Jimmy’s Back: Another Season of Better Call Saul Has Begun, and I Feel Fine
Can Jimmy and Kim make things work? Where’s Nacho? Who’s following Mike? What’s Chuck planning to do with that recording he made? What’s going on with Gene the Cinnabon manager? And most of all, why is Kim so worried about that damned semi-colon? These are just a few of the questions that had me wondering this past week, after the Monday return of AMC’s Better Call Saul. I’m pretty sure I know the answer to one of them, but as far as the rest, I don’t have a clue.
Guess what? That’s fine by me.
To recap for those who aren’t in the know, Better Call Saul chronicles the adventures of lawyer Jimmy McGill, his partner Kim, his brother Chuck, ex-cop and henchman for hire Mike Ehrmantraut, and a host of other characters. Eventually, Jimmy will become Saul Goodman, the morally challenged criminal attorney from Breaking Bad, and Saul will turn into Gene, manager of an Omaha Cinnabon store. The series is about how he gets there.
Elsewhere, I’ve talked about how I think Better Call Saul could go on to be an even better show than its predecessor, Breaking Bad, and I still believe that. But I’m not here to rhapsodize over the merits of BCS. Instead, I want to address four reasons you might have for not watching it.
Reason One: To enjoy Better Call Saul, you need to have watched Breaking Bad.
Sure, if you’re a Breaking Bad fan, you’ll have additional insights into some of the characters and dramatic situations in Better Call Saul, but it’s a standalone story. Here, we’re given all the information we need to love, hate, and occasionally fear these characters. Okay, you might have to get over hearing friends squeal when they see a new character walk onscreen. If that really bothers you, go ahead and watch Breaking Bad first. Be quick about it, though.
Reason Two: Even if I haven’t watched Breaking Bad, I still know Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman. If I know the ending, how can the story be interesting?
Objection: Lack of Foundation.
In a story, dramatic tension often comes from not knowing a character’s fate. However, it can also occur when we know what’s going to happen but have no clue how it’s going to come about. In fact, if we grow attached to a character, the idea that something bad will befall him can create even more tension. Like Oedipus, Othello, and Macbeth, Jimmy McGill is on a road to ruin, and for the audience, looking away is never a viable option.
Reason Three: Jimmy’s a slick lawyer who’s eventually going to turn even more sleazy. I’d never be able to care about a character like that.
First of all, who says you have to be able to pull for a character in order to enjoy his story? It helps if you’re interested in seeing what happens to the person, of course, but that doesn’t mean you need to like him. Second, don’t be so certain you’ll dislike Jimmy McGill. In fact, series co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have said even they were surprised by how much they ended up loving Jimmy. Third, see Reason Two.
Reason Four: This show is about dealers, addicts, murderers, and hustlers, the worst humanity has to offer. Frankly, it sounds depressing.
Yes, nefarious characters abound in the Albuquerque of Better Call Saul, and most of them commit terrible deeds. There are also decent people, and as you might expect, both good and bad things happen to them. More often, though, the story is populated with characters who exist all along the moral continuum, living their lives and making decisions, some wise and others foolish. At its heart, Better Call Saul is about a guy who wants to do the right thing when doing the wrong thing is much easier. No matter what we tell ourselves each night before dropping off to sleep, living with that temptation is what it means to be human.