Better Call Saul: The Tragedy of Conformity

By Peter Roslovich

Jimmy McGill can’t catch a break. He forces himself to try to be someone else for the people he loves and it seems nobody ever appreciates what he does, besides the fact that he can’t hide his true nature anyway. Better Call Saul is one of the greatest shows on the television right now, but it is also one of the most tragic.

Many arguments have broken out amongst fans and critics over whether the show should be compared to Breaking Bad or if it should stand on its own merits. In a sense, the shows are great companion pieces to each other and they add a lot to each other’s stories. Better Call Saul follows the former con-artist turned lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) as he navigates the Albuquerque law circuits while trying to come to terms with his own nature. Compared to Breaking Bad’s plot of a chemistry teacher (Walter White) becoming a drug kingpin, it is less exciting and far less focused on storyline. The other huge difference is that we know how Better Call Saul ends, it ends with Jimmy McGill becoming Saul Goodman, the con artist lawyer who dabbles in all sorts of illegal activities. Better Call Saul even flash forwards to Jimmy’s life after Breaking Bad showing some of the saddest scenes of the series in which Jimmy has to face the repercussions of his life. Even though both shows are about transformations into criminality, Walter White’s is almost a bit cathartic. We can see Walter’s poor, disrespected life for a couple of episodes, but he slowly transforms into this drug kingpin, almost as if it was always in him.  Similarly, Jimmy McGill’s alter-ego Saul Goodman has always been within him. However, to try to appease his brother he tried his best to go straight and he succeeded, in a sense, by becoming a lawyer. Unlike Walter, who slowly lets his alter-ego take over and seems to find some form of twisted happiness in that, Jimmy has to constantly wrestle with his inner self, but never being able to win. Jim McGill hates himself, but everybody hates Saul Goodman. In this sense, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul should not be compared, but looked at as parallels on the issues of transformation, true self, and the nature of criminality.

In terms of craftsmanship, Vince Gilligan (the creator of both shows) shows, once again, that he is the genius of television. The show’s style is very similar to Breaking Bad, filled with plenty of POV shots, shots of the desert reminiscent of westerns, and a soundtrack that matches the show perfectly. What makes Better Call Saul different is that it is set in the early 2000s (the show begins in 2002) so it could, in technicality, be called a period piece. The intro itself is reminiscent of a videotape being rewound. The acting is also very well done with Bob Odenkirk quickly proving he can carry an entire show with his humorous and sometimes melancholic performance. Although Jonathan Banks also played Mike Ehrmantraut, the former Philadelphia police officer turned hitman, in Breaking Bad, he adds a new layer of depth in Better Call Saul showing more of his motivations and a fair amount of his own transition into criminality.

Conclusion: While it might be painfully slow for some, Better Call Saul is one of the greatest shows on television right now thanks to superb craftsmanship, writing, acting, and some of the most complex, and interesting characters on the small screen.

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