I often wondered, as I watched Better Call Saul from its debut to its freshman season finale: Would we watch if it weren’t the prequel to Breaking Bad? Is it good or engaging outside the explicit context of Breaking Bad? We cut it some slack and keep watching because we really liked Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad. And who doesn’t like Bob Odenkirk in just about everything he has done? Giving him a leading role in a one-hour, “dark dramedy” would seem either a genius move for which we would all reap the rewards or an overblown failure. Maybe this curiosity made us want more and made us ask the question: how did Saul Goodman come to be? (I like the small nods, winks and tips of the hat to Breaking Bad that subtly appear throughout Better Call Saul.)
But as to whether I felt the show could stand on its own merits, until the end, I was not entirely sure. In the final two episodes, during which Jimmy (the given name of our titular antihero) puts together an almost airtight class action lawsuit, despite all the factors stacked against him, he ends up finding out who has really been standing in his way all along. That storytelling and slow building of a character won me over. Seeing Jimmy struggle, take care of his brother Chuck, strive to make a name for himself, continue to try to do the right thing, only to have his efforts slapped down, illustrates exactly how Jimmy cast aside an aspirationally “good” self to aspire to – and succeed – at being his “bad” self.
At the crux of this transformation is the painful and heartbreaking relationship Jimmy has with his brother, Chuck (played to perfection by Michael McKean). A bitter and probably overdue confrontation ensues, in which Chuck spews a hateful monologue about Jimmy’s incompetence and propensity to fuck up, mocking his law degree as “not real”.
Chuck explodes: “I know you. I know what you were. What you are. People don’t change. You’re ‘Slippin’ Jimmy’.” From here, Chuck delivers perhaps the most quoted and heartbreaking line of all, citing Jimmy’s conman past: “Slippin’ Jimmy I can handle just fine, but Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun.”
With that, the relationship is broken, and Jimmy is never turning back. The final episode of the inaugural season begins to hint at and chart Jimmy’s new course, which will eventually lead us to the Saul Goodman he becomes.