Better Call Saul is the spin off show to Breaking Bad with the corrupt lawyer and money launderer Saul Goodman (played by Bob Odenkirk) as the protagonist.
Better Call Saul’s main story is how small time lawyer, Jimmy McGill becomes the amoral and crooked Saul Goodman, making it a prequel to Breaking Bad. Better Call Saul doesn’t fall into the same traps of other prequels by just being an independent story within the same setting with supporting characters from Breaking Bad and other characters who never appear in Breaking Bad. The two protagonists of Breaking Bad, Walter White (Heisenberg) and Jesse Pinkman have so far never appeared in Better Call Saul.
I was initially sceptical of a spin-off to Breaking Bad, as I thought that it couldn’t reach the highs of the series, most of the events of the show were set before the Breaking Bad story (making it a prequel story), and Saul Goodman while being a fun supporting character who provides a lot of the dark humour of the show, is pretty one dimensional by the time of Breaking Bad.
Season One of Better Call Saul deals with Jimmy McGill’s struggles as an independent lawyer in Albuquerque, and his relationship with his much older brother Charles (Chuck) McGill (played by Michael McKean), a much more distinguished lawyer, who is a partner in a big law firm, HHM (Hamlin, Hamlin, McGill). Charles, however by the time of Better Call Saul is not a well man, suffering from electromagnetic sensitivity (this is not a medically recognised illness). Throughout the first season, Jimmy is a carer for Charles, but in the big reveal at the end of the first season, the brothers fall out.
Another legacy character from Breaking Bad is Mike Ehrmantraut (played by Jonathan Banks), who was the ruthless enforcer of Gus Fring’s gang. Mike gets more depth as a character, starting the show as a parking attendant for Albuquerque courthouse, who sometimes does black market jobs to raise money to look after his daughter-in-law, Stacey (played by Kerry Condon) and granddaughter, Kaylee (played by Faith Healey).
Differences between Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul in the first season are:
- Drama: Breaking Bad is a family/crime drama, while Better Call Saul is primarily a legal drama so far. The first season of Breaking Bad was only seven episodes, while the first season of Better Call Saul has ten episodes. In the first season of Breaking Bad focuses on Walt and Jesses opening their drug business, Jimmy starts off as a small time lawyer, trying to get the best case for his one man practise. The first seven episodes of Better Call Saul, the main case is the Kettleman case, which involves embezzlement. The Kettleman’s are so obviously guilty, that even Jimmy McGill doesn’t want to defend them. In episode eight, RICO, Jimmy discovers a systematic rip off in one of the local care homes for the elderly, his conman past enabling him to spot a con. By episode ten it looks like Jimmy has reached a peak in his legal career, with a promise of a partnership at a prestigious New Mexico firm called Davis and main.
- Body Count: Breaking Bad season one has a body count of three, and Jesse Pinkman got a severe beating off Tuco Salamanca (played by Raymond Cruz). While Better Call Saul involves cartel activity in it’s story telling, it is less violent so far, the only death in the first season is Jimmy’s grifter friend dying of a heart attack due to obesity, and the two scammers who work with Jimmy McGill in episode one, get their legs broken by Tuco.
- The Nature of Change. In Breaking Bad, Walter White, a quiet timid family man, who is a frustrated, unhappy genius, with news of his impending death, morphs into Heisenberg as he gains money and power through his blue meth product. In Better Call Saul, Jimmy McGill starts off as a small time lawyer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jimmy was a formerly a conman in his home town of Cicero, Illinois nicknamed Slipping Jimmy. Jimmy, while still being a dodgy lawyer, is not quite the man he was in Cicero, working his way through a correspondence course to get a law degree from the University of American Samoa and passing the New Mexico bar. His foray into elder law, and his uncovering of the rip-off by the elderly homes means that he does have some empathy with people. Jimmy however doesn’t change to better himself, and he seems to do it to please people such as Chuck and his love interest Kim Wexler (played by Rhea Seehorn), which means that the change is never permanent.
The first season of Better Call Saul looks at the character of Jimmy McGill and asks can people really change. The show while connected to Breaking Bad is very much it’s own show, with different characters, stakes and themes. Jimmy McGill (Saul Goodman) and Mike Ehrmantraut are given further depth as people. Better Call Saul can be watched without ever seeing Breaking Bad and it proves that a prequel story can work if it does not depend on the original series of the story-verse.
Is Better Call Saul worth a watch. Yes, very much so. In my opinion, the first season of Better Call Saul is better then it’s equivalent in Breaking Bad. The one similarity with season one of Breaking Bad is that while this season does a good job of setting the scene, there is better coming down the tracks. Five Stars.