Ten episodes, some light felonies, some bingo. Good times.
Even though there’s not much to spoil in season 1, I’m keeping this writeup light on specifics as I think a series like this is just better if you just let it happen.
I won’t bury the lead here – season 1 of Better Call Saul is the Better Call Saul version of season 1 of Breaking Bad.
I will explain the lead here.
When most of us first encountered Breaking Bad we knew vaguely that there were drugs involved, and that the show was fascinatingly good.1 We didn’t know where things would end up – characters famously were saved from elimination, or offed, as the series developed, not on a hard-and-fast plan. We didn’t even, at first, know that we should trust Vince Gilligan to develop and pace and construct the show so well.
Oh to be so young and naive and foolish again, no?2
Heading in to Better Call Saul we had that trust. But we also had much more knowledge about where things would end up – taking away a smidge of the mystery, if nothing else. And we’d also, most of us, forgotten one thing about Breaking Bad – it developed and grew from its first season. It was immensely watchable throughout, but differently so at different points in the story.
The same seems true for Better Call Saul. A huge chunk of this first season involves Saul (for now still Jimmy McGill) working in elder law. He charges reasonable rates, he’s polite and respectful and charming to his clients, he is clearly not laundering money for drug kingpins. Why, you might well ask, would you wade through that waiting for Saul Goodman to emerge in all his hucksterish glory? Because it’s fascinating, and well written, and well acted, and so freaking well shot. And because the first season of Breaking Bad did not involve Gus, or even Mike. It told stories about relatable characters who would become giants and devils and martyrs.
What makes Better Call Saul‘s slow transformation absolutely worth watching are the performances. Odenkirk remains fascinatingly grounded in this role, especially for those who know him from his various comedy outings. That lived-in feel of realness extends deep into other performances – most noteably Michael McKean’s layered turn as Jimmy’s semi-invalid brother – making it so the destination isn’t as vital as spending time on the journey. And as was the case with it’s parent series, characters that only appear once or twice can draw you in as well.3
Season 1 of Better Call Saul contained more vignettes than Breaking Bad; it’s an interesting way to experience characters’ introductions and growth and departures, not always in that order. I’m honestly not quite sure I buy the very last moments. At the least, I’m not sure they were as strongly motivated by what’s come before as the writers think they were. But in retrospect, that means I was really paying attention to Jimmy’s journey, and clearly along for the ride.
On to season 2. Seriously, can anyone else wait for Gus to show up?