glum expressions he has a heart and is still somewhat conflicted about the line of work he is in. 

The show’s namesake, Saul (aka Jimmy McGill), is known for talking his way out of any sort of trouble, his issue is the amount of trouble he gets himself into. This is where other characters like Kim, Jimmy’s wife, have to step in. They are lawyers but dislike the often mundane responsibilities that come with that sort of job and are looking for something more.

 Saul Goodman calls himself a “magic man” because he can make any criminal charge disappear by using his knowledge of the law in some unorthodox ways. This works for most everyday criminals, but when it comes to some of the higher-ups, defending the wrong person can catch you in the crossfire.

 Saul could have gone two different ways in pursuit of helping people no one else is willing to help: option 1) help people in need of legal aid by doing pro-bono (free) work or option 2) help people in need of legal aid for a fee but go to any length to make their client walk. Saul went for option two. 

Saul’s wife Kim picks option one. Saul and Kim have this idea of justice for any and everyone but go about it in different ways and it’s how she becomes disillusioned with Saul. Kim finds Saul’s scams exciting and fun, though when they push it too far what was once child-like and lighthearted becomes real and upsetting. 

Even with Kim being the one genuine person in his life, their romance manages to unravel and ravel itself back and forth through six seasons, highlighting the true depravity of Saul Goodman. 

Kim and Jimmy. Gus versus Lalo. Mike and Nacho. These relationships are the foundation of the entire show. It’s the way their paths weave together that is so jarring. 

It is cool to see Nacho driving Lalo around in his old AMC Javelin while he plots his next move. It is cool to see Mike save Jimmy’s life in the desert. These scenes are cool on their own, though no moment in Better Call Saul is isolated. They are all building to a greater moment, where all these characters’ stories collide into one. 

The way one character will get involved in another’s life and completely change it is incredible to watch unfold. Going back and seeing how one small incidental moment will affect the entire series from then on is unlike anything I have ever seen. 

Each character has their own motivations and reasons for their actions, but their actions have consequences and can have trickling effects on the lives of other characters in a good or bad way (but let’s be honest probably bad). No matter which side these characters are on, either being a criminal or a criminal defense lawyer, the case between bad and good is not always cut and dry. 

The one thing the show always comes back to is morality. A major theme of the show is facing what you’ve done and accepting the consequences. As a viewer, you want to see Jimmy escape and keep pulling scams and always being one step ahead of the cops, but that is not always good for the soul.

There is a large, often unspoken, elephant in the room regarding action-heavy movies, where murder is merely collateral damage in the hero’s quest. There can be something disheartening about a movie or show’s main character so unaffected by the mass murder in front of them. 

Better Call Saul addresses this large elephant by adding direct consequences to the characters’ actions. When someone gets killed in Better Call Saul, nothing is the same. Characters will be completely changed and traumatic events will linger in characters’ minds much longer after the fact.

With Better Call Saul being a prequel, there are obviously a few characters that go unmentioned in Breaking Bad. This is where the gloves come off. The idea that any character can be killed off at any moment or written out of the story in one way or another is a dynamic most shows don’t have. 

It creates a feeling where no one is safe and heightens the atmosphere of the show.

Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman and eventually into Gene Takovic is slow yet ostentatious. It is a bold arc as Jimmy takes the exciting, memorable name of Saul Goodman to the sad, boring persona that is Gene Takovic with the color slowly washing out of the frames. Gene’s scenes being entirely in black and white signify the depressing, mundane life Jimmy has taken on once again in order to avoid getting arrested after the events of Breaking Bad.

Jimmy’s storyline as Gene has been teased throughout six seasons, showing short snip-its of his post-Breaking Bad life. It is not until now, in the final season that Jimmy, Saul and Gene all have their storylines concluded and underlying questions answered.

When it’s all said and done, Jimmy just wanted to be successful and make a name for himself and did so in a way that is best described, not by me, but by my favorite Breaking Bad character, Jesse Pinkman.

 “Seriously, when the going gets tough, you don’t need a criminal lawyer, you need a criminal lawyer.”

This is an accurate description of Saul, maybe even Gene, but not for Jimmy. Over the course of 62 episodes, Jimmy loses a lot of himself by stooping to new lows for money. 

You would think after everything Saul did in Breaking Bad to help Walter White hurt all the people he hurt, Saul would no longer even be a person, just the empty husk of his former self.

Though somehow, when it all culminates, Jimmy manages to redeem himself in an ending that puts a satisfying ribbon on Vince Gilligan’s fictional take on Albuquerque, New Mexico.  

Breaking Bad is the series that keeps on giving, spawning a feature-length movie and another 62-episode series that people will not look back on as just this “Breaking Bad spin-off.” Not as some half-measure, capitalizing on the success of something far greater than itself. But as an entirely unique and original tale of justice and what it means to do the right thing.