Better Call Saul: Season 1 Retrospective

by Stephen

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Bob Odenkirk in “Better Call Saul.” Ursula Coyote/AMC

There’s a certain thrill that comes with the unknown. We’ve all felt it before. Christmas morning. Freshman year of college. The first date. We willingly enter into these daunting experiences despite not knowing exactly how they’ll turn out. And it’s because they excite us nonetheless. To us, they represent a faint glimmer of prospect just waiting to blossom into a full profusion. And that is more than enough.

The more I watch Better Call Saul, now in its sophomore season, it seems that Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and Co. have bottled that essence of prospect and have carefully folded it in to all of their episodes. If Breaking Bad showed us the laser focused transformation of Mr. Chips to Scarface, then Better Call Saul is its more meandering, always vacillating second cousin. Those who tune in on Mondays know better than to expect the howitzer-like momentum of Breaking Bad’s modus operandi (Mr. Chips to Scarface). Rather, we tune in content with sifting through the conditions behind Jimmy McGill’s destined transformation rather than honing in on the metamorphosis itself.

And what I mean by that is that in Better Call Saul’s inaugural season, we’ve seen a melting pot of genres throughout its first ten episode run. Crime, legal and courtroom drama; character studies; morality plays; beat cop procedural; black comedy; contemporary western; heist thriller, buddy cop routine and a Shakespearean tragedy. And thankfully, the first episode of this second season shows no evidence that this approach will let up. So this is what I predict will keep us (or at least me) coming back from week to week: the endless ways in which the show manages to use genre-based frames and lenses to depict our title character’s escapades. Comedy. Tragedy. What have you. These tools give us access to an endless variety of storytelling tropes and techniques with which the writers are able to ingeniously play with. It’s thrilling to watch in motion.

While those who wander are not all lost, there has been some recent criticism about Better Call Saul’s lack of direction. At moments, it does feel as if the writers are taking their sweet sweet time with hitting their self-designated Saul Goodman moonshot. But to tell you the truth, I personally find Jimmy McGill just as fascinating, and if not more, than the Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad. Each week, there seems to be a profound level of brokenness, quackery and impetus left to be excavated from our protagonist. And it’s just enough to pull at our heartstrings. We root for Jimmy one week and then scratch our heads in the next episode. Rinse and repeat. This ebb and flow is all at once compelling and investing, tempting us to buy into the season-long ride.

But why so? Because when we see Disheartened Jimmy, Romantic Jimmy, Angsty Bucket Kicking Jimmy, Frantic Jimmy, Straight Arrow Jimmy, Slippin’ Jimmy; we realize the multitude of emotional  dimensions within our protagonist that are still left in play. And looking ahead to Season 2, there are some versions of Jimmy that I can’t wait to revisit and even more that have yet to be uncovered. To us, it feels like there’s a multiverse of new and different Jimmy’s that can pop up the next week without it feeling unearned. That’s 100% crystal grade potential. And therein lies the beauty of Better Call Saul’s uncertainty principle.

Season Two of Better Call Saul premieres on Mondays at 10 PM on AMC