Better come up with a better headline. Yo copy editors – make sure this doesn’t go up this way.
Better Off Saul, the Breaking Bad prequel created by the same creator as that show and focused on one of that show’s beloved/reviled secondary characters, starts at the end. A post-‘relocation’ Saul Goodman, filmed in a muted black and white that somehow belies its lack of color, is shown, mustached and working at a mall Cinnabon somewhere in Omaha.
Let that wash over you for a moment. Then let it go, because the rest of the first two episodes of Better Call Saul are all in the past, linearly, jumping us back some number of years before all that Heisenberg messiness you may have read about in a reputable journalistic publication. There are familiar faces (the trailers already showed us Mike’s arrival, but hid the well-revealed introduction of a not-yet-completely-psycho Tuco) and new ones (Michael McKean, trying to cure some unnamed illness by avoiding electromagnetic radiation) and as is the case with a Vince Gilligan joint all those details are simultaneously delightful and baffling and intriguing.
And quick. There are slow tracking shots aplenty, well-framed character moments free of dialogue or music cues, just about everything else you’d expect out of a slightly more saturated New Mexico that will become the bleak, tracked, well-framed New Mexico of Walter White. But like its titular character, Better Call Saul really doesn’t take many breaths whilst plowing forward. Which is interesting as Saul never really went anywhere in the last (next) series, to no one and nothing’s detriment. Saul was, and is, energy – even when beaten down and left with no recourse but to lash out, ‘Saul Goodman’ then, now, always, has something to shout and/or stomp about.
And that’s fun to watch, although it does beg the question: Where is Better Call Saul going? It’s an origin story of sorts, so we can assume that much of any plot would build around building Saul into where he is when we meet him in Breaking Bad. Yet we’ve seen where Saul ends up and it’s not that different from where he is in the first two episodes of Better Call Saul – at turns abrasive and decent, a master manipulator with limited ethics but surprising reserves of morals. A schemer.
Will we watch a show full of nothing but schemes, if that’s what Better Call Saul turns out to be? Why would we not? It’s clever and layered, rife with tension and continually exploding with a torrent of lines from Bob Odenkirk, who will be up for an Emmy soon enough if he carries scenes as well as he did throughout the two part pilot.1
Breaking Bad showed us big stories can still be told on the small screen, through recognizable characters. Better Call Saul is set to remind us that watching compelling characters do things is how stories get made. And that never gets old.
- His ‘negotiation’ with Tuco was a small tour de force for him, the writers, and – easy to miss – the newly introduced Nacho Varga. Watch Varga in the background, cooly sizing everyone up. ↵